Every year, many people apply for courses and universities and later change their minds about them. In some circumstances, it is possible to switch during the current UCAS cycle rather than withdraw your application and start again next year. This article is for those of you who think you may have applied for the ‘wrong’ course or university, and it explains what your options are and how to go about it.
Want to change course?
Your options depend on where you are in the cycle. It is important to remember that your original PS will still be sent to unis, so if you are making a significant change you need to think about a supplementary/revised PS. A few months ago, you were sure you wanted to do X course; now, you want to do Y course. Can you be convincing about your reasons for changing? You don’t need to discuss why X was not right for you, but will need good reasons why Y is. Always find out exactly who to send the email with your attached PS to so that you can be sure it's not disappeared into an admin black hole.
Want to change university?
Again, your options depend on where you are in the cycle. A new PS is not usually appropriate. However, if you have new information to add to your application (such as resit or module results) there's no harm in putting that forward.
Change of Circumstances: It sometimes happens that people's choice of university is no longer appropriate, perhaps because of serious illness, or a need to stay closer to home for compelling family reasons (eg a parent is terminally ill). If your referee is willing to do so, you can ask him/her to approach UCAS on your behalf and make a case for you to be allowed to change your choices. This is probably fairly rare and each case will be treated on its merits. If the changes are being made after 15 January unis are not obliged to consider an application from you, but if your circumstances have been deemed by UCAS to be serious enough to warrant you being allowed to change your choices it is likely that most universities would be sympathetic.
Things to think about before burning your boats
As the cycle progresses and plans become more ‘real’, many people become nervous and question whether they’re making the right decision. If you are now regretting your choices, it is important to be sure that this change of heart is 'real' and not just a case of cold feet. Everyone gets nervous about the idea of leaving home and/or going off to join a whole bunch of people you've never met before; this is totally normal. It is also true that your ideas about what really interests you can change quite a lot in the six months since you were planning your application, and the reality of today, with your confirmation letter in front of you (and an offer to meet), can bring you up short and make you realise that this really isn't what you want to do.
There is no rush to make a decision, and if you cannot be sure which one of these you are experiencing, ask for advice from teachers, friends, family, or make a post on TSR… Universities and admissions tutor are often quite accommodating, but become less so if you continually change your mind.
Changing your mind before making your Firm and Insurance Choices
Before doing anything else, the first point to consider is where your application is in the system. If you are applying through a school or college, your application is first sent to them for checking and so that your referee can add your reference, then they send it forward to UCAS. Therefore, if you change your mind very shortly after sending it, check where your application is – if you log in to UCAS Apply and it says something about waiting for referee approval, then it is likely still with your school or college. In that case, find the person who handles the UCAS application (could be your head of year or an administrator, for example; if in doubt, ask) and request that they send it back to you, when you will be able to make your changes and resubmit.
If you are an independent applicant this intermediate stage doesn't exist. In either case, if your UCAS status is that your application has been received/is being processed, you will need to consider which of the following options are relevant to you.
Adding a choice
If you have not yet applied for five choices, you can add a choice in UCAS Track – to do this, log in to Track, select 'Choices' from the top menu and, at the bottom of the 'Choices' page is an option to 'Add Choice'. Clicking on this will (unsurprisingly) allow you to add your choice; you can have up to five choices and can add as many as will take you to this number (if you only made one choice to start with you will have to pay the extra UCAS fee). If you are adding the choice/s after 15 January, you also need to check whether the uni/s in question is/are still accepting new applications for your course. Remember that if you add choices in this way, you do not get the 7 day 'cooling off' period - so a choice once added is a choice used up.
Substituting a choice
If your choice meets BOTH of the following criteria, you will be able to substitute the original choice for an alternative one through UCAS Track:
- the university has not yet replied to you
- your AS2 ‘welcome’ letter is dated less than 7 days ago
To substitute a choice, log in to Track, select 'Choices' from the top menu and click on the red course code of the choice you wish to substitute. At the bottom of the 'Choice Details' page is an option to 'Substitute Choice' - make sure you click 'Substitute Choice' and NOT 'Cancel Choice'. You will then be guided to enter details of your new choice. You can substitute each eligible choice only once, and you can't substitute any choices added more than 7 days after you submitted your original application. Note also that if you substitute a choice after a deadline (eg, change medical school choices after 15 October, or another uni choice after 15 January) your application to the new uni will be counted as late and may not be considered.
If you are changing your course choice (with or without changing the uni) this option is really only appropriate if you are changing to a course that is closely related to the one you originallly applied for. Any drastic changes will look really odd, since you only applied less than a week ago! An updated PS is unlikely to be accepted in this situation, although you can always ask.
