Thinking of applying for university after a break away from education? You’ll be in good company: mature students (classified as anyone starting an undergraduate course aged 21 or over) make up approximately a third of the undergraduate student population. In fact, over 245,000 mature students enrolled on a university course in the academic year 2019/20, which made up 37% of all undergraduate entrants.
If applying to university is a decision you’ve only recently reached, and you’ve missed the UCAS January deadline, don’t worry. You can use Clearing to secure a place on a suitable course starting this year. If you’ve not heard about Clearing before or are unsure about how you can use it, our helpful guide has all the information you need.
Using university Clearing as a mature student
Clearing is a service where universities advertise courses starting in September/October that still have places available. Students who don’t have a university offer can search through these courses and apply for any that are suitable.
Clearing is generally (and incorrectly) associated with anguished sixth-form students who’ve failed to get the A-Level results needed to get into their chosen university. But in reality, Clearing offers a pathway into university for a whole host of prospective students in different situations, including mature students who’ve decided late in the academic year that they’d now like to go to university.
There's no age limit to using Clearing as a means of applying to university – it’s open to all students who want to use it. In fact, mature students can find themselves at an advantage over younger students when using Clearing. You won't have to wait for exam results, avoiding the rush that happens on A-Level results day, and can search and apply for courses earlier. That said, Clearing is open until 19 October, so you have plenty of time to consider your options and find the best-fit course.
Going through Clearing might seem like a daunting prospect but it’s quite easy to navigate. The first step is to do some research and make a shortlist of suitable courses you’d like to apply to.
Researching university courses in Clearing
Our Clearing tool lets you do a tailored search for suitable courses from the thousands listed on our site. Simply enter the subject into the search field and you’ll be shown a list of all relevant courses. To get a personalised list of results, you can enter your grades to see which courses are best suited to you.
This will refine the list of courses in your preferred subject area that you could be eligible for. You can then use the filter options to further narrow down your search according to your preferences.
Choosing a university course as a mature student is different than as a younger student. Your personal situation and therefore your priorities are likely to be very different and this will affect what type of course and what university you select. Here are some factors to consider:
Type of course
There are lots of different types of degrees you can study at university or at a higher education college. Bachelor’s degrees are the most popular type of university course. They usually last three years (full-time) and come with or without honours. You can also choose to study a joint or combined honours bachelor’s degree, which allows you to study two or more subjects equally at the same time.
If you don’t want to commit to a three-year course, you can opt to study an HNC, HND or a foundation degree. More vocational and work-related than a bachelor’s degree, they're good for students who want to gain professional skills in a practical way to further or change their careers. They're worth the equivalent of one year (HNC) or two years (HND, foundation degree) of a bachelor’s degree and can be ‘topped up’ to become a full degree at a later date if you wish.
Length of course
Most university courses are offered as both full-time and part-time options. If you have no other commitments and want to get your degree in as shorter-time as possible, you can opt for a full-time course. You could even apply for a two-year degree course if you want to fast-track your qualification. However, if you're planning to study around other commitments like a job or childcare, part-time study might be better for you. Note that your course will take longer (up to six years) to complete.
A big factor for mature students looking to enrol on a higher education course are the fees. While you can get student funding as a mature student, you might have other financial commitments (mortgage, children) that mean you'd rather study a lower-cost course. Fees for foundation degrees and HNC/HNDs are usually a lot less (c. £3,000 per year) than a bachelor’s degree (£9,250 per year).
The majority of mature students apply to a local university so they can live at home while studying. However, if you have no commitments and are free to relocate, then the UK is your oyster! When searching Clearing courses on Whatuni, you can filter your search results by location, location type and even distance from your home postcode to find universities in the right location.
If you're looking to relocate to a university further away, accommodation will be a big factor – especially when applying through Clearing. When applying late in the year, you run the risk that all rooms in university accommodation will be gone.
Many top universities
guarantee a place in their student halls of residence for all first-year students, even mature students who are applying through Clearing. But not every university does this – if they don’t and halls are full, you’ll need to find private student accommodation. If your heart is set on living in halls, you should investigate this by speaking with the accommodation team at your chosen university before you accept an offer.
Mature student support
If you work or have family commitments, you may be worried about how you'll fit studying around your already busy life. The good news is that universities recognise their mature students need a different kind of support to 18-year-olds who are fresh out of school and college.
