The real story behind university entry requirements
When looking at different university options, entry requirements are really important. But among the entry grades being stated, sometimes there's more to it...
We've put university entry requirements under the microscope to highlight the 'unspoken rules', so you know exactly what an offer and different entry requirement types mean before you apply.
What’s a university entry requirement?
Entry requirements are the grades and conditions you need to meet in order to successfully apply to a university course.
Each university will set these out and use them to quickly evaluate whether you are suitable for a course.
These can vary in form, but usually come down to specific advanced-level qualifications and grades you must achieve, that show you have the required skills and knowledge for that course.
- Read more: What are university entry requirements?
So, what's lying below the surface of university entry requirements...?
Uni entry requirements: what you need to know
1. Uni entry requirements can take many forms
For any course at uni, Ucas entry requirements might be listed in several different ways. They might be shown as:
- Grades: eg DDD (BTEC), AAB (A-level), AAAB (Highers)
- Ucas tariff points: eg 112 points
- Ucas tariff points with a grade requirement: eg 112 points with a B in a specific subject
Don't worry too much, as they all roughly equate to the same thing.
But throughout your university research, whether talking to friends, university representatives or school teachers, these may be referred to in a way that you're not used to.
And be warned: DDD at BTEC and DDD at A-level are two very different things!
- Find entry requirements for a course: what do you need to achieve?
2. Universities don't just look at grades – subjects can matter
A university may require you to have taken one or more specific subjects to show that you're suitable for a course.
This is an important factor to consider when choosing your A-levels, especially if you have a degree path in mind at this point. See what your degree options are based on the A-levels you pick, with our A-level Explorer.
Sometimes these subject-specific requirements are essential, other times more of a preference that can help your application.
On the other hand, some universities may not accept certain subjects, or may request extra requirements if you do apply with these. For example, Leicester states on its website (as of 9 November 2017) that it does not accept general studies when applying to biological and medical sciences, medicine and economics.
And while Nottingham and Manchester do accept media studies at A-level, they clarify that this should be combined with ‘traditional’ subjects too.
It’s not always essential to have studied a subject prior to degree level either. For instance, you don't have to had studied law at A-level to study it at degree level.
3. Sometimes, qualifications will matter too
While some universities make offers based on Ucas tariff points – which could comprise of several different qualifications – most will be specific in terms of the level and mix of qualifications they're looking for.
For example, De Montfort University lays out the following A-level entry requirements for its Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Science course: ‘A minimum of 104 points from at least two A-levels including chemistry at Grade C or above, with one other science subject at C from: biology, human biology, physics, statistics, maths/further maths, or psychology.’
Meanwhile, 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).
4. Look out for GCSE entry requirements
The majority of university courses look for at least Cs – or 4/5 under the new grading system – in GCSE English, maths and perhaps science. Some university courses go further and list specific subjects and grades they expect you to have.
With AS-levels no longer counting towards your final A-level grade as they have in the past (in England, at least), universities may also look to your GCSE grades as a formal indicator of your academic ability.
5. Universities may not accept retakes or resits
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're looking to repeat some exams after sixth form or if you've taken some exams early.
6. Do entry requirements say anything about the university or course?
You could argue that these are used as a statement on how a course wants to be viewed against other universities and courses.
For instance, a course requiring grades of A*AA-ABB or equivalent will be considered differently to one with more flexible course requirements of grades CCD and lower.
But using Ucas entry requirements to make a judgement about the value of a course isn't necessarily that helpful. We've seen many courses ask for ‘mid-market’ grades (eg BBC) that lead to good employment opportunities, or have a strong academic reputation in a particular field.
Search for a course to learn more about it including graduate prospects, student satisfaction scores and who studies the course.
We'd recommend cross-referencing information on entry requirements with the percentage of applicants who receive offers – again you can find this on Which? University when searching for a course.
This can give you a more rounded view of how competitive a course may (or may not!) be.
7. Can university entry requirements change?
Right up to the moment you receive an offer (such as BBB at A-level or DMM at BTEC National), a university can change its entry requirements.
So you could apply for a course thinking that the university will be looking for BBC at A-level, only for it to make you a conditional offer of BBB. This might work the other way around, too.
You do not have to accept this offer. If you do, though, it won't be changed.
8. Do universities stick to their stated 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 the uni 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 112 Ucas tariff points but be far more flexible when results come out, letting in people on the course with sometimes far lower grades.
There are often some surprising differences. Here on Which? University, you can see the most common A-levels studied (and the grades achieved) by previous students on a course, and compare these with the entry requirements that university asks for – simply search for a course and check.
9. What if you don't meet the entry requirements come results day?
You may find that your grades fall short of the entry requirements you needed for your university offer. Don't despair yet!
There's still a chance a university will accept you with lower grades if you narrowly missed the mark (though trying your luck with three Cs when your offer was ABB probably won't work). There can be a disparity between what a university asks for and what it will accept.
If you find yourself in this situation, contact the university as soon as you can on results day to confirm your status and see if it will still accept you.
Otherwise, you can still apply to a different course through the official Ucas Clearing process, when a university's view of entry requirements may be slightly more flexible.
Worried about your upcoming exams? Check out our revision advice to get tips to help you ace your exams.
Now you know more about entry requirements, what do you need to achieve?
Search for a course to see what grades and subjects you'll need to get (or at least be predicted), plus whether you need to do an audition, interview etc.
You can learn more about entry requirements, here.