• Abbie Tibbott

UCAS Choices and Choosing a University

University offers for UCAS applicants have been rolling in, so now it’s time to choose your top two. If you only applied to a couple of universities, this step will be obvious, but if you went for the full five choices and got offers for all of them, then it’s time to start narrowing down your choices. In this blog, as well as linking in a few guides I’ve written for choosing a university, I also want to give some advice on how to choose your final two.


1. Look at the offers you’ve got

Entry requirements are going to be the deal-breakers here, so it’s important to look at all your offers and see what’s realistic. If you’ve been performing at your target level and have proved yourself in your mock exams, then aiming for the universities with higher entry requirements isn’t such a stretch. It’s easy to fall in love with a university, but if your grades haven’t been meeting you expectations, it might be worth seriously considering some of the offers that have lower grades if you don't want to resit your A-levels.

You may be in the situation I was in, where all my offers had exactly the same grade requirements. This is because I was attracted to a certain ranking/banding of universities, and those with lower grade requirements didn’t entice me to apply for them. In this case, ranking your top two isn’t as easy, as if you don’t get into your first choice university, there isn’t a firm hope that you’ll be accepted into your second choice with the same grades. If you are in this situation and things don’t go to plan, use results day to ring up your UCAS choices and ask whether they have spaces available on their course. Some degrees may have been under-subscribed, so pitch yourself (and your grades) to these institutions to try and get a place.

Unconditional offers are very tempting, and I came to Reading through one. I decided that I liked the campus and course enough to take advantage of the unconditional offer, especially as my AS-levels hadn’t hit the targets set by my school. Lots of my friends got unconditional offers but didn’t take them, so don’t assume that your place is any less worthy than waiting for your results. Only take advantage of these offers if you are sure you like the university enough, as you’re committing the next three or four years of your life to studying there. A final note on this is that unconditional offers are sometimes made as part of widening participation initiatives, in order to recruit students from a variety of backgrounds. I am from a poor educational background with below-average schools and lower GCSE grades, and this was recognised by Reading in the form of an unconditional offer. Use your hardships as an advantage when fighting for a university place, as you may be able to gain access to institutions that you are capable of studying at, but are out of your reach due to your personal circumstances.


2. Have your feelings changed?

It will have been several months since you applied to UCAS, and by then you may have changed your mind about what you want from your university experience. You may have decided that a university you applied to is too far away, or that a certain course isn’t as good as one offered by another university that you applied for. I was able to eliminate Royal Holloway, University of London from my final two as I decided that the location was too remote and there didn’t seem to be much of a night scene, two factors which I viewed as important. I also removed Queen Mary, University of London from my shortlist of offers, as there was no guarantee I would get accommodation in my first year, and I didn’t want the stress of finding private rental properties in London as a fresher.


3. Visit the universities again

Lots of universities will attempt to entice offer-holders by giving applicants the opportunity to visit campus. If you’ve not yet visited that particular university, I’d recommend going to these events, as they’re more tailored to your subject than a general open day. Departments may host sample lectures, tours and the opportunity to talk to current students. This happens on a much smaller scale than an open day, so will be an ideal time to ask any pressing questions and get a feel for the university.

There may also be the option to attend an online version of these events, which is ideal if you can’t spare the time or money to travel to different universities. I really recommend trying to attend these events for the universities you’re honestly interested in shortlisting, as by the end of the day you should have a good idea of where they rank in your preferences. Universities will get in contact with you to arrange this, so look out for emails or something arriving in the post.


4. Rank your choices

Writing out a list of pros and cons for each university should help you eliminate at least two institutions from your final list. Ranking your choices from most to least favourite will help you to understand where your heart lies, as ultimately that’s the most important thing.

If grade insecurity is making this difficult, it’s definitely worth getting in touch with admissions to discuss if there is any way to lower the entry requirements or to investigate their clearing procedure. For me, the customer experience element of the applicant process was a big indicator of how easy it would be to get support when I was studying at that university. When I made contact with the University of Birmingham regarding their clearing process, I was given the impression that missing your grades would lead to an automatic rejection, as they would have lots of clearing students who would have the grades to take my place. I didn’t take it personally, but it didn’t fill me with confidence that I would get a place there if anything went wrong with my results. This resulted in me removing Birmingham from the running, despite it being one of my favourites. I decided I just couldn’t risk not getting in!

Ultimately, my top two were the University of Reading and the University of East Anglia. Both had amazing courses and campuses, friendly staff and lovely admissions support when I had questions. I had great experiences on the open days and I was assured there would be some wiggle room if something went wrong in exam season. Ultimately, I decided to go to Reading because it had better transport links, was closer to London and I had an unconditional offer. It was location that made the decision for me in the end, but I have no doubt that I would have been very happy at UEA.

When all is said and done, it’s important to select a university that:

· You have a realistic chance of getting into – this will allow you to make accommodation plans without being too concerned that you won’t get in

· Has a course that suits your needs and ambitions - you’re going to be studying on this course for the next few years, so it’s important that the content reflects what you need in a degree

· Has a good vibe – this is hard to explain, but a campus should feel friendly and relaxed, somewhere that would be easy to fit into

· Fits your budget – you’ll have loans, but have a look at whether you can afford the cost of living


Once you’ve considered everything, it’s worth having a conversation with friends and family, as well as getting any last minute questions answered. Remember that clearing is always an option if things don’t go to plan, so don’t feel forced to stay with your final decision. Begin to make future plans and continue working hard to reach your goal of attending your dream university.

Happy studying!