The Step-by-Step Guide to Clearing & Adjustment (UK Universities)

Decided on Clearing or Adjustment? Here's our foolproof guide to finding and securing your place on your chosen course in time.

Once you know you’re going through the Clearing route, it can get a little confusing. After all, it’s a completely different application process from what you’ve been used to.

From the super-short timeframes, to having to contact universities directly, all the way through to adding choices and proceeding to confirmation, it’s common for students (and their parents) to feel a little overwhelmed.

If you want to get to grips with the basics of Clearing, check out this handy video from the University of Portsmouth. 

Better still: we’ve put together this ultimate step-by-step guide to getting that offer on your dream course in time for Autumn 2021.

How to search for available courses

  • UCAS search tool: UCAS’s search for courses will be updated specifically for Clearing come July 5.
  • UCAS Clearing Plus: In 2020, UCAS introduced Clearing Plus, where UCAS can use existing information you’ve entered into the platform to match you with potential courses and universities.
  • Universities’ own listings: Universities also publish course offerings on their own websites and social media. You’ll start seeing predicted listings around the middle of June, which will get updated regularly from the 5th July onwards as courses fill up.

In previous years, students have reported that UCAS tends to have the most up-to-date course listings - in some cases, even more up-to-date than universities' own websites.

We’d therefore recommend keeping a close eye on UCAS listings - you’ll need to be logged into the platform to keep track of offers and application statuses, anyway.

Note: for Adjustment, universities don’t publish a list of available places: you’ll have to research their course offerings yourself (through universities’ own websites and the UCAS search tool).

How to know which universities to contact

The short answer is: anyone you like the look of!

Even if you don’t meet the application requirements listed on their website, or even if this university or course rejected your application in the past: it’s always worth getting in touch with the university.

Courses get listed in clearing for a reason: they want to sign new students up!

Even if your exact course isn’t listed, it’s worth phoning up and speaking to them about your ambitions and interests: they may have a space on a similar course, or they might even be able to recommend a path better suited to your interests you hadn’t previously considered!

Equally, if you didn’t make your offer but are really set on that course or university, it’s still worth phoning them up. Just like with other universities, they might just be able to find a suitable counter-offer, such as a place on a very similar course.

How to contact universities

Once you’ve found courses you like the look of, you’ll want to make contact with the university immediately: places can fill up very quickly.

Universities have dedicated phone lines for Clearing & Adjustment, and, once again, it’s up to you to contact them.

On the phone, you’ll speak to a dedicated member of the admissions team who will ask you key questions, and inform you of any subsequent steps.

Check the opening hours: each university will have slightly different ones, and remember that if you’re phoning from outside the UK you’ll need to take into consideration time zone differences.

Some universities also have designated numbers for international students calling from outside the UK.

Contacting universities is definitely daunting, especially if this is the first time you’ve ever been in direct contact with the admissions team or with faculty.

But, the silver lining is that you’ve also got a chance to ask your questions, discuss your options, and receive personalised advice from admissions experts themselves!

The first thing universities will do is ask about your grades.

This includes your current results, but can also include previous years (like your IGCSEs, for example), any course-specific qualifications (for example, students applying for medical degrees may be asked for their UCAT or BMAT score), or results from an English Language Test.

It’s also common to be asked about your interest in this specific course or subject. In some cases, you’ll also have to speak to someone from your prospective department, or you might even be invited to an interview.

It’s common for a verbal offer to be made over the phone, and you’ll then have a window to think it over before formally accepting the offer in UCAS (each university can set their own deadlines, but they commonly give students a hard deadline of 48 hours).

Top tip: It’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got as reliable an internet and phone connection as possible: you don’t want to miss any communications.

We’d recommend having multiple devices to hand, too, including a laptop and a mobile phone. And don’t forget your chargers!

What other things do I need to consider as I speak to universities?

Once you’ve been made a verbal offer on the phone, the first thing to do is to make sure you understand it thoroughly: how long have you got to decide? What specific course is it for? When would the course begin?

The next thing to do is to check all of the practical considerations you’ll need to take into account. This includes your accommodation, your visa, how you’ll be funding your studies and living costs, and your travel arrangements.


Some universities guarantee international students accommodation if they apply through Clearing or Adjustment, others don’t. You’ll want to check your offers carefully, and see whether what’s offered is within your budget, or what off-campus options are available.


For international students, the most up-to-date student visa information can be found straight on the UK government’s website. Visa processing times typically take around 3 weeks. For the time being, the UK does not recognise Duolingo or TOEFL for visas. Check your unique circumstances to ascertain whether or not you’ll be required to book a separate ELT from a recognised provider.

For 2021 applications, EU students now count as international students, subject to the same visa and application requirements. Irish citizens do not need to apply for a student visa.

COVID-19 considerations

Like across the world, the situation in the UK is still evolving and, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know what the restrictions and regulations will be in Autumn 2021.

For the latest information on how COVID-19 is affecting UK Borders, click here.

For the time being, the UK has a ‘red list’ of countries from where access to the UK is restricted, though in most cases student visa applications continue to be processed as usual.

Though predictions estimate restrictions will continue to ease, currently those travelling from these red-listed countries (including students) must book 10-day mandatory quarantines in managed accommodation (note: it’s expensive - you’d have to set aside around £1800).

In terms of vaccinations, students do not currently need to be vaccinated before entering the UK: the UK is currently promising Pfizer BioNTech to all current students, and this is expected to continue to incoming international students enrolling in 2021, too.

How do I add a Clearing choice to UCAS Track?

Once a verbal offer is made, the university will provide you with the course code. To formally accept the offer, you’ve now got to hop into UCAS Track and add them as a Clearing choice: click ‘add clearing choice’ and fill in the course details.

Make sure you do this within the deadline the university has given you! The University will then confirm your place via UCAS Track, so keep checking.

You can only add one choice at a time, but if the University doesn't then confirm it, you’ll be able to add another.

Your official offer will come through on UCAS Track, which is also where you’ll have to formally accept or decline it.

Really think about your options carefully. So long as you respond to your offer within the deadline set by the university, the university can’t offer that same place to another student until you’ve formally declined it.

You also do not need to accept the first offer you receive. You can keep talking to universities to see if any others make you verbal offers over the phone, and then add your favourite one to UCAS Track.

For more information on the different Clearing & Adjustment options, make sure you check out our dedicated 2021 Results Resource Hub.