Many public examinations like the IB and A-Levels have been cancelled in the midst of COVID-19; fortunately, universities have decided to uphold the conditional offers given to prospective students who have already received admissions decisions. After news came out that schools will work to provide final public exam scores to students by assessing their course-work1Sorensen, T. (2020). What to Know About Coronavirus-Related IB Changes. Retrieved 9 June 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/college-admissions-playbook/articles/what-to-know-about-coronavirus-related-ib-changes, students are now working hard to meet their offers by catching up and making sure their final scores reflect their abilities.
So what are the things you need to do after you get your final scores? The answer is surprisingly similar to what you have to do usually.
1. UCAS Track
Don’t worry, you will not need to submit your own grades to the UCAS. Just like if you had taken your exams in the previous years, your school and the examination board that receives scores from your high school will process your final grades and send them directly to UCAS2What does this mean for your application?. (2020). Retrieved 9 June 2020, from https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/after-you-apply/coronavirus-covid-19/what-does-mean-your-application. This means if you attained the requisite grades to meet your conditional offer, whether at your firm or insurance option, the offer will automatically turn unconditional. However, if you score lower than expected and miss both your firm and insurance offers, you will have to turn to options like Clearing.
2. UCAS Clearing
So, let’s take a look at Clearing. If you have failed to secure any offers, failed to meet your offers or decided to decline your firm place on UCAS Track, Clearing is an option you may turn to. Clearing is a system that allows universities to recruit students for courses in which they still have places available. In 2020, Clearing will be available from 6th July to 20th October3What is Clearing?. (2020). Retrieved 9 June 2020, from https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/results-confirmation-and-clearing/what-clearing.
You may contact your school to ask for assistance with your clearing process, but you can just as easily go through the process on your own with your admissions consultant. What you need to prepare on hand is your UCAS Personal ID, clearing number, your full legal name and your email address. Simply search “UCAS Clearing” on Google and the site will come up for you. Their database is very user-friendly; you may simply enter the names of universities or courses you are interested in in the search bar. The generated results are comprehensive, providing a summary of the course, the methods of contact if you are interested and the expected grade requirements. The great thing about Clearing is that you do not need to stick to the original course you picked. You also do not need to prepare another personal statement.
Then, start calling the universities. If you are calling from Hong Kong, be mindful of the time difference and take note of when the universities’ admissions offices are open. I usually suggest students buy some Skype credits as they may be on hold for a long time.
After your call has been picked up, provide the information mentioned above and be clear about which courses you are inquiring about. Tell them about your final school grades and ask if you may be given an offer. Remember to be polite; after all you are asking for a place at their university. If the university decides to give you an offer, they should send you an email. Another good thing to ask the universities is whether they have accommodation available. After that, you may continue to call other universities.
Only when you are sure of your final firm option should you click “Enter Clearing Choice.” You must also have permission from the university to do so4What is Clearing?. (2020). Retrieved 9 June 2020, from https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/results-confirmation-and-clearing/what-clearing.
3. UCAS Appeals
Having served as an admissions consultant for many years, I have a lot to say when it comes to appealing UCAS decisions. Whether appealing against rejections or lost offers is a good idea is a complex issue with no straightforward answer.
Generally speaking, universities are disinclined to entertain appeals against a straight up rejection i.e. when a university has decided not to give an applicant an offer. Some schools simply ignore letters of appeal; other schools, such as KCL, provide very narrow options to do so (they allow appeals when a student can prove undue discrimination has happened). Since 2016, a lot of schools now provide reasons for rejection through the UCAS. Reasons span from specific ones that point out the lack of required grades or subjects in high school, to lacklustre performance on certain entry examinations, to vague ones that claim competition is simply too high that year. By appealing decisions without any actionable claims, students may fruitlessly stay hopeful for reconsideration and without the closure through a reply, they may not be able to move on and look toward their other options.
I always tell students to think carefully about whether they have valid reasons to appeal. In my years as an admission consultant, I have only seen one student with a good reason – her IB subject combination had been misinterpreted. The error was obvious in that the stated reason in UCAS Track for rejection was simply untrue. After appealing, the university apologized and admitted it was an administrative error and added her back into the applicant pool, but her case was highly specific and I have never seen another like it again. My general advice is not to appeal a direct rejection, unless you have an iron-clad reason to do so.
On the other hand, if you have missed your offer by small margins, some universities may decide to reconsider their decisions. For some, like LSE, once you fail to meet your offer you are deemed rejected. LSE almost never entertains appeals for missed offers. However, other schools may be more lenient depending on the circumstances. One of my students last year was in the Canadian system and had missed his offer by 0.2%. He was a hair away from meeting his condition. He sent in an earnest appeal letter, and asked his headmaster to write a letter to support his case. His first choice university responded quickly and turned his offer into an unconditional one.
However, for those in the A-levels or IB system, students are usually missing by one letter or number grade, which are much bigger misses than a meagre 0.2%. One student of mine missed her offer to her first choice veterinarian school by one IB point. I urged her to write a letter to her first choice university. She did have a good reason for missing that one point in her final IB exams, as a week before her final exams, she was hospitalized for low blood pressure and had lost valuable study time as she was stuck in bed rest to recover. In addition, she had an incredible track record of maintaining high grades throughout her high school career, which translated into a sympathetic admissions counsellor at school that was willing to back her appeal claim. After her letter of appeal was sent, the university responded in a few days. The university was understanding, but said they must see their yield from the A-Levels students before responding to her appeal. She had to wait seven weeks before A-Levels results came out. Fortunately, she was given back her offer in the end. Before that, though, we had had a serious talk about what was about to happen (or not happen!). She was prepared to be in a state of flux and understood her letters of appeal may be ignored; it was a cost I told her she had to pay to get that one shot at her first choice. She was okay with it and had made backup arrangements to go to her insurance choice university, and was okay with losing the deposit she had paid the other university if her first choice university were to give her her offer back.
