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The idea is that you end up applying to a range of university courses that will give you enough eventual offers to allow you to make realistic firm and insurance choices. The usual advice is that you should pick three choices at your predicted grades, one slightly above and one slightly below. The following steps show you one way of doing this.

1) Think about what sort of university you want to go to

  • Do you want a campus, semi-campus, or non-campus university?
  • Do you want to live in a big city or a smaller town?
  • Is there a particular place in the country you want or need to be located?
  • Are there particular facilities you want or need - sports facilities, access to London etc

If you go to a low-achieving school, you may be eligible for some sort of 'entry scheme' that accepts lower grades. Check with your school or email your preferred universities to check the procedure.

These are just a few of the details you might want to consider as they will help you decide later on.

2) Get hold of some university prospectuses

You can order most prospectuses from individual university websites. You can also pick up prospectuses from UCAS Fairs, and your school/college may have some you can look over. These are often easier to read and find info in than online websites etc.

3) Read the course descriptions carefully

No two university courses are exactly the same, even for the same subject. Remember to look at other courses on offer that might appeal to you - especially anything with an unfamiliar title. Are there any 'extras' like a work placement or a year abroad? These are viewed favourably by most employers.

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4) Do not get obsessed with 'reputation' or league tables

If you have a good degree result (2:1 or a first), that is essentially all most employers are bothered about. League tables are based on a variety of factors with varying levels of relevance to undergraduates. In all cases they should be taken with a large pinch of salt. If you want to understand what they do show, read the user's guide.

5) Check the entry requirements carefully

If they are asking for a specific subject at A2 or a specific grade at GCSE, do you have that? Be realistic about your predicted grades - do your research to work out which unis offer a particular subject and where you could apply with your predicted grades.

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6) Make a shortlist

After scanning through all of your prospective university prospectuses and reading the course descriptions carefully, put them into groups according to the admissions requirements:
  • those with requirements just above your predicted grades
  • those at your predicted grades
  • those below your predicted grades

7) Narrow down your choices

Hopefully you should now have a short list of about 10 possible courses/universities. You need to narrow this down to five choices for your UCAS application - ideally you should have
  • one 'risky' choice (above your predicted grades),
  • two or three choices at your predicted grades
  • one or two choices well below your predicted grades.

Do not pick five choices with identical or very close grade requirements - this will leave you with no obvious insurance choice. Make sure all your choices are a course and university you would be happy to go to. Don't choose anything just to fill up a choice.

8) Go to Open Days

Make sure you attend open days at your chosen Unis before you submit your UCAS application. Check when the Open Days are on each individual university website and book yourself a place. Don't leave this until the last minute - open days fill up very quickly.

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