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Making your first and insurance choices: top tips

University offers in? Before you start accepting and rejecting offers on Ucas Hub, consider these factors first...

Deciding which university offers to accept as your firm (or first) and insurance choices is one of the trickiest stages of the whole application process. Unfortunately there’s no one-way-fits-all approach.

We asked careers advisers and Ucas for their advice on what you should think about when making your firm and insurance choices – here's what they said. 

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Didn't get the offer you wanted (or still waiting to hear back)?

See what you can do if your top choice rejected you, you're not holding any offers or you're still waiting for a university to reply.

Review your offers 

It's a good idea to take some time revisiting your course and university options before you make your decision, especially if it's been a while since you sent off your Ucas application.

  • Re-familiarise yourself with the course description and modules on offer – the course content needs to match up with what you're looking for in a course. Will you be happy studying this course for the next three years?
  • Have you been able to visit the university or the city? If you do get the chance to visit in person – take it. A prospectus can only tell you so much, and actually being on campus will give you a much better feel for the university. If you can't visit in person, most unis will have virtual open days for you to view instead. Our guide to choosing the right student city is also worth a read.
Make sure that you have seen both universities that you're going to put down as firm and insurance, and that you do want to go to either of the two!  Wendy Hodgkiss | Careers Adviser - Hills Road Sixth Form

Once you receive your last decision back from the universities you've applied to, you’ll typically have a few weeks before you need to reply to your university offers (but check your Hub for the exact deadline as this will depend on when you submitted your application).

Making your firm choice

Your firm choice should be your first choice

As in, this is the course you love the most and have your heart set on – in other words, this course is 'The One'. 

If you meet the conditions of your firm offer, then the place is yours – so make sure you're 100% happy with the course at this university. Don't just choose the course with the highest entry requirements out of all the offers you've received.

Is the offer achievable?

Before you make your firm choice, ask yourself if you’ve got a realistic chance of meeting it. Be honest with yourself.

Many universities will make offers above predicted grades, so it’s important to be realistic. Talk through the grades you’re likely to achieve with your teachers. David Hawkins | Head Of Careers - Taunton School

Having an achievable firm choice doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim high but, if you choose a firm choice that’s going to really challenge you, then it’s all the more important to choose your insurance with great care. Alan Bullock | Freelance Careers And Higher Education Consultant

Is the offer flexible? 

It’s also worth weighing up how flexible the course offer might be. While in theory you’ll only secure the place if you meet your offer, in practice, some universities will still accept ‘near-miss’ applicants.
It could be that the course wants AAB and will reject you if you get less. Or it could be that they say they want AAB but in practice tend to accept lower grades. Andy Gardner | Careers And Higher Education Adviser - Jfs And Lsu Schools London

You can get an idea of what students on the course actually achieved (versus the entry requirements the university asked for) by looking at the 'most popular A-Levels studied (and grade achieved)' stats on The Uni Guide. Simply search for a course to see this, plus lots more including how students rate different aspects of the course and short and long-term graduate prospects.

And if in doubt...
Don’t be afraid to ask the universities themselves! Use open days as an opportunity to get it from the horse’s mouth.  Alan Bullock | Freelance Careers And Higher Education Consultant

Making an insurance choice

Your insurance choice should normally be a lower grade offer 

Your insurance choice should act as a back-up option if you don't get the grades you were expecting and miss out on your firm choice. So it doesn't make any sense picking an insurance choice with higher entry requirements than your firm choice.
If you choose to make an insurance choice (it isn’t mandatory), in most cases you should choose an offer with lower grades. If your results are lower than expected, you may meet the conditions of an insurance and you’ll have a place confirmed. James Durant | Press And Public Affairs Officer - Ucas
There's the odd case where choosing an insurance choice with the same grades or higher can work in your favour (for example, if there are subtle differences in the conditions of the offer, or if your insurance choice has told you that they may still accept you if you don't quite get the grades they want), but it's more likely to be an unwise or pointless strategy. Alan Bullock | Freelance Careers And Higher Education Consultant

You can't swap between your firm and insurance choices 

According to advisers, there's a common misconception that your firm and insurance choices are interchangeable – they're not:

I've met students on results day who had chosen a higher grade uni as their firm choice, but the one they really wanted was the one they chose as their insurance. They then succeeded in getting into their firm choice and thought they could just decline it and go to their insurance. That's not how it works! Alan Bullock | Freelance Careers And Higher Education Consultant

There is no swapping between your firm and insurance once the decision is made, so make sure you are totally happy with your decision before making your final choice. James Durant | Press And Public Affairs Officer - Ucas

Only put down an insurance choice if you’d be happy to go there 

As careers adviser Alan explains, "an insurance choice is a commitment, not just something you can just dump and go straight into Clearing".

If there's only one university that you really want to go to, then don't put down an insurance choice – insurance choices are optional. 
If you put down an insurance, you must make sure that you have visited it and researched it well, so that you know if things don't go to plan with your exams, you would be very happy to go there. Wendy Hodgkiss | Careers Adviser - Hills Road Sixth Form

If you have an insurance offer that you later decide you don't like, it could delay your chance of finding something that you would prefer through Clearing.  Andy Gardner | Careers And Higher Education Adviser - Jfs And Lsu Schools London

Keep in mind that your insurance choice might not be able to guarantee you a place in their halls of residence, so you may have to find alternative student accommodation if you end up going there. 

Need some help deciding? Try our uni decisions quiz.

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