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Most year 12’s don’t know what Clearing is. Should we be worried?

In early June, the Education team were invited to a UCAS Fair at the University of East London. Year 12’s from schools in London made up most of the attendees, and alongside them were representatives of universities, a few parents and some lone student marketeers (us!). We were excited to hear what students had to say about university so early in the cycle - some were excited by the prospect of university, while others were more wary of it. However, there were some consistent themes that came up when speaking to them.

Location of a university is important

Most students wanted to stay close to home, either to save money or to be able to go back home at weekends. Only one student mentioned a desire to move away and develop her life skills, while another student said he would be open to moving to the ‘countryside’ - by which he meant moving out of London. The impression he gave was that he hadn’t considered life outside of London very much.

The quality of a university course might convince a student to move away from home

Some said they would consider moving out of London (where most of the attendees were from) if the quality of their course would be much better elsewhere. Overall, location and the quality of a course seemed to be the biggest deciding factors.

Psychology was a popular choice for students in 2023

Psychology was most often cited as the preferred subject choice. This is in-line with the January 2022 application figures released by UCAS which shows those studying Psychology have increased by over 8% in England. Engineering and Computer Science were also popular choices for this year.

Students more open to real work experience

The students we engaged with were open to apprenticeships, especially those that were unsure if university was for them. Similarly with those students looking to go university, practical experience on their course was a very important factor. One prospective Psychology student mentioned that the availability of practical experience on a course will be a deciding factor as to which university course to choose; “there was a lot of focus on wanting an industrial placement if it can get me into the industry. I’m more interested in getting work experience”.

Clearing a new prospect for students

Finally, and arguably most importantly, only a very small handful of students we spoke to had heard of Clearing. When it was explained to them, a lot of them looked quite panicked at the thought of it. Recently Springpod conducted a survey with over 100,000 year 12 and 13 students and found that not getting into university is a huge fear amongst year 12’s, whilst their biggest goal is understanding their options. Experts also predict that thousands of school leavers do not have a firm university offer yet as places at top institutions increase. Andrew Hargreaves, founder of Data HE, comments in the piece that this is “a big failure of information and advice”.

With even more 18-year-olds entering university next year, and competition increasing further, year 12’s need to be informed about Clearing as soon as possible. Different course options and a truer understanding of the market should be made clear to this cohort of students. They know they want work experience and that they want to stay close to home generally, but there needs to be more work done when informing them on what happens process-wise before they can make these choices.

Our observation from the event was that they’re a very thoughtful and open-minded generation – and they will need more support. The worsening cost-of-living crisis will have an inevitable impact on their university choices (especially for lower-income students), and years of learning at home will make them desperate for normality and regularity in their studies. Their long-term goals were clear, but it was noticeable that they might not understand the nuances of what’s happening right now and the options available to them.