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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 November, 2003, 16:29 GMT
When is the best time to apply for university?

An official paper to be published on Wednesday will suggest that students only apply for university places once they know their A-level results.

Post-qualification applications or PQA would replace the current system, where applications and place offers are based on predicted exam grades, not results.

The Higher Education Minister, Alan Johnson has described the proposals as being "right in theory" and a means of making admissions fairer.

However, there are concerns that universities and schools would have to alter their term dates to fit the plan.

When is the best time to apply for university? Should it be before or after A-level results?

This debate is now closed. The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

In our sadly confused education system this is a very minor problem
Katy, UK
Having gone through the exams/application fiasco last year I would agree that knowing your results before applying would make things much better. There would be far fewer students applying for places they won't get. it would also allow students to apply for courses they are genuinely suited to. However in our sadly confused education system this is a very minor problem.
Katy, UK

University should be seen as a route to a career. Degrees should be vocational, not just an excuse to slum it and avoid real work for as long as possible. Degrees should be on an apprenticeship basis. Its time to stop the waste of money that goes on when people study for degrees in obscure subjects and then waste that qualification . Education MUST be for a purpose.
Mark H, UK

I'm sick of people whining about how hard it is for the poor students. Get real - the real world isn't full of cotton wool. Sometimes life throws a disappointment or two into the mix. If someone can't handle missing their grades then heaven help them when they hit the world of work.
Dave Tankard, UK

While I see the advantages of PQA, I think that the current system has some merits. I am currently waiting for replies from universities I have applied to, and when I have all the offers, I will know what to aim for. I think that by not knowing your results, you can decide, should you want to, to apply for somewhere that you may not get into, but at least you then have a chance to motivate yourself to get there. Also, under the current system, if you just miss out, you can still be accepted by your university. I doubt this would happen under PQA.
Rhiannon, UK

I sent off my application last week. I know it is early but I know that spaces fill up quick. If you don't get in now it may be too late!! If you were to wait until results came out there would be too much of a rush to get applications in.
Scott, England

People should apply after five years of holding down a real job
Kevin, England
People should apply after five years of holding down a real job. potential students should have a better idea of the value of extra skills needed (if any).
Kevin, England

It's a bad idea. In Scotland, many applicants have already completed highers the summer before they apply, and so are often given an unconditional offer by the universities they apply to. Having an unconditional offer often helps students relax for their final year, and often leads to less stress and anxiety about getting a place at university. If they apply after exams, at the same time as students from England, then the advantage of doing exams the year before would be removed.
Peter, Scotland

I started further education at the age of 25 when I took a foundation course to higher education. Prior to this my education talents, well on paper at least, were zilch. I now have a degree and at the ripe 'old' age of thirty-four, I am finishing my PhD studies. I feel, and this has been mirrored by other more mature students, that academic education is not something that can be simply staged at this age or that. I find that the pressures that exist to realise a vocation at a younger age seem to filter out a large proportion of the possible talents that exist. In essence, the right time to choose is when the individual feels comfortable and able to sustain the intensity of university study.

Universities should guarantee the place and honour the students past achievements
Volker, England (ex Germany)
Universities should guarantee the place and honour the students past achievements. It's not right to give allocate a place for expected results and then withdraw the offer if the exam goes wrong. This means unduly stress for the students because of the way the system works at the moment.
Volker, England (ex Germany)

My partner has recently applied to go back to university as a mature student. He is focused on what he wants to do and understands the commitment it takes. He sat is A Levels 10 years ago and has been advised by a couple of university his A' Levels are out of date and he would need re-take these. If people are going to defer is there going to be a time-limited on it or is the system going to give people the time to ensure they are making the right choice especially when there are such high costs involved.
Anon, UK

Tough question as so much depends on the individual. Some people want a gap year, some don't. Some people have a clear idea what they want to study, some don't. The most important thing to bear in mind is that the current system at least allows the choice of applying whilst still studying A-levels, or applying after. Nobody should be forced into a system that does not allow for choice.
Julie, UK

