When you get all of your offers in, you need to make some decisions. You need to pick a firm choice, and you need to pick an insurance choice. But how do you make the right decision?
You should wait until you have all of your offers in. I know this can be really, really hard. In my case, my dream university didn't send me an offer until the end of March when my first offers were coming in before Christmas. Some of the courses send out offers really quickly, whereas others take a bit more time over their decisions. Your friends may already have all of their offers in before you even get any through!
As I have said many times before, I think you should go to the place where you are going to be happiest, and hopefully, you've got an offer through from them and that can be your firm choice. But if you haven't gotten that offer, or if you're wondering how to decide on your insurance choices, then there are a quite a few things you need to take into account.
First, you need to make sure your insurance choice has lower grades than your firm choice. This is because your insurance choice is where you're going to go if you don't get the grades for your firm choice. I don't mean just one grade below in one subject; it's generally a good idea to go at least one grade below in all subjects. That way it can be a proper safety net if your exam results aren't exactly what you need. You could decide to take the risk and put down an insurance choice that is only just below your firm choice, but you're going to have to acknowledge that this is a risk.
If you have no one particular university in mind, or if you're not sure what to pick as your insurance choices, then there are quite a few different factors you can take into account when making your decision. The first thing would be your grades. Are there two courses where you'd be equally happy on either, but one has quite high grades and one has grades which are a bit more attainable? If you went for the one that has the higher grades, would you be spending next few months really stressed and trying to push yourself a little bit too hard? Maybe if you went for the one that had lower grades, you could relax a little bit and not be quite so stressed over the exam periods, slightly surer that you would actually get those grades.
If you can afford it and have the time, you can go and visit your choices. This could just be for a day trip, and you could just go and do all the touristy things. Go and spend some time in the city or just hang out at the university. This may give you a particular inclination towards a given university, or it may completely put you off the place.
You could be really brave and call the universities you are choosing between. Most universities have students' unions that are really enthusiastic and want to share their enthusiasm with loads of other people. If you don't want to call them up, universities these days have a big presence on social media, and all of them are going to have Twitter accounts, Instagram accounts (which are usually managed by students), or volunteers who are there to answer your questions. There are also loads of student vloggers that you can catch on YouTube, and many of them will be studying your course or studying at the university you’re looking at (I’ve made a list of vloggers in a previous section).
You can spend some time delving deep into the course units and the modules. You might have done this when you were applying for courses, but that was probably a few months ago now, and you might have forgotten. So spend a bit of extra time and look in detail at exactly what each course entails. Does one course stand out a little bit more to you? Does one course have something you're not sure about? Look at how they assess—is one course really exam-based, and the other really coursework-based? Ask yourself which style of assessment is going to suit you best.
And then lastly, before you actually fill in UCAS Track, you should make a firm decision, and then sleep on it. If you’re still happy with your decision when you wake up in the morning, you can be fairly sure that you've made the right choice. If in the morning you're still unsure, and you're not very confident with the decision, make a different choice and sleep on it again. This is probably the biggest decision you’ve made in your life thus far, so give it the time it needs. There’s no need to rush!
Don’t forget that you can decline all of your offers if you change your mind, or if none of the offers are what you really want. If you're not confident that you're going to be happy in these courses, or confident that you're going to be happy at this university, then you can decline all of the offers. You can apply through Clearing, or you can take a gap year, or you can just start again next year and apply fresh with your results already in hand. You have lots of options, but even if you make the wrong decision, it is not the end of the world.