Why conditional offers are better for students

Students in lecture theatre

As we enter the new application cycle, a fresh cohort of prospective students will again be confronted with unconditional offers (not based on their final exam results) or other incentivised offers to persuade them to choose a particular university. As this practice becomes increasingly common, key figures in education are questioning whether it really benefits students – or the university sector as a whole.

In their recent report on the subject, UCAS stated that the number of unconditional offers made to 18 year old students from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales has risen significantly over the past five years – from 2,985 in 2013, to 67,915 in 2018. In the most recent application cycle, 22.9% of this group of students received at least one unconditional offer, an increase of 29% on the previous year.

The Government has been critical of this sharp rise in unconditional offers. Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, has criticised the practice as “completely irresponsible” stating that it “undermines the credibility of the university system”. Gyimah says that “unconditional offers risk distracting students from the final year of their schooling, and swaying their decisions does them a disservice – universities must act in the interest of students, not in filling spaces.” His comments have been echoed by Robert Halfon, Chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, who claims that the practice is putting “funding” before “standards”. Gyimah has promised to closely monitor the number of unconditional offers being issued and has empowered the Office for Students to take appropriate action if necessary.

Head of Student Recruitment, Simon Jenkins, said: “At Edge Hill, we believe that going to university is a rewarding, life-changing decision and that choosing the right university is vital. Students should select where they are going to spend the next three years on the basis of which university and course is right for them, rather than which university is prepared to make an offer unconditional if a student chooses them.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, highlights the long-term dangers of unconditional offers saying that they “can lead to students making less effort in their A-Levels because their place is assured. That can then hamper their job prospects later down the line if potential employers take into account their A-Level grades.”

Edge Hill has always had a policy of not making unconditional offers to applicants who are sitting their A-Level, BTEC or equivalent qualifications for this reason.

“We are very conscious that exam grades are not just about getting into university,” said Simon. “We set what we believe are stretching entry requirements and we encourage applicants to work hard to achieve the very best grades that they can.

“We have strong academic standards as a university and we want students who are passionate about their subject and who want to be part of an exciting and dynamic community of lecturers and like-minded students. We also want students who are committed to their own success. For that reason, we will not compromise our standards by making unconditional offers to applicants in order to encourage them to come to us regardless of the grades they achieve.”

Third year Geography student Max Beaton turned down two unconditional offers from other universities to take up a place at Edge Hill. He said: “I chose Edge Hill as my firm choice as I could see myself studying and living here. The unconditional offers didn’t really sway my choice – visiting Edge Hill on open days and applicant days definitely sold the University to me and allowed me to talk to students and staff and get a real feel for the place.

“I do think I made the right choice. Being a student here and being a member of the Edge Hill community actually exceeded my initial expectations.”

Max advises students starting off on their application journey to choose the university that is best for them.

He added: “Unconditional offers do look great and very encouraging and the university might really want you to choose them, but if it’s not the right choice for you, no matter what they are offering, you have to do what is best for you.”

Kazia Cannon, a 3rd year Drama student, also received two unconditional offers before deciding on Edge Hill. She said: “Edge Hill was just a lot more suited to my needs both academically and in terms of student support.

“When you’re visiting universities, you have to think ‘is this somewhere I can imagine myself in three years?’ That’s what I did every time I went to an open day and that’s how I made my decision in the end.”


Five top tips for an outstanding UCAS form

Sarah Wright, Edge Hill University

As the final UCAS deadline looms in mid-January, it’s understandable to worry that you don’t have time to complete a quality application that will bag you that place on the course of your dreams. But fear not, because here are some tips for putting together a successful, stand out application.

1. Check your own understanding

Hopefully, you have done your background work on your course by attending open days, reading blogs and poring over prospectuses. But even if this is the case, do you really understand the course you are applying for?

Go back through the UCAS entry profile and double check that the course you have selected meets your needs and does what you think it does. Students who have misconceptions about the content of a course often reflect this in their application which does not make for a good start.

2. Get the fine tooth comb out

No eye rolling, I know you have probably been told this a million times, and I’m going to say it again … this document could effectively change your life – and proof reading and drafting is essential.

Ensure you check everything on your form, from your personal details to your course code, everything needs to be perfect. Admissions tutors will be eagle eyed when it comes to grammatical and spelling errors, so check it once, check it twice, and then check it again.

Your university application may well open doors for you, so make sure it’s perfect. Pexels

3. Make up your mind

Your personal statement is the most substantial aspect of your application. This is where you really get to show your potential university who you are. It’s therefore essential that your statement does that, evidences you as a future scholar who oozes enthusiasm for their chosen subject and course.

The most crucial thing admissions tutors will look for in your personal statement is a strong rationale as to why you want a place on their course. If you’re applying to multiple institutions this can be a tricky ask. So this is why it’s best to keep your course choices consistent – because applying for four primary education courses and then an engineering degree isn’t going to make things easy for you.

4. Make it personal

The personal statement should also do what it says on the tin – it should be personal to you. This is your opportunity to shine in terms of talking about your academic and personal achievements. It can be easy to fall into lazy language when you’re doing this. If admissions tutors had a pound for every time they read the word “passion” in a personal statement, they’d probably be living on a tropical island by now.

Draw on all your experience to make your application as unique as you are. Pexels.

Put the effort into your explanation. Talk concisely about your achievements, then show the impact they have had on you. So, rather than “I am a passionate member of the local outdoor pursuits club”, try “being a member of the local outdoor pursuits club has helped me hone my leadership, problem solving and collaboration skills”. See the difference?

Work hard with your language. You want to grab the attention of your reader and avoiding generic statements such as “I have always had a passion for …” is your first step in doing that. You should also talk about specific aspects of a subject that fuel your interest, and the more you can evidence this, the better chance of acceptance you have.

5. Two pairs of eyes

Your application should now be a glowing reflection of who you are and your hopes and ambitions for your academic career. This can make some people reluctant to share it with even their closest family and friends. But unfortunately, this is a must.

Make your application into a family affair – a second pair of eyes is important. Pexels.

Think how many times you check a social media update before you post it to the world, this is a million times more important. Do you really want to hit submit before having it checked? Have at least one other person read over your application, they could pick up on a missed word, incorrect spelling or fantastic achievement you have overlooked. The more input you can get the better, so if you’re up for sharing get as many people as you can to take a look at your final draft before you submit it.

The Conversation

Sarah Wright, Senior Lecturer in Education, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.