University offers explained

You’ve sent your UCAS application in, so what should you do now?


Most universities will get hundreds of applications for each course, and they need time to make up their minds. It can be nerve-wracking waiting for them, but you can keep track of your applications online using your personal UCAS track page. You should expect answers by the end of March, although some universities can take as long as May to decide.

What do the different offers mean?

A university will give you one of three replies:

  • Unconditional: The university has accepted you with the qualifications you already have, meaning you’ve got a guaranteed place on the course if you want it.
  • Conditional: The university will accept you on the course provided you meet the standards they set out, which normally means getting certain grades or higher in the qualifications you’re currently studying.
  • Unsuccessful: The university has not accepted you on the course.

How do I reply?

You don’t have to reply straight away, so wait until you’ve heard back from all your five choices. Then think carefully about which of the courses that have made offers you most want to do, and get back to them before the deadline on your UCAS track page. You can only accept two offers, so if you’ve got more than that you’ll need to decline some first. Then decide which is your ‘firm’ and which is your ‘insurance’ choice.

  • Firm: Firmly accepting an unconditional offer commits you to that course, and you will have to go there if you get the grades of your conditional offer, so make sure this is definitely the one you want most!
  • Insurance: If you’ve accepted a conditional offer as your firm choice, you can also choose another course for ‘insurance’. Your ‘insurance’ choice can be either a conditional or unconditional offer, but most people will choose a course that needs lower entry grades, so they’ve got a ‘back up’ option if they don’t get the grades for their first choice.

What if I don’t get an offer from my first choice of university?

If you had your heart set on a particular university but didn’t get in, there’s more you can do than just crying into your pillow. Some universities might tell you why they haven’t accepted you this time: for example, you might not have the right grades at GCSE. Even if they don’t provide a reason you can always ring them up and ask them (nicely!), although they still don’t have to tell you why.

If you’ve got other offers, you should sit down and think seriously about which of them you’d rather do instead if you still want to go to university this year. But if you’re still determined to go to your first choice, you can reapply again next year. You could always use this gap year to get more qualifications or work experience, giving you a better chance of getting in next time around.

What if I get no offers?

Not getting any offers at all might be disappointing – but it’s not the end of the world. If you can’t or don’t want to wait another year to apply again, you can always use UCAS Extra from the end of February, which lets you apply for courses that still have places free until the end of June. You can also use UCAS Extra if you’ve changed your mind and declined all your other offers, although you’re committed to the first offer you accept on UCAS Extra and don’t get an insurance choice. And there’s still light at the end of the tunnel if you don’t get a place through UCAS Extra, since you might qualify for clearing at the start of September.