UCAS analysis of applications and offers patterns in England, Northern Ireland and Wales shows that students are increasingly likely to be made an unconditional offer for a place on an undergraduate course, before they have completed their qualifications at school or college.
When universities make an offer, it can either be conditional or unconditional. Conditional offers usually specify the grades a student needs to achieve in their A levels, BTECs, or any other relevant qualification, to be accepted onto a course. Unconditional offers don’t have any further academic requirements the student needs to meet.
Unconditional offers have always been a part of the admissions process and are used in a variety of circumstances, including:
- to mature students who have already achieved their qualifications to meet entry criteria
- to those applying for creative arts courses, after submitting a portfolio, or following a successful interview or audition. Artistic flair is likely to be viewed as a better indication of potential than traditional grades
- to reduce the stress some students may feel during the high pressure exam period, supporting students with mental health difficulties
- as one of the many different approaches universities use to attract and retain interest from students in a competitive marketplace
Helen Thorne, UCAS’ Director of External Relations, said: ‘Students should take the time to carefully think about all their options fully before accepting an unconditional offer. Information and advice on the UCAS website highlights the key points students need to think about before accepting any offer.
‘While unconditional offers are made for a number of reasons, we believe that universities should always emphasise to students the importance of completing their studies to the best of their abilities. This will help make sure they’re well prepared for their degree course, and for future employment.
‘Later this year, we’ll be publishing more detailed analysis of offer-making, including any impact on students’ attainment.’
Commenting on the UCAS report on unconditional offers, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “While there has been a steady growth in the number of unconditional offers made, they still account for a small proportion (7.1%) of all offers made by universities.
“Such offers can be made in a number of circumstances, including offers to applicants who already have qualifications. And to applicants with extensive practical and relevant experience for courses such as music or journalism. They can also be awarded where evidence suggests applicants are clearly on track to exceed the required entry grades, and to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds with the potential to do well at university with additional support.
“Unconditional offers, when used appropriately, can help students and ensure that universities are able to respond flexibly to the range of applicants seeking places. Universities UK will continue to work with UCAS to monitor trends and any impact unconditional offer-making might have on student attainment. It is simply not in the interests of universities to take students without the potential to succeed.”