Unconditional offers from universities: What to do if you get one

More and more unis are promising guaranteed places

How much do universities care about students' A-level results? Not that much, in many cases.

In 2018, more than a third of 18-year-old applicants received one before taking their A-levels, based solely on their predicted grades.

Unconditional offers can be 'no strings attached' or "a university may stipulate that their offer is only unconditional if you make them your firm choice," writes UCAS adviser Mark Newman.

Why are universities handing out unconditional offers?

It all comes down to them wanting more paying students. If an unconditional offer comes in and it's not from one of your preferred universities, think carefully.

In a TSR poll asking what people think of unis who give out unconditional offers, less than 37 per cent of the 1,495 respondents said such unis "think I'm a brilliant applicant," while more than 63 per cent would feel they are "desperate for students."

“Since the cap came off student numbers this year, even highly regarded institutions are getting frightened about not being able to fill courses,” says Carnationlilyrose, a teacher with years of experience of helping students get into university.

“If it's from a university you want to go to, clearly it's a plus. If you aren't sure, then it may not work out quite so well,” she adds.

What should you do if you get an unconditional offer?

Firstly, be proud. Although unconditional offers are on the rise, it shows that a university believes you have the potential to succeed on your chosen course.

Secondly, read the small print – does the offer stipulate that you must firm the university in order for it to be unconditional? If not, then selecting it as your insurance could be a good choice as, like nulli tertius says, it “means you are going to university even if you completely flunk your A-levels.”

But it also means if you miss your firm grades then you'll be going to your insurance choice, so make sure you’re happy with your decision.

Thirdly, here's what not to do.

Don't give up on your A-levels

It might be tempting to see an unconditional offer as a free pass to slack off for the rest of your A-levels, or drop out of college.

But don’t be fooled. As lozzvipond warns: “They've given you an unconditional offer based on the knowledge that you will be completing A2 levels […] If you dropped out you'd have to notify UCAS that your qualifications would be changing (you wouldn't be completing A2 levels) and that wouldn't be the situation under which you got the unconditional offer."

“Do be aware that some graduate schemes also ask for a minimum number of UCAS points or a set of grades as well,” says Pro Crastination. By not trying your best at A-level, you could be doing yourself a disservice in the future.

There’s also your personal sense of wellbeing. “You might regret it if you drop out, since you'll miss sixth form and your friends and miss out on all the leaver’s events,” says feathergirl.


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Don't firm an offer just because it's unconditional

For chailatte101, it was love at first sight when she visited her first choice uni, but getting an unconditional offer made her rethink. "By accepting it I'd take so much stress off exam season," she says.

But resist the temptation and think carefully about how you’ll feel if you miss out on the uni you really wanted to go to.

“It's fine as long as it doesn't make you choose somewhere you wouldn't have gone otherwise,” says Carnationlilyrose.

If you’ve got your heart set somewhere else, then go for it. “If you're aiming higher and think you can achieve the grades, why settle?” says Callu-m.

Take your time and make the right decision for you. If you firm an unconditional offer now you won’t be able to change your mind on results day – you’ll have to ask to be released and then go through Clearing.

Don't rush into your decision

There's plenty of time to make your choice, as you have until the May 1 deadline to make your choice.

PQ recommends not picking a firm until April, saying: "There's nothing to gain from firming early and everything to lose."

And Doonesbury says, “Find the best course for you, at a university you actually want to spend three years at.”

For more advice, read our guide to making your firm and insurance choices or ask a question in our Applications, Clearing and UCAS forum.

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