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University Offers: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

University Offers: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

News headlines recently have not all been about Brexit; the rise in the number of unconditional university offers has drawn plenty of criticism. Concern has been particularly focussed on their use as a recruitment tactic and how receiving them encourages students to relax as the exams approach.

Examining the data recently released by UCAS identifies that only 7.1 % of all offers for 2018 were actually unconditional. They further noted a wide variation in the number of unconditional offers made between universities with 10 Higher Education Institutions giving out almost 50% of all unconditional offers. Interestingly you are also far more likely to receive an unconditional offer if you are predicted BBC than AAA or even DDD.

Nationally universities are responsible for setting their own entry requirements but also have to live with the consequences of their decisions. All Universities are evaluated annually on student satisfaction from graduating students and also the dropout rate from their first year courses is examined. Therefore it is not automatically in a university’s long term interests to admit students who will struggle on their courses.

Concern over student performance is confirmed with emerging UCAS research estimating that those who receive an unconditional offer are around 10% more likely to drop two or more grades from their original predictions. However universities themselves claim that there are legitimate reasons for making unconditional offers. They are used in improving widening participation amongst communities where there is not a tradition of university application and for students coming from lower socio-economic families where they typically receive less school and family support through sixth form. University courses which require interviews, auditions, or portfolio reviews proportionally make more unconditional offers since their courses may be more practical or vocational and not exam focussed. Finally those who are predicted well above the required grades for a course, those who have demonstrated health issues, significant sporting ability or extensive extracurricular activities relating to the course also receive more unconditional offers than average.

Looking beyond the headlines to our own Year 13 students for 2018, they received only 9 unconditional offers in total (2.3% of all applications) with 5 students choosing to accept them. In my conversations with them regarding their unconditional offers our students accepted them for a range of legitimate reasons and certainly not as simply the easy option. Importantly their actual exam results were not out of keeping with the rest of the year group and so I do not believe Taunton School students and parents need to be over concerned by these headlines. Indeed, on a case by case review, unconditional offers may remain a useful route to higher education. When making any decision over university course selection the Careers Department is always happy to chat with parents and students.

Richard Judd
Head of Careers