Switching course at your current choices
If you are happy with the universities you have selected, you can contact any of them that run the course you are now interested in individually and ask to be considered for the new course – you can do this with or without having had a reply from them, and can also ask a university that has rejected you. If the uni agrees and then decides to make you an offer, they will notify UCAS of a changed decision and/or course code. If they do not agree to consider you for the alternative course, you should be able to keep any offer you already have. You will need to confirm with the uni when you contact them what happens to your original offer (if you have one) should they agree to consider you for another course but then turn your application down. Remember that they will still have access to your original PS, and may not accept an updated one. If they will, find out exactly who it needs to be sent to.
For a full guide to UCAS Extra, see the TSR guide and the UCAS guidance. If you already have made five choices and you are unable to substitute them, UCAS Extra is a way of changing your course or uni, but in order to be eligible for Extra, you must have used up all five of your choices, and either your existing choices must reject you, or you must decline any offers, and cancel any choices for which you have yet to receive a decision.
Extra opens in late February. Although you can make yourself eligible at any time before this date, unless you are completely sure you would not under any circumstances accept an offer for the choices you have already applied for, wait to see if the course you are interested in is in Extra before rejecting any offers or cancelling any of them. In any case, before applying to a university through Extra, it is important you contact them to check they really are in Extra and will consider your application.
Adjustment, Clearing, and other possibilities
Some people might be thinking in terms of accepting the offers they have, in the hope that they will be able to switch course and/or uni on Results Day. See below.
Changing your mind after you have chosen your Firm and Insurance
Making your mind up is scary - it's much easier for people who have only one or two offers to play with. What if I get it wrong? See Firm and Insurance Choices.
If you are really sure that you've made a mistake, your options depend on whether the 7 day* 'cooling off' period has passed. If it hasn't, you can contact UCAS and change your mind about the offers you have had, but you can only do this once. It is not entirely clear from the UCAS guidance whether, if you were to change your replies to 'decline' for all your offers at this point, but it seems likely that this is the case. However, you would be well-advised to check before committing yourself.
If the 7 days have passed, then unless there has been a significant change in personal circumstances (see above) you are now committed, officially. However, every year many people manage to work through the system to get what they want.
- This changed in 2012; in previous years you had 14 days in which you could change your mind.
I want to switch my firm and insurance choices around - can I do this? Within the 7 day cooling off period, contact UCAS and they will make the change for you.
After the 7 days have elapsed, this is still possible up until early July, if both unis agree. You should start with UCAS, then contact the uni you would now like to be your firm and check that they are happy for this change to be made. If they agree, you then contact your current firm and ask them to let you switch.
I want to change course at my Firm/Insurance. Contact the uni for advice; it is sometimes possible to do this. If the uni agrees to make a change, they will notify UCAS accordingly.
I’m happy with my course choice but want to change uni You will only be able to do this by negotiating your rejection/release from your current Firm and Insurance. If you have another uni in mind, and you have decided this before the middle of June, you should check whether the uni concerned is in Extra for your course. If they are, contact them and ask whether they will consider you as an Extra applicant, and if they will you should explain that you will need to negotiate your rejection/release from your current uni/s. This is likely to take a few days, so don't wait until 28 June to pursue this option. If you are too late and/or the uni in question isn't in Extra for your preferred course anyway, in practical terms you have until the week before Results Day to persuade your current uni/s to release/reject you, so that you are ready for Clearing from Day 1. That a uni was in Clearing last year does not offer any guarantees that they will be this year, so be aware that this is a relatively high risk strategy if you have a specific uni in mind.
I don’t want to go to my Firm any more: what can I do? If you have decided this any time up to a week before Results Day, and you are holding a conditional offer, contact the uni and ask to be rejected (NOT released). You will need to provide some explanation. However, your insurance uni will need to be consulted too, as they may be worried about having too many applicants for the places they have. Technically they can refuse to accept you as a firm applicant, though this is unusual, and they are more likely to do this the nearer to Results Day it is when you make the request. If you don't want your insurance to become your firm, ask them to reject/release you as well.
If you end up holding neither a Firm nor an Insurance offer, you will be eligible for Clearing immediately on Results Day. If you have achieved this by 30 June you will be able to use Extra - see this extract from the UCAS FAQ: If you accepted the offer more than 7 days ago, you can only decline the offer with permission from the relevant university. You'll need to contact us first to confirm this is what you'd like to do. You'll then need to contact the universities you have accepted offers with, ask them if you can decline the offer, and ask the university to call us to confirm they are happy for these changes to be made. We can then decline your offers with their permission. Once all offers are declined and if Extra is still available, you can apply to another choice. This clarification of the position is new for 2013; in previous years people's experience on this one varied according to who they spoke to at UCAS!
