Finding the right course

The real story behind entry requirements

By Andy Gardner (Careers Adviser) - 14 June 2014

Source: University of Sussex

A key thing to look at when comparing uni courses is entry requirements – there’s not much point applying to a course where you need to achieve grades miles off what you’re expecting, after all. But there’s more to entry requirements than meets the eye; don’t be caught out.

In the narrowest sense, entry requirements are simply the final grades, scores or points earned from your exams as you make the transition to university. Achieving the right grades turns a conditional offer (such as BBB for A-level or DDM for a BTEC National) into a firm place.

Taking a look at the number of applicants receiving offers, an exclusive stat on Which? University, might also help you to compare courses

How entry requirements are listed

For any one course at uni, these might be listed in several different ways:

  • Grades: eg DDD (BTEC), AAB (A-level), AAAB (Highers)
  • UCAS tariff points: eg 300 points
  • UCAS tariff points with a grade requirement: eg 300 points with a B in a specific subject

UCAS tariff points and what they mean

The UCAS tariff is a way of trying to help admissions staff compare grades and scores from a huge array of different qualifications that people may be applying to their course with.

Be warned: many of the most selective courses do not consider the UCAS tariff, but only consider grades or scores from a much more limited set of qualifications such as A-levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB).

What else is in an entry requirement?

Widening out the definition exposes the pitfalls of not reading what each course says in the entrance requirements small print (find it on UCAS or the university’s website). These can include:

GCSE grades: the majority of university courses look for at least Cs in GCSE English, maths and perhaps science. Some university courses go further and list specific subjects and grades they expect you to have. Not spotting these could swiftly lead to a wasted application.

Specific qualifications: some courses may only consider certain Advanced level qualifications, or only accept certain qualifications when taken with another. This will depend on what the university department is looking for.

A history department may be looking for students who can write essays and handle exams, and might therefore have a preference for A-level or Highers students. If you’re a BTEC student, look out for courses that name specific units you need to pass with specific grades.

The Royal Veterinary College, for instance, looks for DDD overall for BTEC National Applied Sciences applicants as well as distinctions in specific units (including genetics, physiology and biomedical science techniques).

Same sitting: some highly selective courses such as medicine may state that A-levels should be taken at the same sitting, after no more than two years of study. This can affect you if you are looking to repeat some exams after sixth form or if you’ve taken some exams early.

Entry tests and interviews: extra assessments such as tests, interviews, portfolios and auditions may also form a key part of the application process. We’ve got advice on all of these areas – follow our tips to make sure you stand out.

Work experience and even specific points you need to cover in your personal statement can also feature.

How are entry requirements used by admissions tutors?

Entry requirements are used to help admissions staff at universities pick students for their courses.

Many courses will have far more applicants than places so they will set an entry requirement that will allow them to reduce the numbers that they are considering. Specific subject requirements (eg chemistry and biology for a biochemistry course) are there to ensure students can cope with the pressures of the course content itself.

You could also argue these are used as a statement on how the course wants to be viewed against other universities and courses:

  • ‘Premium’ - grades A*AA-ABB or equivalent
  • ‘Mid-market’ – grades BBB – CCC or equivalent
  • ‘Budget’ – grades CCD and lower

But using entry requirements to make a judgement about the value of a course isn’t necessarily that helpful. For instance, Nottingham Trent University asks for 300 UCAS tariff points (or a BBB ‘mid-market’ grade) for their business N100 course which has superb employment opportunities.

Do admissions tutors mean what they say in terms of entry requirements?

In theory, yes. But in practice, there are shades of grey…

  • sometimes a course may be asking for AAB and that will be the absolute minimum they will consider when you get your results
  • some will be looking for those grades or equivalent – so an alternative set of grades like A*AC may suffice
  • on the other hand, a university might ask for BBC or 280 UCAS tariff points but be far more flexible when results come out, letting in people on the course with sometimes far lower grades.

You can get a flavour for what previous students getting on to a course actually achieved (versus the entry requirements the university asked for) by looking at the ‘actual points achieved’ section on any course page on Which? University. There are often some surprising differences – but entry requirements should form the basis of your application.

Can a university course change its entry requirements within a UCAS cycle?

Right up until the moment you are given a conditional offer (BBB at A-level or DMM at BTEC National) a university can change the entry requirements.

So you could apply for a course thinking that they will want BBC at A-level and then they make you a conditional offer of BBB. You do not have to accept this offer, but if you do, it won’t be changed.

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