Responding to University Offers as an IB Student | University Series Pt 3

Back when I was completing the IB Diploma, my thoughts were frequently occupied with where I was going to study at university. Whilst I was SO excited to move onto uni life, I knew that choosing where I wanted to study was going to be a pretty big decision.

But once you’ve applied and your university offers start rolling in, next comes the task of deciding which offer to accept. There are plenty of factors to consider in order to ensure you’re making the best and most sensible choice. So, as a recent university graduate, I want to talk about how to make the final decisions regarding where you want to study! I’m going to guide you through my advice on how to make the most informed decision when responding to university offers.

(Just a brief note: this post talks about the British university system, UCAS, but it’s also relevant to university applications in any country!)

Your Firm Choice/First Choice

I want to start off with my advice when it comes to deciding which university and course should be your first choice. With UCAS, this is known as your firm option. Here are a few key things to bear in mind:

1. Where do you want to go?

I know this sounds obvious, but if you’re spending at least 3 years somewhere, it’s good to know you’ll actually like it! I definitely recommend visiting universities in person. While prospectuses are useful, reading facts and staring at pictures on a page often doesn’t give you the full picture. And it certainly doesn’t give you a feel for a university campus or a city. Check out this blog HERE for more advice on what to think about when visiting universities. But even if you’ve missed the open days, call or email the admissions department of the uni. Normally they are happy to arrange a visit (and sometimes a free lunch too!).

2. Position in the university league tables

This shouldn’t be your main motivating factor, but it is good to bear in mind how your university places in national league tables. Certainly look at student satisfaction scores. If the number is really low, then that might be something you want to consider before accepting. From my experience, students tend to be pretty honest when it comes to these surveys. If you’re interested, you can find the 2019 World University Rankings HERE, or the 2020 UK University League Tables HERE.

3. Course content

It’s very easy to get caught up in the exciting elements of going to university – moving away from home, exploring a new city, getting involved in fun extracurriculars or societies etc. But when was the last time you properly checked out the actual university course (if at all!)? Remember not to lose sight of the real reason you’re going to university! When choosing my firm choice, I had a look at the course content for all the unis I’d had offers from. This meant that I could compare and contrast, thinking about what I really wanted out of my degree. Then I picked the one that was best suited to my interests.

4. Your university offers

Firstly, I’d recommend double checking what your university offers are. In terms of conditional offers (see below if you’re not sure what this means!), some universities will just ask for a UCAS point total (say 340 points) or an IB point score total (say 35 points). This means that you can make up your marks in any combination across your subjects and core points. Some unis, however, will attach specific conditions such as 35 with a 6 in English HL.

This leads me into my next recommendation: be realistic. Do you think it’s likely that you will get 35 points? And if you have a specific condition, like a 6 in English HL, are you likely to meet that requirement? If, being completely honest with yourself, you think not, then it might not be the uni for you.

But, also bear in mind that unis can sometimes be flexible in their offers. I would never rely on this, but if you think you might miss your offer by a point or two, or maybe get a 5 instead of a 6, call the admissions department. They will normally be honest and tell you their policy on this. If you think they aren’t flexible at all, then you might need to reconsider. However, if you think they might be, then you may want to take that gamble and put them as your first choice.

Finally, do question anything that seems strange. My friend got offered 34 with a 7 in Maths HL, which seemed a little crazy. While it’s rare, sometimes admissions tutors can misunderstand the IB point scoring system. When my friend rang up and explained the situation, they changed his offer to just 34 points (which he obviously preferred!).

Your Insurance Choice/Second Choice

With UCAS, you can also choose an insurance option. This is your second choice of where you want to study; a lot of people refer to it as their ‘backup’ choice. Much of what I have already said applies to your insurance choice as well as your firm offer, but I have a few specific tips. Firstly, put an offer that is lower than your firm. Again this is kind of a ‘duh’ piece of advice, but it was something I hadn’t thought through! The whole point of your insurance is that you have a backup option if results don’t go to plan. Making sure you will almost definitely make your insurance university offer is a good idea then. Secondly, make sure you like the university! As with your firm choice, you could be spending 3 years here, so check it out in person!

Conditional vs Unconditional Offers

One final thing I want to touch upon is the difference in the types of offers UK universities can make. Some of you may have heard of the terms conditional and unconditional offers. But what do they actually mean?! Here’s a quick explanation.

  • Conditional offer – the university will accept you onto the course as long as you meet the requirements e.g 34 points, with 555 in your HL subjects. This means waiting until your exam results are released to see if you’ve met the conditions.
  • Unconditional offer – this means you’ve met the set requirements, and a place is yours if you want it! So, if you make an unconditional offer your firm choice, you’ve definitely got a place no matter what happens with your exam results. However, one thing to note is that if you make an unconditional offer your firm choice, you cannot have an insurance choice.

For more information on these types of offers, take a look at this explanation from UCAS.

And there we have it! Good luck to those of you who are about to embark upon the journey of university applications. I hope this blog will help when it comes to making choices about university offers. Remember, if you need support throughout the process of uni applications, we can help you through our Online Tutoring. We can help with university interviews, university admissions tests, and also the personal statement.

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