Accept that some people are suited to be nuclear physicists and others are suited to be electrician
John B, UK
Perhaps instead of pushing everyone through the same sausage machine we could take a radical approach, accept that some people are suited to be nuclear physicists and others are suited to be electricians. Send the nuclear physicists to university to study nuclear physics and the electricians to technical college to study electrics. That way we don't have the mad rush for places, we create more electricians and plumbers and have fewer media studies graduates working in call centres.
John B, UK

A lot of people seem to think delaying application to university until A level results are known would result in having to wait a year, this is not the case, instead of starting university in the autumn term students would start in the spring term instead and a university year would run spring - summer - autumn with graduation just before Christmas.
Stephen, England

Surely if examination standards were consistent, universities could predict entry requirements more reliably?
Alex Hitchmough, England

The best time to apply is at birth, you and your parents will then have 18 years to save up for the fees.
John, UK

With so few plumbers, tilers, electricians, etc out there, should the country be focusing on needs? Has a degree just become a status symbol everyone must have?
Charles Crowe, London, UK

When is the best time to apply for university? Oh, about seven years ago before tuition fees and loans were introduced...
Martin, UK

I think the year out really helped to motivate me
Kate, UK
My A-level grades were originally not good enough to allow me into the university of my choice. I worked full-time for a year, and in the evenings retook the courses, and eventually got my degree. I think the year out really helped to motivate me, gave me a chance to consider whether I really did want to go to university, and I was also able to save towards going.
Kate, UK

What an indecisive lot many of the students are. I was good at physics and maths, did a Natural Science degree and I am still interested and working in the field 30 years on. If everyone waits until 20 to go to university there will be a lot of older graduates who have never had a proper job. By all means take a year out but at least use it to decide what to study and not just to have a tour of world night clubs.
Roger, England

The best time to apply was 20 years ago, where having a degree meant something special, Now everybody goes to university, what happens to the child prodigies? Unless you're doing something which has a direct route into a job (e.g. medicine, architecture and the sciences) university is not cost effective.
Hannah, UK

PQA is only common sense
Iain Bartholomew, Scotland
The system used in Scotland, where exams are sat at age 16/17, then university applications are made, is much more sensible than that currently in place for A-level students. PQA is only common sense.
Iain Bartholomew, Scotland

It would be a better system if you could more easily choose to return to higher education at 40 without any stigma. As others have commented - you really don't know your personal skills and interests at 17-18 and a second opportunity would be great.
Chris Lamb, Scotland

Once you have completed your apprenticeship in plumbing.
Gerry, UK

The PQA system is best proposal for students, schools universities and parents. It will mean that the university places are being taken up by students who have made the grade. It means that the schools and parents know the university places are up for grabs and not already taken hence proving the vitality of the exams. The sooner this scheme is brought in the better.
Roshan, UK

PQA will only be good if it improves the speed and efficiency of allocating University places
Chris, UK
Tying in PQA to a notion of a career plan for students is pointless and wrong. I began studying Chemistry at university because I enjoyed it and was interested in it, not because I wanted a certain career. Now I am embarking on a PhD and I still don't know what I want to be 'when I grow up', does this mean I wasted a place at university? I don't think so. PQA will only be good if it improves the speed and efficiency of allocating University places. Based on this Government's track-record I doubt that will happen.
Chris, UK

In my country, a college degree is important to at least get a decent job. Fresh high school graduates are forced to enter universities immediately despite not knowing what they want to take. As a result, most of them spend years and years in college shifting from one course to the next while wasting a lot of money in the process. And after they graduate, there's even no guarantee that they can get a job.
Janis, Philippines

