UCAS applications: tips for handling offers
You need to get to grips with the difference between conditional and unconditional offers to navigate your way through the UCAS application system and make the best possible decisions about your university place. You also need to understand about firm and insurance choices and how to use UCAS if you don’t get the exam results you expect.
If you receive a conditional offer, you’ll need to achieve the grades specified to secure the place. If you accept a conditional offer as your firm place, you are committed to taking up the place if you succeed in getting the required grades.
If you receive an unconditional offer you have a guaranteed place as long as you choose to accept it, and if you accept this as your firm choice you are committed to taking it up. You cannot then make an insurance choice or use Clearing.
If you accept a conditional offer as your firm choice, you can also make an insurance choice. This should have lower requirements than your firm choice, so you can fall back on it if you don’t get the grades for your firm choice.
If your application is unsuccessful a reason may be given, or you can contact the university to ask why. When you’ve received a decision on each of your course choices you need to respond before the cut-off date, which usually falls in late June.
Decision time! Checklist before you accept an offer
You reply to your offers online using Track. But before you do, use our checklist to help you decide what to do next.
- Make sure you understand the offer.
- If you have more than one offer, weigh up which offer you would prefer to accept and how hard it is going to be to meet the requirements.
- Visit any universities that you have offers from and are seriously considering, if you haven’t already. Is it easy to get to? What’s the accommodation like? Use our advice on how to make the most of university open days and choosing your university and course to help you.
- If you haven't already done so, research which universities are popular with graduate employers to be sure that your choice will put you in a good position in the job market.
- Check the tuition fees.
- Have a disability and need special support? Discuss the support available with the university disability officer.
- Don't accept an offer that isn't right for you, even if it's your only one or you feel under pressure to do so. There are universities with places available via UCAS Extra (from February) and via Clearing in the summer, or you can reapply next year as a stronger candidate once you have your grades, are taking resits or have developed skills and experience via a gap year.
- Read our advice on how Clearing works and alternative options such as years out and sponsored degrees and how to have a well planned gap year. You can also read about real-life experiences of students who've succeed second-time round in our results day tales, including those who've found that reapplying to uni produced the best outcome.
What happens if you don’t get your grades?
Give some thought to what you’re going to do if you don’t get the grades for the places you have been offered. Your university might still accept you, or might offer you a place on another course. If not, here are some options you could consider:
- apply for another course using Clearing
- retake your exams the following year and reapply
- apply for apprenticeships, traineeships or school leaver programmes
- take a gap year.
What happens if you get better grades than expected?
If your grades are much better than expected and exceed the conditions of your firm offer, you can use Adjustment to apply for an alternative course – but if this is the case you’ll need to act as soon as you get your results. You only have five days from the time you register for Adjustment through the UCAS Track system to find and apply for the places that interest you.
You’ll need to ring universities you are interested in attending, let them know you’ve exceeded your expected results and find out whether they are willing to offer you a place. In the meantime, your original firm choice will be held open for you. However, if you do accept a new offer of a place through Adjustment, there is no going back to your previous choice.