How does clearing work? Emma’s story

Emma Harvey, aged 22, graduated with a BA (bachelor of arts) degree from the University of Essex in Sociology and Social Psychology in 2019, and is now working as a Student and Academic Administrator at the University. She shares her story about how she got into university through the Clearing process.

Interview by Jade Archer 

What was your situation when you received your A-level/BTEC results? How did you feel, and what were your options?
When I received my A-level results, my strongest feeling was being exhausted by education. I lacked a lot of confidence academically and had struggled to stay motivated over the past two years. Although I enjoyed one or two of the subjects I studied, my grades didn’t reflect that at all, and I felt quite relieved the whole experience was over. I had looked at the option of studying Child Psychology, and applied to a few universities that seemed to have interesting courses. However, I hadn’t been to any university Open Days at the time as I wasn’t sure whether university was right for me, or if I was even capable of completing a degree.

How did you know what Clearing was? How did you know which university to contact?
While studying for my A-level exams, I felt I hardly had the energy or time to really consider what I wanted to do afterwards. Once I received my results, I had long discussions with my Mum about what I should do next, as I was already doubting the university choices I’d made. It was within these conversations that the idea of applying for a different course and university through clearing came up. At first, I thought it was too late to decide to change course and start university that year but applying through clearing allowed me to start at the same time as my classmates. This was a huge relief for me, as I didn’t want to be ‘left behind’ and I had no job lined up to start instead. I was anxious about studying any course that was too specific to a career as I was so unsure about my future career path and my own capability. I spoke to my teachers about this too and they supported the idea to look at other courses through clearing.

emma playing football
Emma joined the University’s Women’s Football team

How did you know which subject you wanted to study, and where?
After having some time to think and look online at clearing choices, I found a Sociology and Social Psychology course at the University of Essex and it seemed perfect. I had never studied Sociology before, but after doing some research around the subject it really ticked a lot of boxes, considering the sort of social issues that I felt passionately about. As I lived close to Colchester, I already had friends that went to the University of Essex and I’d visited them there several times. I already loved the feel of the campus, it felt like its own little town and everyone was so friendly.

Was the Clearing service helpful?
I remember being on and off the phone with the University that day, everyone I spoke to was really helpful, answering all of my questions and keeping me fully informed of what I needed to do next. On 23rd August 2016, my sister’s birthday, I received the email to say I had a place at the University of Essex, starting October 2016. I was filled with nerves and had no idea what to expect but I was excited at the thought of it all. I wasn’t worrying about whether I could do it anymore, I just wanted to get there!

What was the result 12 months later?
Throughout my first year I definitely struggled at times. Getting used to the new lifestyle away from home and learning independently was hard. It is a lot to process, but we were all experiencing the same adjustments. It’s important to remember that everyone is in the same boat, whether they show that they are struggling or not. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I could never had predicted how different things would be 12 months later. I felt more settled at the University than I ever thought I would. I moved in with three girls I’d met that year, who are still some of my closest friends. I also joined the Women’s Football team and went on holiday with them in April. Most importantly, I passed my first year and was feeling prepared and excited to begin my second year of university life. Now, I can reflect on what I achieved over the past four years and I know that the 18-year-old me wouldn’t believe I was capable of it. Never in a million years would I have thought I could conduct my own social research and write a dissertation on it. Following graduation, I was lucky to secure an internship through the university’s employment scheme, which three months later resulted in me getting a permanent position.

What advice would you give to anyone who isn’t sure about going through clearing?
The advice I would give to anyone applying through clearing is just go for it, don’t think twice. When I started to meet new people, the conversations would often start by asking whether Essex was my first choice or how I did in my A-levels; this always filled me with dread at first, but I soon realised that it didn’t matter how you got there. Everyone’s story was different. I deserved that place as much as anyone else, and soon realised that your experience of university is what you make of it once you’re there. Do your research of the course structure and study something that interests you, not necessarily something you think you’ll particularly excel in. I’ve come out of university with a new interest and passion in a subject I had never even studied before. I would also say, use your teachers as much as you can and show them that you’re keen. I wish I’d asked for more help and put more hours into studying whilst I had the chance. There are so many resources at the university, so use them while you can, including the knowledge of the academic staff you’ll get to meet. Finally, don’t expect a fairy tale. It is very easy for me to sit here now and think in hindsight about how great it was. The reality is that it wasn’t always glossy at the time, it was hard, and it tested me. But it was so worthwhile: you’ll get a lot more out of university than just a degree.

"I deserved that place as much as anyone else, and soon realised that your experience of university is what you make of it once you'e there."