When Zana Wellicome got her A-level results, she didn’t think they were strong enough to get her on to her dream degree. She wanted to study economics, a tough, in-demand degree: surely her B in economics, C in history and D in maths weren’t sufficient? And going through clearing, she’d heard, was really stressful. So she took a job in a local pub and thought about what she wanted to do next.
“I found that I really missed studying economics,” she says. “That’s when I decided to go to uni. I looked at lots of places online and found a great economics course at Sheffield Hallam. So I decided to apply through early clearing. At college, I’d always been told that clearing was something to avoid at all costs! But actually, it was very easy and not stressful at all. I’d already visited the city and knew I liked it – it’s a very student-friendly city. I rang up, was asked a bit about myself and my qualifications, and I was in!”
The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that this year’s school leavers have been faced with a tricky decision. Take up a place? Defer for a year? Forget about university altogether until things calm down? But Phil Bloor, Sheffield Hallam’s head of admissions, says that actually, this September is a great time to study – and clearing is the ideal way to find the right course for you.
“It’s actually a huge opportunity,” he says. “You can use it to trade up if you have better results than you predicted. Or it might be that a course you thought was full might have more places available. There are more online resources at your fingertips than ever before to make up for not being able to visit the campus due to the pandemic. At Sheffield Hallam, you can call us and talk to an academic on your course and ask us anything you like – you could even get an instant offer.”
Choosing not to start your study this year, he points out, could mean you’ll be facing much less choice next year. Over the past few years, the UK has seen a decrease in the number of 18-year-olds in the population. That means fewer applicants, and more availability. “But we’re now at the bottom of that demographic dip. Over the next few years, the number of 18-year-olds will start to increase. That means more applicants, and more competition for places.”
And if students defer this year due to the pandemic, that also means fewer places for the 2021/22 academic year. “Say you have a midwifery course with 60 places,” says Bloor. “If 30 successful applicants this year decide to defer to September 2021, that means only 30 places will be available next year.”
Add that to the likelihood of an economic downturn, which could last a good few years, plus highly restricted travel, using this time to study starts to look like a pretty good decision. “We’re actually now seeing students who had previously chosen to defer considering coming to university this year, as they haven’t been able to take up planned jobs or go on gap-year trips,” says Bloor. “It’s important to think long-term: the situation in September is unlikely to stretch over your whole three- or four-year course.”
And with so much economic uncertainty hanging over the next couple of years, it makes sense to pick a university that’s focused on preparing you for the world of work. Sheffield Hallam offers about 23,000 placements with more than 1,000 employers, including Sony, Rolls-Royce, Volkswagen, the NHS, Siemens and Disney. Those graduates who complete a placement year go on to earn 21% more on average than those who don’t. “It’s not just learning for the sake of learning,” says Bloor. “It’s about how you apply that learning to real-life work situations. We support our students in meeting their aspirations and getting them where they want to be.”
Just like Wellicome, Ben Baldwin wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go to university. But a year spent at home while all his friends went off to uni and had fun convinced him that going through clearing was the right decision. And, like Wellicome, he’s got no regrets. He’s now just about to start his third year studying politics at Sheffield Hallam – and he urges any prospective students to pick up the phone.
“I actually went for Sheffield Hallam not just because of the course but also because the woman who answered the phone when I called was so lovely!” he says. “My course is brilliant: I’m really into political philosophy and gender theory, and the teaching is so good. Clearing is a great opportunity to start afresh and pick a university that maybe you hadn’t even thought about. And it’s such an easy process. Just give them a call – you don’t need to stress about it at all.”