There has, over the past few years, been increasing use of unconditional offers by institutions, as part of their admissions and recruitment strategy. There are a number of ways in which unconditional offers are being used, but in a nutshell, it involves giving students who are yet to complete exams and gain their results an offer that is not conditional on the grades that they will receive in the future.
There are, throughout the sector, differing views on this increasing use of unconditional offers but it is safe to say that it is a controversial subject and has led to recent interventions by the Secretary of State. The debate rumbles on and we are not going to revisit it in any detail here. Instead we are attempting to add something that may have been missing so far: the views of students and their attitudes to the increased use of unconditional offers.
With millions of visits to Whatuni and the Complete University Guide each year, we used this audience to conduct a snap survey, receiving over 600 responses in two weeks (end of May/ beginning of June 2019). Respondents were UK based and interested in studying at an institution in the UK. The survey aimed to help us begin to understand students’ attitudes to unconditional university offers.
Some of the results may surprise you. Students are, in the main, supportive of the increase use of unconditional offers and our research suggests that they do encourage students to accept a university’s offer.
- 45% of respondents have received one or more unconditional offer, this rises to over 50% when we only include those who have received offers to study in 2019.
- 68% of unconditional offers are valid only if the applicant firmly accepts the offer.
- 57% stated that they were either significantly more likely or more likely to accept an unconditional offer than a conditional one.
- 43% of respondents view the increasing use of unconditional offers as positive for students.
- 40% of respondents believe that receiving an unconditional offer would or will have no impact on how they approach their study and exams this summer.
- BTec students the most likely to receive one or more unconditional offer.
Detailed findings – sample:
With 615 responses the survey was aimed at, but not exclusively, at those users of our sites looking to commence their university studies in the autumn of 2019. Therefore 68% of respondents were intending to commence study in 2019 and 83% have lodged an application with UCAS. In line with this, 65% of respondents are still awaiting their grades and so would traditionally have expected to receive conditional offers.
The vast majority of respondents are studying for A Levels (75%) with 12% Btec, 5% International Baccalaureate, 4% Access to HE Diploma, 2% Scottish Highers, 8% Other. Just under half (47%) are studying at a State School, 24% in an FE College, 12% an Independent School, 9% at Grammar School and 16% ‘Other’.
The types of offers respondents have received:
Considering only those looking to study in 2019 and who have submitted an application through UCAS, we can see that the majority of respondents have received the maximum number of offers, over 97% of respondents have received one offer or more.
How many offers have you currently received?
We then asked respondents whether they had any received unconditional offers and found that half of respondents have received one or more unconditional offers.
How many of the offers you have received are unconditional?
Interestingly, when we looked at what type of school or college those who received unconditional offers were currently studying at, we found that 51% of state school pupils had received no unconditional offers, this rose to 57% amongst those studying at Independent or Grammar schools. In fact, the students most likely to receive one or more unconditional offers are those studying at an FE College.
When we delve a little deeper and look at the qualifications they are studying, we see that BTec students are the most likely group to receive one or more unconditional offer, compared to those studying for access to HE Diploma or A Levels.
Of those who received one or more unconditional offers, 68% of them state that the offer is subject to them firmly accepting the offer, with a further 12% unsure whether or not the unconditional offer was only valid if they firmly accepted it.
Were any of the unconditional offers only valid if you made that university your form choice?
Attitudes to unconditional offers:
There is no getting around the fact that students are attracted by unconditional offers.
Of those students who received one or more unconditional offers, 57% stated that they were either significantly more likely or more likely to accept an unconditional offer than a conditional one.
Do unconditional offers make you more or less likely to accept that offer?
These attitudes and findings are further backed up by the fact that of those who received unconditional offers nearly half (49%) firmly accepted an unconditional offer and only 29% rejected an unconditional offer in favour of a conditional offer. Interestingly, if we filter to only include those whose offer or offers were valid if they firmly accepted it, the findings change very little but do decrease slightly with 45% stating that they firmly accepted the unconditional offer. This suggests that it is the unconditional offer itself, rather than the pre-requisite to firmly accept it that has the greater impact on the student’s behavior.
If you received an unconditional offer, did you: (Filtered to include only those who received one or more unconditional offer)
We then subsequently asked respondents to state their views on the increasing use of unconditional offers by universities. Interestingly the results show that 43% of respondents view them positively, with a third stating the reverse. There is no significant difference in the responses if we filter to only include those who have received an unconditional offer.
Some universities are issuing more unconditional offers than ever before. What are your views on this?
Attitudes to their upcoming exams:
Amongst all respondents, just over 40% believe that receiving an unconditional offer would or will have no impact on how they approach their study and exams this summer. This rises to 53% amongst those who have received and are holding one or more unconditional offer. However, just over a fifth of those holding an unconditional offer believe they will be less motivated to study and just under a fifth state that they will be more motivated to study.
Would/does having an unconditional offer change the way you approach your studies and exams in the lead up to university? (filtered to only include those holding one or more unconditional offers).
Conclusions – what can we conclude from this short survey?
Firstly, it highlights the widespread use of unconditional offers as a recruitment and admissions tool and the fact that they are, in the vast majority of cases, being used to actively encourage students to firmly accept one offer over another.
Secondly, this survey shows that in respect to changing applicants’ and students’ behaviour at the offer making stage of the journey, they are having an impact – students are more likely to accept an unconditional offer over a conditional one.
Thirdly, students don’t view them in the same negative light as certain parts of the media and the education sector. This view does not change in any significant way whether or not the student has received an unconditional offer or not.
Finally, students don’t tend to feel that receiving an unconditional offer will negatively impact on their studies and exams – one of the key criticism of the increased use of unconditional offers.
Enjoyed this article? Also read our post – Teacher & Student Perspectives on Clearing – to see what teachers think of unconditional offers.
If your institution is interested in using our vast database of data to survey a relevant theme, get in touch with our client partnership team on firstname.lastname@example.org.