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What to do if you don’t get an offer from your first choice university

Getting rejected from your top university is a tough pill to swallow, but it doesn't mean your hopes are over...

If you don't get an offer from the uni you had your heart set on, here are some alternative options you can start researching now: We'll take a look at the pros and cons of each route below. But first, let's start with why you might have been rejected – and how to deal with it. 

Reasons a university may reject you

There could be a few reasons your application wasn't successful – including falling short of grade requirements, strong competition from other applicants and your personal statement.

Or maybe the qualifications you're currently taking don't match up to their favoured subject mix. Universities don't have to give you a reason, but you could contact them to ask for feedback if the rejection has left you wondering.

Try not to take it too personally though. Admissions tutors usually have hundreds of applications to deal with and it might not always be obvious why you haven't been chosen.

What to do if a university doesn't offer you a place

1. Accept another university offer 

If you had your heart set on a particular university, you might not have given much thought to anywhere else. Now's the time to consider your options.

If there’s an open day coming up, head to the university to get a feel for what the campus, accommodation, location and the course is like. Ideally you'll have already visited before applying, but a second visit can be useful too.

Speak to current students about their experiences at the uni – maybe it wasn't their first choice either, but how are they getting on? Head over to The Student Room's dedicated forums for UK universities to ask any questions and see what other students are saying about it. 

You can also check out student comments on our university profiles and in-depth subject guides.


  • You could be pleasantly surprised with an alternative option and potentially end up studying with students who have more similiar interests.
  • Provided you meet your offer, you won't have to go through the application process again hooray!


  • Don't settle for just any university or course. If you've done your research and can't imagine yourself at the uni you've got an offer from, then it might not be the right choice for you.

When can you do this? As soon as you've received decisions from all the universities you applied to. If you're not feeling confident while you're waiting for these to come back, read below for more options.

2. Apply to a new course through Ucas Extra

If you don't get any offers or choose to decline them, you could apply for another course through Ucas Extra

It's up to you if you want to apply for the same course or a completely different one. When you're applying for a course, it's worth considering why you might have been unsuccessful with your initial application.

For example – if you only applied to competitive courses, you could increase your chances of an offer by looking at some broader alternatives.


  • You could discover a completely new course or university. Get thinking about wider options by taking a look at our course search and university profiles.
  • You may even get a second stab at applying to your dream uni if they have courses available through Extra, though it could be worth contacting the university admissions team before you apply.


  • Once you've declined your offers and made an Extra choice you won't be able to return to your original choices – so don't rush into a decision.
  • You'll have to go through the application process again, but you can only submit one choice this time.

When can you do this? Ucas Extra runs from 28 February to 4 July 2024.

3. Find a course through Clearing

If you don’t manage to find a course through Ucas Extra, you could be eligible for Clearing. It opens in July, but the majority of places become available on results day in August.

Results day can be hectic, but you should be able to find a suitable course and university if you're organised. 

Want more Clearing advice? Check out our video with tips from admissions experts.


  • As with Extra, courses at your preferred university may become available during Clearing – but there's no guarantee.
  • There's a good chance you'll be heading to uni that year.


  • It can be stressful as places on courses get snapped up quickly.
  • Don't rush into accepting the first place you can find – you need to act quickly, but make your course decision carefully.

​​When can you do this? Ucas Clearing opens in July but properly gets going in August. But you could get a head start on everyone else by looking into courses beforehand.

4. Take a gap year and reapply

If you don't manage to find the right place – or you think you could build your experience or boost your grades for a stronger application – it may be worth reapplying next year.

If a university rejected you, can you apply to them again?

There’s nothing stopping you from reapplying to a university, but consider what held you back the first time.

Think about what you'll do differently and how the way you'll spend the following year will relate to your course. 

If you're in doubt, speak to a teacher or contact the university to discuss your application.


  • A year out gives you the chance to build on your work experience or skills. This could be useful if you're applying for a competitive or vocational course like medicine.
  • You have the opportunity to retake exams and potentially improve your grades. 


  • While most unis are happy to accept retake grades, others including the Cambridge, Oxford and Warwick tend to judge applicants on their first grades.
  • As unis often don't provide feedback when giving you a rejection, it's difficult to know if you'll have a better chance next time.

When can you do this? Key dates for applying don't vary much from year-to-year. If you need a reminder, here are the important Ucas application deadlines.

5. Consider alternative routes to a degree

If you're doubting whether the university route is right for you, take a look at what else is on offer.

A higher or degree apprenticeship, for example, would give you a mixture of work and study. Our guide can help you decide whether an apprenticeship is right for you


  • Apprenticeships give you a combination of study and real world experience. Even better, you'll be paid for the work that you do and could graduate with a debt-free degree.


  • You'll be expected to achieve academically and at work, working full-time hours with fewer holidays than university-going friends.
  • Competition can be tough, with hundreds of applications per place.

When can you do this? There are no fixed application times or methods of applying. Register and look for vacancies on the Find an Apprenticeship, All About School Leavers or Not Going To Uni websites.

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