Most universities will offer things like childcare facilities on campus, and most have dedicated mature student support officers as part of their students’ union to provide emotional and practical support if you're struggling. Some universities also have family-sized accommodation in halls.
If you feel like you’ll need extra support during your time at university as a mature student, research what’s available. The university’s website should have all the details you need.
Applying through Clearing as a mature student
Once you've made a shortlist of courses you want to apply for in Clearing, the next step is to call your chosen universities to see if they'll accept you. If they think you have what it takes to succeed on the course, they'll give you a verbal offer over the phone. You can also see the likelihood of acceptance when you search for courses using our Clearing tool.
UCAS vs Record of Prior Acceptance (RPA)
If you're a mature student applying to university before July 2021, you’ll need to use the UCAS university application service. However, if you're making a late application to university through the Clearing process, you have two options when it comes to applying. You can either:
Use the UCAS Clearing service: You can set up a UCAS Track account and use their Clearing service to make your application. You’ll still need to call universities to get your verbal offer, which you’ll then add to your UCAS account to accept.
Apply via Record of Prior Acceptance (RPA): This bypasses the need to use UCAS (and the fees that come with it). Not all universities offer RPA as an option but if they do, you’ll need to fill out an RPA form to confirm your offer acceptance and then they'll record your enrolment with UCAS (for statistical reporting purposes) on your behalf.
What you need before calling universities
When calling universities to apply through Clearing, you’ll need to provide evidence that you can succeed on the course. This means providing details of your previous qualifications and/or work experience. It's a good idea to have your CV at hand before calling. If you’ve got your old certificates, dig these out too.
Many universities have more flexible entry requirements when it comes to mature applicants, especially ones who didn't study formal modern qualifications such as A-Levels or BTECs. They'll consider older qualifications like O-Levels or alternative qualifications like Open University credits or NVQ qualifications. Some universities won’t need any formal qualifications at all and will instead look at your employment history and work experience when making their decision.
Note that if you've been out of education for a prolonged period, the universities you're applying to might ask you to complete a foundation year before starting your degree as part of their offer.
Foundation years are year-long courses that prepare students who don’t have the formal qualifications needed for entry onto a degree. They help develop students’ written and oral communication, numeracy and IT skills to the level required by students on degree courses. They also help develop students’ critical thinking abilities and time-management skills, which you’ll need if you're balancing study and work.
Completing a foundation year might be a good idea if you're feeling rusty and want an easier reintroduction to education after a long break. However, it'll extend the time it takes you to get your qualification and you’ll also have to factor in the extra cost (foundation years can cost up to £9,250 for the year).
Accepting and confirming your offer
Once you’ve called all your shortlisted universities and gathered some offers, the next step is to accept and confirm your offer. You’ll usually be given a deadline to accept an offer by the universities you’ve spoken to, so make sure you decide before you run out of time.
Once you’ve made that decision, you’ll need to confirm your acceptance. If you’ve applied via UCAS, you'll need to log in to your UCAS Track account and add the university and course ID numbers as your Clearing choice. The university will then confirm it and your UCAS Track account will say ‘Clearing accepted’.
If you’ve applied directly with the university, you’ll need to complete a Record of Prior Acceptance (RPA) form, which will be your confirmation of acceptance. The university will then send you a letter formally confirming your place and outlining what you need to do next regarding booking accommodation or enrolment.
Student finance for mature students going through Clearing
Mature students are allowed to apply for the same student loan and maintenance loan as their teenage counterparts. If you're applying to university through Clearing, it’s important you apply for student finance as soon as possible after getting your offer to make sure you get your loans in time for the start of your course.
England, whether you qualify, and how much you qualify for, is dependent on a number of factors, including whether this is your first undergraduate degree, whether you're studying full- or part-time, and your nationality.
As well as these loans, if you live in England you might be able to apply for extra financial support, including a
Childcare Grant and/or a Parent’s Learning Allowance. Again, these depend on you fulfilling the qualifying criteria. There may also be other benefits or tax credits you're eligible for. The student finance team at your university will be able to help to understand the full scope of what’s available and help you with your applications.
There are different eligibility criteria for mature students applying for student finance in
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, so it’s worth checking where you stand before you accept any offers of study.
Clearing course search
Clearing guide, tips and FAQs for direct applicants