School leavers awaiting results should be made to take paid employment for one year. This would allow the placements selection process breathing space and would ensure an accurate assessment in case someone feels that they have been undermarked and they wish to appeal. Also, by having work experience, it would give the school leaver some idea what it will be like when they eventually graduate from a cocooned and sheltered academic environment. And, it is possible they could save a few quid to help them through the early part of settling in at University, instead of depending on loans etc.
Ronald McKenzie, London, England

The obvious answer is for ALL students to take at least one year out between A levels and university
Kat W, UK
The obvious answer is for ALL students to take at least one year out between A levels and university. I disagree with the idea that students need to know what results they must get to motivate them through their exams - anyone who is serious about taking a certain course will know roughly what universities expect from them in any case. But if their grades are not up to scratch, they would have time to make an informed decision on whether to retake their exams or apply to a less selective university. Currently they get rushed through Clearing and may, like me, find themselves stuck on a course that is less than ideal.
Kat W, UK

I have just started a part time degree at 27, after years of not knowing quite what I wanted to do and I am glad I waited, rather than doing a degree just because "that's what you are supposed to do" and having years of debt and a useless degree in something I didn't want or was actually interested in. Now I can afford to pay my own fees, have built up a few years of experience in an industry I love and am now backing that up with a good degree. The academic work makes a lot of sense as it relates to what I do in the workplace, and I feel this will help me overall, to get a better degree. And I will not be in loads debt at the end of it all!
Lou, UK

It seems to me from the comments so far that there is no weight of opinion for or against either system. If that's a true reflection of public opinion, then why upset the status quo? We've already seen what a mess dabbling with education has created in the one-time world-beating British qualifications. The more they "fix" things, the worse they've got. At this rate, we might as well not bother with exams - just issue us all with a degree when we're born; after all that's the New Labour Utopia isn't it? One qualification fits all.
Robbie, UK

While the current system is far from ideal, a changeover would be unworkable
Rob, Sheffield
While the current system is far from ideal, a changeover would be unworkable. If one year most people went straight from VI form to uni, and the next everyone had a year out, there would be a year with no-one (save a handful of people returning from years out) starting uni that year - very few courses would be run, campuses would be deserted, and student dependant businesses, (landlords etc) would suffer. It would be an improvement in the long run, but would not be worth the short term costs.
Rob, Sheffield, UK

I think that students should be let in on their predicted grades because some students who work hard sometimes do not get the results they expected and this reduces their chance of getting into a university, whereas if it was on the predicted grades it would show that these students are capable of producing good work.
Ahmed, England

Deferring entry for a year to decide what you really want to do is not best for everybody. I knew what I wanted from the age of about 14. If I had to have taken a year out between a-levels and university it would have been a wasted year. There were no suitable places to gain relevant experience within commuting distance of my parents' home and I could not have afforded to have gone travelling. What good would a gap year have done me?
Steve, UK

Nothing can beat admission based on real results
ML, England
Either you base admission on teachers' predictions or on actual grades obtained. Teachers may often know their students' potential well but it is still an approximation. Nothing can beat admission based on real results.
ML, England

I completely agree that applying through UCAS before you know your results is a waste of time; the only advantage is that it is easier to apply with teachers on hand to advise you - but that is far outweighed by the tension that hangs over each exam you take under a conditional offer. And when, like me, you miss your grade by a margin as narrow as 15 or so marks on one paper, you have to apply all over again, knowing that half the reason you didn't get the grade predicted in the first place was the pressure about University places! It's insane.
Ruth, England

When is the best time? After they've won the national lottery!
Susan, UK

The UCAS system works well in helping to prioritise your options. However, it would be better if you didn't have to make a final choice and could choose from a series of conditional places after results have come out.
Matthew Snape, UK

The whole UCAS application system needs reworking anyway
Frank, Scotland
The whole UCAS application system needs reworking anyway. Scottish pupils receive their results sooner and it shouldn't be based on who gets there first, but who is best for that university/college. Deferring entry for a guaranteed place is a good idea for many students, meaning that they get time to think out if they really want to go.
Frank, Scotland

