‘I’m so glad it happened’: People who went through Clearing on what happened next

Turns out going through clearing ain’t the end of the world

Going through clearing sucks. Like objectively, if you miss your grades and get shoved into a pile of people all clamoring for a hand out of the bin, it’s not going to be a particularly fun experience. It’s like that scene in Game Of Thrones when Jon Snow is being crushed by his own men except instead of trying to stay alive or win some great battle it’s just you and a bunch of other desperate 17-year-olds trying to get into a Russell Group or average level uni that your mum has actually heard of.

BUT –  and it’s a very important but – that’s just that one day. Maybe it will take time to settle into the knowledge that you’re no longer going to your first or second choice (or third or fourth or fifth for that matter), but after a month you’ll have made peace with it. And after six months you’ll probably love your new uni. And after three years you’ll be blind drunk telling your uni pals that you thank the clearing gods every day for granting you the failure that allowed you to get into this uni, and meet those people, and make those decisions, and bring you to be the person you are today. People get very sentimental about clearing, can you tell?

The Tab spoke to a few of those people who went through the dreaded pile on and survived – in fact, they thrived. These are the stories of people who went through clearing and, as much as they can never know what would have happened in a parallel universe where they went to Oxbridge and got 3 A*s, think they actually came out much better off.

‘I was totally lost at first’

Alex, a York graduate, said that for a while he considered clearing day as the worst day of his life. Now, he considers it one of the best. “I was hoping to study Medicine at Leeds,” he told The Tab, “and with all the aptitude tests, subject choices and extra bullshit that comes with that, you get pretty invested. My GCSE and AS’ were strong, so everyone thought I was going to be fine.” Then, the morning of results day, he missed his offer by three grades. “My heart sunk,” he said. “I wasn’t going to med school and with these grades, I would struggle to do any related science at the university I’d like. Leeds was my only offer so, after almost 4 years of prep, I was totally lost. My long term girlfriend at the time was also at Leeds, so my results were also putting distance between us and I had NO sense of what to do.

“Three years later I graduated with a First Class Theatre degree from York, and then became the bloody President of the SU. But ‘what about medicine?’ you ask. Well, when my results suddenly ripped away all the things I’d been striving towards for so long, it forced me to ask the big questions: What do I want? How can I come out of this situation in an ok position?”

Alex said that subject snobbery was stopping him for considering theatre as a uni subject, but he had always loved it, so clearing forced him to try out for a theatre course instead. “When York said they’d take me, the prospect of studying theatre excited me far more than the prospect of being a doctor ever did.”

Alex says he learned two main lessons from his clearing experience: “Firstly: things don’t go to plan. Clearing is one example of this, but how we respond to a situation not going to plan defines who we are. The lobster can only grow a new shell once it’s been through the trauma of outgrowing the old one. Pretty sure that adage is relevant here. The second lesson is also accompanied by an adage. My old teacher used to speak about ‘Hot Iron Moments’ a lot: when this metal is at its most hot is when it is most malleable, and your actions at this moment influence its shape for a long time. Exams, clearing, Uni – these are all hot iron moments but it’s your approach to them (how you strike the iron) that really makes the difference.

“So if you find yourself staring down the business end of some grim results, and you’re faced with clearing, remember that you can still control the situation and approach in a way that works for you. You are a hot lobster, go smash it.”

‘I made the classic mistake of only leaving one grade between my firm and insurance’

Maddie told The Tab: “I originally applied to Edinburgh with Manchester as my insurance. I made the classic mistake of only leaving one grade difference between the two, so was a rough result day when I got completely different grades.”

Maddie expected clearing to be “absolute hell”, so spent her morning crying and frantically calling every uni she could think of begging them to take her. “My mum was the one who looked up my original other choices,” she told The Tab. Of those original five, Newcastle came up on Google with spaces left in clearing. “I got a place in literally a minute and a half. Then I cracked open a drink to celebrate the fact that I was still able to go to a great city university. Clearing isn’t a death sentence by any means. I’m so glad I didn’t get into Edinburgh, Newcastle has honestly the best nightlife, Edinburgh seems a lot harder and the nights out don’t seem to compare to Newcastle’s trebles.”

‘Missing the grades made me end up where I was supposed to be’

Elisa woke up on results day thinking she would end that day with an unconditional offer to study BioMed at either the University of Nottingham or Leeds. Instead, she ended that day with a confirmation from Coventry University to go and do Fine Art. The decision, she said, was one she’d never even considered until everything else was taken away from her.

“My personal tutor pushed me to choose to do science courses at uni (BioMed, immunology) because it made the college look good, so I did. I was so set I went up and down the country to different unis. Newcastle, Edinburgh, Leeds, Glasgow, Nottingham, Warwick, York, everything.” She even interviewed for a few of these courses. There were parts of science subjects that Elisa enjoyed, but she loved art – she just never considered doing it at uni. “I was so in the zone when it came to [doing BioMed] I didn’t even realise that over the past year my art tutor had been begging for me to apply to art school.”

Then results day hit, and all the best laid BioMed plans went awry. “I was heartbroken. I put so much into my applications,” Elisa told The Tab, “but mental health got the better of me in the end.” During her exams, Elisa had blacked out and experienced panic attacks because of the stress of trying to remember all of her revision. Luckily though, she still had an A in art, and finally she knew what she had to do. She called up Coventry because she liked the sound of the course, then got to speaking with a professor who would eventually end up her personal tutor at uni. “He interviewed me on art and I told him all my favourite artists and works and shows because it truly was my passion and I was so enthusiastic to be speaking about something I truly loved,” Elisa said. Everything since then has been a whirlwind: a year abroad, a course of 30 people that feels “just like a family” and then finally, ending her degree with a first. “Overall, I’m so glad I fucked that bio exam”.

‘I purposefully put myself into clearing’

Serena was supposed to go to UCL, but come results day she did something a bit unexpected: she put herself into clearing. “About halfway through summer, I realised I didn’t want to live in London for uni. I got an accommodation offer at the beginning of August which was just the nail in the coffin – it was the cheapest halls, but still so, SO expensive, and they didn’t really seem great value for money!”

Serena began looking into other options and settled on Exeter. “On results day, I had to put myself into clearing which was SO daunting – I remember feeling sick clicking the button which confirmed my rejection of the UCL offer. I rang up Exeter and my heart SANK when they told me they had no spaces. I rang up Birmingham, Newcastle, Loughborough – I was ready to accept almost any offer, but nowhere had any spaces for English. Then I got a call back from Leeds – it was the first place that actually seemed to take an interest in me as an individual and I got to speak to a tutor who talked me through the course. They offered me a place and I instantly accepted – I didn’t have much choice but it seemed like a genuinely amazing uni, and at least I’d managed to avoid London!”

Now, Serena is the biggest Leeds stan of all. She recently completed a Masters at Cambridge but misses her undergrad more than anything. “Fast forward four years since results day,” she told The Tab, “and I can confirm that I had the best undergraduate experience at Leeds. I made my best friends, fell in love with the city, and came out with a first-class degree. I’m now looking to move back as I miss it so much.”

So really, clearing ain’t all bad. It’s hard, it’s confusing, and there may be a scary moment where you feel like absolutely no one wants to take you. But you’ll find a space, and eventually, it will work out. Everyone falls in love with their uni. Especially if you have to go through the hell of clearing, you’ll be grateful to just have your feet on solid ground.

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