So, once the summer is over and your children are back at school, you can breathe a sigh of relief, right? Well, not if you have one starting Year 13 in September, as they will no doubt be reaching the height of their stress levels with their application to university. UCAS; four letters that mean so much. It represents all that your child has been working towards since you first sent them off to school and you want to see them get to a great university and from there hopefully have a great start to adult life. No pressure, then. In this article, which shouldn’t take more than three minutes out of your day, I will try to show you how best to ensure your teenager is on the right track to start a great application, with my focus being on the personal statement.
Filling in the online UCAS application form is quite simple on the whole but it is the section on the personal statement which causes the nightmares. It is a brief document which aims to convince admissions tutors that they should give a place to your child. It has to show that the student is interested in the chosen subject and has the academic potential to cope with studying it for three or four years. It’s challenging to get it right. Getting started is often the most difficult part, but there is absolutely no point starting without the basics in place. So, make sure the following points have been considered.
That Thursday in August is almost here. Yes, that Thursday. A level results day. The culmination of everything your child has been working on over the last two years, or, if you want to be more dramatic, the start of the rest of their life. So, with this much at stake, how can you help them on Thursday? This article should take just three minutes to read, after which you will feel a little more able to give out some practical advice, rather than just *crying/shouting/fainting/hitting the gin (*delete as appropriate).
Hopefully the school will have informed you of how results will be published. If not, find out now, so that you don’t drive all the way there only to find that the place is closed and all results are online, with advice available via webinar. Waste of time, very stressful. Where possible, students should be available on the phone, if they can’t be in the country. It’s important that they can easily speak to universities and to advisers at school if necessary.
There or Thereabouts
If the results meet the conditions of the firm offer, then it’s champagne all round and you can pat yourself soundly on the back. If results are better than the conditions of the firm offer, there is a system called Adjustment, which allows students to apply for courses which they may not have considered previously because of the high standard offers. Students register for this within the UCAS Track system and can apply for one course at a time. After you register, it’s all frankly a bit vague and hit-and-miss because there is no officials list of available courses. You just have to find a course you like, using the UCAS course search tool, then call the university to ask if they have a space. Most competitive courses are full at this stage, so I don’t encourage my students to spend too much time on this. Sometimes there is an argument for being happy with what you’ve got. Your child must have liked the original course which they applied for, so they are likely to be happy there.
Could do better
There are now two scenarios to consider. Firstly, where the conditions of the firm, or first-choice, offer have not been met, but the conditions of the “insurance” offer have been met. Most students will be happy to set off to the insurance university and those who are need do nothing within the UCAS system; no need to accept as this is all automatic.
Sometimes, however, students decide that they can’t possibly attend the insurance university and this is when you ask them why they accepted the offer! In desperation, students may want to call the first choice university to ask if they might reconsider. This used to be worth doing if the offer had been missed by just one grade, but these days, universities have so many students who do meet the terms of their offers, that this is really not a successful phone call anymore. It may be possible to get the insurance university to release your child from their offer which would then allow entry in to the Clearing system. Before considering that, you must speak to an adviser at school and you must let me tell you about Clearing, which is what the second scenario is all about.
Clearing is a list of places which have become available because other students have not met the conditions of their offer. To be eligible to apply for one of these courses, a student must be in the Clearing system with an allocated Clearing number. These latter things happen if a student has no offers, either because s/he was rejected by all the universities or because s/he has failed to meet the conditions of any offers received and accepted, or because s/he made an application after 30th June. The Clearing number appears in the Track system online.
The available courses are listed on the UCAS website. Although it may sound a little negative, if there is even a slight doubt that your child will make the grades for their first choice university, I recommend looking at the Clearing list the night before Results Day. Do what you can to help your child do this without them feeling you have no confidence in them. It’s about being organised and, should it be required, being one of the first on the telephone to universities with Clearing spaces in the morning.
Look carefully at the available courses and at the universities, by clicking through to look at the websites. This is not a decision to be taken lightly but sadly it is too often rushed or not thought through and where this is the case, it can end in your child not completing their degree because of being unhappy. Students should stick to a similar course unless there is a good reason not to, check the course content, and be prepared to answer a few questions about motivation, the chosen subject and perhaps the results. When students call for a Clearing place, some universities treat the call as a mini interview, so it’s best to be prepared.
On the day of results, Clearing places go quickly so it’s important to get on the phone early. In the case of those waiting to be released from that insurance offer, students shouldn’t put off calling but should be honest with universities about what they are doing.
Hopefully at the end of the call, a verbal offer will be made. If your child is asked to wait for a call-back, don’t let him/her stop there; move on to the next Clearing call as you just don’t know how long you might be waiting, whilst places slip away to other students. If a verbal offer is made, then students need to return to the Track system and add the offer on there. Later in the day, the university will confirm the offer. And then you can have your gin.
If these efforts don’t yield any offers through Clearing, it is important to stay in touch with the school’s advisors in order to look at the remaining options, such as re-takes, gap years and even apprenticeships, of which, more later.