The secrets to a successful Clearing cycle

Clearing July 2021

With less than a month until Year 13s get their results, now is the last chance to get ready for Clearing 2021.

In this blog, we will reveal the secrets to a successful Clearing cycle – we’ll explore what we learned from last year, what 2021 Clearing applicants need from you, and how to stand out from the crowd.

Insights from A-Level Results Week 2020

In 2020 the global pandemic shook the education sector, forcing school closures, distance learning and exam cancellations.

Then there were delays to BTECs and an Ofqual grading algorithm which downgraded nearly 40% of results, leading to a last-minute government decision to allow teacher assessed grades.

Many students reacted by posting that grading would still be unfair due to peers cheating on mocks, while others feared the impact of grade inflation.

In general, we noticed a worrying rise in mental health posting on site, but on a positive note we also saw our community pull together to support each other with a huge spike in engagement (the number of posts on A-Level Results Day was up 78% YoY1).

The Student Room responded in support of students by writing an open letter to the government calling for urgent clarification on grading, as well as additional mental health support.

We also predicted, based on our onsite activity, that there would be an upsurge in applicants for Medicine and health-related degrees – this did indeed turn out to be the case with UCAS reporting a 9% YoY increase in 18 year olds accepted via Clearing to study “Medicine and Dentistry” and a 15% YoY increase for “Subjects allied to Medicine”. 2

We put this down to increased awareness of the importance of the NHS during the pandemic. Other subject growth areas included subjects related to helping others, STEM subjects and career-focused degrees. Once again, The Student Room’s onsite engagement proved to be highly predictive of Clearing subject trends.

Our thoughts on Clearing 2021 

Freedom Day has finally arrived in the UK, but 2021 applicants have endured two years of disruption and uncertainty.

While we don’t expect the chaos of the 2020 cycle (this time teachers rather than algorithms are firmly in control of assessments) it is yet to be seen how the 2021 grading system will play out. Currently, we are still seeing user posts about grade uncertainty, competition for university places, and possible grade inflation. 44% of students we polled are worried Teacher Assessed Grades will impact their chances of getting into university or college.

Since the start of the pandemic, employability has been a much bigger concern for students. We expect to see this reflected in subject choices again this year as applicants prepare themselves for a turbulent UK job market.

In terms of subjects, we continue to see spikes in activity in subject forums related to STEM, health and helping people. Interestingly, in the past month pageviews are up 385% for our Social Work forum and up 4% for Pharmacy. 3

During Results Week we will be sharing regular insights about student behaviour, subject choices, and decision-making, so make sure you are signed up to our newsletter. For now, here are some tips for engaging with students:

Give Clearing applicants your decision as soon as possible

Entering Clearing can be unsettling, uncertain and stressful for applicants. This student comment shows why it is important for universities to stay in regular contact with applicants:

I’m applying in clearing and have already contacted my first choice. I am now waiting for them to respond…Who knows when and what they will respond. It would be right for me to contact other universities and try to get more offers too, right?”

We can see that this applicant is anxious for a decision and is considering applying to other universities while they are waiting. Here is another example:

“I leave for Italy around august, maybe august 13th-14th…I want to apply with…higher grades I decided to wait for results day & apply through clearing…So how long would the clearing process take, would it be on the day?”

Look out for students who are trading up in Clearing

Clearing used to be seen as the backup plan for students who didn’t make their grades, but increasingly we are seeing examples of students using the Clearing system to their advantage.

70,4904 applicants enrolled through Clearing in 2020, but our research suggested that 19% did so because they changed their mind about what subject they wanted to study and a further 18% changed their mind about their choice of university. 5

This student is considering applying to a university with a higher grade requirement than their firm choice:

I have looked at courses and have found these in clearing…if i achieved AAB would manchester still consider my place if entry requirements are AAA

Help students to understand the Clearing process

Our site is flooded with student comments and questions about the nuances of the Clearing process. We have an entire megathread dedicated to Medicine Clearing applicants, which has had over 18,000 pageviews in the last 30 days alone. 5 An FAQs page is a great starting point to help applicants understand how to apply, but it’s also essential to engage with students directly to answer their individual questions.

The Student Room has a huge audience, so when you answer a question for one applicant, you also have the potential to reach thousands of others who visit the forum pages looking for advice.

We have shared just a small selection of Clearing questions below. Hopefully, the specific nature of each will show why using information pages alone will not meet the unique needs of applicants:

“I’m currently regretting my firm choice and wish I had chosen one of the other universities I applied to, is it possible to apply to that uni through clearing on results day?”

“I no longer want to go to my firm or insurance choice uni how do I go about entering clearing? How does this work”

“Will more subjects be added to clearing? Would unis add more subjects later say if someone was to drop out?”

“Does anyone know if universities let you apply through clearing before getting results in august please? as I am scared like there will be no places left then?”

Some Welsh students who received their provisional grades in June are confused about when they can apply:

“i live in wales and got my grades early but my UCAS track hasnt updated for clearing? anyone else”

Now is the ideal time to share your advice by engaging onsite. This will build your brand profile as a helpful university. We share regular tips on how you can use the Official Rep tool to boost student engagement.

Trends in successful campaigns and creatives 

The most successful Clearing campaigns in the pandemic cycle were, unsurprisingly, empathic in tone. They used soft CTA statements like “find out more” or “explore” and emotive, heart-felt language which emphasized a sense of connection, purpose and belonging. e.g. “support”, “be part of a community”. On this note, remember that for students it is Results Day/Week, not Clearing – using the right language will help you to foster deeper connections.

As far as creatives go, we noticed a shift away from the bright, strong 2019 palate of pinks and reds towards softer hues like blues, purples or muted yellows in 2020. We judged that this might reflect students’ increased need for calm during uncertainty times.

In terms of campaign delivery, last year clients who combined email with display to drive brand awareness did particularly well. One client achieved an open rate of 66.7% for a Chemistry email and 78% viewability from their Engineering forum takeover (with 0.14% CTR). This client took full advantage of the spike in interest for STEM subjects and achieved fantastic results with our applicant audience.

What to know more about Clearing recruitment and student behaviour?

Please get in touch with our team
0800 999 3222

We have very limited availability for Clearing emails to our full database – so get in touch soon to avoid disappointment. All other Clearing inventory is also limited and first-come, first-served. However, some great discounts are available.

For bespoke research, contact the TSR Insight team.

What to read next:

2020 Clearing case studies
A-level Results Day 2020

Other resources:

Sign up for Official Rep training
Sign up for webinars

Data sources:

1 Posting on The Student Room site, A-level Results Day 2020 (13 Aug) vs A-level Results Day 2019 (15 Aug)
2 UCAS data (placed Clearing applicants by subject group, HECoS)
3 Google analytics, 19 June – 18 July 2021
4UCAS data
5 Navigating Changing Options report: “The experiences of new and continuing university students during Covid-19″ (Clearing and Adjustment, Wave 3 – Fieldwork October 2020)
6 Google analytics, 19 June – 18 July 2021