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What to do if you don’t get an offer from your first choice university

Getting rejected from the uni you really wanted to go to is a tough pill to swallow. But that certainly doesn't mean life (or your university career) is over.

If you don't get an offer from the uni you had your heart set on, here are some alternative options you can start researching now:
  • Accept another university offer
  • Apply to different courses through Ucas Extra or Clearing
  • Reapply next year - perhaps to your first choice university
  • Take a gap year while you reconsider your options
  • Look at the alternatives to university
We've got the pros and cons of each route below. First though, dealing with that rejection...

Reasons for university rejection

There could be lots of reasons your application wasn't successful this time round: competition from other applicants, grade requirements, your personal statement. Perhaps the qualifications you're taking don't match up to their favoured subject mix.

Universities don't have to give you a reason, but if that Ucas Track status has left you wondering, contact the university to ask for feedback.

Try not to take it too personally. Admissions tutors will be sifting through hundreds of applications and it might not always be obvious why it's not good news for  you.

What to do if a university doesn't offer you a place

1. Accept another university offer 

If you had your heart set on going to a particular university, you might not have given much thought to what life at a different place could be like – now’s the time to start considering it. 

A prospectus can only tell you so much. So if there’s an open day coming up, book a place and head to the university to get a real feel for what the campus, accommodation, location and the course is like on the ground – ideally you'll have visited already before applying but a second visit can be really useful too.

If you can, speak to current students about their experiences at the uni (also check out student comments on our university profiles) – it may well have not been their first choice either, but how have they found it?

Start to think about some of the positives other universities have to offer. Our annual student survey, for example, reveals which ones offer a buzzing nightlife, active sports scene and more.

Pros

  • You could be pleasantly surprised with an alternative option and potentially end up studying with students who are better matched to your interests and academics.
  • Provided you meet your offer, you won't have to go through the application process again hooray!

Cons

  • Don't settle for any university or course  if you've re-done your research and you still can't imagine yourself at the uni you've got an offer from, then it probably isn't the right choice for you.

When can you do this? As soon as you've received decisions from all the universities you applied to. If you're not feeling confident while you're waiting for these to come back, read below for more options.

Plus, this guide will help you weigh up offers before making your firm and insurance choices.

2. Apply to a new course through Ucas Extra

If you don't get any offers or choose to decline any that you receive, you could apply for another course through the Ucas Extra scheme. This could be in a different subject area altogether, including joint honours.

It's worth considering why you might have been unsuccessful with your initial application and bearing this in mind when applying for a course. 

For example, if you originally only applied to very competitive courses, increase your chances of an offer by looking at some broader alternatives.

Pros

  • You could discover a completely new course or university. Get thinking about wider options by taking a look at our course search and university profiles.
  • You may even get a second stab at applying to your dream uni if they have courses available through Extra, though it may be worth discussing this with the university admissions team before you apply.

Cons

  • Once you've declined your offers and made an Extra choice you won't be able to change your mind and accept your original choices later, so make sure it's a carefully considered decision.
  • You've got to go through the application process again, but this time you can only make one choice at a time.


When can you do this? Ucas Extra runs from 25 February to 4 July.

3. Find a course through Clearing

If you don’t manage to find a course through Ucas Extra, you could be eligible for Clearing. Clearing kicks off in mid-July, but the majority of places become up-for-grabs in August when A-level results appear.

It can all feel a bit frantic on results day, but if you get organised early enough, you could find a course and university you're really happy with.

Pros

  • As with Extra, courses at your preferred university may become available during Clearing, although there's no guarantee of this.
  • There's a still a good chance you'll be heading to uni that year.

Cons

  • It can be stressful as places on courses get snapped up quickly.
  • Don't rush into accepting the first place you can find – you need to act swiftly, but make your course decision carefully.


​​When can you do this? Ucas Clearing opens in July but properly gets going in August. However, you can start looking into alternative courses beforehand (perhaps if one or two exams don't go so well).

If you do better than expected in your exams, Ucas Adjustment gives you the opportunity to 'trade up' places for an alternative course - maybe even at the university you were really keen on

4. Take a gap year and reapply

If you don't manage to find the right place for you this application cycle, or you think you could build on your experience or boost your grades for a stronger application second-time round, it may be worth reapplying for next year's entry.

If a university rejected you, can you apply to them again?

There’s nothing stopping you from reapplying to a university. 

But before you do, think carefully about why you think you were unsuccessful first time, what you'll be doing differently this time and how the time you've spent in the intervening year relates back in a positive way to your chosen course.

If in doubt, speak to a teacher or adviser, or contact the university directly to discuss your application.

Pros

  • A year out gives you the chance to build on your work experience or skills. If you're applying for a particularly competitive or vocational course such as medicine, this could be especially useful.
  • You have the opportunity to retake exams and potentially improve your grades. 

Cons

  • While most unis are happy to accept retake grades, others including the Cambridge, Oxford and Warwick tend to judge applicants on grades from the first year round.
  • As unis often don't provide feedback when giving you a rejection, it's difficult to know if you'll fare better next-time round.

​​
When can you do this? You'll know the key dates for applying by now  they vary very little from year-to-year. If you need a reminder, here are the key Ucas application deadlines.

5. Consider alternative routes, such as apprenticeships

If you're doubting whether the traditional university route is right for you now, take a look at the alternatives.

A higher or degree apprenticeship, for example, could give you the best of both worlds by offering a mixture of work and study. Our guide will help you decide whether an apprenticeship is right for you

Pros

  • Apprenticeships give you a combination of study and real world experience. Even better - you'll be paid for the work that you do and could graduate with a debt-free degree.

Cons

  • You'll be expected to achieve academically and at work, working full-time hours with fewer holidays than university-going friends.
  • Competition can be tough, with hundreds of applications per place.


When can you do this? There are no fixed application times or methods of applying. Register and look for vacancies on the Find an Apprenticeship, All About School Leavers or Not Going To Uni websites.

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