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Applying for a course with higher entry requirements than predicted?

If you feel you can achieve better than predicted results, you may want to include a course with higher entry requirements as one of your choices. But is this a risky tactic?

Including a course with higher entry requirements as one of your five choices can be a risky tactic as things aren’t always what they seem on paper.

For starters, if the course is a really competitive one, such as medicine, it will probably be a wasted application unless you can match the minimum entry requirements (apart from in exceptional circumstances).

But there may be flexibility elsewhere. Let’s look at a hypothetical situation. 

SEARCH FOR COURSES BY ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: filters courses by A-level grades, Scottish Highers or Ucas points 

A typical student…

1. You’re at the start of Year 13 and you got BBCD in your AS-level results.

2. You’re banking the subject you got a D in, and your teachers have predicted your grades as BBB. Note: your BBB translates into a Ucas tariff score of 300 – remember this for later!

3. You are applying for English literature and are considering Birmingham, Edinburgh, Essex, Nottingham and Oxford Brookes.

Remember that some universities insist on actual grades rather than tariff points – so your extra AS D grade (worth 30 points) may or may not be ‘counted’ for some offers. Check with each university.

Entry requirements for your preferred unis…

  • University of Birmingham: AAB
  • University of Nottingham: AAA

You loved these unis after you visited them on separate open days, and hope you can swing it with a top personal statement.

  • University of Edinburgh: AAA-BBB

You’re surprised Edinburgh accepts three Bs, but it looks like it’s within your reach. Great.

  • University of Essex: AAB-ABB 
  • Oxford Brookes  University: BBB

You’re only one predicted grade out from getting into these unis, so there may be some room to manoeuvre.

The reality…

One way of working out how flexible a course is when it comes to grades is to find out what the course’s current students achieved, on average. You can find this information on any course page on Which? University and looking under ‘typical Ucas points’. 

But bear in mind, this data isn’t completely foolproof – courses and entry grades change from year to year and there can be other, less obvious factors at play, but it should help you to make a more informed decision on whether or not to apply for particular courses, based on what you’re expecting to achieve.

Let’s follow our hypothetical example through. Remember, your predicted grades translate to 300 Ucas tariff points. Actual qualifications achieved at your preferred universities show you that they accepted students with these typical tariff scores (which could include extra A and AS-levels):

  • University of Birmingham: 420
  • University of Nottingham: 450
  • University of Edinburgh: 430
  • University of Essex: 310
  • Oxford Brookes University: 340.

In reality, only two of these choices, Essex and Oxford Brookes, look reasonable – and there are still no guarantees. Contacting them directly to clarify if they honestly think an application is worth pursuing would be sensible. Although indicating BBB in its accepted grade range, in reality Edinburgh University only considers students with BBB predictions if there are specific personal circumstances.

Looks like in this case that our hypothetical student would be best advised to opt for courses whose entry requirements match their predictions more closely, perhaps just keeping one or two ‘stretch choices’ on their application.

Peeved about predicted grades?

Schools and colleges tend to over-predict, not under-predict – they’re already trying to present you (and themselves) in a positive light. Which perhaps begs the question: why do you want to apply for a course that’s asking for more than you’re predicted?

If you’re really unhappy with what you’re being predicted, speak to your teacher or a careers adviser, rationally explaining why you disagree and what you plan to do to ensure you achieve better grades – but as predictions are usually based on your AS-level results and GCSE grades, they’re unlikely to change.

Come results day, if you do end up getting better than your predicted grades, you might be able to find a place on an alternative course by going through Adjustment, or applying the following year with your actual results.


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