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...
- What's an unconditional offer?
- I have an unconditional offer. What should I do?
- How many applicants receive an unconditional offer?
- If a university makes an unconditional offer, does that mean they really want me?
- Does an unconditional offer mean less pressure for me?
- Do unconditional offers come with any catches?
- Can I make an unconditional offer my insurance choice?
What is an unconditional offer?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 consider.
Watch now: Should you accept an unconditional offer from your uni?
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. Read our open day advice for tips.
- 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?
Learn more about your offers: search for a course now
Do many applicants receive unconditional offers?The number of English, Welsh and Northern Irish university applicants receiving at least one such offer has jumped in recent years, according to Ucas.
In total, over 87,540 applicants received at least one unconditional offer in 2018 – over 1/3 of all 18 year old applicants.
In 2013, this number was just 2,570 (so you can see there's been a massive increase since).
One in five students received an unconditional offer provided they made the university their firm choice.
This was most common for students studying creative arts or design courses (29%), and less common for those studying medicine and dentistry (9%) - likely because these are very competitive subjects with many more applicants than places available.
Unconditional offers without any conditions attached are less common - only 14% of students said they received this type of offer.
How to get an unconditional offerLooking 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…:
are aged 18-30 years old: a university is more likely to make you an unconditional offer if you already hold the grades required, which is more likely among mature applicants.
An offer is four to five times more likely to be unconditional for this age group, than for 18 year olds (though the proportion of 18 year olds receiving these has increased over time).
are applying in Scotland: like mature students, because Scottish applicants apply to university with grades (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 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 (ie three A*s).
are applying to study one of these subject areas...: creative arts and design, mass communications and documentation, technologies.
One reason for this is because a university' decision to make an offer to these applicants often depends on an applicants' portfolio or audition.
Understandably, applicants to competitive subjects – like medicine and dentistry – are less likely to receive such an offer, upfront.
January 2019 update - Ucas have highlighted the following universities who've issued high numbers of unconditional offers: Nottingham Trent, Lincoln, Sheffield Hallam, Birmingham, York St John's, Birmingham City, Brighton, Bournemouth, Northampton, Leeds Beckett and Nottingham.
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 will also want to avoid empty spaces on their courses, and making you an unconditional offer can be seen as one such tactic to woo you (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:
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.
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...
In 2018, 67% of those who held an unconditional offer as their first choice missed their predicted grades by two or more grades (compared to 57% of conditional first choice holders).
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.
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 (ie 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.
Finally, some bursaries and scholarships are awarded to students who achieve top marks; so you're potentially diminishing your chances of receiving crucial extra funding by letting your final grades slip.
In an interesting turn, St Mary's University, Twickenham has announced (October 2018) it will no longer make unconditional offers:
The University of Nottingham has also decided to stop making unconditional offers (January 2019).
The Office for Students (OfS) has warned that the ‘indiscriminate use’ of unconditional offers could even be a potential breach of consumer protection law (January 2019). They have encouraged students to challenge these ‘pressure selling practices’ and will continue to monitor the issue.
Struggling with revision? Pick up study tips and secrets.
What is a 'conditional unconditional offer'?While it may be called an 'unconditional offer', that’s not always quite the case.
The term 'conditional unconditional offer' has surfaced where a university stipulates that as part of their unconditional offer, you have to make them your first (or firm) choice (after which they'll update the offer to unconditional).
Ucas revealed that in 2018, there were 23 universities where unconditional conditional made up at least 10% of all offers they made. This includes Russell Group universities, Birmingham and Nottingham.
This stipulation is often a means of ensuring that you are passionate about studying with them:
So while these don't have grade conditions you need to achieve, they do come with strings attached.
Remember that 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.
Going back to 2017, just under a fifth of all unconditional offers that year were made an insurance choice. And doing so puts you in an excellent position:
Remember that when choosing your first and insurance choices, you should be prepared to attend either of the universities you select.