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First and insurance university choices explained

Once your offers have come rolling back you’ll need to decide which is your first – or ‘firm’ – university choice and which is your back-up, or ‘insurance’ option.

After you get your university offers, you can submit two of them as your firm and insurance choices – which basically means choosing your first and second options.

Here, we'll explain the difference between firm and insurance choices and give you some help choosing where to go. And if you've changed your mind or you're wondering what happens next, don't worry – we'll cover that too.

So, what exactly is a firm university choice?

Put simply, your firm choice is your first choice university. If you meet the conditions of your offer, then the place on the course is yours.

If you have a dream university, this should be your firm choice – as long as you're confident of meeting the entry requirements.

And what's your university insurance choice?

Your insurance choice is your back-up option if you don't get the grades for your first choice. Because of this, it makes sense to pick somewhere with lower entry requirements.

If your first choice falls through, you'll be given your insurance choice – so make sure it's somewhere you'd be happy to go. But insurance choices are optional, so you don't have to put one down at all.

Visit our sister site The Student Room's uni forums to speak to current students and get the inside track on specific universities and courses. Also on The Student Room: how to make sure you've picked the right firm uni.

When do I have to decide by?

You don't have to decide on your first and insurance choices until all your offers are back in from the five universities you applied to.

You can see the universities' deadline for making offers on your Ucas Hub application status page – although offers may come in earlier than this.

Then, once all your offers are in, your application status page will show your deadline for deciding ones which to accept. 

If you receive your last university decision on or before 16 May 2024, the deadline to submit your firm and insurance choice will be 6 June 2024.

If you receive your last decision on or before 17 July 2024, your reply deadline is 24 July 2024 – including Ucas Extra choices.

Need some help choosing? Try our uni decisions quiz.

Picking your firm choice university and course

Your firm choice university should be the one that you most want to go to – and realistic with your expected grades. If you get the grades for your firm choice then it's where you’ll be going.

Where you're going to live and what you’re going to study for the next three years is a hugely important decision. You’ll want to make sure that you do your research and think about it carefully.

You should consider things like the course's modules, the possibility of any work placements, what kind of support is on offer, and how much it will cost to live there. 

It’s best to go to an open day before making your firm choice, and an applicant day if you’re invited to one of these. This article gives plenty of tips and goes into much more detail about picking the best university for you

Take a look at our sister site The Student Room's forum for your chosen university to ask questions and get honest opinions from current students. 

Firm and insurance choices: popular questions

Can I apply for accommodation at my insurance choice as well as my firm choice?

Some universities will allow you to apply for accommodation even if they're your insurance option, but most will only open applications to you if you've selected their course as your firm choice.

Although you can't apply for accommodation for either your first or insurance choice while you're still waiting for your offer, it is worth doing your research in advance so that you can make your application as soon as they open.

If you end up going to your insurance choice after results day, you'll need to make a quick application for uni accommodation – you could also look at other options, including private student housing.

Is my student finance application affected by my firm and insurance choices?

The amount of student finance you're eligible for can be affected by your university choice.

  • If your firm and insurance choices charge different fees, your loan will be adjusted to reflect this.
  • Maintenance loans also depend on your living circumstances, so may differ depending on whether your firm and insurance choices are in different parts of the UK. Students in London living away from home are able to receive more than elsewhere, for example.

But don't worry if there's a difference between your firm and insurance choices. Apply with your firm choice in mind – you can update your details on your student finance account any time before starting a course.

Do I have to choose an insurance university? 

If you only have one offer that you think you’d be happy going to, then you don't have to pick an insurance – it is optional. You can select a firm choice and decline your other choices.

If you don’t choose an insurance university and you don’t make your firm offer on results day, you’ll be automatically entered into Clearing.

You might only have two offers that you’d be happy going to, but the conditions are the same – in this case, pick your favourite as firm and set the other as insurance. While it is unlikely that you would end up at your insurance in this case, it could still happen. It’s better to have a high insurance that you’d be happy with than a low one that you won’t want to end up taking.

