Find out about the different decisions universities and colleges can make on your application.

How do unis decide to make an offer?

University admissions staff talk about the things they consider when deciding whether to make an offer.

How do unis make their decisions?

Each university has different entry requirements. You should check you meet the course and university entry requirements before you apply. However, there are other factors university admissions teams consider when making their decisions.

  • What academic and non-academic achievements do you have? Have you met the required grades for the course, and what is the likelihood of you achieving the course entry requirements for any qualifications you haven't yet sat exams for?
  • Do you have the experience and skills to succeed at university?
  • Do you have a passion for the subject area, and does this enthusiasm come across in your application?
  • Who are your references and what have they said about you?
  • Is the course and uni you've applied for the right course and university for you?
  • Have you included your individual circumstances? For example, have you been in care? Do you have a disability, such as a mental health condition? Admissions staff will want to consider your achievements in context. This is called ‘contextualised admissions’, and the aim is to form a more complete picture of you as an individual.

Ultimately, it's the job of the university admissions team to determine whether you can succeed on the course you have applied for.

When are you likely to hear back from unis?

The wait for decisions on your application can be agonising. It’s a good idea to use this time effectively by familiarising yourself with the decisions the unis you’ve applied to could make, so you know what to expect and what to do when the time comes.

Each university and college will make their decisions at different times, meaning you might hear back before your friends do, or vice versa. However, there are deadlines by which they will need to have decided:

  • 20 May 2021 – if you sent your application by 29 January 2021.
  • 13 July 2021 – if you sent your application by 30 June 2021.
  • 20 October 2021 – this is the final deadline for unis to make decisions on applications to courses starting in 2021.

If a uni you’ve applied to doesn’t make a decision by the appropriate deadline, that choice will be automatically made unsuccessful.

Decisions universities and colleges can make


What your offers mean

Understand the decisions made by universities and colleges before replying to your offers.
Either a conditional or unconditional offer is good news.
  • A conditional offer means you still need to meet the requirements – usually exam results.
  • An unconditional offer means you've got a place, although there might still be a few things to arrange.
  • An unsuccessful or withdrawn choice removes that option, but you could add more.

Conditional offers

These show the conditions you have to meet to get your place confirmed.

For most people, this means waiting for results day in summer to see if your exam results meet the conditions. They could be a combination of grades, scores or subjects – as explained in the entry requirements and Tariff info.

A conditional offer might look something like this:

  • A levels grade AAB with A in chemistry and at least two other sciences or mathematics
  • 112 UCAS Tariff points including BTEC National Diploma grade DM
  • Scottish Higher grades of BBBB
  • 36 points from your International Baccalaureate Diploma, to include six in Higher Level English
  • AAA from three A levels, or AAB from three A levels and grade B in your Extended Project
  • 88 UCAS Tariff points,of which at least 60 must be obtained from two A levels, excluding General Studies

You may also get a conditional offer that will change to unconditional if you firmly accept it.

Before you make your decision, here are some key things to think about to help you decide which is the right option for you.

Unconditional offers

  • These mean you've already met the entry requirements, so the place is yours if you want it! But first check the offer to see if there's anything else you need to do.
  • Check the offer carefully. Even if you've already got your qualifications and have met the academic requirements, you might still need to get a DBS or PVG check, provide proof of your results, or meet some financial/medical requirements. If it’s not clear, contact the uni or college.
  • Remember, by accepting an unconditional offer, you are committing to go to that uni or college, so you can't make an insurance choice.
  • If you change your mind, you can decline your place and apply using Clearing.
  • If you're taking exams but have been made an unconditional offer, your results won't affect whether or not you get accepted. But, although your place won't be dependent on your grades, taking your exams is really important to prepare you for uni or college and could impact your future employment.
  • Some graduate employers take A levels and other qualifications into account when reviewing job applications, so it's important you take this into consideration when preparing for your exams. 
Before you make your decision, here are some key things to think about to help you decide which is the right option for you. You might also be interested in reading the UCAS blog for additional advice.

Your consumer rights

You should have received specific information from your chosen universities to help you make an informed decision. They're required to make this available to you under consumer protection legislation – find out about the information you should receive.

Unsuccessful or withdrawn choices

A withdrawn application means a course choice has been withdrawn by either you or the university/college.

The reason will show up in on your application – maybe you didn't respond to emails/letters they sent, or missed an interview.

An unsuccessful application means they've decided not to offer you a place on the course.

Sometimes they'll give a reason, either with their decision or at a later date. If not, you can contact them to ask if they'll discuss the reason with you.

Don't worry if you don't get any offers though – you might be able to add extra choices now, or look for course availability later on.

Adding an Extra choice

You might be able to add another choice through our Extra service if you've received decisions from all five universities or colleges and weren't accepted, or if you declined the offers you received. Extra is a free service – available for you to apply to one course at a time between 25 February and 4 July. If Extra is available to you, it'll show up as an option when you sign in to track your application. 

Find out more about Extra

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