My hell working at the clearing call centre on A-level results day
The only way to keep sane was to sneak Beyoncé lyrics into the rejections
Constant tears, gentle let downs and a flurry of low grades all within the first hour set the tone of a 12 hour shift working the clearing phones on results day.
As part of a university ambassador scheme, I was asked to work clearing and help sixth formers bag a place at the University of Liverpool if they hadn’t made the grades.
But who’d have thought my 12 hour shift would have been so mentally and physically draining?
No training could have prepared me for the amount of rejections I would be dishing out like a pizza stand in Fresher’s Week.
The day begun on a sour note with an early morning rejection, with the very first call ambitiously begging for a spot of the medicine course.
A gentle let down swiftly followed.
Unfortunately just 10 per cent or perhaps less of the hundreds of calls we received were put through to a real life admissions tutor or the top dog ominous decision makers.
Our minimum entry grade was BBC or BBB, and we couldn’t even consider letting anybody in with less.
But the sheer quantity of people calling up who had lower than the required amount was phenomenal, and it was these students who were begging and crying down the phone.
One student confessed: “I’m getting the same answer from every single university, I feel useless and so low”, before bursting into tears on the phone.
This all came from a grown man who had got CCE in his results and wanted to study Civil Engineering, symbolising how clearing has the capacity to change even the most self-aware person into a crumbling mess.
Labouring the phones, we were advised to try and cheer up the rejected sixth formers.
But regardless of how lenient we might appear, if they simply cannot get in it’s just heartbreaking and mentally draining to hear the same story repeated over and over again that people feel they aren’t good enough.
I had parents, teachers, family friends and even a desperate priest telling me how his precious son or daughter “just had a bad day” or how “it’s not representative of what they can bring to the university, honest!”
You become numb to the desperation and raw hunger for education in the end.
That’s not saying I became heartless or lost empathy, because there will never be any harm in trying to see if there are any vacancies available.
I stopped feeling bad about saying giving resounding “no” because it simply became my job. The humanity which I originally held when dealing with these requests started to escape.
Throughout the day several departments even had the cheek to increase their entry requirements, drastically moving the goalposts and shattering sixth former’s dreams.
The Life Science School, which includes popular option Biomedical Science, shot up from ABB to AAB.
Feeling like the University of Liverpool’s answer to Simon Cowell, I said no at every single opportunity and became the eternal bearer of bad news and the public face of this student cull.
Unfortunately I cared enough to be honest to the students and not lie to them that they had no chance in getting in.
Before results day I never thought that the university departments would be as brutal as they were being in controlling numbers in today’s age of making money through education.
There were some lighter moments, like being put on hold by a mother contacting her child and not the other way around as became the norm.
It even became a bit of a game throughout the day to sneak Beyoncé lyrics into my phone call wordplay.
It was the little comments like “I look to the left of my screen” and saying “flawless” instead of “ok” which helped me get through the heartbreak.
I even had a chat with a posh student having a genuine dilemma about moving to the north and the dangers of escaping the safe home counties.
Obviously being able to accept places for people was the most rewarding part – especially those that you spend a long time talking to and dealing with their requests.
Sadly I only heard four to five acceptance calls, as I was not an official decision maker but just the enabler.
Once I gave them hope and transferred them over to the regular staff, their university future was still only hanging by a thread.
By the end of the day it was clear that clearing is not meant to be a place for lost souls, but for those with ambition and drive to try and go to university – even if they fell short of the grades.
Naturally it was fun to make people happy, on the very rare occasion I was able to pass callers along.
I can only imagine it was nice to hear my friendly camp voice at the end of the phone for some people who have been through a tough day and to tell them that I will listen to them and try my best to process their request.
Leaving depressed and downtrodden, my shift finally ended in the early evening.
I wouldn’t say I do it again because telling people no constantly was horrific, but it was satisfying helping those few students into a Russell Group institution.
It’s just a shame that the amount of rejections was considerably higher than the amount of acceptances.
I don’t know much about fighting but I know I will fight for you.