Be mindful that though I have shared three successful cases of appeal, most of the others I have encountered usually end up ignored or in failure. The cost isn’t just in time and effort, but also in mental strength.
So, if you have decided to pursue an appeal, remember to alway stay polite as universities are not obliged to entertain your requests, make alternative plans, and don’t let hopefulness blind you!
Unlike Clearing and appeals, Adjustment is a tool students may use when their final examination results have exceeded their expected grades. If you are happy with the offers at hand, Adjustment is not for you. Adjustment is only for students who want to reconsider what they want to study and at which university. The course options are relatively limited, as only universities and courses still with openings would be available. The available dates to opt for adjustment is also extremely limited: it is open from 13th August to 31th August only. And you only have twenty-four hours to complete the process, and the clock starts ticking the moment your offer turns unconditional or the moment you get your IB / A-Level results, whichever comes later5UCAS Adjustment – if you’ve done better than expected. (2020). Retrieved 9 June 2020, from https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/apply-and-track/results/ucas-adjustment-if-youve-done-better-expected.
Ready your UCAS personal ID and personal information, then click “Register for Adjustment” in your UCAS Track account. Then start contacting universities about available courses and vacancies that may be available to you. Remember to be clear that you are simply gathering information and not committing to any of the courses mentioned. You should only say that you are committing to a course when you are absolutely sure that the course is now your first choice6UCAS Adjustment – if you’ve done better than expected. (2020). Retrieved 9 June 2020, from https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/apply-and-track/results/ucas-adjustment-if-youve-done-better-expected.
The great thing about Adjustment is that you may pursue your options while you keep your firm choice. But of course, once you have decided to swap your unconditional offer for a course through Adjustment, you will have to give up your old offer.
Be mindful that not all universities participate in Adjustment. A big misconception I’ve noticed is that some students think they can gain entry into highly competitive schools via Adjustment. Most competitive universities, like Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, UCL, Imperial, etc. historically have not participated in Adjustment. So, if you wish to gain entry into these universities, I suggest applying via the normal methods.
5. Choosing the Right Accommodation
If you have met your offer, that’s not the end of the to-do list! Keep your eyes peeled for emails or physical mail from your university. I always recommend my students check their spam folder as well. Unsurprisingly, a lot of emails from universities tend to get lost after being sorted as spam. So, check often!
In the mail, what you should receive are bundles of material introducing accommodation options for you, especially for the London schools. The brochures will inform you of various location options, whether certain halls are catered and the general dynamic of the hall. Most of the time portal information will be provided to you. Once you receive that, I suggest setting up an account and logging in right away. Good accommodation options sell like hotcakes! For example, High Holborn is one the most popular dorms at LSE due to its proximity to the campus (only a 7-minute walk!) and Covent Garden, and in turn, China Town.
A few items you should take into consideration when choosing accommodations is the distance from your university, as well as your faculty’s campus, whether the hall is catered, the general safety of the location, and whether the hall is an intercollegiate one. Choose catered halls if you do not wish to cook! Though be mindful that the food options are relatively limited in most dorms and mealtimes are fixed. With catering, this usually means that your dorm pantries will not have cooking hobs and so if you miss mealtimes you will have to opt for takeout! In terms of location, try to pick somewhere close to your campus that is well-known for its safety. I have warned students against staying in King’s Cross in their first year when they are still new to London, as muggings happen quite often there. Last but not least, intercollegiate halls are dormitories with students from different colleges in the same area. For example, in London, intercollegiate halls will include students from all sorts of London schools, not just your own university. Whether this is preferable to being in a hall with students from your own university is purely a matter of preference. Some may choose intercollegiate halls to expand their network and the type of people they are exposed to, others prefer dorms with their schoolmates so they can go to the same school events or even to classes together.
At this point, you may feel overwhelmed by the colourful brochures and the contradicting advice you may be getting from friends and family. What I suggest you do is go on social media and find your university page and try to contact upperclassmen, or even ask those in the years above you who have attended the university you are about to. Every university’s culture is different and you may need an insider’s knowledge to help you make the best decision.
As international students, I usually suggest sticking with their university dorm in your first year. This will go a long way to helping you make new friends. In addition to companionship, friends who are UK locals can provide invaluable advice on staying safe in cities like London and attend university events with you.
One word of advice: choose the dorm closest to your campus and do not try to save money by living in faraway locations or even worse, dangerous ones. In your first year, most Hong Kong students have never lived in England before. Playing safe goes a long way towards staying safe.
In conclusion, depending on what your final examination grades are, the actions you have to take may differ. When in doubt, contact your admissions counselor at high school or speak to an admissions consultant. Another great resource to get advice is to ask your teachers or admissions counselor for alumni contacts that went to your high school and who are attending or have attended the university you are heading to. Last but not least, if you are invited to local meet-and-greet events hosted by your university to meet fellow incoming first-year students: Go! It is a wonderful feeling to know you are heading somewhere where you already know somebody!
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