So, if your students open their results letters in August and find themselves faced with a big bowl of sour lemons, you need to be there, ready with a jug of water and a kilo of sweetener.
If we agree to pretend that this metaphor works on an even more complex level, let’s say that the sugar is what takes the sting out of the lemons; it’s the silver lining, the positive options that the student can now consider. They’ll be feeling bitter, so it’s your job to remember the sweetener for them. The water is the students’ own actions: the effort required to blend together the reality of their results with the path they now choose to follow, and make it all happen.
And just as sweetener options might include honey, maple syrup and Stevia, there are a variety of ways to make lemonade out of these lemons. Resits, a gap year, employment and clearing are all worthwhile options to consider, and will suit different students with different personalities, abilities and goals.
Here, we’re focusing on the clearing process, and how you can help prepare your students for such a sudden - but exciting - U-turn in their journey.
What is clearing?
When prospective students apply to university, they will often have more than one application accepted. Before results day, though, they have to choose a firm (conditional) offer to accept: just one course at one institution of any that offered them a place. If the student meets the conditional offer (usually by achieving the specified grades), then it’s simple and the place is theirs. If they miss out, then they can choose to go through the clearing process, applying to a pool of courses which have last-minute spaces available.
State of mind
Yes, it’s pessimistic, but if you encourage your class to prepare for the worst, then it’s a win-win situation. Either they triumph on the day, feeling jubilant as they rip apart their back-up plans, OR they are fully ready to tackle the next challenge if they haven’t made the grade, removing a lot of the stress associated with clearing. They will already be dealing with shock and disappointment; why also throw weighty admin and disorganisation into the mix?
Hanging on the telephone
Many of your students just don’t talk on the phone. They literally never do it. And the prevalence of mobile phones - with caller display - mean that they might have never needed to introduce themselves on the phone before. Most young people are more comfortable texting and emailing, so you can successfully build confidence with some role-play, rehearsed introductions and preparing a list of questions to have to hand for the real thing. Because clearing all happens over the phone. Snapchat is not going to help your students here!
Do your research
Anyone staggering through that pre-results limbo should spend some time combing through the clearing pages on UCAS to get a feel for the options available. Encourage your students to explore plan B options. Keeping a shortlist of appealing courses and phone numbers is a smart move, and phoning ahead of time to have an informal chat about potential clearing arrangements is even smarter. It’s easier to keep a clear head and make good decisions without the panic of disaster.
How you can help on the day
Aside from smiles, hugs and biscuits, there are a couple of things you can do to ease this bump in the road.
On results day, have a quiet and calm place available for students needing to think and make phone calls. The gym hall, with its roiling emotions and clattering movement, is not the place to make big decisions and first impressions on course providers.
They’ll need to call the universities on their plan-B list to discuss a place on the course. And yes, it does need to be them, personally. You can’t call; their teachers can’t call; their barista can’t call. That’s where those role-plays turn out to be gold dust. Only once the student has a verbal agreement from the uni can they confirm their place via UCAS Hub.
After results day, you’re not going to see much of your students, so it’s wise to offer some advice ahead of the day. Talk to them about how to tackle the clearing process in case it ends up being necessary. For thousands of students every year, it’s a thing, and it’s less scary and stressful if it’s not an alien concept.
They should already have a back-up list of courses to contact about clearing, but they should have all this info to hand when it’s time to pick up the phone:
- Their UCAS Hub number
- Clearing code (which should appear online from results day)
- Their actual grades achieved
- The number of UCAS points this amounts to
- Personal statement
- Pen and pad to make notes; adrenaline is the nemesis of memory, so they should jot down any info they get, including contact names, numbers and application deadlines.
If they have any questions at all (is there a study abroad year? What career options might they have? How many contact hours are there a week?) then now is the time to ask. Yes, the uni wants to size them up to make sure they’re a good fit, but it’s also an opportunity for the student to check out the uni and the course against their own wants and needs. It’s a two-way relationship!
The best-prepared students will have an answer to explain why they want to study this subject, and why at this uni. Knowing a bit about the modules on offer, the department’s reputation or the academics at the helm will be genuinely attractive to course providers. They don’t need to know the nitty-gritty off by heart, but it’s a great idea to have a little “USP” note next to each course.
Once their place is sorted out, they can look into arranging a visit to the uni if they want to see it before moving-in day, but most importantly, they should contact the campus to confirm accommodation as soon as possible. Also crucial is a phone call to their student finance provider to make sure money goes to their new choice of uni.