Look Lively to Get the Best out of Clearing; Careers and Education: Special Report: Some of the Basic Principles of Clearing Were Looked at Last Week. Today, with A-Level Results Due out This Week and the First Official Clearing List Available on Thursday, We Examine the Process in More Detail. Springboard Editor Stella Greavy Reports

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CLEARING is a time for quick thinking and prompt action, but getting involved in the process should not be a hit-and-miss affair.

With careful research, the chances are that potential students will still find vacancies on degree courses that they are really interested in at a university they really want to go to.

Finding a course place during Clearing often means that students have to broaden their ideas about the sort of course they want to do or what kind of university they want to go to.

With about 15,000 course vacancies at institutions across Britain during Clearing, they will not be short of choices. So it is important not to accept a place that they are not happy about.

To start with, students should make sure that they get a Clearing list as soon as the first one is published. They are available from UCAS online at www.ucas.com, The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, The Times, the Daily Express and The Guardian.

Once they have found vacancies that interest them, they should track down as much information as they can from prospectuses and websites about the courses, as content can vary enormously.

They should aim to discover the following information: Teaching methods, methods of assessment, course length and the type of qualification given.

When choosing a university, they should also think about the following:

* What size is the university - is it large and busy or small and quiet?

* What kind of facilities does it have? What computer resources, libraries, student services and careers advice are available?

* What is the social life like? Is there a good student union and are there lots of clubs and societies?

* What is the travelling like - how far from home is it, how good is local transport?

* What are the costs involved - is it an expensive or cheap place to live?

By the time students have thought through their selection, their clearing entry form (CEF) should have arrived. They should fill this in and then get ready to start phoning the universities they are interested in.

The admissions tutor is the person students will usually speak to at the university.

Though the conversation may seem relaxed and the questions straightforward, it is vital to treat the phone conversation as if it is an interview. After all, it is the one chance for students to sell themselves to an institution.

For this reason they should highlight their good points, though it is worth being reasonably humble. …