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Results day and Clearing: what to expect

What to expect on results day when collecting A-level, BTEC and SQA results including how to find a uni course in Clearing if your grades weren’t what you hoped for.

In this article
A-level results day  SQA results day BTEC results What is Clearing? Read our FAQ
What are the alternatives to Clearing? What is Ucas Adjustment? Read our FAQ What should I do after results day?

A-level results day 

When is A-level results day?

A-level results day takes place each August (usually the second or third Thursday of the month). This is the day when A-level students across the country receive their results and learn if they’ve achieved the grades they need for the (first or insurance) university offer they hold.

A-level results day 2019 was on Thursday 15 August.

How to prepare for A-level results day

Make sure you have the following important information to hand should you have a query about the status of your place, or if you need to apply for a new university spot via Clearing:

  • your Ucas ID number (and log-in details)
  • your Ucas Clearing number – this will only be available on Ucas Track if you’ve been rejected by both your first and insurance choices, and become eligible for Clearing
  • Clearing phone numbers for universities you’ve applied to or have your eye on – you can find these on their website
  • working pens and paper – you'll get lots of information on the spot
  • a phone charger
  • your personal statement – universities you speak to in Clearing will be able to see this and may ask you questions based on this, so take a look at what you wrote.
  • GCSE results – they might come up.

Even if you’re very confident, it can't hurt to have a plan B in place (or even a Plan C,D E etc. Revisit other course options – we have more tips to structure your search and find a new course in Clearing.

You could even practise mini-interview situations to prepare for the possibility of a Clearing phone call.

What happens on A-level results day? 

You can collect your results from your school or college. Find out their exact opening and closing times, as this will vary across schools. 

Ucas receives your results directly and will update Track – this is normally around 8am. The system will be very busy, so you might need to be patient to find out whether you’ve been successful.

Universities may also take a while to make their decision and for this to show on Track. It might be worth phoning them to get an answer sooner.

While you can check Track to find out whether you’ve got into either of your choices, you’ll still need to collect your results to see exactly what grades you got (especially if you need to enter Clearing).

There are definitely benefits to going into school or college to collect your results, like getting support from your teachers if things don’t go to plan. If you can’t collect these in person, let your school know and arrange for someone to collect them for you.

However, if you need to go through Clearing, this is something you’ll need to do, rather than a parent or family member – universities will want to speak to you.

A-level results day next steps – quick guide

Use our A-level results day planner to quickly see what to do next depending on your results:

SQA results day

Things are a little different in Scotland, with students applying to university with grades they’ve already achieved (for the most part). 

Meanwhile, those applying to more competitive courses will find out on results day if they’ve met the offer made to them by universities. 

When is SQA results day?

Results day for the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) was on Tuesday 6 August 2019. 

It usually lands on a Tuesday, roughly ten days before A-level results day in the rest of the UK.

What SQA results do I need to apply for uni?

Most universities' entry requirements centre around specific grades in four or five Highers which you achieve in S5. With these under your belt, you can then begin applying to universities to start a course a year later.

Universities may require these to be achieved in one sitting (in S5) or might allow retakes in S6.

Scottish universities don't tend to ask for Advanced Highers (taken in S6) in their entry requirements – usually your Highers grades are sufficient. The exception is where you're applying to a particularly competitive course such as medicine or law.

In some cases, you may be asked to take an additional Higher or two alongside this, to fill out your timetable. Even if you don’t need Advanced Highers to get onto your chosen university course, it can benefit you to take them.

A university may look on this favourably when considering whether to make you an offer, while some universities may grant direct entry to second year for particular courses eg the sciences, engineering.

What can you do before SQA results day to prepare?

Preparation is mostly important for S6 students planning to begin a university course that September. They’ll be waiting to learn if they’ve got the grades needed for their offer, whether that’s the Highers they’ve retaken or the Advanced Highers they’ve taken that year.

If this is you, you can prepare in the same was as A-level students – namely having a few back-up courses to look for in Clearing. 

Note, Scottish universities begin publicising their Clearing vacancies a few weeks ahead of results day.

However, English, Northern Irish and Welsh universities publicise the majority of their Clearing vacancies closer to A-level results day; so if you’re thinking of studying at a university here, you might have to wait a little longer to see the full breadth of vacancies available.

What happens on SQA results day?

Your Scottish Qualifications Certificate (SQC) will arrive in the post on results day (first class, no less). Those who signed up to MySQA can request to have these sent to them via email or text – a good idea if you'll be away on holiday.

If you're applying to university, SQA will send your results to Ucas automatically, so you'll be able to check the status of your application online via Track.

