Prospective university students lack back-up plan

With just over a week until A-level results day, Which? University reveals that many students haven’t planned what they will do if they don’t get the grades they need for university, despite only half feeling confident they’ll get into their first choice. 

New research from Which? University finds that more than half (54%) of students with a conditional offer aren’t prepared for the eventuality that they won’t get their first or second choice university.

Only half (48%) are confident they’ll get the grades they need for their first choice, but three in ten (28%) admit they haven’t thought about what they’ll do if they don’t get into it, and seven in ten (70%) haven’t researched what the process is for Clearing.

Eight in ten (82%) students surveyed have a second, insurance choice as a back-up, but two in five (40%) said they don’t actually want to go there and a quarter (23%) have an insurance option with the same or higher entry requirements as their first choice. This means they run the risk of having to go through Clearing if they don’t get the grades.

Around one in ten students go through Clearing every year, but knowledge of the Clearing process among current prospective students is low. More than half (54%) wrongly think that if they don’t get the grades for their first choice, but do get into their insurance choice, they can still also apply for an alternative course in Clearing. A further 22% said they didn’t know.

Which? University has free information to help students prepare for this stressful time, with advice and student views on a range of topics including the Clearing and Adjustment processes, budgeting at university, and what to expect in the first term.

The Which? University guide to Clearing 2014 can be found here.

Sonia Sodha, from Which? University, said:

“As A-level results day approaches, it’s an understandably stressful and nerve-wracking time for prospective students, especially those who aren’t confident they’ll get into their first choice university. Hopefully they won’t need a back-up plan, but we advise they research all their options just in case.

“There’s a wealth of free information on Which? University including advice about going through Clearing and views from students who have gone through the process.”

The research also found that a quarter (24%) of applicants with a conditional firm offer  don’t know that if you do better in your exams you can swap your first choice for a place with higher entry requirements, which is possible through Adjustment.

Which? University is a free and independent website to help students make more informed decisions about higher education, featuring information on more than 30,000 courses and around 300 universities and colleges to search and compare.

Notes to editors:

1. Youthsight, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 1,012 17 and 18 year olds, in England and Wales who are intending to go to university next academic year, online between 11th and 15th July 2014. Of these 939 were holding conditional offers from UCAS.

2. According to the UCAS End of Cycle Report 2013, of the 495,600 people placed into higher education, 57,100 were through Clearing (around 12%) and 32,800 places were accepted through an insurance choice (around 7%).

3. Links to relevant advice on the Which? University website: 

The Which? University guide to Clearing 2014:

What to expect on results day:


4. Which? University brings together facts and statistics from official sources including UCAS, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the National Student Survey and Destination of Leavers of Higher Education survey. This is combined with real-life insight from students and the unbiased, expert analysis you’d expect from Which?.

5. Helplines: 

– UCAS, 0371 468 0 468: staff will not advise on course choice, but are great at sorting out queries on the technicalities of clearing.
– Exam Results helpline, 0808 100 8000: each year the Department for Education collaborates with UCAS to run a free telephone exam results helpline.
– Information about clearing and available places can be found on the UCAS website. Prospective students can use the #ucasclearing hashtag to find the latest updates.

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