University clearing

Advice on looking after your wellbeing during clearing

New research commissioned by CWMT and Birmingham City University shows high levels of stress amongst students throughout the month of their A-Level results. Together we have published guidance for students who are struggling, including advice on the clearing process, written by Dr Andrew Reeves (Director of Colleges and Universities) and Jackie Williams (Waller Mental Health Trainer).

The build-up to results

Wanting to go to university can feel to be an excruciatingly slow build-up: all that time studying beforehand; all the coursework; preparing for examinations and other assessments; actually doing the assessments; and then… the wait for results. While it can be a highly exciting time, filled with anticipation and expectation, it can also sometimes be an anxiety-provoking time for you and those around you who care for your success. 


When the ‘results day’ actually comes, it can bring with it a mixture of responses that have been ‘on hold’, which can pour out and seem quite overwhelming and confusing: relief that it is all over; being thrilled at the outcome, or part of the outcome, or a sense of disappointment that things hadn’t quite worked out in the way you anticipated. It is entirely normal for a range of emotions to be expressed and it is important to acknowledge them for what they are. Finding yourself in the “’clearing process’” for university can be a shock, surprise, and create uncertainty and worry. It can also, for many people, be a time of opportunity too, where the unexpected has opened new doors and different choices that had not been considered before.

Tips for dealing with catastrophic thinking

  1. It is okay to say ‘stop’ to yourself, to try and interrupt negative and catastrophic thoughts

  2. Catastrophic thoughts are typically irrational, i.e., they are not based on facts or your usual experience

  3. Think about alternative outcomes: a bit like re-writing your own story

  4. Identify what you like about yourself and your successes, and remind yourself of them regularly

  5. Acknowledge that sometimes unwanted things happen, but that doesn’t make you a bad person

  6. Practise self-care strategies: things you like doing, such as time with friends, exercise, eating well.

What might ‘clearing’ mean for me?

Clearing as a process exists for a number of students for differing reasons: some have overachieved their predicted grades; some underachieved; some just change their minds about where to go or what to study, so there is a mix of reasons as to why students enter clearing. You may feel disappointed to find yourself within the clearing process. We all feel disappointed sometimes and can have varying ways of dealing with this. It is also possible, however, that in the future you may look back and see the positives that came out of it that otherwise might not have been there.

Sometimes we overly blame ourselves for a result which is disappointing and can get stuck with overly self-critical thinking. Suddenly everything can seem ‘doom and gloom’ and we create a situation where ‘catastrophic’ thinking takes over! It is important if this is what you do, to recognise it for what it is.

​Just because you are disappointed does not mean you have nothing to offer and everything will go badly in the future. Try and pause and acknowledge how you are thinking about your disappointment, get hold of your thinking and try and ‘neutralise’ it; that is, take the negative energy away from it. Neutralising thoughts is a useful technique for life; try and move the thought from ‘doom and gloom’ to a more level basis: “I’m so useless I will never pass anything again” to “I’m disappointed but let’s see what is possible now”.

Keeping a clear head is really a main task during the clearing process. It is important that you can recognise the signs of anxiety. These are listed below:


  • An unpleasant, subjective sensation, varying from ‘tension’ to ‘terror’

  • An awareness of imminent danger or harm, whether or not its sources can be specified

  • An experience of bodily sensations associated particularly 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

  • Thoughts of a worrying or unpleasant nature over which there is little control

  • An inability to think clearly or act in a coordinated manner, especially in new, conflicting or threatening situations


However, it is also important to understand why you might be feeling some or all of these things at the moment. The tension you may have been feeling in the build-up to getting your results, and then your response to your actual results, can come out in all sorts of ways. The more you can be compassionate with yourself and give yourself an easier time, the better.

Practical steps you can take

  • Check out what other courses are available, and also consider how important location is to you. There may be other course choices available that when selecting you simply did not know about, or your criteria in regard to the location of university or college may be more flexible than you first thought.

  • The initial ‘application time’ for universities can be quite a demanding and stressful time and sometimes students feel rushed during this process; clearing gives you time to reconsider those choices and often your criteria are less fixed now than they were at time of application.

  • It may be useful having someone with you when embarking on the clearing process on the telephone.

  • Prepare by writing any questions down you may have, and also if you have a number of ‘clearing options’, to keep a note as to who says what written down.

  • Most of all try and keep calm and clear, and you are not alone –  approx. 1 in 5 students go through clearing before starting at university.

If you want more information about mental health and self-care strategies, there are a number of useful places you can visit:

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