In the week leading up to Results Day, unis won’t talk to people as they are processing the exam results. Negotiating a release on or after Results Day can take time and is much better avoided. Remember that you are released into Clearing, not to your Insurance. Your insurance choice will only be able to take you as a Clearing applicant, and since they will have known for a couple of days at least that you met your firm offer, the place they were holding for you is very likely to have gone to someone else. Once your firm has become unconditional, your insurance choice has no obligation to make room for you.
I'm happy with my Firm but I don't want to go to my Insurance any more: what do I do? If you have decided that whatever happens about your Firm you definitely don't want to go to your Insurance, and would rather go in to Clearing instead, you can ask to be rejected (if the offer is conditional)/released (if the offer is unconditional) before Results Day. You will need to contact the uni concerned direct to request this.
To be eligible for Clearing, you cannot be holding any offer or confirmed place. The full Clearing lists are not published until Results Day, so to deliberately make yourself eligible for Clearing is a risky business as there are no guarantees that what you want will be on offer, or even if it is that you would be considered. Therefore this is not a position to put yourself in unless you are absolutely sure that you don't want to accept any of your offers anyway; if you would rather go to one of them than not go at all, you should accept the offer/s to carry forward to Results Day. If on Results Day what you really want has come up in Clearing, you can ask to negotiate a release (or a rejection if you have missed your offer and it's still showing as conditional) if you want to, though this can cause delays, which won't be helpful. People have been able to negotiate with unis in Clearing, before agreeing their release from their confirmed place with another uni, but this can be tricky because strictly speaking the uni in question should not be talking to you when you don't have a Clearing number.
The submission of an alternative personal statement is not as common in Clearing, because much of the discussion and persuasion is over the telephone – if you can discuss why you want to change during the initial contact, a personal statement is made redundant. However, offer to submit an alternative personal statement and have one ready in advance for if the admissions tutor does wish to see one.
Adjustment provides the opportunity to hold on to your guaranteed place while you see what's on offer elsewhere. Courses do not have to be listed in Clearing for there to be Adjustment places, so ringing round on the day is what you have to do. However:
- You are only able to use Adjustment if you exceed the conditions of your firm offer. The risk is that you may not, and, if you do decide to pursue a different course, you end up in the position of trying to get released so you can use Clearing. This can take time on Results Day, and the final result is the same as using Clearing in the first place.
- Very few people get a place through Adjustment – in 2009, a UCAS media release quoted figures that 384 people of the 3600 who entered Adjustment got a place. The table at UCAS Data shows that even in the third year of Adjustment only 552 people got places this way. However, by the time you realise Adjustment may not work for you, Clearing could be over for your desired course or, if not, could be very close and you may be delayed in getting released.
- Adjustment is not really designed for people changing their minds about which course they want to study. The admissions tutor is going to be looking at your application which was prepared for course A and now you say you want to do course B. Remember that admissions tutors who are considering Adjustment applicants most likely also have people who narrowly missed their offers to compare you with - who chose the uni as their firm and have shown steady commitment to the course. I'm not saying it can't be done - a few people have managed it - but you are starting from a position of some disadvantage.
Changing once at university
If you decide you would rather accept one of the courses you originally applied for than not go to university this year, or realise after getting to university and they run a course you’re interested in, you can approach the admissions tutor for the new course and ask to change. The earlier you ask, the more likely you are to be accepted; if you are refused on the grounds of the course having too many people, ask about being put on a waiting list so that, in the event some drop out, you will be contacted about transferring in. However, many of the competitive courses at the high profile unis are more than just a little wise to the people who deliberately apply for a less competitive course in the hope that they will be able to switch to the course they really wanted to do once they are there. You should never assume you will be able to change courses once you get to a uni - many are very flexible, but quite a few are not. Ask the uni for its policy (which will not necessarily be consistent across all courses in any case) if you are considering this approach, before making up your mind.
Other things to consider
Although it can be done, changing courses/unis mid-cycle may not be the best thing for you to do.
Especially if you are proposing a significant change of course, it may be much wiser to start again. That way you can improve your chances of success considerably by (a) enabling you to tailor your application exactly to what you want to do and (b) having access to the full range of options, rather than the limited - and unpredictable - options available in Extra and Clearing, let alone Adjustment.
Starting a course and then dropping out (or worse, failing it) could in the end cost you a lot of money. Some unis expect you to sign up for a year's worth of accommodation costs up front and won't let you off unless you have a really good reason for dropping out (serious illness for instance). You might find yourself with tuition fees and other loans to pay back, and worst of all you could find yourself not getting full support later on for the degree you really want to do.
If you have already replied to your offers, and applied for student finance, you will need to complete and return a change of circumstances form - these are available online - to keep the admin in order.