Remember, if you miss your firm you could take a year out and then either retake your A-levels or reapply to other unis with your confirmed grades, rather than accepting an insurance offer you are hesitant about. 

What if I'm given an unconditional offer before I get my exam results? 

Some universities give unconditional offers even though applicants don't have their A-level results yet. Don’t feel pressured into accepting, though. If you are confident of meeting your other offers and prefer those universities, firm one of those instead.

An unconditional place regardless of your results might seem like a dream, but there can be some disadvantages to accepting this as your firm:

  • If you choose an unconditional firm you can't have an insurance choice. You are locked in to that uni.
  • If you change your mind once you have firmed an unconditional place, you then have no alternative other than to ask to be released from that choice and wait for Clearing. This can be risky, as the course you want may not be available in Clearing.
  • A-level results will still matter. Many graduate recruitment schemes use high Ucas points or grades as selection criteria so it’s really important that you work hard to achieve the best grades possible.

Accepting a conditional offer as your firm and an unconditional offer as your insurance is possible, and this has the advantage that you'll definitely have a university place.

However, many of the universities making unconditional offers to A-level candidates do this only if you accept their offer as your firm – the offer will be withdrawn if you make it your insurance. You should therefore check very carefully the exact terms of any unconditional offer when making this decision.

What if I get a contextual offer?

Contextual offers are rarer than conditional and unconditional offers, but they are usually given to accommodate students who have faced challenges could have impacted their education – like if you’ve spent time in care or had free school meals.

In this case, the university may give you an offer up to two grades lower than their typical entry requirements. But you don’t need to do anything differently – you still get to choose your firm and insurance choices.

What could my choices look like? 

The offer and reply combinations below show what your chances of getting into university could look like in different situations, whether you get conditional or unconditional offers.

  • Unconditional firm – you’re guaranteed a place!
  • Conditional firm – you’ll get a place if you meet the conditions of your offer.
  • Conditional firm and conditional insurance – you've made a first and second choice. You’ll get your first choice if you meet the required grades. If not, you’ll go to your second option if you meet their conditions.
  • Conditional firm and unconditional insurance – you've made a first and second choice. You’ll get your first choice if you meet the required grades. If not, you'll be guaranteed the second.

What happens once I've finalised my choices?

Once you have selected your firm and insurance choices, your other choices will appear as declined offers as Ucas Hub, so be certain before you press the 'confirm choice' button.

Keep an eye on Ucas Hub afterwards:

  • If you have a message saying that you have been offered an unconditional place – you're in, no questions asked!
  • If you have a message saying you have been offered a place subject to conditions, this means that as long as you meet the requirements of the course, the place is yours.

Changing your mind

I don't want to go to any of the universities that have offered me a spot. What now?

You don't have to accept a place anywhere if you decide not to – but as soon as you decline a spot, it's gone.

It is possible to have another go within the Ucas cycle if your initial choices don't work out:
  • If you don't receive or accept any offers, you could try again with Ucas Extra.
  • If you don't meet the criteria of your firm or insurance choices or you've changed your mind about wanting to go to those universities, you can either use Clearing or try again next year.
There is an option on Ucas Hub to withdraw your whole application – but if you do this, you will not be able to apply again until the next academic year, and you will not be eligible for this year's Clearing either. So don't withdraw your application if you just want to add another choice or apply somewhere else this year. 

I want to go to my insurance place instead of my firm – can I swap?

It's generally expected you will be attending your firm choice, as long as you meet any conditions. This means that on results day, if you meet these conditions your insurance choice will automatically be cancelled.

If you change your mind, it's best to act quickly. Contact Ucas to change your replies if it's within 14 days.

Otherwise, things get more tricky. You’ll have to request your first university choice to agree to release you from your accepted place and get agreement from your insurance choice too, and then get in touch with Ucas to let them know what you're going to do. 

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