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Unconditional offers: should you always accept?

After months of working on your Ucas application, an unconditional offer will be a welcome boost to the old self esteem. But are they all they appear to be on the surface? We've put them under the microscope...

Popular questions:  

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.

I have an unconditional offer. What should I do?

  • Don't rush your decision: wait until you've received all your offers. Usually, you'll need to make a decision by May (or later, depending on when you received all your offers). 
  • Review all your options: take some time to revisit all your course and university options, and consider them equally. Perhaps take a trip to see them again, in person.
  • Weigh up that guaranteed offer: 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.
  • Get a fresh perspective: talk to teachers, careers advisers and even admissions officers at the university which has made the offer do you have any questions about their offer?

Dig deeper into your offers: search for a course and learn more

Do many applicants receive unconditional offers?

While unconditional offers account for less than 5% of all offers made, the number of English, Welsh and Northern Irish 18-year olds receiving at least one such offer has jumped in recent years, according to Ucas.

In total, over 51,615 unconditional offers were made to students in this age group. Going back a few years, this number was just under 3,000 in 2013  that's a 1,629% increase in only four years!

However, the proportion of all applicants in this age group receiving such an offer is still significantly lower than that of older applicants (aged 19-30), more than half of whom received an unconditional offer.

And if you do receive an unconditional offer from a university, don't hold out hope that you'll get another; just 2.1% of applicants from this group received more than one unconditional offer.

How to get an unconditional offer

Looking closer at the figures suggests a few interesting takeaways if you're hoping to get an unconditional offer.

You’re more likely to receive an unconditional offer if you…:

  • already have the grades when applying: a university is more likely to make you an unconditional offer if you already hold the grades require.
     
  • are applying in Scotland: as above, because Scottish applicants apply to university with the Highers and Advanced Highers they’ve already achieved, unconditional offers are more common for this group.
     
  • have been predicted these grades...: 18 year-old A-level students (across England, Wales and Northern Ireland) predicted ABB-BBC or equivalent, were more likely to receive an unconditional offer. It's interesting to note that this doesn't include those predicted the highest grades (i.e. three A*s).
     
  • are applying to study one of these subjects...: technologies, creative arts and design, combined arts, computer sciences, business and admin studies, linguistics, classics and related subjects, and biological sciences. Understandably, applicants to competitive subjects  like medicine and dentistry – are less likely to receive such an offer, upfront.
     
  • live in the Midlands: meanwhile, those living in constituencies around London and the south east are unlikely to receive an unconditional offer, upfront.

If a university makes an unconditional offer, does that mean they really want me?

To some extent, yes. Your Ucas application – including your personal statement  obviously impressed them.

But universities want to avoid empty spaces on their courses, too. By making an unconditional offer, they hope you'll choose them (especially if you're a top-performing candidate with several universities lining up to offer you a place). 

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:

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

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?

While accepting a university place that won't be affected by your final grades is certainly appealing  especially if it arrives while you're buried in revision, exams and assignments how will this change how much effort you put in to your studies? Be honest...

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 an unconditional offer from your top pick university, you're in a great position. But don't 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 later. Stay sharp and on-the-ball, and you're more likely to make a smooth transition into university

Plus, these grades will stick with you for the rest of your life (i.e. they'll go on your CV), while phoning it in now will be a waste of all the effort you've put in up to this point.
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    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 (or firm) choice. This may contribute to the fact that of all unconditional offers made in 2017, over half were made a first choice by students.

    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; you must request to be 'released' from your offer first, which can be tricky.

    Can you make an unconditional offer your insurance choice?

    Yes, unless otherwise mentioned.

    In 2017, just under a fifth of all unconditional offers were made an insurance choice. And doing so 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.

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