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Unconditional offers

Unconditional offers can be confusing. Our guide to the different types of unconditional offers will help you understand how they can be affected by Clearing and Adjustment.

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  1. What is an unconditional offer?

  2. Unconditional offer details 

  3. Conditional unconditional offers 

  4. The pros and cons of unconditional offers

What is an unconditional offer?

Depending on the strength of your application, and the institution or course you’re applying to, you may find you receive an unconditional offer from a university. This section will explain what an unconditional offer is and how you should respond. 

What happens if I receive an unconditional offer?

If you receive an unconditional offer then you’ve already met the entry requirements for a college or university – the place is yours if you want it.

If you still have exams to take when you get this offer, the results of those exams will not affect whether or not you’re accepted. It can be a real confidence boost knowing a university wants you, but be wary as some universities may just be trying to fill places. You must carry on working as if you received a conditional offer. Future employers may look at your grades or the course could be cancelled and you may rely on your grades to find another place. 

How do unconditional offers work?

There are two kinds of unconditional offer. The first and rarer of the two is an offer to study at a university, no matter your grades.The second is the same, but only if you select that university as your firm choice. This is known as a conditional unconditional offer and these are becoming more frequent, but are also more unpopular with schools/colleges, as well as the UK government. 

How do I reply to the offer?

There are a number of ways you can reply: 

  • Unconditional Firm (UF) – the place is yours and the university will expect you as their student
  • Unconditional Insurance (UI) – this makes the offer your back-up choice should you not meet the conditions of your firm acceptance. You cannot make a conditional unconditional offer an insurance choice or hold an insurance choice if you accept a conditional unconditional offer. This is due to the university changing your status from Conditional Firm to Unconditional Firm, removing the opportunity to hold an insurance choice
  • Decline – If you make a firm and/or Insurance choice, you must decline all other offers. If you decline all your offers, you can apply through UCAS Extra or Clearing

Remember: You can only make one firm and one insurance choice, so you should think very carefully and consider whether or not this is a university you want to go to and a course you really want to take.

  2. Replying to Offers 

Unconditional offer details 

Can unconditional offers be withdrawn?

An unconditional offer is contractually binding. The only circumstance in which they can be withdrawn is if the course is cancelled.

What if I go through Adjustment/Clearing?

You can still go through the Adjustment process if you have an unconditional offer. Adjustment gives students the opportunity to reconsider their study options if they exceed the grades needed to get into their firm choice. It can be useful in larger cities where there are two or more universities in close proximity, and it’s easy to switch universities if accommodation is not an issue. 

Whether your unconditional offer is a firm or insurance choice, you can reject the offer via UCAS track in order to self-release into Clearing. 

Remember: If you change your mind on Results Day, and want to attend somewhere different, make sure your decisions are measured and rational. If you want to live away from home, check accommodation availability before making any agreements with a university or UCAS.

What do I do if I get an unconditional offer?

When you receive an unconditional offer, your instinct may be to accept the offer as quickly as possible to assure yourself of a place at university. However, this is not a decision you should rush. Most offers will have a 1st May deadline, so you'll likely have a couple of months to make your decision. 

You should use that time to take the following steps: 

  • Find out more about the university's motives – ask yourself: Is it genuine recognition of your excellent potential, or a pure recruitment strategy to entice more high achieving students?
  • Don't let an unconditional offer affect your choice of university – only say yes if you would choose this university if the place was conditional
  • Keep working hard – even if you accept you unconditional offer as your first choice, higher grades could give you a greater opportunity though Adjustment
  • Check scholarships and financial support
  • Make use of your insurance choice
  • Be aware an unconditional offer is quite rare
  • Seek advice
  • Remember, you're in a fortunate position
  • Decide whether to accept or decline the offer, or to make it your insurance choice. 

Conditional unconditional offers 

What is a conditional unconditional offer?

A conditional unconditional is only unconditional if you make that university your firm choice. If you select it as your insurance choice, the offer will still be conditional, meaning you must achieve the required grades.

Should you accept conditional unconditional offers?

If the offer was dependent on your grades, would you still choose that university? If your answer is yes, accept the offer and concentrate on doing well in your A Levels, secure in the knowledge you have your place.

If your answer is no, then choose the university you really want to go to. You may still get into your firm choice even if you achieve a grade or two below your offer – if not, UCAS Extra and Clearing are still an option. 

How many unconditional offers do universities give?

Universities that demand the highest grades from students – such as Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews and London School of Economics – are less likely to make unconditional or conditional unconditional offers, than universities with a lower grade threshold.

Around 20 universities – including Sheffield Hallam, Nottingham Trent and University of Lincoln – accounted for most of the unconditional offers made in 2018 and conditional unconditional offers rose from zero in 2013 to 100,000 by 2019.

The pros and cons of unconditional offers

Rise in universities offering unconditional places 

Over the past few years, there’s been a steady rise in unconditional offers made to students – particularly conditional unconditional offers. 

In 2018, 70% of the offers made by the University of Suffolk, York St John University and the University of Bolton were unconditional. In 2019, two in five students in England, Northern Ireland and Wales received an unconditional offer, which is a rise of just over 3% – with conditional unconditional offers being the most common. UCAS have indicated that conditional unconditional offers have reduced significantly during the 2020 admissions cycle, but have not published evidence to confirm this.  

How regular are they?

While the number of unconditional offers made has risen year-on-year, don't assume it’ll always be this way. The government has recently taken a dim view of universities making these offers and has issued recommendations for them to change in 2020 and beyond. The steep rise in 2019 offers alone made the papers and many organisations are speaking out about the fairness and legality of unconditional offers. 

Are they actually beneficial?

If you receive one you should ask yourself why the university making this offer – is it a genuine recognition of your excellent potential, or a pure recruitment strategy to entice more high achieving students?

For example, Office for Students (OfS) recently compared unconditional offers to pressure selling and says they could be in breach of consumer law.

For some individual students, unconditional offers can be beneficial as a safety net, and can look for different opportunities after receiving their results, either through Adjustment or Clearing. 

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