Everything you need to know about Clearing – lessons learned from the National Clearing Survey

How are your clearing plans coming along? Have you even started thinking about it yet? Are you set to smash it this August? Hopefully, all of your answers to those questions were in the positive but, if they weren’t, don’t worry – you won’t be alone.

In recent years, clearing has become one of – if not – the most important dates on the student recruitment calendar. More and more students are being recruited through clearing and more and more students are actively choosing to put themselves through the process.

What would be really useful would be a survey dedicated to clearing that gives you a load of useful data about what students go through clearing, what their motivations are, what channels they use and what their clearing experience was like.

Well, funny you should mention that…as it happens, such a survey does exist – it’s called the National Clearing Survey, it’s free for you to download and it’s the focus of this episode.

Our guest is Kas Nicholls, who heads up Natives Global Consulting – which, like this podcast and this website, is part of Natives Group. She’s also one of the people responsible for delivering the National Clearing Survey every year and that’s what we’re digging into in our chat.

We look at the four different types of clearing student that the survey identifies, we discover a load of useful learning to help with your clearing planning for this year and you’ll hear how you can take part in the next edition of the survey.

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Show notes

Kas is the Head of Natives Global Consulting and is part of the team responsible for running the National Clearing Survey, which you can download for free if you work a University. You can also sign up to take part in this year’s survey.

The National Clearing Survey is a comprehensive overview of one of the biggest entry routes into higher education; clearing. It looks at the motivations, behaviours and personalities of the students who go through clearing. It started back in 2015 and Natives partner with institutions across the UK to send the survey out to their clearing students, before analysing the data and feeding it back – both as a tailored, individual report for those take part and as a more general piece for the sector.

Oh, and if all that sounds good, it’s also worth noting that the survey is totally free to take part in.

The survey can really build up the national picture and offers a lot of learning to dive into.

Clearing is one of the biggest entry routes – along with UCAS – and a lot of Universities rely on it. We’re also seeing a shift in the type of person applying through clearing; more people are applying directly through clearing.

The survey identifies four types of clearing applicant – four different personas of student who get into University via clearing. Those four types are the traditional clearing student (tends to be the largest group, usually in clearing because they didn’t make their grades, generally the youngest group), the adjustment student (those who’ve achieved much higher grades than anticipated, want to go to a better institution, make the decision themselves to go through clearing, the second-youngest group), the direct applicant (the oldest group – average age of 22.6, generally more diverse in their qualifications), and finally the mind changer (those who go through clearing for non-academic reasons; want to be closer to home, change their mind on a course etc).

The survey also shows that course subject is actually most important to an applicant, but brand is also really important; 81% of students had already heard of the University they went to, so institutions should be marketing themselves as well as putting plenty of focus on their courses.

You need to make sure you have an active and engaging presence on whichever social media channels are relevant for your audiences.

There is a chapter in the survey that looks at the period building up A-level results day itself. One standout here is that students do a significant amount of research around clearing before May – potentially a lot earlier than most Universities start their clearing activity.

The more we look into it, the more clearing seems to dominate the year for marketers. Think about that pre-clearing period – how are you going to raise awareness of your brand? What kind of content can you create that will help them and boost your brand?

Students are also searching for ‘how does clearing work?’ and ‘when does clearing open?’ which is a huge opportunity for marketers to create basic, functional information and put it out there early in the year and have it be discovered – great for brand awareness and it’s useful content. Students are searching for clearing throughout the whole year.

The next section then looks at results day itself; by 10am on results day, 72% of students already have their results and are on the phones – you snooze, you lose. You also need to be prepared to answer those calls and respond to those emails.

You should also remember that students will be contacting multiple institutions – just because they contact you first, doesn’t mean they’re going to enrol with you.

Another key headline of the survey is being mobile-ready – quite simply, you absolutely need to make sure everything you have is responsive for all devices, all year round.

Looking at the calls on results day itself – call centre need to really know their onions and not just course requirements. The survey also shows that students want to know about accommodation, course content and, more broadly, whether or not the University is the right for the student.

Students told us they were constantly being put on hold, passed around different people and having to repeat themselves – it’s not a great user experience. A lot of it comes back to planning as early as possible and call centre being really well-briefed.

While around 90% of students do phone up, only around 60% of them want to use the phone – increasing numbers of students want to use social media, chatbots etc as a first contact point.

Kas’ top three tips for institutions trying to prepare for an excellent clearing process in 2018

  1. Use the data – sometimes we just read a report, set it down and then do the same as before. Don’t do that!

2. Plan early and start early – it’s not just August

3. Know your audience


5 apps on your phone you use the most

Spotify, Runtastic, Instagram, WhatsApp and Right Move

4 celebs you’d love to invite round for dinner

John Oliver, Jackson Pollock, Stephen Dubner and Kim Kardashian

3 words to describe what it’s like working for Natives Group

Learning, hectic and fun

2 places in the world or big events you’ve never visited but would love to

India and a safari in Africa

1 social media channel you love more than the others


Find out more

Kas is the Head of Natives Global Consulting and is part of the team responsible for running the National Clearing Survey, which you can download for free if you work a University. You can also sign up to take part in this year’s survey.

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The Native Podcast is hosted and produced by Dave Musson, our editor-in-chief.

Our music is by Broke For Free and is used under Creative Commons.

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