Personal statements & applying to uni

Making your firm and insurance choices: top tips

By Rebecca Hughes (Digital content producer, Which? University) - 23 December 2013

Newcastle University campus

University offers in? Now you’ve got to make that all-important decision about which courses to select as your firm and insurance choices. Before you head to Ucas Track to accept and reject offers, here's what you need to consider.

Deciding which university offers to accept is one of the trickiest and most important stages of the whole application process. There’s no one-way-fits-all approach - but we asked careers advisers and Ucas for some top tips to help you make the right firm and insurance choices for you. 

We’ve also got advice if you don’t get an offer from your first choice university - plus next steps if you're holding no offers

1. Review your offers 

Don't rush it. Take some time to revisit your course and university options, especially if it's been a while since you sent off your Ucas application.

  • Re-familiarise yourself with the course description and modules on offer – the course content needs to match up with what you're looking for from a course. Will you be happy studying on this course for the next three years?
  • Have you visited the university? It’s the best way to get a ‘feel’ for whether you could see yourself studying and living there for the next few years – a prospectus can only tell you so much.
Make sure that you have seen both universities that you're going to put down as firm and insurance, and that you do want to go to either of the two!  Wendy Hodgkiss | Careers Adviser - Hills Road Sixth Form

Once you receive your last decision back from the universities you've applied to, you’ll typically have a few weeks before you need to reply to your offers (check Track for your deadline - this will depend on when you submitted your application) – so if you haven’t already, go on an open day, or at least suss out the general area.


2. Making your firm choice

Your firm choice should be your first choice

If you meet the conditions of your firm offer, then the place is yours – so make sure your firm choice is the course and university you most want to go to (and not just the higher grade course you've been offered). We've got more advice on making your firm course choice here.


Is the offer achievable?

Before you make your firm choice, ask yourself if you’ve got a realistic chance of meeting it.

Many universities will make offers above predicted grades, so it’s important to be realistic. Talk through the grades you’re likely to achieve with your teachers. David Hawkins | Head Of Careers - Taunton School

Having an achievable firm choice doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim high but, if you choose a firm choice that’s going to really challenge you, then it’s all the more important to choose your insurance with great care. Alan Bullock | Freelance Careers And Higher Education Consultant


Is the offer flexible? 

It’s also worth weighing up how flexible the course offer might be. While in theory you’ll only secure the place if you meet your offer, in practice, some universities will accept ‘near-miss’ applicants.

It could be that the course wants AAB and will reject you if you get less. Or it could be that they say they want AAB but in practice tend to accept lower grades. Andy Gardner | Careers And Higher Education Adviser - Jfs And Lsu Schools London

You can get an idea of what students on the course actually achieved (versus the entry requirements the university asked for) by looking at the 'typical Ucas points' achieved and the 'most common grades' sections on any course page on Which? University. And if in doubt...

Don’t be afraid to ask the universities themselves! Use open days as an opportunity to get it from the horse’s mouth.  Alan Bullock | Freelance Careers And Higher Education Consultant


3. Making an insurance choice

Your insurance choice should normally be a lower grade offer 

Your insurance choice should act as your 'back-up' option if you don't get the grades you were expecting. But according to a 2010 Ucas report, 42% of applicants choose an insurance choice with conditions harder or equal to their firm choice.

If you choose to make an insurance choice (it isn’t mandatory), in most cases you should choose an offer with lower grades. If your results are lower than expected, you may meet the conditions of an insurance and you’ll have a place confirmed. James Durant | Press And Public Affairs Officer - Ucas

There's the odd case where choosing an insurance choice with the same grades or higher can work in your favour (for example, if there are subtle differences in the conditions of the offer, or if your insurance choice has told you that they may still accept you if you don't quite get the grades they want), but it's more likely to be an unwise or pointless strategy. Alan Bullock | Freelance Careers And Higher Education Consultant


You can't swap between your firm and insurance choices 

According to advisers, there's a common misconception that your firm and insurance choices are interchangeable:

I've met students on results day who had chosen a higher grade uni as their firm choice, but the one they really wanted was the one they chose as their insurance. They then succeeded in getting into their firm choice and thought they could just decline it and go to their insurance. That's not how it works! Alan Bullock | Freelance Careers And Higher Education Consultant

There is no swapping between your firm and insurance once the decision is made, so make sure you are totally happy with your decision before making your final choice. James Durant | Press And Public Affairs Officer - Ucas


Only put down an insurance choice if you’d be happy to go there 

As careers adviser Alan explains, 'an insurance choice is a commitment, not just something you can just dump and go straight into Clearing.' If there's only one university that you really want to go to, then don't put down an insurance choice - it's optional. 

If you put down an insurance, you must make sure that you have visited it and researched it well, so that you know if things don't go to plan with your exams, you would be very happy to go there. Wendy Hodgkiss | Careers Adviser - Hills Road Sixth Form

If you have an insurance offer that you later decide you don't like, it could delay your chance of finding something that you would prefer through Clearing.  Andy Gardner | Careers And Higher Education Adviser - Jfs And Lsu Schools London


Bear in mind that your insurance choice might not be able to guarantee you a place in their halls of residence, so you may have to find alternative student accommodation

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