If you don't receive your results on this day, contact your school or college immediately. Your SQC will include a summary of all the SQA qualifications and units you've achieved.

SQA results day next steps – quick guide

Retaking Highers in S6

Once you've got your Highers results under your belt following S5, you'll have a clearer picture of the courses and universities that match your grades in terms of entry requirements.

However, if you don't get the Highers results you were hoping for, there is the option to retake these in S6, alongside any Advanced Highers you were planning to take here as well. 

Check that your university course will accept a Highers grade that’s been retaken in S6. Institutions and departments will have different policies on this, and some may only consider Highers taken in one sitting.

And if they do accept retaken Highers, specific conditions might be attached.

For example, in the past the University of Edinburgh have stated that it will consider retaken Highers sat in S6, but that the minimum entry requirements shift up a grade (so an ABBB requirement in S5 would become AABB if it includes a grade retaken in S6).

Think carefully about your workload if you plan to retake Highers alongside any Advanced Highers or additional Highers – you'll be in for an intensive year.

BTEC results

Whether you're taking BTEC qualifications on their own or in combination with A-levels, here's what you need to know about getting your results.

When is BTEC results day?

While A-level and Scottish Highers students get their results at the same time, there's a bit more flexibility when it comes to BTEC results.

  • Schools and colleges will begin to receive BTEC results from around mid-July. These timings will vary depending on your course and how it was assessed.
  • Some schools might even wait until A-level results day in August, so that they can give all students their results at the same time.
  • Check before you break up for the summer holidays whether you need to collect your results in person, or if they will be posted or emailed to you.

BTEC students may have a Clearing advantage

Ucas Clearing technically opens at the beginning of July. Therefore, if you receive your BTEC results in July – and you're not waiting on any A-level results – you can enter Clearing from this point.

That said, most Clearing vacancies won't be published until August. This isn't necessarily a problem if you spot a course that looks like a perfect match, but don't simply grab the first one that comes along.

Otherwise, bide your time and use it to prepare properly for the Clearing peak in August. 

Tips to stand out as a BTEC student in Clearing

There are a few ways BTEC students can use their qualification to their advantage when speaking to a university in Clearing:

  • Where Level 3 students have focused on one specific subject (compared with A-level students who split their attention across three or more subjects), they may benefit from having explored wider topics and themes within that discipline. 
  • ​BTEC students are likely to have gained relevant work experience as part of their course. You may have worked on live briefs with employers, for example, among other tasks and responsibilities. You can use these to illustrate insights you've gained and how you've engaged with a subject.
  • Similarly, as a BTEC student, you're likely to have developed vocational skills as part of your course. BTEC assessments are more varied as everything is coursework-based. This can include group work, presenting and using technology or equipment that schools typically wouldn't have available to A-level students. 
  • BTECs are a great indicator of commitment and motivation. Opting for a new, vocational route after GCSEs – often moving from school to a local college in the process – is invariably a bigger step than staying on in the sixth form. It shows a maturity and focus which is often reflected in achievement on the BTEC course.
  • Don't underestimate the workload you've completed to obtain your BTEC qualification, even if you haven't got the grades you were hoping for. Not only are BTEC students assessed through a wide variety of methods, but the sheer number of assignments in those two years is significant. On average, BTEC students study eight or more units each year, with three or more assessments per unit.

What is Clearing? Read our FAQ

If you don't get the grades you need for the university course you're applying to, Clearing is the official Ucas process to secure a spot on a similar course. 

This could be at the same university or a different one. 

Clearing allows universities to fill up any vacant spots on their courses – after all, they don’t want to see empty seats in their lectures come September. 

In 2018, a little over 60,000 students were accepted through Clearing (source: Ucas, September 2018).

Around 46,000 of these were students who originally applied through the traditional Ucas route, while the rest waited until Clearing began to apply to a university.

Roughly 14% of all UK applicants in 2018 came through Clearing.

At the end of the day, you should still research your choices as thoroughly as possible before picking up the phone to call a university, whether that’s before results day rolls around or on the day itself. 


When is Clearing?


Technically speaking, Clearing begins in July each year. But it only really gets into full swing on A-level results day. 

The deadline for adding Clearing choices is usually near the end of October (in 2019, this was 22 October). 

But keep in mind that places on the most popular courses will have been snapped up much sooner (usually on results day itself or in the week following).


Can I enter Clearing?


If you don’t achieve the A-level (or BTEC, Scottish Highers or International Baccalaureate) grades that satisfy the entry requirements set out by your firm and insurance choice universities when they made an offer to you, you can enter Clearing.