With the current system I applied to do my degree 10 years ago after I knew my results. I simply had to fill in my name on the UCAS form along with my grades and turn up the following week. A facile process.
Eric, UK

Speculative applications before A-Level results are a waste of everyone's time. The only reason we are party to this absurd system is to justify the existence of UCAS at all. University admittance should only be about one thing: results. Everyone is clear about the situation then.
Damian Leach, UK

In the current system you apply in the second year of college/sixth form. By this time you will have taken at least half of the exams anyway so it's a pretty good estimate of grades for most.
Chris, UK

The whole UCAS application system needs reworking
Frank, Scotland
The whole UCAS application system needs reworking anyway. Scottish pupils receive their results sooner and it shouldn't be based on who gets there first, but who is best for that university/college. Deferring entry for a guaranteed place is a good idea for many students, meaning that they get time to think out if they really want to go.
Frank, Scotland

No I do not agree this is a good idea. In the midst of many problems in education it would be a nonsense for the government to tackle something that works and has done so for generations of students.
Derek Poots, England

Applying after A-level results would make a lot of sense from the perspective of universities. Currently they have to guess how many people will make the grades they are offered, and as a consequence courses are often over or under-subscribed. It would also remove the need for clearing, which is not only time consuming but also often an unfair lottery to the students.
Paul, UK

I think that the PQA system would be unfair to students who did not perform as well as they could
Alison Moreton, UK
I think that the PQA system would be unfair to students who did not perform as well as they could. If they are already holding an offer, then the college or university is more likely to take them than if they applied later. Besides, the PQA system would also benefit private school pupils because it is much easier for them to get the top grades; whereas the state school pupil who does not may lose out. It is also unfair to tar all students with the same brush: not all of us are alcohol swilling party people!
Alison Moreton, UK

I'm in two minds about this; on the one hand, the benefits of the proposed system are obvious in terms of reducing stress on students. However, I think that knowing that I had to get at least AAB in my A-levels to get into my first choice university really motivated me to do well.

I am a 3rd year student, and while I knew what I wanted from the age of 9 (Japanese) and got lucky (working hard helped) I can see how PQA would help many. I know too many people who have no idea what they want to "be when they grow up" who take valuable uni places, when much keener people miss out, only to never use that degree in their future. Perhaps PQA would help students, and unis, to realise who is serious, and who is not.
Vicky, England

Students should not bother applying to university until they have some idea of what they want to do in their lives, or at least enough money to make multiple tries possible. Here in Ontario, 17-year-olds are wandering cluelessly onto campus, not because they're ready, but because "that's what you're supposed to do, dear". It's becoming increasingly harder for people to get jobs without some sort of degree, but because people are forced into the system so early, they go into permanent debt trying to pay off their multiple degrees while trying to figure out what they want to do in life - or worse yet, drop out after dropping $20 grand.
Fran, Canada

Better than that, students should go travelling, then work in industry for a couple of years, and start their degrees in their early 20s!
Andy Millward, UK

As a first year student at the University of York I had to go through the admissions process last year. I believe that the current system is fine, I applied I was offered places at various universities and I knew what grades I needed to get, this enabled me to work out which subjects I needed to work on to get the necessary grades and because I was confident in my ability I had a relatively stress free year. If the process was changed I would not have known how hard I needed to work in each subject and would have spent a lot more time worrying about my future.
Nick Britton, UK

I applied to University this autumn having taken my A-levels in the summer. I found the whole process a lot easier and less stressful. I am safe in the knowledge that I have the grade requirements for all the courses I applied for and thus, I am academically capable of continuing my education at any of these establishments. Any discrimination now is purely personal and it ensures that I will not have to regret not getting better grades in the summer. I can put my A-Levels behind me and look to the future.
James Russell, UK

I am one of those who fundamentally believes that Universities are in fact being wrongly used. Universities should be far more selective and not doing the work of Technical colleges. I think the best time to apply for University is when you are far older, have a world of experience behind you.
Tony, Welling, Kent

