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From application to acceptance: inside Admissions with Miriam Clift

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It’s a team every Durham student interacts with at the start of their University journey. The Admissions team decides which applications to accept, as well as advising and supporting applicants and colleagues at the University with the admissions process.

The numbers involved are staggering – every year the team decide on 65,000 applications and deal with more than 45,000 enquiries, as well as taking 5,000 phone calls on A level results day alone as part of the clearing process.

The team is led by Miriam Clift, Head of Admissions, and Dialogue caught up with Miriam to find out more about her role.

Miriam joined Durham in May 2022, having previously worked here between 2017 and 2020. During her career, she’s also worked in admissions at the University of Sunderland, Northumbria University and the University of York. “You could say admissions is in my blood,” Miriam explains.

''It’s a field which is always changing, and every admissions cycle brings with it new rewards and challenges.''

In addition to processing and advising on applications, her team also has a wealth of knowledge including about global qualifications, UCAS rules, who should pay ‘home’ and ‘international’ fees, and much more.

Head of Admissions Miriam Clift
Head of Admissions Miriam Clift

More about Miriam…

What do you enjoy most about your role?

There is never a dull moment, and no day is ever the same. Even though I’ve been working in admissions for a very long time, there is always a new challenge and always something new to learn. I love networking and liaising with other admissions professionals up and down the country and tapping into their wealth of experience.

What’s your busiest time of year?

At the moment we’re gearing up for confirmation and clearing. Confirmation happens for both the postgraduate and undergraduate Admissions teams, usually from the spring/summer onwards, but clearing is only for undergraduate applicants. The main activity happens on the day A level results are published, which this year is Thursday 15 August.

Last year was the first time in 10 years that Durham went into clearing and it was quite a logistical challenge to make sure that we had the space and people to run our Clearing Hotline, that those people were trained, that all the IT was in place, and that our mechanisms to monitor our offer-making and run our usual checks on students were working.

We took nearly 5,000 calls on results day last year. The whole operation involves colleagues from across the University and volunteers are always welcome!

What are the most challenging parts of working in Admissions?

Having to disappoint so many highly qualified applicants who apply to us every year is tough. One of our biggest challenges is ensuring we maintain fairness and transparency for courses where the volume of applications far outstrips the number of offers we’re able to make.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given?

Never to make assumptions and to always remain open minded.

No two people or situations are ever the same, and the best decisions are made when you have all the facts at your disposal. Also, that everyone makes mistakes – it’s what you learn from them that makes all the difference.

Who or what are you most proud of?

Undoubtedly, it’s the fantastic people I’ve worked with through the years, both in my teams as well as the academic and other professional services staff who support the applicant journey. My admissions and enquiries teams have always risen to every challenge thrown at them and managed to come out smiling. To be part of a collective effort that involves so many different areas of the University, helping thousands of applicants every year get to where they need to be, is both personally and professionally rewarding.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into a career in Admissions?

Admissions can be an amazing career – but be prepared to sacrifice holidays in August! It can be a bit like marmite – you either love it or you hate it – but if you love it then the professional and personal rewards can be great. If you want something that’s constantly changing, sometimes unpredictable and you get to work with people from across the University, then Admissions could be for you.

Whitley Bay beach with the Spanish City in the background
Whitley Bay beach with the Spanish City in the background

How do you take care of your personal wellbeing outside of work?

At home I’ve usually got my nose in a book – the staff in my local library are starting to recognise me now! I also love going out on my bike and I have a route where I live in Whitley Bay that takes in the country and the sea and is a great de-stresser. My garden comes a poor third but with any luck we’ll get some sunshine soon and I can get stuck into the weeding and planting.



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