This advice will help you get to the university you want if your grades aren’t quite what you expected.

This is traditionally an anxious time of year for prospective university students waiting to find the course that will shape their future. When A-level results are published in August, there will inevitably be students who haven’t quite got the grades they had hoped for – but they shouldn’t feel their options are limited. More than 30,000 students enter higher education through clearing every year and there are a range of courses which lead to excellent graduate employment prospects.

The starting point for anyone not getting the grades needed is not to assume that you cannot find a place at your first choice university. Some institutions may still be able to offer applicants a place or suggest similar alternative courses. After that, you need to get on the phone to other universities as quickly as possible. Official lists of course vacancies are published on the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) website or on individual university websites. Ideally, students should have already considered their subject strengths and have their A-level and GCSE results to hand before they call a university.

Here are six useful tips to help you through the Clearing process when dealing with universities:

Be proactive – and do it quickly!

Contact the institution immediately

The longer you leave it, the fewer options you will be left with. Approach admissions teams in an enthusiastic manner – remember that clearing is not a last-resort situation.

Approach Clearing with a positive attitude

Treat it as an opportunity to review the choices you’ve made until now. Consider the range of opportunities available and the alternative routes you might take to achieve your goals.

Trust yourself

Your instant reaction may be to rely on your parents or teachers to help you through this stage but you will benefit more if you take the initiative and negotiate with the institutions yourself. You must fully understand the course you’re considering as well as its structure and your expectations of it. If you rely on others to sort it out for you, it will be harder to get a grasp of what makes a course right for you.

Make yourself known

It makes a big difference if you can turn up to the university. Why not make an appointment through the admissions tutor? It will show that you’re keen and motivated. If a university is open to meeting applicants in this way, it could be a strong and positive signal of your potential experience as a student.

Be honest

The institution you apply to will be interested to find out why you find yourself in clearing. Be honest about your circumstances and try not to put yourself down. They will want to know what you can offer as an individual, that you are motivated and committed and that you have the potential to be successful at the end of your course.

Understand your motivation for accepting a place in clearing

When you join a course you will be committing yourself to three or four years of study. It is important therefore to choose the right programme and institution for you. Remember with top-up fees and living expenses the potential cost of getting it wrong can be significant.

Clearing may seem like a rollercoaster ride but it’s worth it – remember that universities recognise that there will be students going to them through clearing, so you will not be alone in this. There are so many reasons for entering higher education. Of course, obtaining a degree is important in helping you achieve your career goals. But it’s also about developing new skills, meeting people from a range of backgrounds and cultures and developing as a person.

Tom Nichol is the Associate Dean: Undergraduate Programmes at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University .

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