Here in Scotland we have, what I believe to be, a better system. We sit highers in our 5th year of high school, and traditionally apply for University at the start of our sixth year, when we know our higher results. This way, pupils who have achieved the grades they require can relax, and those who have not know what they must work for.
James McEnaney, Scotland

At the moment the universities have time to evaluate the students before the actual results are in
Chris C, England
At the moment the universities have time to evaluate the students before the actual results are in. For instance, the daughter of a friend of mine is now at Aberystwyth even though she is dyslexic and her actual results weren't as good as expected, because the university had time to interview her thoroughly and decided that she is someone they want. If the applications aren't done until after the results then the temptation will be to throw anything which doesn't match into the bin (if it even gets that far) rather than looking at them as individuals.
Chris C, England

I'm a first year undergraduate student at the University of Sheffield. Applying before the exams and then knowing what results I needed to get motivated me. I knew the (rather high) expectations on me, and so knew I had to work hard to meet them.
Chris, Sheffield, UK

Having been an admissions tutor in three universities, I strongly support a move to PQA. Students will know which universities are realistic for them to apply to, and greater transparency will allow faculty to assess applications more reliably. We will get a better - and fairer - match of students to places, and avoid the chaos and panic of the current clearing system. I just wish we didn't have to wait until 2008 to see this implemented.
Dr Tim Leunig, London School of Economics, UK

Never apply! I don't know how it works across the pond, but university here equals indentured servitude for life (student loans). My bachelor's in "civil" engineering was the biggest mistake of my life, bar none. I'm paving over paradise to put up a parking lot.

I think university should be scrapped altogether for 18 year olds who have no idea what they want to do in life, and should be saved for after the age of 21 when a few years out in the real world has given them the insight they need to make a real career choice. Only now at 26 am I studying for a degree, now that I can fully commit myself to a course that genuinely assists me in my career and is in a subject I know I have a flair for. Besides which because my employers are paying for it I don't incur a single penny of debt.
Jennifer, Netherlands, ex UK

Well said, Jennifer. Young people should wait until they're 21, when they at least have a more serious understanding of the level in commitment you really need to achieve your best at Uni. I went at 18 and found I'd gone in for the wrong thing, but because of pressures from parents, friends etc I never really took stock and made a decision. I just let things take their course. A big mistake because now I know what I want to do it's close to being too late. Yes, we make our own decisions, but the way our education system works (to spew out under-skilled and over-diploma-ed kids into the work place where they can go on paying taxes till they die) doesn't give the time needed to make a life altering decision like this. The way we force everyone into uni to get useless degrees only serves to ruin our industries and sense of self.
Malcolm, UK (Taiwan)

I applied to Uni after getting my Higher results and thought it was an excellent way of doing things. I was able to choose the Uni that was best suited to my abilities and in the end got six unconditional offers of uni places. This left me with the chance to develop other skills in my final year of uni that were of interest e.g. photography and WP, which I think made me a more rounded person. This is one area in which I think the Scottish Education system excels.
Michelle, UK

It definitely is a better idea to apply with real results under your belt. Quite apart from anything else, knowing the grades makes it easier to make a considered decision about where and what to study. Both my children took gap years and applied after their A level results. Both achieved good results, and are now on courses and at institutions which were not their original choice. They found it gave them time to find out more about the type of study they wished to pursue, and the confidence to write a better personal statement.
Judy Rose, UK

In the US, we take standardized tests called SAT's. Those scores, in addition to grades, determine which schools a student is eligible for. Students can take the SAT's more than once if they didn't score well the first time and many take it when they are juniors (next to last year) in high school thereby giving them a chance to take it again later if they feel the need. Fortunately, I scored high enough the first time to have my choice of schools that would accept me and my grades were outstanding, so I ended up at the university I wanted, with scholarships to boot.
Sarah, Jacksonville, FL USA

