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Unconditional offers: should you always accept?

Unconditional offers: a no strings attached route direct to university, or muddying the waters when it comes to choosing a course? We've examined the pros and cons.

Sure, being wanted is always a boost to your self esteem. Plus any sort of guarantee after months of scrutiny, uncertainty and waiting around is bound to be a welcome relief.

Before you jump in, weigh up that unconditional offer alongside - and in the same way as you've considered - your conditional offers, before making a decision.

Remind me, what is an unconditional offer again?

This is when a university offers you a spot on a course regardless of the final grades you achieve. Essentially, you have a place there! However, as we'll see, there can be a few things to still sort out.

Must read: learn more about unconditional and other university offers

So the university really wants me, right?

To some extent, yes.

Your Ucas application obviously impressed them. But universities don't want lots of empty spaces on their courses, either. By making these unconditional offers, they hope you'll choose them over another university (particularly if you're a top-performing candidate who'll have several prestigious universities making them offers). 

In recent years, the restrictions on how universities recruit students have been lifted, meaning universities are competing to entice students. Unconditional offers could be viewed as one such tactic. So keep this context in the back of your mind as you're weighing things up.

Do many applicants receive unconditional offers?

Unconditional offer-making appears to be on the rise. According to Ucas, in 2015 over 23,400 unconditional offers were made to applicants yet to take their final exams. While this accounts for just 2.5% of all offers made, this was almost double the number made the year before. 

Unconditional offer = less end-of-year pressure?

Is the idea of accepting a university place that won't be affected by your final grades enough of a reason to accept an unconditional offer?

It's certainly appealing, especially if it arrives while you're buried in revision, exams and assignments.

But beware of the (even subconscious!) effect having an offer in the bag might have on your overall efforts.

We are concerned that unconditional offers could have detrimental effects on attainment – we know of a similar college to ours where 75% of students who had accepted unconditional offers did not achieve the grades the college had predicted. However, we don’t see unconditional offers going away. Stella Barnes | Higher Education And Careers Adviser

If you do accept, don't relax just yet

If an unconditional offer comes through, especially from your preferred university, you're in a great position. But accepting the unconditional offer doesn't mean you should put your feet up for the rest of the year.

Don't let an unconditional offer tempt you to to take your foot off the gas in your studies or exam revision. The grades you achieve at 18 will live with you, and will often be a key factor when you apply for jobs or postgraduate courses in three or four years' time. Alan Bullock | Careers Adviser

The work you're doing now is preparation for what you can expect at university. Stay sharp and on-the-ball, and you're more likely to make a smooth transition later. 

Plus, phoning it in now will make all the effort you've already put in a bit of a waste, right?

Making your uni decision

If your unconditional offer isn't for a university you really had your sights set on, try not to let the security it offers cloud your opinion of it.

Think back to how you felt about the course before that offer was on the table - would you be considering it if the spot wasn't guaranteed? You'll be spending at least the next three years committed to it, remember.

On the flip side, do give it due consideration if the course and university ticks the right boxes for you. As we've outlined, lots of universities are using unconditional offers as part of admissions these days, so you shouldn't treat these offers with unhealthy levels of suspicion...

One university has made unconditional offers to all our students who have applied there with the right predicted qualifications.

They have received a mixture of responses from our students with some accepting them firmly, more accepting them as their insurance choice and some thinking that the university must be desperate to make unconditional offers!

Most other unconditional offers have been seen by students as being a form of 'bribe' in exchange for accepting the offer firmly. Stella Barnes | Higher Education & Careers Adviser

There may still be a catch

While it may be called an 'unconditional offer', that’s not always quite the case. For example, a university may stipulate that as part of their unconditional offer, you have to make them your first choice. 

This stipulation is often a means of ensuring that you are passionate about studying with them:

We want to admit students who really want to come to Sussex. Choosing a course and a university is an important decision and, whilst we hope students selected for the Sussex Unconditional Offer Scheme will want to join us, we feel it is important that applicants demonstrate that commitment by selecting Sussex as their firm choice via Ucas. Sussex Unconditional Offer Scheme
When you accept an unconditional offer as your firm choice, you are committing to go to that university, so you can't select an insurance choice or enter Clearing

This can be tricky to get out of if you change your mind later (you will have to request to be 'released' from your offer first).

Can you make an unconditional offer your insurance choice?

Yes, unless otherwise mentioned. And that puts you in an excellent position:
When an applicant has their offers in, and they have an unconditional offer with no extra conditions, this creates a very interesting situation with using the unconditional offer for the insurance choice. It's a great de-stresser. The applicant can have their firm choice and then have the insurance choice as the ultimate stress-free back-stop. Andy Gardner | Careers Adviser - Central London Careers Hub
Remember that when choosing your first and insurance choices, you should be prepared to attend either of the universities you select.

I have an unconditional offer. What should I do?

1) Don't rush your decision

Don't feel like you have to make a decision the moment an unconditional offer comes along. Wait until you've received all your offers so you can properly assess your options. Usually, you'll need to make a decision by May (or later, depending on when you received all your offers). 

Must read: Ucas deadlines and key dates

2) Review all your options

Take some time to revisit all your course and university options and consider them equally, especially if it's been a while since you sent off your Ucas application. Re-familiarise yourself with the course description and modules and, if you haven't already, try and visit the universities you're considering to really get a 'feel' for what that uni's like.

Must read: top tips when replying to offers

3) Weighing up that guaranteed offer

The benefits of an unconditional offer do make it worthy of consideration. If it was top of your list anyway, fantastic! But if you really had your heart set on a different university, don't move on from that 'first love' yet, just because they’re proving a little harder to get.

4) Get a fresh perspective

Don't struggle with this decision alone. There are a lot of individuals you can consult including teachers, careers advisers and even admissions officers at the university which has made the offer - maybe you have further questions about the offer they've made?

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