What are the entry requirements?
There is no point applying for a course where the offer is going to be above your predicted grades. Heap – Degree Course Offers lists every offer for every course. You can also choose a course and run through a list of universities in decreasing order of offer. The UCAS website also contains “Entry Profiles.” This sets out what grades you are likely to need to gain entry to a course, as well as other qualifications (eg: Maths GCSE).
There are many sources of statistics about universities and their departments. Typically, you should interest yourself in figures such as:
- How well is the department rated for Teaching Quality?
- What is the ratio of applicant to places?
- What is the dropout rate from the course?
- How is the quality of the department’s research rated?
- How good is the employability of graduates from your chosen universities?
But remember, you are not simply looking for “the best” – you want to find the course and the university that suits you, and that may well be at university number 43 in some league table or other.
What to do next
Once you have narrowed down your search you need to start studying prospectuses and think about visiting a few universities.
Prospectuses And Open Days
The University Prospectus
They all look great, and every prospectus you look at makes you think: “I’d like to go there.” But do remember that they are glossy exercises in marketing, and some can be very gimmicky. Dig around in a prospectus and you can find much of the information you require, in particular the factual information relating to courses on offer and facilities. Alternative prospectuses (written by students) will often fill in the gaps and reveal some of the negatives omitted in the official prospectus, but are naturally highly subjective. (Ask five people to write an alternative prospectus for Crickhowell High School, and the five accounts could all appear to be about a totally different place)!
You really need to visit a university and find out for yourself. We limit the number of Open Days you can attend (no point visiting twenty universities if you can’t then get the grades because you‘ve missed so much school!), which means that the Easter and summer holidays and half terms are almost certainly the best time to arrange visits. And don’t forget that if you receive interesting offers from universities that you haven’t yet seen, it’s never too late.
Don’t accept a place from a university you haven’t visited.
When you visit a university, take the opportunity to have a good look around (not just at the places on the “official” programme) and ask lots of questions. If possible, find some students and ask them questions too:
- What’s the quality of the teaching like? Is there plenty of feedback on your work?
- What are the departmental facilities like? Opening hours? Computer access?
- How well are new students looked after?
- How easy is it to find accommodation? Which are the best halls of residence? Transport?
- Are there any rules about part-time work? Is it easy to get work?
- What’s the cost of living like? Are there good shops close by, and places to eat?
How Are Applicants Selected?
Below you will find a brief summary of how admissions tutors select applicants for their courses. Look at this as an opportunity to see how this translates into the tactics you should employ to give yourself the best chance of an offer. You also need to understand entry profiles and the UCAS Tariff system.
General selection policies
University and college departmental admissions tutors are responsible for selecting candidates. Theirs is a hard job because they do not know if an applicant will get his predicted grades, nor if he will accept the place even if he does get the grades. In a course where there are, say, 50 places and 200 applicants (a fairly low demand course, bearing in mind that each applicant may have also applied for 5 other universities), the admissions tutor will seek to get about 40 firm acceptances and 40 insurance acceptances.
What is he or she looking for? There is little doubt that academic achievement and academic promise are the most important factors, although many other things are taken into consideration.
- Enthusiasm and Academic interest in your subject.
- Academic achievement.
- GCSE results. Range of subjects studied; time taken to obtain passes, number of A* grades.
- AS results (and results of any A Levels already taken). Tutors have access to all your marks and grades, and these could have a considerable bearing on any offer.
- Current progress in A Levels subjects and expected grades. These will form the main part of your housemaster’s reference. Your predicted grades are the first thing tutors look for and so can be the most important factor in the selection process.
- Academic potential. Interest in your chosen subject; academic strengths and weaknesses, possibly revealed at interview; academic motivation.
- Personal qualities. Powers of expression, independence of mind, industry, determination, sense of purpose and lots more. Your personal statement and your reference will help the tutor fill in your picture.
- Interests. Again, as revealed in your personal statement. A good, convincing entry could make the difference for a borderline candidate. “Shopping lists” (a tedious list of teams, certificates gained and so on) with no depth are useless.