The sudden flood of applications just prior to the start of a new University year is bound to wreck havoc
Kelly, Gibraltar
Although it may be better for some students to apply for a course once they know their grades, the sudden flood of applications just prior to the start of a new University year is bound to wreck havoc in the universities admissions offices! Keep the system the way it is, knowing what grades you must get provides a motivation that many students might need in the stressful A-Level period.
Kelly, Gibraltar

I think it's a good idea. I had no intention of going to university when I sat my Highers. But after I got my grades I realised University was an option, unfortunately my choices were limited because of this. Therefore, by changing the place offers to reflect grades and not predictions would allow students to make informed choices and also maybe lower the pressure placed on students to get certain grades.
John, Scotland

I work for a national education helpline, and in late August/early September we are in swamped by desperate youngsters who have missed out on their college place due to their original admission being based on an unrealistic estimate of their final grades. A lot of them then miss out on going to college for a year because they cannot find an alternative college/course before the academic year begins. If all students applied for college AFTER their results come through it would save a lot of heartache for students.
Louise, United Kingdom

I took a gap year before going to university and it made me more motivated and I had a little bit more of a clue about what I wanted to study when I applied. Any sane student would wait until they're at least 20 before they enter university, but unfortunately nowadays there's not much to do for a teenager who's not at university so I guess that's why most of them go straight through. How about introducing something like the American SATs for those who apply before they get their A-level results? Then their chances of getting in to a university/course of their choice are a bit better than only going by predicted results.
Christine, UK

Since children are no longer required to help with the summer harvest, some schools are restructuring to remove the six week break and have five shorter terms. It would be sensible to include this recommendation here, perhaps ending the school year six months before the start of University. This would allow students to get some real experience and a feel for their direction before applying.
Tanya, UK

I would say the best time to apply would be when the government finally drop tuition fees, although the rich should feel free to apply - they can afford it.
Stuart Winchester, UK

I'm currently studying A Levels at the moment and soon will have to decide which university I want to apply to. My problem is I don't actually know what I want to do for a career and don't think i will know until I get my final results. Once I have my results it will be easier and much more fairer for me to decide which university i would like to go to, if any that is.
Chase, UK

As someone who works in Higher Education, I can see both sides of the argument, but think I would personally prefer students to apply after their results are known. In the Scottish system, this is of course what often happens anyway, with students knowing their Higher results which they gained in 5th year, and then going on to more specialised study in their 6th year whilst applying for University. Maybe something to think about South of the border...?!
Martha, Scotland

I vastly exceeded expectations and consequently wished to apply to better institutions
Heather, UK
I applied for university twice; once before knowing my results and once after results. I vastly exceeded expectations and consequently wished to apply to better institutions. The whole process is so much smoother and easier if you know your results.
Heather, UK

So what else is new? Like Heather, I applied before and after A-Levels, on the basis of better-than-predicted grades. Had already decided not to go straight to HE from school, so rejecting my original conditional offers wasn't difficult. Under current timetables for university applications, PQA is only difficult for people who were intending to go there straight from school - a decreasing proportion, surely? Admittedly though, the interviews/uni visits/paperwork might be more hassle for people who are out of the country in that September-March phase for arranging a place.
Liz G, UK

I went to a grammar school in the 60s and was able to take both O and A levels a year early. I therefore did not apply to university until I had my results which reduced the stress incredibly (actually having 3 As and a B helped a bit as well!). It also gave me a chance to work before going to university. However, this flexibility has been lost with the one size fits all comprehensives unless students take a year out. I would have thought that the AS exams would give a pretty good indication anyway and getting much better grades than expected is a rarity.
Roger, England

What a typically British situation! Persuade young people of the value of a university education and then, when the idea begins to gain popularity, muddy the waters by proposing changes to the system to suit the bureaucrats who run it. This can only have come from someone who has never gone through the process of applying for a university place, and who has no idea of the amount of time it takes to consider possible courses and visit possible universities. Just for once, why not try leaving a perfectly good system alone? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
David Hazel, UK

