Aced your A-levels? Here’s how to upgrade your university place

how to upgrade your university place – David Rose For some lucky students – despite the national concern over algorithmic A-level results – tomorrow will be the happiest day of their lives so far.  These are the cohort who have exceeded their expectations and scored higher grades than expected. This […]

how to upgrade your university place - David Rose
how to upgrade your university place – David Rose

For some lucky students – despite the national concern over algorithmic A-level results – tomorrow will be the happiest day of their lives so far. 

These are the cohort who have exceeded their expectations and scored higher grades than expected. This may not mean a bevy of A stars – but a couple of Bs where Cs had been threatened or Cs that had blossomed from predicted Ds.

Naturally, this opens up extra choices both in terms of courses as well as colleges. So what are your options in this cheering dilemma?

Stick to the place originally offered

You could frame your certificates, confirm the place you planned – and chill out.  You wouldn’t be alone. Most people stick with the original place that they have, says James Durant of UCAS. “One of the main reasons for that is that they have spent months – possibly a year or two – researching that course and university. So they might have their heart set on going to a place – and it is quite a big decision to change your mind.” 

However, it’s still worth carefully considering whether another course better suits your aspirations. 

Start looking at other universities

UCAS uses a process called adjustment, which allows students to keep the place they already have whilst speaking to other universities about their higher grades. 

Dr Laura Justham, co-director of undergraduate admissions, Loughborough University, says, “Within Loughborough, we have an attitude that every applicant is a person – a human being with a life ahead of them and with dreams and aspirations to succeed. For this reason, we look at every application with that in mind.” She says the university is interested in grades, but also attitude and the reasoning behind wanting to take a swap into Loughborough to study. 

“I am humbled every year when I see the commitment and humility exhibited by every member of staff involved in the admissions process,” Justham says, “so if someone has their sights set on Loughborough, and if they have achieved more highly than expected, I would strongly advise them to get in touch.”

Read more: Top university degree courses with job prospects

Get familiar with your options

Elly Sample, director of communications, University of Lincoln, says her institution will hold live-streamed talks and host an online ‘live lounge’ over the weekend, where virtual visitors can speak to staff and students in a live online event.

“We will have some course vacancies available for well-qualified candidates on Thursday and a number of opportunities to visit us virtually and find out more about the University of Lincoln,” says Sample.

Similarly, for those with an adjustment or clearing offer, Loughborough holds an open house event where students can speak to academic and support staff across the university, and can ask questions about accommodation, clubs and societies. 

Most universities will have such measures in place so those who have had no previous contact can familiarise themselves with their new institution before the first semester starts. 

Consider new courses via UCAS

Starting this year, students will be able to see a selection of courses that they might be interested in, says Durant. The new service, Clearing Plus, suggests courses that undergraduates might find appealing, based on those previously chosen. Also, as of last year, students could release themselves from their confirmed place into clearing to see what courses they match. Around 30,000 people did this last year, with almost 99 per cent of those who reapplied successfully placed.

Read more: Best degree options during a recession

Be able to explain why you’ve changed your mind

“Make sure you have your UCAS personal ID number ready to hand and that you know the courses that you might be interested in – and are ready to talk about yourself,” says Durant. “Prepare as much as possible so you can make the best impression.” 

Stephen Spriggs, founder of William Clarence Education, which helps students and parents deal with the move to higher education, says the head of admissions may want to interview the student, particularly for competitive courses. “The aim is to establish why they didn’t apply to that university in the first place,” says Spriggs, “or that course – and to find out why they did so much better than expected. 

“The personal statement will stand out the most and as long as it is tailored to the course, not necessarily to the university, it should still demonstrate a passion for the course, and for learning at a higher level. They will look at work experience in this field and other non-academic activities which can be related to the subject at hand.”

Take time out

You could defer and buy some breathing space – but you will need to speak with the university that you are holding a place with, advises Durant. “And, similarly, if you don’t want to start your course in September, you just need to speak to the university and see what options they have available for you. Some universities do offer a January start date.”

Bear in mind, though, that deferrals may not be the best option for some subject areas. Justham, who is a senior lecturer at Loughborough’s school of mechanical, electrical and manufacturing engineering, warns that Covid-19 has affected the amount of face-to-face practical learning possible.

“Another facet of engineering,” she says, “is that a deferred entry will often translate to work experience or travel opportunities in that deferral year. However, this will not be as possible or likely given these unprecedented times, so anyone thinking about deferring, I would advise you to think carefully about the decision and don’t rush into anything.”

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