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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 doesn't mean life is over...

We weigh up the pros and cons of the options open to you - plus, we've got expert advice on how to make smart first and insurance choices on your Ucas form. 

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 get a chance, 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 that this university has to offer. A good start is to see how its students rated it in our annual student survey. For example, it may have a buzzing nightlife, active sports scene or have one of the top-rated unions in the country.

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 simply settle for a university course if you’ve re-done your research, been on the open day 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 all your offers. If you don't feel confident while you're waiting for these to come back, get a head start and learn more about about the other universities you applied to.

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 Ucas Extra. You also have the option to decide on a different subject area altogether, including joint honours degrees.

Although most universities don’t provide feedback on rejections, it's worth considering why you might have been unsuccessful and bearing this in mind when applying for a course through Extra. For example, if you originally only applied to very competitive courses, you could increase your chances of an offer by looking at some broader alternatives. You also have the option to decide on a different subject area altogether, including joint honours degrees.

Pros

  • You could discover a completely new course or university altogether. Get thinking about wider options by taking a look at our course search and university profiles.

  • You may 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 for Clearing 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 a stressful process 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 sure your Clearing course decision is a carefully considered one.


​​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).

4. Find a course through Adjustment

If you do better than expected in your exams and exceed the conditions of any offers you’ve received, you have the option of applying for an alternative course maybe at the university you're keen on - through Ucas Adjustment, a system that kicks off after your results are in.

This isn't an option you should rely on, but is something to bear in mind. To be eligible for Adjustment, you will still have to make a firm choice you’re happy with from the offers you've received, in case you don’t get the higher grades you’re hoping for.

Pros

  • If you don’t find a course you want to study elsewhere or you don’t get any Adjustment offers, you’ll still have your place at your firm course choice.

Cons

  • Unlike Clearing, there are no Adjustment vacancy lists, so you will need to contact admissions offices at universities directly to discuss possible vacancies and entry requirements.

  • There’s no guarantee there will be any vacancies on courses you’re interested in, and it is very unlikely that the most in-demand courses will have any places available.


​​When can you do this? Ucas Adjustment is open from results day until 31 January.

5. Reapply next year

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.

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 Universities of 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.

 

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