Unconditional offers are a double-edged sword. If you get an unconditional offer, it can be really flattering because the university is telling you that they really want you to come to the university. It’s their way of saying that your interview, your personal statement, and your admissions test were all so amazing that it doesn't matter what A-Level results you get, they still want you to come. But so often I see students accept unconditional offers, and then relax a little too much; some of them barely scrape by with three Ds when they should be on for three As.
There are a few ways that you can get an unconditional offer, and the stats from UCAS show that unconditional offers are on a massive increase. Whereas previously they used to be very rare, now each university is giving out five to ten, whereas before you wouldn't see any. If you have shown in your interview that you have an overwhelming passion for this subject—that you live and breathe this subject, that you've put the effort in, that you've gone over and above your A-Level studies to do extra independent research—then the person interviewing you is generally going to be really impressed by this. This is how I got my unconditional offer at university, and I was told in the interview that they were going to send me an unconditional offer.
Because so few students sit AS exams anymore, pre-interview assessments, tests, and written work are really on the rise. You may be asked to take a test or exam, or you may be asked to submit written work, or you may be asked to submit a portfolio or a couple of audition pieces, and based on the strength of these, you may get an unconditional offer. If your test results or your portfolio was truly outstanding, this can heavily influence the university’s decision to accept you no matter what you get in your A-Levels. You are also more likely to get an unconditional offer if you have your grades already. For example, if you've taken a gap year after school, then you already know what your A-Level results are before applying to university. We don't have to wait and find out what your grades are, so in that circumstance, universities may give you an unconditional offer.
While it’s great that you're not stressed about your exams anymore, it is important to take your A-Levels seriously. Your A-Level results stay with you, and you're going to be writing them on your CV for the rest of your life. And if for any reason you decide to change courses or change careers, later on, having poor A-Levels will make this more difficult for you.
It’s also important to realize that just because you've relaxed because you've got this unconditional offer, that does not mean your teachers are going to relax. Your teachers will know if you've accepted the unconditional offer, and we will know that you are going to be relaxing. However, your exam results are going to be a reflection of your teacher, and a reflection of your school. Your teachers are still going hassle you to do the work, and they might even be hassling you a bit more because they know you've relaxed a little bit. Don't expect your teachers to think that your unconditional offer is a fantastic thing; they're actually going to be slightly worried because we've seen what could happen.
Remember, if you get an unconditional offer, this is the university enticing you, trying to get you to come to them. You don't have to accept it. If you don't think you're going to be happy there, if you don't think it's an exact right fit there, then don't fall for it.
My Story – How I Got an Unconditional Offer
Some lucky people are getting unconditional offers, just as I did years and years and years ago. I didn't take it up, though, because I changed my mind. I didn't want to go there, but how did I get this fabled, amazing, unconditional offer? Your personal statement gets you an interview and your interview gets you the place. Now, unconditional offers are very, very rarely given out, but they are given to people who show passion for the subject that they are applying for.
So, in my interview (and this was quite a few years ago), I'd already decided that I didn't want to stay in London for university, and the only reason I want to the interview was I fancied a day off school. I went along to the interview so relaxed, because if they gave me an offer, then they gave me an offer; if they didn't, then they didn't. On the train on the way in, I picked up a New Scientist and the main article that week was about heat shock proteins.
The interview started off with a fairly like standard question, “Tell me something you've read recently that interested you.” And I went blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, heat shock proteins, and literally, the guy couldn't get a word in edgeways for about 15 minutes because I was just going off about how interesting I thought heat shock proteins were. Now, you've probably never heard of heat shock proteins, and that's absolutely fine because they're not part of the A-Level course. Because I could talk for so long and so passionately about something that hadn't come up in my A-Level course, the guy just sat there and then said I've got no other questions for you. I mean, don't go on for much longer than 15 minutes, because the person interviewing you will probably get bored! But you need to be able to talk passionately and confidently about a small, unusual subject because that, in essence, is what becoming a student is.
A-Levels give you a very broad introduction to things. But to get that unconditional offer, you have to show that you are well on your way to becoming an expert in something. Now, you don't have to pick a different thing for every university, just pick something and become interested in it. If you're not entirely sure what you're interested in, that's fine. You need to show passion for your subject; you need to show that you are the most committed and enthusiastic person they're ever, ever met, and they can't afford not to have you at university. I didn't take up my unconditional offer because I didn't want to stay in London; I wanted to go to Bath, which is the best university in the world. So just get out there and get reading and get researching!