- Key Skills. Universities are increasingly looking for evidence of “transferable skills.” Communication, numeracy, IT, teachability. Ability to solve problems, work in groups, responsible for your own learning and performance.
With up to five choices to make, and with only predicted grades to go on, it’s all a bit of a game – but a game whose outcome could determine the rest of your life. Games have rules, but they also have strategies which help maximise the chance of winning. Through all of this, remember that admissions tutors do not know which other universities you have applied to, nor do you put down a priority order. Here are some strategies in the university applications game:
More and more universities are making early decisions; it is more difficult to receive an offer once the university has reached its quota. Complete your application as early as you can.
High grade offers do not necessarily mean good courses
Everyone wants to go to the “best” university for their subject, and it is an easy assumption that the higher the entry requirement, the “better” the course. In fact, high offers merely represent a university’s or department’s popularity. Such popularity is not necessarily based on academic merit. Much better to do your research properly to find the course that fits you and visit universities to see for yourself.
Do not waste applications on “popular” courses
The higher the offer for a course, the greater the chance of rejection. The more popular your subject, the greater the danger of a “wasted” application, ie one which requires grades you are unlikely to achieve. Make sure you are realistic about your potential grades at A Level. Ambition is a virtue, but flying in the face of reality is not. In other words, match your course choice to your predicted grades.
Your final choices should normally be for the same or closely related subjects
If you choose a mixture of subjects, your commitment to any of your chosen courses will be in question. Furthermore, it will be very hard for you to write a personal statement covering several different subject areas. Thus, your choices should be for the same or similar courses whether single subject (eg: Politics, Political Studies, Political Science) or combined subjects (eg: French and Spanish, French with Spanish, French and Hispanic Studies).
Think carefully about your insurance choices
It is pointless applying to five highly prestigious and status-conscious universities. Even very good candidates have been on the receiving end of a number of rejections in such circumstances. For example, candidates applying in arts subjects to all three of Bristol, Nottingham and Durham might well be rejected by all three. Even if predicted AAAA, make sure you choose at least one course in a less popular university, especially if you are keen to study a highly popular subject. But you must think carefully about each one of your choices. Are you prepared to go to your last choice if it is the only offer you get?
Your UCAS form is critical
Make sure that every section has been filled in absolutely accurately and truthfully. In particular, your Personal Statement is the only chance you have to tell the admissions tutor why you want to gain a place in their department, and what sort of person you are. You will be expected to describe your talents, your interests, your passions. If you haven’t got any, get some! And it is more convincing to write several lines about a few genuine interests than to write out tedious lists of things you dabble in.
If you are not a strong A Level candidate…
Select a wide range of universities, including some of the newer ones. These will represent a more realistic target, and may well have the courses which are better suited to you. Such a strategy is recommended if you cannot be fairly certain of scoring a minimum BBC at A Level, and also for stronger candidates applying for particularly popular subjects.
Do not assume you can change courses once you get to university
It is a highly dangerous strategy to apply to a popular university on a less popular course, and then try to change to the course you really want once you are there. If it’s full up, it’s full up. Other people (particularly those who went to university some years ago) may tell you it is easy to do; it is getting harder and harder to do so by the year.
Which offers do you reject?
Once you have sent your application form in you can expect to hear from individual universities: their response will usually be either a conditional offer or a rejection. If you are in the fortunate position of having more than 2 offers, you must choose which to reject. You are only allowed to keep two offers, and must reject all others – usually by the end of April. One offer should be in line with your predicted grades (your firm offer) the other for lower grades (your insurance offer). Remember that if you only make the grades for your insurance offer and that is the place you get, you must take it up or drop out of the UCAS system altogether for that year – you cannot enter clearing, or approach other universities.
If you change your mind after applying…
It’s not the end of the world if you have second thoughts and drop out of the UCAS system altogether. It is much better not to take up a place if you come to the conclusion that you have made some wrong decisions. If that happens, let UCAS know quickly so that they can inform the universities. You can always reapply for the following year, or take a different path altogether. We have also managed to do some ‘moving around’ after results in a few special cases.
Page 5 >