‘Clearing got me on to the course I wanted’

Student Saskia Duff explains how to survive clearing and work the system to win the right place

Saskia Duff (21) attended King Edward's School, Bath, and achieved three A-levels in Art, English Literature and Theatre Studies (all at grade B). She went through clearing last summer to try to get on to an English course - one of the most popular degrees of all.

“I did an Art Foundation course at the University of Falmouth in 2007 and was offered a place to study an Art degree at Bournemouth, which I deferred for a year so that I could go travelling with my boyfriend. When we got back last summer I changed my mind and decided I’d rather do English Literature. After turning down Bournemouth’s offer, it was too late to apply via the usual route so I went through clearing.

I only had a B for A-level English and so many universities want an A, but that actually worked in my favour. Because it’s clearing, the universities are more willing to give the places away. It was quite a fickle process, though, and seemed to be more about impressing the right person than having the right grades.


A crucial day

It was really stressful on the day because I had to re-write my personal statement and change my Ucas application before sending them off and ringing round. The phone lines are open for a number of days but the one that they open on is crucial and I was on the phone constantly.

I had a few universities in mind and got offers from Cardiff and Exeter, which they were prepared to hold open for a few days while I decided. It was Reading that I was really after because I wanted to be near London. However, it was impossible to get past the people on the switchboard who kept saying ‘you haven’t got the grades, so we can’t consider you’.

With clearing, there isn’t a set pattern and you have to be resourceful. I went on to Reading’s website, found the Head of English’s email address and wrote to him, saying ‘I’m really keen to study on your course’. He gave me a ring and I talked my way in.


Work the system

You can get around the system, if you persevere. I didn’t have the grades for the English course, but they were willing to offer me joint honours English and Classics at slightly lower grades. I can drop Classics this year and will graduate with a straight English degree from an excellent university.

You have to be well prepared for clearing. Some of the universities say that they’ll get back to you, others put you straight on the phone to a head of department for an interview. With Cardiff, I got through to the head of English who began shooting questions at me about my interests and books I’d read. You have to be ready to talk and charm them a bit. They’re also looking for someone who can prove that they really want to be on that course.

After I got my offer from Reading, I accepted it in writing via Ucas and then the offer was guaranteed.


Campus life

I missed out on a place in halls and was put with a host family for five weeks until a place came up. By the time I moved on to the campus, however, most people had formed friendship groups.

Some of the universities that I contacted through clearing still had places available in halls, however. It does make a difference living on campus when you go to university, especially to your social life.”

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