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Entrance requirements

Entrance requirements

Each university has its own requirements and they come in two guises. Minimum entrance requirements (say a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade C, and 2 A-level passes), without which you will not normally be accepted − though there are some exceptions for mature students. And individual course requirements, which may be much more specific (perhaps A-level physics for a physics course). The course requirements will vary between different courses at the same university and between the same courses at different universities.

The entrance requirements should not be confused with the actual offers. In most cases offers are much higher than the entrance requirements (say, 3 A-levels at grade B) and will reflect the expectations of the course and the number of other people applying for it.

Most sixth-form qualifications offered in the UK are accepted in principle by universities. If you have other qualifications, including overseas qualifications, check they are acceptable direct with admissions staff. A recognised English language qualification (eg GCSE grade C or the IELTS test) is normally required.

And a warning about A-level subjects – do not assume that all are equally acceptable for purposes of university entrance. There are some A-level subjects that are almost always accepted for university entrance and some that are not – particularly where entry is very competitive. The Russell Group has issued guidance on post-16 choices (Informed Choices) available from its website, and a list of ‘facilitating subjects’, which are accepted by top universities. These are mainstream academic subjects – English, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history and languages. A number of other subjects, which may be perfectly acceptable for degree courses in a related subject, should be combined with at least two mainstream academic subjects to get onto top courses – these include accounting, art & design, business studies, communications studies, dance, design & technology, drama or theatre studies, home economics, information & communication technology, law, media studies, sports studies and most vocational A-levels. General studies is often discounted entirely by academic universities.

Each university will have its own approach. This will sometimes be summarised in their general statements about entry requirements. If you are in any doubt about whether you meet precisely whatever is needed, check direct with the university admissions staff before you apply.

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The offer that a university makes may be much higher than the minimum entrance (or course) requirements − A*AA at A-level, or even more, on the courses in highest demand. Some competitive courses may make lower offers of, say AAB, although they will only bother to look at an application if you were predicted AAA.

Some offers are given in terms of specific grades for specific qualifications (eg you may be required to get 3 A-levels, with grade B in physics), some in tariff points (eg 300 points). Or some may be a mixture – eg 320 points of which 240 should be from A-levels; or 310 points to include a grade C in A-level history. If you are not sure of the relationship between the two, see Tariff points.

Typical offers are now published in almost all university prospectuses, course by course. You need to be clear about what is required before you apply, so you don’t waste your UCAS choices.

University offers relate to demand and can change (rather like prices): if a particular course becomes very popular, the grades required will go up next year; if no-one wants to do the course, the offers may go down. So there can be bargains around in summer Clearing, when some universities scrabble to top up their student numbers.

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Tariff points

The tariff system is an attempt by UCAS to equate different grades on various qualifications into a single points system. Not everyone agrees with it and many universities do not use it. The principal qualifications translate as follows.

Grade AS-level
(3 units)*
(6 units)
Double award
(12 units)
Scottish Advanced Highers Scottish Highers
A* - 140 points 280 points - -
A 60 points 120 240 130 points 80 points
B 50 100 200 110 65
C 40 80 160 90 50
D 30 60 120 72 36
E 20 40 80

* No double counting - AS-levels continued to A-level do not count

The International Baccalaureate converts into tariff points very generously. The lowest pass (24 IB points) equates to 260 tariff points. Each additional IB point adds approximately 22 tariff points, so the highest pass (45 IB points) comes to an unbelievable 720 tariff points.

New qualifications are constantly being added to the tariff points system – the new sixth-form diplomas, Welsh Baccalaureate, BTEC National Diplomas, key skills, music grades 6−8, British Horse Society and financial services exams, etc. Some universities will allow all these exams to count towards any points offer; most will not. You can find out which have been included in the tariff system on the UCAS website (www.ucas.com/students/ucas_tariff).

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Admissions tests

As more applicants achieve top A-level grades, academic universities are increasingly using admissions tests for selecting students on their more competitive courses. If you are interested in one of these courses, you will have to take the admissions test before they consider your application, whatever your other achievements. You should be able to find past papers, information on how to enter, test dates, etc on each of their websites.

The most commonly used are those for medical and law courses.

BMAT, the BioMedical Admissions Test (www.bmat.org.uk). This is used for entry to certain medical, veterinary and related courses at Bristol University, Cambridge University, Imperial College, Oxford University, Royal Veterinary College and University College London.

GAMSAT, Graduate Medical Schools’ Admissions Test (www.gamsatuk.org). Used for entry to many graduate medical schools – five at the last count: Keele University, Nottingham University, Peninsula Medical School, St George’s, Swansea University.

LNAT, the National Admissions Test for Law (www.lnat.ac.uk). This is used for entry to law courses at nine universities: Birmingham University, Bristol University, Durham University, Glasgow University, King’s College London, Manchester University, Nottingham University, Oxford University, University College London.

UKCAT, UK Clinical Aptitude Test (www.ukcat.ac.uk). Used by a consortium of UK medical and dental schools − about 26 at the last count.

Other admissions tests are used for selection onto a range of courses at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and for a handful of courses at University College London, Warwick University and Ulster University. There is a complete list, together with links, on the UCAS website.

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Art Foundation courses

You may be accepted onto a degree course in art and design with either A-levels or (preferably) an Art Foundation course, or both. The Art Foundation course – or Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art & Design), as it is formally known – attracts UCAS tariff points like A-levels: a pass counts for 165 tariff points, a merit 225 and a distinction 285 points.

Why bother at all? Because Art Foundation courses allow you to sample a range of disciplines and media, and develop your portfolio, before deciding which direction you want to follow at degree level. Many sixth formers believe that an Art Foundation course can easily be skipped, particularly as some colleges compete to offer more able A-level students a direct place. But those who have taken an Art Foundation course tend to start their degree courses with a clearer idea of what they want to do, are better motivated and less likely to drop out.

Most students take their Art Foundation course at one of 200 local art colleges. A few universities have four-year degree courses with an integral foundation year, which may look attractive. But from a free-standing Art Foundation course you can move on to the university or college that best suits your chosen area of specialisation at that stage.

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Those without formal entrance requirements

There are ways of getting in, even if you do not meet the published entrance requirements.

For example the formal requirements may be waived or modified for mature students (usually defined as aged 21 and over). But you do have to persuade admissions tutors you can cope with the course. Some universities and colleges will decide this by interview; some may require you to take an exam (eg pass an A-level in one year).

There are many access and foundation courses, which help you return to study, or to pick up eg science basics before a science degree, or a pre-med course before a medical degree. Some are better than others; and some are linked in to particular degree courses.

You will find universities and colleges vary widely in their attitudes, so be sure to check directly with the admissions staff before applying.

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