This is the most common reason why students go through Clearing, but there are other reasons:

  • you change your mind about your firm and insurance choices, and wish to apply to a different course or university
  • you applied before 30 June but don’t have any offers
  • you only applied after 30 June – you’ll be automatically entered into Clearing once you apply.

But as we’ve pointed out above, if you narrowly missed the grades you were hoping for, check Track or contact your university to see whether they will still accept you, before assuming immediately that Clearing is your next step.


How does Clearing work?


​On results day, check Ucas Track as early as possible in the morning to see the status of your applications. If you’re eligible for Clearing, it will say so and you’ll be provided with a Clearing number (which you'll have to give to universities you call).

Note, you won’t be able to see what grades you’ve achieved on Ucas Track – only if you’ve gotten into your chosen university/universities or not. 

If you're not sure about the status of your university place, contact the university directly to get a confirmation from them. They'll have extra staff on hand taking calls on the day (but be patient if you don't get through straight away).

If you're eligible for Clearing, you can start phoning universities through their special Clearing phone lines to speak to someone about the course you’re interested in. If you already have some back-up courses up your sleeve, this will save you time.

Ucas will be displaying live updates of all courses available through Clearing. When you see a course you’re interested in, dig a little deeper into the modules you'll study, what graduates have gone on to do and anything else that matters to you, before calling.

When you call a university in Clearing, you could simply be asked for your grades; others may ask a few questions about why you’re interested in that particular course, a bit like a mini-interview.

A university should tell you whether they will accept you there and then, after which you’ll usually have 24 hours to accept or look elsewhere.

​Remember to confirm your place on Ucas Track once you've been made an offer you're happy with.


How to prepare for Clearing


It doesn't hurt to have a back-up plan just in case things go awry on results day. The good news is, you don’t have to start your search completely from scratch.

Start with your other Ucas choices

These are universities and courses you’ve previously researched and seriously considered – and the fact that you’ve applied to them through Ucas already will demonstrate your interest in them when you call in Clearing. 

That said, there are no guarantees those universities will have relevant Clearing vacancies now.

Shortlist alternative universities

While a handful of universities don’t take part (eg Oxbridge), many do each year, including some Russell Group universities. 

Perhaps there’s a certain part of the country you want to study in, or you want to stay close to home? If so, see which universities are nearby.

Consider different-but-similar courses

If you’ve got your heart set on a particular subject area, would you be prepared to combine it with another as part of a joint degree? Or if you’ve got a particular career goal in mind, is there a similar course or subject area you could study that can help you get there? You may already meet their entry requirements.

If you’re not 100% happy about a course, keep looking in Clearing or consider one of our alternatives to Clearing below.


Calling universities in Clearing


So what questions might you face on a Clearing call? 

A university admissions officer might ask you...

  • Why you want to study their course eg ‘Why do you want to study this English literature course at our institution?’
  • To explain a low grade eg ‘Why do you think you missed the A in maths you were predicted at A-level?’
  • Why you’ve chosen to apply to a different subject or to a joint degree
  • To demonstrate your interest in the subject eg ‘Tell us about something you’ve done outside the classroom that has cemented your interest in psychology.’

Organisation is key when it comes to making that all-important Clearing call. As well as doing your research about the course you’re enquiring about, here are some more tips:

  • Have your Ucas ID, Clearing number and grades close to hand. 
  • Have a few (working) pens and paper next to you, to write down names, phone numbers and other information or instructions.
  • For each university you’re planning to phone, have a few notes or bullet points to hand about why their course appeals to you.
  • Think of a couple of questions to ask them to really demonstrate that you're keen.

To help you prepare for questions you might be asked, think back to what you were asked at any admissions interviews you attended, and practise the answers out loud.

Re-read your personal statement, so you can refer to that too and remind yourself what you wrote. Admissions tutors you speak to in Clearing will be able to see this, and might ask about you wrote here.

Head to a quiet room where you won't be disturbed and keep your phone charged! 

During the call

In the busy Clearing period you might find you’re on hold for a while – be patient and don’t panic if you can’t get through straight away.

If it's engaged, don't waste time – move on to your next option and try again later.

Get names, emails and direct phone numbers in case you have to re-connect or follow up. Universities often involve extra staff to cover the Clearing period, so it’s important to know who you’ve spoken to previously.

Speak clearly and confidently – and don't be afraid to be honest about why you think you didn't achieve your grades, if asked.

Sell yourself – why should the tutor give you a place on the course? Use examples to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the subject area, and make specific references to something about that particular course you uncovered during your research.

