Results and clearing
Planning to go to university is an exciting time, but it can also be highly stressful.
The wait until results day may feel excruciatingly slow as the summer days and weeks gradually pass by. When it does arrive, results day can bring with it a mixture of responses and emotions.
Many thousands of students pass through the clearing process each year, which matches applicants to university places that are yet to be filled. In this guide, we’ll talk you through what to expect, how to adapt to changing plans and why it’s so important to maintain good mental health before your next exciting adventure begins.
Getting ready for results day
Results day is a very emotional time for all students. It’s a day of much anticipation and excitement yet it can also be anxiety-provoking and worrying for those around you who care about your success.
Being prepared and knowing what to expect can help you manage your emotions during a stressful time and make good choices.
The build up to results day
Planning and waiting to go to university can feel like it takes forever.
The build-up may feel excruciatingly slow and long. All that time studying beforehand. All the coursework. Preparing and revising for exams and assessments, not to mention actually doing the assessments. Then, after all of that … you wait for the results.
Once you have accepted an initial offer for a university place, you may have started to invest time in getting ready for the next step: joining relevant social media groups, booking your accommodation, researching the course and town and thinking about what it will be like to leave home.
If you’re feeling worried or anxious, that’s absolutely fine. Even the most steady and level headed person will go through a range of emotions during this waiting period.
2020 has increased these concerns for many. It’s been a year unlike any other, with exams being cancelled and uncertainty about what university life will look like post-Covid. It’s really important to remember that everyone is in the same boat as you right now.
It’s here - results day has finally arrived! When the big day actually comes, the media tends to always focus on students holding up spectacular results and jumping for joy, thrilled to have achieved the grades they’d been wishing for.
While you may feel this way on the day, in reality it can bring with it a mixture of emotions that may have been ‘on hold’ for you for some time.
You may not react as you thought you might.
Dealing with powerful emotions
Even if you have done spectacularly well, surprising emotions and feelings can pour out and seem quite overwhelming and confusing on the day itself.
You may feel relief that it is all over or be thrilled at the outcome. You may also have a sense of disappointment that things hadn’t quite worked out in the way you anticipated or panic about what to do next.
It’s entirely normal for a range of feelings to be expressed at this emotional time. It is important to acknowledge and accept them for what they are.
Family and friends will often push you to celebrate on the day, but it can also be helpful and positive for you to plan some time to also quietly reflect on the results you have gained and what this means for your next step.
What is clearing and how do I manage?
Clearing is the process that matches applicants to university places that are yet to be filled. It’s available to anyone who has made a UCAS Undergraduate application and doesn’t yet hold any offers.
There are a mix of different reasons why students enter clearing. Some may have overachieved their predicted grades; some may have missed their conditions for the university or college applied for; others just change their minds about where to go and what to study.
How to apply
UCAS has all the information you need on how to apply for clearing, which you will need to do if this is the route you have chosen to go down. You can apply for a clearing place from 30th July 2020 if you haven’t yet received an offer, or from 15.00 (UK time) on results day itself.
UCAS’ easy to use search tool can match you to courses you may be interested in, or you can look for the specific course you would like via the UCAS website.
Clearing can be a stressful time. It can feel like there is real pressure to grab the best places before they go. Yet it’s essential to keep a clear head and take a breath before you begin: you need to make the best choice for you and not rush things.
While you may be sad or concerned that your original plans have gone awry, try to look at the bigger picture if you can. For many people, this can be a time of opportunity, where the unexpected has opened up new doors and different choices that had not been considered before.
In the future, you may look back and see huge positives that came out of it that otherwise might not have existed for you.
Making clearing less stressful: 5 practical steps
- See what other courses are available, and think about location again
You may find that other courses are out there that you simply did not know about before. You might also discover that location isn’t that important to you after all - there are other towns and cities that might have something better to offer you.
- Use this time to reconsider your choices
The initial application deadline for universities can be quite demanding. It’s often a stressful time and sometimes students feel rushed during the process. Clearing allows time to reconsider and think again about those choices; your criteria may be less fixed now than they were at the time of your application.
- Have someone supportive by your side
It can be useful and encouraging to have someone that you trust with you when embarking on the clearing process on the telephone. A supportive family member or friend lending morale support and a listening ear can be very welcome during this time.
- Prepare your questions in advance
Carefully consider and write down any questions you may have before your call. Proper preparation can reduce your anxiety, especially if you are nervous about speaking to strangers on the phone. It can be useful to also consider a few ‘clearing options’ and keep a note of who says what, so you have all the information ready-to-hand for each choice.
- Keep calm and take a deep breath
Spending a few moments practicing your breathing will really help before each call. Remember, also, that you are not alone: around 1 in 5 students go through clearing before starting at university.
Changing plans: how to cope
Finding yourself in the clearing process can be a big surprise. It can create shock, uncertainty and worry.
If you’ve spent a lot of time planning for your first choice, you may feel disheartened. You may even feel embarrassed or worried at the thought of having to face all the people you have told. Don’t be: around 1 in 5 students go through clearing before starting university.
This is just one difficult day. Try to remember that. Once you are at university, any other plans you had will soon be forgotten. People understand that plans change.
Take time to make the right decision for you
There’s a big gap between UCAS application deadline day and results day. It may be that you have spent the past few months realising that you don’t want to do a particular course or go to that town or city after all; perhaps you felt rushed into making an application.
Clearing presents an opportunity for you to look at alternatives that you might prefer: a course or a location that may actually prove to be a better fit for you.
Possibly, you’ll feel disappointed to find yourself in the clearing process. We all wish that things had turned out differently sometimes, and deal with setback in varying ways.
