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University offers: what they mean and what to do next

As you start to receive responses from universities, you'll see terms like 'unconditional' and 'conditional' offers appearing on Ucas Track. Here's what to do next...

While the 'offer' bit will stand out, curb your celebrating and keep reading! you need to dig into the detail of any conditions surrounding it, so you know the entry requirements you must meet (if any).

Remember, on The Uni Guide you can read the full entry requirements for a course you have your eye on search here now.

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What do different university offers mean?

Unconditional offers

That's it! You've met the terms or entry requirements for that course. While you still need to do a few things, such as provide paperwork to confirm your academic grades, you're pretty much in.

Universities typically make unconditional offers when you've been able to include your actual results as part of your application – perhaps you're returning to education as a mature student, or are applying mid-gap year. It's an open door into that uni, if you want to take it.

Be aware that if you accept an unconditional offer, you are committing to go to that university. Therefore you can't select an insurance choice or enter Clearing (you would need to be formally 'released' by that university in order to do so).

If you accept an unconditional offer, the pressure is effectively off when it comes to your exams in the spring, but you should still work hard as these grades will follow you around in the future.

But beware, 'unconditional' doesn't always mean what it says on the tin. 'Conditional unconditional' offers have become a thing in recent years. This is where a university makes you a conditional offer, with the promise to update this to unconditional if you accept it as your first choice.

We found that 34% of students received some form of unconditional offer (20% with the condition that applicants made them their first choice, and 14% with no conditions attached).*

According to Ucas, offers with some unconditional element are growing, as universities compete to secure top academic students to their courses. Ucas have highlighted 10 universities where unconditional offers made up at least half of all offers made in 2018 (January 2019).

In that same year, over 87,000 18 year old applicants received at least one offer with an unconditional element.

Watch now: Should you accept an unconditional offer from your uni?

Conditional offers

This is also good news! It means the university has accepted you on to its course, subject to you meeting the entry requirements of the offer. This usually means you'll need to obtain certain grades in your current studies or achieve a minimum number of Ucas points. 

Think of it as the university saying to you: 'there's a place with your name on it on our course, but you'll need to prove yourself academically to take it up.' The vast majority of offers made to applicants by universities are conditional offers.

Entry requirements for a course come in all shapes and sizes, according to the qualifications you're taking. The university will tell you the exact terms of your offer when responding to you, via Ucas Track. Usually these will be the same as or similar to the general entry requirements for that course (you can read typical entry requirements guidance on our course pages here on The Uni Guide). 

Six in ten students received a conditional offer based on grades for their university course. For students at Russell Group universities this rises to nearly eight in 10 students.

Conditional offers based on grades were most common for those studying medicine and dentistry (79%), Life sciences (66%) and STEM (65%) subjects and it is least common for students studying creative arts or design courses (46%).


Example of conditional offers:

  • A levels, grade AAB with 'A' in chemistry and at least two other sciences or mathematics;
  • 160 Ucas Tariff points including BTEC 18-unit Diploma Pass;
  • Advanced Diploma Progression Diploma Grade A in creative and media, plus an A-level at grade 'B' for additional and specialist learning;
  • 220 Ucas Tariff points of which at least 160 must be obtained from two A levels or equivalent, excluding general studies. Equivalent qualifications can include GCE/VCE Single or Double Award, BTEC and OCR Nationals, Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers but do not include AS Awards and BTEC QCF Certificate.

As you can see, you need to read the smallprint to be clear on what's required to get on to the course. You'll find out on Results day if you've met the conditions of your first choice offer (your 'firm' choice), or not.

Don't meet your offer come Results Day? If you only just miss the grades you need to meet a conditional offer, speak to the university to see if it will accept you anyway. Otherwise you can enter the Clearing process in the summer to find a spot on a course with similar or lower entry requirements.


Unsuccessful applications

It's not good news unfortunately. This means the university has declined your application and hasn't offered you a place

The university may provide a reason for its decision on Ucas Track or in further communication to you (or you can get in touch directly to learn why). You simply may not meet their entry requirements based on your predicted grades, or it could be a super-competitive course with applicants far outweighing the number of places up for grabs.

This can be undeniably tough, but don't get too disheartened – learn from this and wait to hear from your other Ucas choices.


Withdrawn applications

Your application to a university may be withdrawn for a number of reasons. For example, you might not have responded to a university's communication by a required date, or you may have missed an interview. You can learn why your application has been withdrawn on Ucas Track. 

You can also withdraw your application yourself if you change your mind about applying to that course or university.


Responding to offers

Once you've received responses, good and bad, from all the courses you applied to, you need to decide which of your offers you want to make your firm (first) and insurance (back-up) choices. You can only choose one for each of these.


What if you don't receive any offers?

Don’t panic! There are still other routes available to find places on other courses. First up, the Ucas Extra scheme, which opens in February, or Ucas Clearing later in the year.
* Data source: The Which? University Survey, conducted by YouthSight on behalf of Which? University, surveying 3,874 undergraduate students at UK universities between 20 March and 12 April 2019. 

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