Admissions experts are warning that sixth-formers applying to university this year will face the toughest competition for a decade, especially for courses like medicine, as prestigious universities offer fewer places or demand higher grades. Admissions officers are advising applicants to exercise caution in selecting courses and “insurance” offers as the deadline for applications draws close, particularly for medicine, veterinary science, and dentistry, which is due on 15 October. Universities struggled last year to accommodate thousands of extra students who secured places through high A-level grades, and with more deferred students and 18-year-olds in the system, competition for places will be intense. Dr Rohan Agarwal, founder of UniAdmissions, a tutoring service that assists students with competitive course applications, predicts that most admission decisions will be made based on students’ performance in interviews or entrance exams, with medicine being the fiercest contest, followed by other courses. Oversubscribed medical schools have offered students £10,000 to switch to another university due to the surge in applications from students achieving top grades. Given the situation, Prof Ian Fussell, Exeter’s associate dean of education, suggests that students should talk to the schools they want to attend about this year’s situation and be open to flexible study options.
As a concerned parent, Bowhay expresses her distress over the extra competition for university admissions. Yet, with her daughter facing personal setbacks such as an unutilized prom dress, delayed driving test, and a disrupted college experience, she hesitates to broach the topic with her daughter for fear of adding to her worries.
Lee Elliot Major, a renowned professor of social mobility at Exeter University opines that the next two cohorts of A-level students will encounter significant challenges. These include the severe pressure on university spots brought about by the bulge in top grades this year, which will cause many to defer for a year, alongside a more stringent grading system in the following year. Consequently, there will be fewer A-grades, causing even fewer in the next year.
Major is wary that A-level students facing the "high stakes" exams next year will lack the experience needed to tackle them suitably. Furthermore, he is concerned about how such a situation will affect the most disadvantaged students who have already lost out on significant education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kerry O’Shea, the admissions director at the University of Bristol, advises students to take note of what universities ask for, and to be realistic when applying. If students worry about not meeting the entry requirements, they run the risk of being rejected. O’Shea urges students to choose a course that serves as a genuine backup option for their "insurance" choice in case they do not achieve the expected grades.
For students hailing from low-income families, O’Shea suggests scouting for schemes that offer a helping hand. For instance, her university offers contextual offers to candidates belonging to underrepresented groups. These offers are two grades lower than the institution’s standard offer, bringing more opportunities to students facing financial difficulties.