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What the rise in unconditional offers means for you?

By Hollie Alexa Moxham

Monday 20 August 2018 Student Journalists

The number of unconditional offers is increasing and opinion is split on what this means for students and universities.

When you apply to a university there are three different responses you might receive:

  1. Unsuccessful - If the university doesn’t feel you are the right fit for them or the course you have chosen then your application may be unsuccessful
  2. Conditional Offer - This is the most common response, which is a conditional offer based on your predicted grades and the university’s requirements.
  3. Unconditional Offer - If the university considers you to be an outstanding candidate then you may receive an unconditional offer. 

This means that the university will accept you without considering your final grades.

For example, if you had an unconditional offer and were predicted ABB but you got BCC as your final grade, you would still be accepted by the university for the course you were given the unconditional offer for.

Unconditional offers are especially popular for creative courses (where a portfolio review and interview is a better indicator than predicted grades) or for mature students who may have already achieved their qualifications.

Almost a quarter of applicants received an unconditional offer from a university this year. The number of unconditional offers has increased dramatically in the past few years which has led to concern within the sector. Does it encourage a laid-back attitude towards studying? or does it offer a much need break from the stress of being a student?

Despite providing figures, Ucas have not suggested any reasons for the rise in unconditional offers. The tuition fees (£9,250) struggle to compete with apprenticeships and straight-to-work routes. Universities have to work even harder to attract applicants, so perhaps unconditional offers provide more incentive for potential future students and higher acceptance rates for universities. The cap on the number of students a university can admit has also recently been lifted, meaning that universities can offer as many places as they want before and after results day.

So perhaps unconditional offers seem like a win-win situation? Less stress for applicants, more students for universities. But there are huge concerns that unconditional offers promote a problematic mentality around exam season. It encourages a more relaxed approach to exams due to less emphasis on achieving specific grades, this undermines the education system and does not set a good example of how to approach assessments. There is also some concern that applicants may immediately accept an unconditional offer assuming it is the best offer available to them, without fully exploring their options with their teachers and families

However many universities point out that it is simply ‘not in their interests’ to take applicants that are less likely to work hard and excel in exams.  Some research has suggested that students who receive an unconditional offer are often likely to work harder to prove their worth.

Sam Gyimah (Universities Minister) has offered an alternative solution, a Post-Qualifications Application (PQA) where students would receive their A-Level results before they apply to universities. This reduces the dependence on predicted grades, a needed change when only 16% of applicants’ grades are found to be accurate. 

The structure of the UK university system makes PQA far from ideal. It would put even more pressure on students and make the process of Ucas applications longer and more complicated. Experts suggest that a PQA system would work much more effectively in countries where students tend to stay closer to home while they study.

Perhaps the solution is limiting the number of unconditional places that a university can offer to applicants? It is essential that more information is provided to applicants about unconditional offers, including the importance of the decision.

Remember that by accepting an unconditional offer you are confirming your place at that university and cannot change your mind. Consider picking an ‘insurance choice’ (back up) or enter into clearing in August.