Glued to your phone checking UCAS Track day and night? When you apply for higher education courses in Year 13, each of the Unis you apply to then decides whether they want to make you an offer or not.

It’s not automatic that you simply apply and get a place: they can turn you down flat – or make a Conditional offer setting out their requirements for your academic performance this coming summer.

So, what are the different types of Uni decisions?

Unsuccessful – This means sadly that you’ve not been offered a place. If the reason is not shown on UCAS Track, you may want to contact the Uni to see if they will advise why your application was declined; although they’re not obliged to tell you!

Conditional – This means you’ll need to achieve certain grades – or meet other conditions – before you can start the course. The Uni will typically set out the grades or points you need to get and then you know what to aim for this summer. If you get the requested entry criteria, you’re in – and if not … well, we’ll cover that nearer the time.

Invitations – A Uni can also invite you to do something before they decide whether to make you an offer. If they require anything more than exam grades/tariff points, it is called an ‘Invitation’: examples can include an interview, audition, portfolio, essay or other piece of work. And once you’ve completed the additional work or attended the audition, the Uni will advise UCAS if they’re offering you a place – and you’ll be able to see their decision in UCAS Track as normal.

They can also make you one of two personalised offers

Unconditional – If they want you to choose them, they can make you a guaranteed offer of a place – which means that you’re in, no matter what grades you get (assuming you don’t reject them first). Just read the small print carefully as they may be asking you to submit evidence of certain qualifications first.

Contextual – This is a bespoke offer that is slightly different to the one you probably saw advertised for the course when you applied. A Contextual offer is similar to a Conditional offer, but can very often be one or two grades lower than published in advance.

Why do Unis make Contextual offers?

Basically, the Uni Admissions Tutors are taking into consideration contextual factors such as economic, geographic and sociological experiences which might disadvantage you, academically – in theory. Meanwhile, it’s generally accepted that any illness or family crisis will be allowed for by the examiners so not part of this.

Each Uni uses its own set of criteria, but might make Contextual offers to students from families where they (and their siblings) are the first generation in the family to go to university – or because they just happen to go to a particular school – or live in a particular postcode area – where only a small number of people traditionally go on to higher education.

Admissions Tutors might also choose to make a Contextual offer because they are interested in students with a skillset broader than simply their expected grades – or because they want to help widen participation by identifying students with the highest potential to succeed regardless of where they live now – or have lived in the past.

It’s not quite an Unconditional offer, but it’s definitely an incentive worth considering. And to be honest, it shouldn’t really matter too much why they’ve done it, because the result could be a reduced grade, a guaranteed interview, or similar special offer – if you wish to shortlist them.

And finally …

Some – but not all – Unis tag Contextual offers onto the widening participation programmes which they run to help young people aspire to higher education. If you are eligible – and selected – to attend these fantastic opportunities during sixth form, you can occasionally expect to be prioritised in some way if you then select the relevant Uni and/or course as one of your five UCAS choices in year 13.

At University of Bristol, for example, successful completion of the Access to Bristol scheme, means you will be eligible for a Contextual offer for all undergraduate courses which is usually two grades lower than the typical offer. If the course holds interviews or auditions as part of the selection process you will also be guaranteed an interview or audition.

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