A recent report by the Telegraph has identified that the number of unconditional offers issued by universities has nearly doubled in the last five years. In terms of real numbers, this means that universities like Birmingham offered 2,471 unconditional places last year, as compared to the 1,003 from four years previous. ‘Which University’ makes even bolder claims about this rise; indicating that 51,615 unconditional offers were made to 18 year-old students last year, compared to 3,000 just a few years before.
With some universities you even have the opportunity to ‘buy’ an unconditional offer; with universities offering to ‘upgrade’ your status from conditional to unconditional if you mark them as a first choice.
This is great news, right? How nice would it be to have your path locked in, and take the stress off your A-level exams?
The problem is, this trend towards unconditional offers is representative of a creeping, pernicious change within the higher education industry. As fees have risen, so has the commercialisation of education – universities are estimated to generation £95 billion for the UK economy. This means that students are clients, and valuable commodities. It’s better to have students within the university gates rather than outside of them; and the best way to attract them is to make it easy for them to enter, pleasant for them to study, and promise them high chances of success in passing.
As such, whilst an unconditional offer may seem flattering, it should probably be viewed mostly as shrewd business sense on the part of the universities. The key thing is to not let it influence your decision unduly. Whilst it’s a nice little bonus, it shouldn’t feature in your thinking when deciding which offer is the best one to accept – indeed, it might be seen as little more than a bribe. Ask yourself whether that placement would have been in the running, without that unconditional offer to sweeten the deal – and don’t let yourself be swayed if in your heart of hearts the answer is ‘not really’.
Even more importantly, if you do accept a placement that comes with an unconditional offer, then don’t let it impact your focus on A-level exams. You haven’t been given a free pass – those grades still have the potential to matter. A lot. Talking for ‘Which University’, Alan Bullock – a Career’s Advisor – says ‘Don’t let an unconditional offer tempt you to to take your foot off the gas in your studies or exam revision. The grades you achieve at 18 will live with you, and will often be a key factor when you apply for jobs or postgraduate courses in three or four years’ time’.
Ultimately, an unconditional offer may be a nice little bonus, but it shouldn’t be unthinkingly accepted. Keep your eyes on the prize: the highest A-level results you can achieve, and a university placement that suits you the best.