I think the idea of applying during a gap year is a good one. I went to a school where everyone was expected to apply to university during their final year. I have now finished my degree but wish I had done a different subject and feel I would have been better off waiting until I was sure I knew what I wanted to do before going. I am now not working but starting a family instead. I don't intend to ever pay back my student loan - the degree is useless to me so I'm sure not going to pay for it. My husband is happy to support me as I stay at home and look after our children. Maybe I'll get a job when my loans been written off when I turn 50 and the kids have left home!
Rachael, UK

In the US, we take standardized tests called SATs. Those scores, in addition to grades, determine which schools a student is eligible for. Students can take the SATs more than once if they didn't score well the first time and many take it when they are juniors (next to last year)in high school thereby giving them a chance to take it again later if they feel the need. Fortunately, I scored high enough the first time to have my choice of schools that would accept me and my grades were outstanding, so I ended up at the university I wanted, with scholarships to boot.
Sarah, Jacksonville, FL USA

It sounds like a good idea. It might take off some pressure of those who are susceptible to it. I also believe that many students would benefit from a year out to work, mature, save up some money before they start their study and actually have some time to think what they really want to do at college. What's the hurry?
Toby, Spain

PQA has its merits but has thought been given to the processing of applications for student finance
Ruth, UK
PQA has its merits but has thought been given to the processing of applications for student finance. The government seeks to increase participation with the promise of enhanced financial support. If exam/term dates remain unchanged the window for clearing and then ensuring that financial support is in place for students at the start of their first term time shrinks. As we well know finance is of paramount importance for students. If PQA is implemented exam/term dates have to be revised to ensure adequate time for the processing of support applications.
Ruth, UK

I graduated about 10 years ago and knew I was A grade standard. As part of my studying plan, I decided to focus on course work that counted towards my final grade and not on mock exams that didn't. Despite excellent results all year, my predicted grades were very low - ACD. I got AAB but it was too late to do anything about it once the applications were in. It's really unfair. The universities changed their term dates when they moved from trimesters to semesters, so I'm sure they could do it again for the sake of a more equal system. It would also rule out the practice of average CCC grade students from public schools being offered DD for top places.
Joanna, UK

Let's not forget that, often, exam results are only a part of the selection process. The only way that the top-level universities can filter out the five AAA candidates that apply for each place is to interview. This takes time, and it is unfair to both universities and those competing for places to have their interview and other assessment processes rushed through. Both would suffer when people, as inevitably happens under a rushed procedure, fall through the cracks.
Mike Atkins, London, UK.

What about the Student Loans Company and all the LEA's that have to process the applications for financial support between application and course start?

It seems to me that those people who do not achieve what they are predicted suffer. Those who do better than predicted have already passed up the opportunity to attend a better university and those who fail to achieve their grades have the pain of the clearing system to handle. How a system which puts so much unnecessary pressure on people is beyond me.
Keith Bailey, UK

The real problem is not whether you look at predicted or actual exam results, it's when you look at exam results rather than people. Very few universities now interview candidates, and the numbers that do are decreasing. Surely that is a better measure of a person than a letter on a certificate?
Z, England

I am a fresher at university this year. I got into the University of Essex through Clearing after falling one grade short of what I needed for my first choice university (and that only by 10 marks. I feel that it may well be a better system to apply after results, as Clearing was quite a stressful time for me, especially as my first choice university took two days in deciding whether or not to allow me in. The amount of post I sent in the few days in Clearing was atrocious and excessively bureaucratic. If we all applied after receiving results, it would mean even more excessive amounts of post, and term times would have to be adapted to fit all of the deliberation that usually takes the best part of a year into only a couple of months. It would be impossible to work.
Chris Hawes, Great Britain

Finally, a coherent approach to admissions
Asif Givashi, Lyon, Francee
Finally, a coherent approach to admissions. The current 'clearing' system is riddled with uncertainly. Almost every other country bases their admissions on actual rather than predicted results. In France, exams are taken in June and results are issued in July. Get exams marked quicker too!
Asif Givashi, Lyon, France.

