When is an Unconditional offer not Unconditional?

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At SACU we were curious to find out a little more about the recent increase in the number of Unconditional offers made to young people in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

UCAS recently released figures showing the number of unconditional offers made to 18 year old students from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales has risen over the past five years – from 2,985 in 2013, to 67,915 in 2018.UCAS Thu 26 July 2018

Are all Unconditional offers the same?

No, some Unconditional offers are in fact “Conditional”

SACU has been made aware of admission practices that involve the following:

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    Student applies to UCAS

    An 18 year old student applies to a university on-time, while still taking their A-Levels or equivalent

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    University makes a "Conditional" offer

    The University makes a conditional offer to the student based on their pending qualifications

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    University gives the student the option to upgrade their "Conditional" offer to "Unconditional", but only if they...

    The University contacts the applicant, either via UCAS or directly, with the opportunity to convert the Conditional offer to an Unconditional offer – if, and only if, the student makes this their firm choice within 14 days…

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    Student makes this choice Firm within 14 days

    The student accepts this offer within 14 days, and in doing so may have to decline choices where no offers have yet been received 🙁

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    University changes offer to Unconditional

    The University changes the previous Conditional offer to an Unconditional offer

These are “Conditional” Unconditional offers !?!

Why are “Conditional” UC offers so bad for students?

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    Students are forced to Reject other choices before receiving their offer

    The 14 day stipulation can force applicants to abandon other choices before they’ve even received offers from all their university choices

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    Students are forced to make rushed decisions if they wish to accept this offer

    The 14 day time frame for considering this option goes against all UCAS normal decision-making deadlines and puts undue pressure on the applicant to have to abandon other university choices

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    Students are encouraged to ignore UCAS guidance

    UCAS guidance to students is to wait until they have received all their offers before confirming their Firm and Insurance choices. This encourages students to take their time and make informed decisions.

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    Students do not have the option of making this Unconditional offer their insurance choice

    By forcing the applicant to make this choice Firm they remove the option of making the Unconditional offer their insurance choice

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    Students are prevented from holding an aspirational conditional Firm offer

    By forcing the applicant to make this choice Firm they prevent the student placing an aspirational offer as their Firm choice

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    Students support network, Careers advisers / teachers / parents, are just not prepared for this new "Conditional" UC offer

    How can the student’s support network be expected to help/advise the students when these new “Conditional” Unconditional offers have been sneaked in without any notice / publicity?

How many universities are doing this?

SACU submitted a FOIA request to UCAS find out.
We asked UCAS to supply the number of “Conditional” UC offers:

We are trying to identify the number of applicants who received conditional offers with the promise of these being made unconditional if they accept them as their firm choice. As shown in a typical real-life offer example below:

“I am delighted to inform you that we would like to make you a Conditional offer of a place on the above programme. Your formal offer will be displayed on your personalised UCAS Track page and there are instructions on how to accept your offer here. Furthermore, if you choose to make us your Firm choice, we will convert this offer to unconditional 14 days after you have chosen us as your Firm choice on UCAS Track. You can then concentrate on your remaining studies in the sure knowledge of where you will be studying next year.”


With this in mind, using the same criteria used in your press release on 26th July 2018 ‘Increase in unconditional offers made to young people in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland’:



Please provide us with the number of 18-year-old applicants from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales for the 2018 application cycle, that held at least one offer that:

1) started as a conditional offer (C)

2) then transitioned to the applicants Firm Choice (CF) – by being confirmed by the applicant as their first choice

3) then transitioning to unconditional (UF) prior to the 30th June 2018 – before exam results were received

UCAS rejected our FOIA but did confirm the practices of
“Conditional” UC offers and will be publishing figures in Nov 2018:

As part of our 2018 End of Cycle reporting we are intending to update previous reporting on UC offer making to English, Welsh, and NI 18 year olds and to extend this to look at how UC offer making supports WP and, report for the first time, on the practice of making…

“conditional UC offers”


It is intended that this will be published on 29 November as the first wave of the End of Cycle Report, and that we will collaborate with the OfS so that the publication of the two reports is aligned. We will share draft reports and press releases. The scope of the UCAS report will cover:

  • Explanation of different types of offer making and examples of the use of UC offers for specific subjects and to support specific students (to be developed with HEP input)
  • Methodology for distinguishing between “standard” UC offers and “conditional” UC offers
  • Headline figures for trends in UC offer making to English, Welsh and NI 18 year olds by domicile of applicant and country of provider
  • UC offers by qualification type and the impact of UC offers on A level attainment
  • UC offer making by Tariff group and subject group and trends over time
  • UC offer making to students by POLAR4 and the UCAS Multiple Equality Measure (MEM)
  • Applicants’ views and attitudes to UC offers and reported impact on application choices and decision making from UCAS survey work

We watch with interest for UCAS’ end of cycle report on 29th November!