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【SCMP Education Post:Study in the UK】Blessings in disguise or risky territory? The UCAS clearing and adjustment services should not be stigmatised

Boarding 101


‘Clearing’ and ‘adjustment’ are words which could soon mean a lot to thousands of students applying for places to study at UK universities through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). The clearing service will be well-known to British education buffs, but I was keen to get the lowdown on the adjustment option from a Hong Kong student who had been through it. Fortunately, I was put in touch with an ambitious BA student from an institution I know well, the University of Nottingham…


Before I reveal more of my interview with Paula Chung, let’s talk about what the UCAS clearing and adjustment services actually are. UCAS clearing enables students who do not hold any offers from their firm or insurance choice universities after receiving their A-level or IB results to find a suitable course. UCAS adjustment allows students who have met, and even surpassed, conditions for their firm choice to continue to search for an alternative choice. Students can carry out their search safe in the knowledge that they will not lose their original conditional firm choice offer. Adjustment is optional, and students are advised to think carefully about their options and talk to their advisors.


For Paula Chung, who is studying for a BA in international media and communications studies at the University of Nottingham, it was a case of “it all worked out for the best”. During our exchanges, Paula came across as a real go-getter and open-minded individual. She has, for instance, travelled extensively in Europe, and even dabbled with learning Spanish and German. After going through the “daunting” experience of the application process to university, and then an adjustment, Paula feels that there are “opportunities in everything. Even the darkest of situations can reveal something rewarding and life-changing.”


SAMUEL CHAN: Paula could you tell me a little bit about yourself, and your experience with clearing or adjustment?


PAULA: I studied A-levels in the UK after much discussion with my mother about whether it was the right decision to leave Hong Kong. I had a hard time when I got my A-level results. I do not know how many hours I spent staring at my computer screen in disbelief at the grades that had been awarded to me. I just knew that I had to pick myself up. I called the University of Nottingham, and they were satisfied with my results, although they could not accept me or reserve a place for me, because I had to wait to find out my GCSE mathematics result. This is an important point: you need to satisfy or exceed your firm offer to become eligible for adjustment. Another week passed, a week which felt like a lifetime, and then I was delighted to get the result I wanted, meet my firm offer, and officially enter adjustment. I was able to call Nottingham again…


SAMUEL CHAN: I sense another twist in the tale…


PAULA: Spot on. The school I wanted to enter didn’t have any room for me. However, one admissions officers worked wonders, and managed to issue me an offer. The amazing thing was that three days of my adjustment period were designated UK holidays, and that left me very little time to negotiate with Nottingham.


SAMUEL CHAN: Back in my day, I wasn’t aware that the adjustment process existed, as those who suddenly had a change of heart about their study path would automatically go through clearing. I actually got very good grades, and had a range of universities to pick from; I chose to study law at the University of Nottingham. Do you think there is a misconception that these services are only for those who have a missed a grade, or are becoming desperate?


PAULA: Absolutely, yes. Many of my friends were afraid to go into clearing because of the stigma that follows. But why worry what others think when your future is at stake?


SAMUEL CHAN: What advice do you have for students who want to use adjustment?


PAULA: As my story shows, do not give up, and be persistent when dealing with admissions officers and your desired school. It’s also vital to be responsive, and keep a record of written correspondence with universities.


SAMUEL CHAN: I loved Nottingham. Was there a happy ending for you, Paula?


PAULA: Certainly. I feel like I have lived in this city all my life. I am involved in many societies and extracurricular pursuits. Of course, I had my doubts at the start, but as soon as I realised the teaching and atmosphere here matches the hype and reputation, all my fears went away.


Clearly, then, any negativity surrounding clearing and adjustment can be dismissed. Indeed, as Paula states, it can be “a new pool of opportunities”.

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