Is this the best-ever time for sixth-formers to be applying to university?

A recent UCAS conference* leads us to think so. The conference presented some fascinating data and information that leads us to think that this autumn could be the best-ever time in recent years for sixth-form students to apply for undergraduate courses in British universities.
This year an incredible 95% of all UCAS applicants who made five university choices received at least one offer, while 18% of all applicants received at least one unconditional offer – this is the highest level of acceptance for undergraduate courses in UCAS history! Indeed, such is the high availability of places on undergraduate courses, and the high levels of competition between universities to fill them, that 14% of applicants applied directly through the ‘Clearing’ process – and, for the first time ever, two medical schools accepted students through the ‘Clearing’ process.
So what is the best way for sixth-form students to maximise their opportunities in this favourable climate of university admissions? Firstly, they should aim high and make aspirational choices for their five universities – combined with the removal of the government cap on undergraduate admissions, the current climate means that universities can be more flexible in their admissions processes and are able to consider applications more holistically. For example, a really convincing Personal Statement that conveys a passionate interest in the subject for which the student is applying is more likely than ever to make a difference, particularly where the student might be only just touching the entry requirements with their predicted grades. Likewise, a positive Reference from a UCAS Tutor that adds depth and breadth to a Personal Statement can make a huge difference, and evidence of super-curricular learning and development, such as the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) – a 5000-word independent research project that is supervised by a tutor and examined by AQA – can be a valuable indication of both personal interest in a subject and the kind of academic skills required at undergraduate level. Similarly, work experience and transferable skills can play a useful part in facilitating application success.
Universities are considering applications more holistically than ever before – accordingly, they are being more flexible than ever before in circumstances where students have narrowly missed the grades for their offer. To make life even better for sixth-form students, UCAS will also be improving their ‘Apply’ system for 2019 by adding an entry-requirement filter for courses and a facility to change university choices within 14 days of submitting the UCAS application. So this really could be the best-ever time for sixth-formers to make a university application!
*’Inspiring choices and progression to HE’ held at The Holiday Inn, Bloomsbury on June 13th 2018.