Don’t blame yourself
It’s all too easy to blame ourselves for a disappointing result and get stuck with being excessively self-critical. Feelings of ‘doom and gloom’ and catastrophic thinking can take over; seeing an event as a failure can lead to a spiral of more failure.
If this is what happens to you, try to recognise it for what it is. Your personal disappointment does not mean you have nothing to offer or that everything will go badly in the future.
Take time to pause and acknowledge how you are feeling. Get hold of your thinking and try to ‘neutralise’ it, taking the negative energy away from it.
The ability to neutralise thoughts can be a hugely useful technique for later life, so this is a good opportunity to now start. Try and move away from gloomy, self-critical thoughts to a more level basis: see if you can switch your thinking from “I’m so useless, I will never pass anything again” to “I’m disappointed but let’s see what else is possible for me now.”
How to deal with catastrophic thinking
- Say ‘stop’ to yourself: try and interrupt negative and catastrophic thoughts when they arise
- Remember that catastrophic thoughts are typically irrational: they are not based on facts or your actual experiences
- Think about alternative outcomes: a bit like re-writing your own story, you are in control of where your life leads you next and the path that you follow
- Identify what you like about yourself: remind yourself of your successes and best attributes and keep coming back to these regularly
- Acknowledge that sometimes unwanted things happen: that doesn’t make you a bad or unlucky person and it’s your decision how to choose to respond to circumstances
- Practise self-care strategies: reflect on what you like doing and activities that make you feel good, then make time for these. It could be eating well, being with friends, exercise or even getting plenty of sleep; whatever it is, prioritise your own health and wellbeing above all else.
How to know when your mental health is at risk
Clearing can be a stressful process; it’s natural to worry when faced with uncertainty.
It can be really helpful to recognise the signs of low mood or anxiety and to check in regularly with yourself on how you are feeling as part of your day-to-day routine.
Common signs to watch out for
You may be able to spot that your mental health is at risk if you recognise any of these signs in yourself:
- Feeling tired and lacking in energy
- Your sleep pattern being disrupted
- Not wanting to engage with family or friends
- Loss of appetite or eating too much
- Being really fidgety or restless, unable to commit to anything for long
- Not enjoying the things you usually love doing.
You may also notice:
- An unpleasant sensation, varying from ‘tension’ to ‘terror’ - this changes from person to person
- An awareness of imminent danger or harm - a feeling of dread that something bad is going to happen, even if you can’t explain how or why
- An experience of bodily sensations (such as getting hot or cold, shaking, feeling a lump in your throat, tightness in your chest, shallow breathing or a lack of focus) - all linked with the activation of the autonomic nervous system
- A strong urge to flee to a place of safety
- A lack of control over fine motor movements (being clumsy or feeling as if your limbs have a life of their own)
- Thoughts of a worrying or unpleasant nature, over which you have little control
- An inability to think clearly or act in a coordinated manner, especially in new, conflicting or threatening situations.
Seeking help if you are worried
In serious cases of anxiety, you may find that you have thoughts of hurting yourself or not wanting to be here anymore. If you do, please ask for help. You are not alone.
It is recommended that you make an appointment to visit your GP, discuss your concerns and receive appropriate medical care and guidance for your situation.
The following websites also provide valuable information about mental health and self-care strategies:
- Student Minds - The UK’s student mental health charity
- NHS - Counselling and support for student mental health problems
- Save the Student - How to look after your mental health at university
- Mind - How to cope with student life
Understanding your feelings
It’s also helpful to understand why you might be feeling some or all of these things at this particular time.
Try to remember that the tension you may have been experiencing before results day, combined with your actual results, can come out in all sorts of ways.
The more that you can be compassionate and kind with yourself, the better.
It’s absolutely OK to feel the way you do. Emotions pass and you won’t always feel this way. Things can and will change for the better.
Maintaining good mental health
Recognising that your mental health has dipped is an important first step to take. Having this awareness means you can now try to develop strategies to help how you feel. This will prove to be invaluable for the rest of your life.
Putting positive ways of living and thinking in place while you are awaiting your results or going through clearing will help you keep on top of your mental health.
If possible, try to use these tips and techniques throughout the summer, while you are making your choices in clearing: it’s a long and winding road to results day, and the next step can also be stressful. Keeping a clear head makes a big difference.
Take care of your physical health
- Try to establish good routines to help you feel refreshed and relaxed: regular sleeping habits are essential, so create a calming environment before going to bed, avoiding screen time, listening to stimulating podcasts or music
- Eat healthily wherever possible: avoid the temptation to snack on junk food or turn to alcohol, both of which can negatively impact your mood
- Physical activity can really help: going for a walk, doing some yoga or dancing can be just as worthwhile for your wellbeing as more intense exercise.
Try using relaxation techniques
Slowing down and stepping back from life can be really beneficial, building both your resilience and your ability to cope with stressful situations. Try:
- Breathing exercises
- Guided meditations
- Mindfulness practices - YouTube has plenty, or use an app like headspace or calm.
Plan doing things you enjoy
Have a think about activities that bring you joy. This may include some of the following:
- Walking or exercising
- Drawing or colouring
- Listening to music
- Watching your favourite TV shows or renting a movie
- Cooking or baking
- Whenever possible, find time to be with your good friends - either in person or virtually - in situations you enjoy.
Give yourself a bit of self-respect
Be proud of yourself, your accomplishments and what makes you unique:
- Acknowledge what you have achieved and how far you’ve come
- Make a list of things you enjoy and do them as a ‘reward’, anticipating these moments
- Try to have self-compassion. Be kind and speak to yourself as you would treat a good friend.
None of us are perfect! As one door closes, another opens. The future is yours to create.
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