After a call

If a university offers you a place, and you want to accept it, you’ll need to confirm this on Ucas Track.

If you want to mull over an offer before accepting, make sure you know how long a university will hold it for you – check this before getting off the phone.

See what else you need to do after results day, below. If you can’t find a course you’re happy with in Clearing, you still have other paths available to you.

What are the alternatives to Clearing?

If you can’t find a new course you’re happy with in Clearing, don’t take just anything that comes along – it can result in a lot of hassle and disappointment down the line, as well as impact you financially.

Here are some possible paths to consider:

Appeal your grades

If you feel like your grades are suspiciously low or you’re on the boundary between two grades, speak to your school/college about appealing or getting them remarked. You might be able to get a university to hold a place for you this year, while you go through the process.

Apply again next year

While it might be a kicker to see your friends off head to university, applying again next year can be the best decision in the long run.

Use this year to boost your Ucas application through work experience and volunteering, plus get more involved in your subject through what you read, watch and do.

You can use this year out to travel and work to save money for university, too.

With the experience of applying once before, you can make a more educated decision about your university choices, the next time round. However, universities will be keen to know how you used this year to develop as an applicant – make sure you have something to show for it.

Try a degree apprenticeship

You can study for a degree and get real-world experience at the same time, on a higher or degree apprenticeship.

Plus, your employer pays for your tuition fees! Degree apprenticeship application processes vary depending on the provider, so you might be able to find one with a pending deadline.

Find a job (and work your way up):

If you’re keen to get your foot on the career ladder and start earning a wage, consider getting an entry-level position and working your way up through an organisation. 

Many well known brands and companies offer further training and education for employees who demonstrate enthusiasm and potential to move up the ranks. You may find that you see more areas of a business this way and develop a closer understanding of how it runs.

What is Ucas Adjustment? Read our FAQ


What is Ucas adjustment?


If you did better than expected in your results, you could swap your firm choice for a place on a different course with higher entry requirements via Ucas Adjustment – essentially the opposite of Clearing.

You can apply to a course through Adjustment if:

  • you’ve already been accepted onto your firm choice and it’s now an unconditional firm choice;
  • Or you’ve exceeded the conditions of your firm offer, including subject-specific grade requirements eg if your offer is for ABB but you end up getting AAB, you could use Adjustment to potentially find a place at another uni instead. 


How Adjustment works 


Ucas Adjustment kicks off on A-level results day. You’ve only got five days from then (or whenever your firm offer becomes unconditional) to use Adjustment, so you’ve got to act fast. The ‘trade up’ system officially ends on 31 August.

Register for Adjustment in Track. While you hunt for a new place, your original firm choice remains safe – and will do so unless you confirm you’d like to go elsewhere.

Unlike Clearing, there’s no vacancy list for Adjustment. Therefore, you’ll need to check university websites and contact admissions offices directly to see if they have vacancies. Iit can help to research some alternative courses ahead of results day (especially if you’re feeling confident about your results). 

When you call, tell them straight away that you're applying through Adjustment. 

You can contact any university you like if you're using Adjustment, even if it's one that didn't accept your application first time round (although there’s no guarantee they’ll have any spaces).


Should you switch?


Before you dive in to find a course at a ‘better’ university, think carefully  – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 

You’ve likely put a lot of thought into your current course choice, which you’ve already visited (perhaps more than once). Plus, you’ve got your student finance and accommodation sorted.

Are you really ready to turn your back and seek a place elsewhere so quickly?

What should I do after results day?

You’ve found a new course… Congrats!

There are a couple last-minute things to do before your big move:

Update your student finance

It’s important to keep your student finance body abreast of any changes to your circumstances, including if you’re now studying a different course. You may be eligible for more in maintenance support eg if you’ll now be studying in London. 

Sort out accommodation

This might be worth asking a university about during your Clearing call. Universities will aim to house all first year students in their own halls, but if you’re coming through Clearing, you might have to find other housing eg private halls, private rental.

Your university’s housing office will be able to assist you. Learn more about your housing options.

Plan your student budget

If you’ll be heading to a different corner of the country, this could have a big impact on your student budget. Expenses like housing, travel or going out will vary from city to city.

Our student budget calculator is a good place to begin – try it and get a rough monthly figure you’ll need to live on.

Get excited about your new home

You may have spent the last year preparing to live in one place for the next three years, and now find yourself heading somewhere completely different.

Google it, look up its hashtag on Instagram and watch vlogs from current students on YouTube to discover what it’s famous for and what there is to do for fun.

Heading off to university? We have further advice on budgeting for living costs and where to find the best student discounts.