UCAS Clearing offers students a final chance to secure a place on a university course once the A-level results come out.

When Clearing begins this week, competition for remaining places is likely to be more intense than ever: government-funded places for UK students are strictly capped, yet a peaking demographic of school-leavers, seeking to escape the recession, has created higher demand. As such, some advice to students and their parents on approaching Clearing is timely.

There are some important changes to the process this year. Clearing is now electronic: no forms will be sent through the post. Students must first phone universities to enquire about vacancies and perhaps attend interviews. Successful enquirers will be instructed by their university to log onto the UCAS website to formally request a place on that course that the university can then confirm.

The university is then invited to decline or accept online. It is therefore important that prospective students have internet access, so they can use the UCAS website when the A-level results come out. The UCAS website can provide detailed information on what to do and the courses available.

The first piece of advice is not to panic. Taking a course in haste, may lead one to repent at leisure: a common cause of drop-out. This can be difficult as prospective students at this stage have become psychologically attached to their preferred course, so falling short of the grades asked for will be a disappointment.

On the upside, many students find a degree course that they succeed at in Clearing. I have had the pleasure of educating a number of such students, who have excelled on courses that they may not have originally chosen.

Some time spent preparing in advance is useful. Is it worth reconsidering other courses researched earlier in the year? Remember that the criteria that previously applied in choosing a good course still apply, so do your research and ask questions.

So, if entering Clearing, look for suitable vacancies immediately and do some quick research (for example on each university’s course web pages) to put together a list of target courses. You should then start phoning institutions. Clear thinking, with a systematic approach, will maximise your chances of success.

What can parents do? They can provide moral support and guidance in what may be a fraught few days. They can help find information on courses. What parents should avoid is phoning on behalf of applicants or act as agents: admissions tutors will want to access the student, as it is the student who has to win the place on their merits.

I would like to close with wishing everyone waiting on their results every success.