Unconditional offers: enhancing the university process or making for an inconsistent system?

Recently I have been in the process of receiving offers from my chosen universities. This a daunting experience for thousands of Year Thirteen students across the country: it means constantly checking your emails for offers, it means being too scared to open those emails in fear of rejection and, perhaps most importantly, and it means coming to the realisation that you are under a binding pressure to get certain grades in order to get in. What with their being so much competition for university spaces (with some universities receiving over five-times more applicants than spaces), the pressure is unbelievably high.

To combat some of this pressure, some universities like the University of Birmingham and the University of Nottingham are presenting students with high predicted grades the much dreamed of and mystical ‘unconditional offer’. Now to any A Level student in the process of applying to university, this phrase will make their heart weep with desire.

An unconditional offer is exactly what is says on the tin: it is an offer than is unconditional despite the actual outcomes of your results.

That’s right, you heard me.

This means, theoretically, if you ended up getting two Es and a U in your A2 exams, these universities would still have to accept you because they made you an offer unconditionally of the grades you achieve (as long as you name them as your firm choice).

What is significant about the University of Birmingham and the University of Nottingham giving out unconditional offers is that these are two of the most prestigious universities in the country, being part of the Russell Group and consistently being placed high in university league tables. Realistically, of course, the people either of these universities give unconditional offers are unlikely to drop everything and purposely not revise for their exams because they have such an offer but, what it does mean, is that these people are no longer under any pressure to do well, and that is possibly what is key here.

Now without trying to get to sentimental here, I am a massive stress head. I stress about everything. And I mean everything. I stress about not getting the grades; about not being good enough to get the grades; about thinking I’ve somehow tricked the marker even if I do get good grades; about not being good enough compared to other people; about going to university and suddenly being way out of my depth. For me, despite consistently getting As in all my subjects, it feels as though I’m running a race blind-folded with no idea where the competition is. Or to put it another way: clutching whole-heartedly to the top step of a ladder, one-handed, ready to tumble, swaying, spiralling, in ravenous winds in the eye of a hurricane. However, I know I am not the only teenager out there to feel this way.

Recently two of my friends got absolutely outstanding university offers. One friend applying for Politics received all his offers from Russell Group universities (including an interview at Oxford), only to get an email a week or so later to find that his offer from Lancaster had been amended: instead of them asking him for grades of AAB, they were now saying that if the placed them as his first choice, they would accept him with grades of AEE. Another friend of mine applying to do English received the fanatic news from her first choice university Nottingham that she had an unconditional offer if she put them as first choice also, something which she will do in a heartbeat. Now don’t get me wrong: I am extremely happy for both of them and they both absolutely deserve such fantastic news. However, one thing both of them have in common is that they are both been awarded much more than just a low or unconditional offer. They have been offered relief. Something that no other prospective university students will hope to gain until the dreaded Results Days in mid-August and, even then, many students will unfortunately find themselves disappointed that they haven’t achieved their conditional grades.

By offering unconditional offers, universities are making for an inconsistent A Level process. One of the key things exams test you for is not only your knowledge of the subject, but how you deal with stress, pressure and self-discipline. These are vital skills and are arguably more important skills needed in the work place over how well you know Mussolini’s economic policies of the nineteen-thirties. By giving unconditional offers, universities are allowing some students to take their A2 exams to prove that they are capable of getting As and A*s. For someone like me however, I’m not in the position to prove I can get these results, but I have to get these results in order to get a place; and, these are clearly two completely different things. What unconditional offers have done is create two tiers of A Level students: those whose A Levels will determine the rest of their lives and for those whose A Levels won’t.

A Levels are as emotionally challenging at times as they are mentally challenging. What seems especially unfair is how the people who, in reality and as hypocritical as it may sound, probably need to worry the least are being allowed to take their exams stress free, something that I know would drastically improve my performance. At the end of the day, do students with predicted grades of A*AA really need unconditional offers? No. Because, ultimately, even if they don’t do quite as well as they really want, there is absolutely no possibility they are suddenly going to go from getting A grades at AS Level to getting a U in the overall results. As A Level results are currently made up from an average of your scores in both AS and A2, such a drastic drop is simply impossible. They clearly have the potential to be successful, so why not push them to achieve this?

Unless more universities are going to give out such offers than it is unfair that some universities are allowed to. By giving out unconditional offers, these universities are effectively saying that meeting specific grades is not that important. They’re saying: ‘You know what, yeah! You can go out partying every night if you want, because you know, WE DON’T CARE!!’ If this is what the universities really believe, than rather give out unconditional offers that create inconsistencies within the process and ‘two types of students’ as it were, then they should simply lower their grades requirements. It’s as simple as that. Because, at the end of the day, the matter of a few marks could separate a student who gets A*AA and a student who gets ABB could be the fundamental difference between getting into university or not. But really, universities should be pushing students to get the best grades than can achieve, rather than advocate the idea that students don’t need to push themselves at all because, and as much as I hate saying this, the harder we work now, the easy we will find university, life and beyond and, this can surely only be beneficial, despite the stress, pressure and tears.

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