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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.

If you're weighing up your offers and planning your next move, read on for answers about finalising your firm and insurance university choices.

Next, head over to our in-depth firm and insurance choices guide, giving you top tips for making that all-important decision.

So, what exactly is a firm university choice?

Put simply, your firm choice is your first choice for university. If you meet the conditions of this choice, then it's definitely all yours.

It's a good idea to make sure it's going to be somewhere you think you can meet the requirements for – and that you really do want to go there!

And what's your university insurance choice?

Your insurance choice is your second or back-up choice. Essentially, it's there to fall back on if you don't meet the conditions of your first choice. Because of this, it makes sense to pick somewhere with lower grade conditions so you don't leave yourself high and dry. 

If your first choice falls through, you'll be given your insurance choice if you put one down – so don't pick somewhere you won’t be happy to go to.

It's also worth remembering that insurance choices are optional, so you don't have to put one down at all if you'd rather not.

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. 

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 (up to) 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. 

Don’t feel rushed into choosing right away – even if you think you’re sure about your choices, it’s a good idea to leave replying to your offers until April or May. Your feelings about your firm and insurance choices may flip back and forth during the spring term, and might also depend on how your studies are going.


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 that’s realistic given your expected grades. On results day, if you meet the grades for your firm choice then that is where you’ll be going.

Where you 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.

The kind of things you'll need to consider include content the course's modules will cover, the possibilities of any extras such as work placements, what kind of societies and support are 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.  There’s also nothing to stop you visiting the uni on an ordinary working day to get a feel for what the reality of leaving home and being at the uni would be like, away from all the hype of an open day.

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.

Come results day, if you end up going to your insurance choice, you'll need to make a quick application for uni accommodation – if you need to 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: these 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.

If there's likely to be a difference between your firm and insurance choices, don't worry. Apply with your firm choice in mind, but at any time before starting a course you can update your details through your online account with your student finance body.  

Do I have to choose an insurance university? 

If you only have one offer that you think you’d be happy going to, then don’t feel pressured into picking an insurance – it is optional. You can select just a firm and decline all your other choices. This is much better than picking an insurance that you then have to ask to release you on results day.

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 do miss your firm it may be a better strategy to 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. You don’t have to go to uni this year. If the firm is the only course you really want to do, don’t compromise.

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

Unconditional offers have been on the rise in recent years, with universities offering unconditional places for certain subjects despite applicants not yet knowing their A-level results. Don’t let yourself 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 offer, but be aware that there are some disadvantages to accepting this as your firm:

  • If you choose an unconditional firm you cannot, by definition, have an insurance choice. You are therefore locked in to going 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 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 sure 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 come results day, 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, so be sure. 

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 do not 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?

When you pick your firm and insurance universities, there are certain expectations behind this final decision.

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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