Does getting an unconditional offer make you work less hard?

Unconditional offers must be stopped. I hate them, my peers hated them – and you should too. Yet, somehow, they’re rising in number. Since 2013, unconditional offers have increased by 65,930 – from 2,985 to 67,915. They’ve gone up by nearly 20% in the time between when I started my GCSEs, and when I completed my degree. It’s a problem for both universities and students.

For unis, the government has said that they have a ‘bums on seats’ mentality. Universities are more concerned with filling their places than ensuring the welfare of the students filling said places. What if they’ve awarded unconditional places to students who simply cannot cope with uni life? To me, it seems there’s a clear lack of concern on the uni’s part.

For students, an unconditional place can result in far less work being put in while they’re at college. Here’s why:

No worries

Rewind to 2015, when I was a fresh-faced 18-year-old waiting for my offers, I distinctly remember everybody hoping for an unconditional place. Why? So that it would alleviate a lot of pressure for exams. A-Levels are already stressful enough and trying to achieve AAA* is a huge task, which results in many succumbing to the pressure. If you were guaranteed a place at your favourite University, A2s would be a cake-walk. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

During year 12, when I was predicted to achieve AAAA, I succumbed to the pressure. I messed up, gaining ABBC instead. While that isn’t exactly an awful set of grades, I was hoping to attend the likes of Oxford, Birmingham, Cardiff or Kent. My results were a real punch to my high-achieving gut. If any of those unis had offered the coveted unconditional place, my first reaction would have been a jump for joy. My A-Levels wouldn’t matter; I could go to a really good uni with four Es, and none of the admissions team would bat an eye.

Hang on, imagine that: attending one of the world’s most prestigious universities with four Es. That isn’t right, and it isn’t justified. You’d be attending your favourite uni with lousy grades, while a student who missed their conditional offer by one grade would miss out, even after trying their absolute hardest to get in. Students putting in absolutely zero effort would take their place instead. How is that fair?

Career death

Outside of uni, unconditional offers remain a problem: they affect career prospects really badly. If you graduate with first-class honours from a top-20 university, employers might not necessarily care. Some jobs and grad schemes will still demand that employees attained an A in Maths and English, for example. If you don’t meet that requirement, it won’t matter that you attended uni – you won’t get the job, and that’s that.

I can see the merits of unconditional offers, for sure. They take away pressure at A-Level and award some clear high achievers with a guaranteed seat at their favoured institution – I won’t deny any of that. But they also sway students to one place or another. I attended Birmingham, but if Cardiff had given me an unconditional place, who’s to say that I wouldn’t have been in Wales for three years instead?

And let us not forget that, if my place at uni was decided solely on predicted grades, there’s no way I’d have attended any Russell Group Uni. I got to where I wanted to be based purely on my hard work, determination and revision. We need to return to the idea that students are rewarded for their achievements, rather than a teacher’s predictions.

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