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Try a different tack

The Guardian
Students who haven't been accepted by their chosen universities should consider applying for a different course, after first asking around for advice. Report by Helena Pozniak

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2003/mar/25/choosingadegree.highereducation

Before reapplying for a new course after receiving no offers from your chosen universities, you should first find out why you were rejected. Mike Chant, a higher education support coordinator for the government-funded advice service Connexions, says: "If you don't know why you've been rejected, then it's nonsense to fill in forms for the same subject. Are you no longer comfortable with it? Your first move should be to seek support and guidance."

Courses such as law, business studies, medicine and physiotherapy tend to be among the most popular and oversubscribed. If you've been rejected for these, maybe your predicted grades are lower than necessary, or the institutions you've picked are too competitive. "If students have been getting rejections, they must ask themselves if they've been applying for realistic courses," says David Smith of the sixth-form college group Mander Portman Woodward.

Remember, there is sometimes more than one way into a career - and similar courses can lead to similar careers. "Perhaps medicine is asking for grades which are too high for you," says Paul Stamp, a personal adviser with Connexions. "You could look at a career as a paramedic instead, where the grade requirements are lower."

Where should you go for help? The first port of call is school or college careers services, which are gearing themselves up to provide further guidance at this stage in the academic year. But do look further afield as well. "Remember, you need impartial advice," says Chant. "Many schools and colleges have their own agenda about where you should study." Ask parents, friends and peers about their preferences; get hold of 'mini' prospectuses produced by many academic departments. Students in England can contact Connexions offices, or careers services for those in Scotland and Wales ( www.connexions.gov.uk ).

In the bad old days, whether you developed cold feet about your choice of subject or university or had been turned down by all six of your choices, you faced a long wait until the scrum of clearing began in July.

This year, Ucas is launching its Extra scheme to provide for students who haven't received or accepted offers from their six institutions of choice. From now until the end of June, applicants can have a rethink, a fresh attempt to find the right course and location for the next three to four years - but the service comes with a word of warning.

"The key advice with Extra is don't panic," says Jon Beard, assistant registrar of admissions at the University of East Anglia. "Don't rush blindly on. Extra differs from clearing in that you've got two to three months to think about what you want to do. It should be a more protracted process. And there are still thousands and thousands of places to fill."

Use the Ucas website ( www.ucas.com ) to check new vacancies for Extra, and pay attention to course content and entry requirements. "If there are lots of vacancies advertised in one particular course, then ask yourself why it might not be popular with students," says Chant.

Courses may also differ hugely at different institutions. "There is no national curriculum for university subjects, so just because they have the same code, they won't necessarily be identical," Beard says.

If your heart is set on a particular location, you can reapply to the same institution for a different course. As a very rough guide, courses that held vacancies for clearing last year will probably be offering places this year through Extra.

Look at the the Guardian's online guide (EducationGuardian.co.uk/universityguide ) for a subject-by-subject breakdown. Other degree guides include the Crac Degree Course Guide; Ucas's own Big Guide (University and college entrance: the official guide), available from Ucas's online bookstore; the Potter Guide to Higher Education ( www.potter-guides.com ); and the annually updated Degree Course Offers. Also take a look at www.unofficial-guides.com

When you do plump for a course or institution, make contact by phone, email or in writing. Speak to admissions staff, departmental tutors or both - you can sound them out and prove your interest. Don't let your parents do this part of the legwork; it won't impress, Chant advises. "University or college staff want to hear from you. It's your responsibility," he says.

Although technically you don't have to fill in any more forms because your original Ucas application is still useful, do give time to reworking your personal statement. You might have made a fundamental change of tack, and you need to reflect that, says Wendy Ferguson, admissions officer at the University of Loughborough.

"There's nothing wrong with changing your mind," she says. "Students have to decide very early on in life where to apply. But you must be able to explain yourself; show a mental audit trail that led to your decision. It's very clear when a student isn't wholeheartedly interested in a subject."

At this stage of the application process, it's perfectly acceptable to email your revised statement to admissions staff, or to explain in person.

Beard says: "You must always visit an institution before you apply - it may look fantastic on paper but not in the flesh. This is crucial." Many colleges and universities will still be holding open days, or you can simply turn up and wander around a campus. You won't get the benefits of guided tours, but you will get a real sense of daily life.

Even more useful is to tag along, if you can, to "visit" days, which are driven by academic departments rather than the institution itself. "These days are much more focused on the subject. You'll be able to speak to lecturers and students," says Beard.

Extra should give more time and opportunity for a large number of students to choose a course they'll be happy with for the next three to four years. It's worth devoting the same effort to selecting a subject through this process as you did with the initial application.

"Extra should be a positive move," says Ferguson. "It should give a degree of security and stability earlier in the application process, and help students get themselves sorted earlier."

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