I thoroughly agree with this. Students should spend some time in the real world and decide whether studying is the way for them before embarking on a costly, debt inducing degree course. There is far too much pressure from schools to go straight to Uni without a second thought. Is this because it looks better for the schools?
Karin, UK

Don't apply to go to University.... train to be a plumber, you'll earn more money and have a much more useful skill!
Andy, UK

I currently work with undergraduate admissions in a top UK university, I know that waiting until you have your A-levels would make my job easier, but many people would miss out on top courses at good institutions if they didn't go through clearing!
Andy Feast, England

"Right in theory" is a good way of putting it. There are the obvious issues of timing around this. The upside would be that the application system should be more efficient a student wouldn't need to apply to as many universities. Students would have to have some idea or where they want to go beforehand. How would this work for those universities that like to interview prospective students?
Joe, UK

Why don't schools re-arrange their academic years so that results are known earlier? Or students who are unsure about want they want could easily wait for their results and then apply for entry the FOLLOWING year. This would allow time for decision making, and possibly earning (and saving) some money before they start uni.
Graeme, England

Changing the system would cause too much chaos
Laura, UK
Having applied last year I found the system to be fine and am prepared to apply before I get my results it gives an indication of what you need and you work to get the grades. Changing the system would cause too much chaos.
Laura, UK

PQA could be achieved simply without altering any exam or entrance dates - introduce a compulsory gap year, during which time potential students apply.
Alan, England

Applying for University places before sitting A-level exams provided me with the added motivation to do well in my exams. Isn't this just another example of Labour changing things unnecessarily and wasting taxpayer's money in the process?
Neil, UK

The best time is when you are 30 and you know what you want to do and are prepared to put the effort in. Otherwise, university is a 3-5 year drinking spree. Quite nice, but limited in usefulness.
Catherine O, UK

Let me get this straight, in the UK students are given university spots based on "predictions" and not on actual performance? In spite of all the criticism of the US schools the one thing I can say for sure is that university spots are given based on a students actual intelligence and test scores, not on someone's crystal ball!
Jamie, USA

I applaud the idea of applying after results. I was predicted all As and was rejected by my first year choices. I reapplied and am now studying History at Bristol after a gap year. I would argue that no change in the timetable is needed. If all students had to take a gap year it allows you to grow up and decide if you want to go to University. Working as a sales assistant reaffirmed my resolve to go to University and do well. Some people realise University is not the path for them. It would be a perfect way of sorting resolving this conflict. And it has the student's best interests at heart.
Ben Bilsland, England

When you can afford it?
Colin Harrison, England

Yet another example of the government wanting universities to pick up the pieces of a failing secondary education system!
Dr Duncan Campbell, UK
UK university terms do not exist in isolation - there are overseas students to consider too. Also, universities do not exist solely for students. If university terms are rearranged, when will academic conferences be held, particularly ones with international participation? Anyway, the whole basis for wanting to get students to apply post-results is because schools have failed to teach their pupils properly or recognise their abilities well enough. Yet another example of the government wanting universities to pick up the pieces of a failing secondary education system!
Dr Duncan Campbell, UK

Why change the system? Apply on the basis of past performance GCSEs, school reports. They give a clear indication of where you should be aiming. Aim high, get an offer and use that offer as motivation to achieve the required results. The existing procedure allows you to also select a fall back position, plus there is clearing. The real world is full of deadlines and pressure to perform, get used to it!
Alistair, UK

The current system gives predicted grades to students which can motivate them to achieve their goals. The PQA system would encourage students to do the best they can rather then achieve their full potential.
Faiza Iqbal, UK

Only when you know what you want to study and why. Having spent 4 years at university coming from a school that expected top grade students to have a place before leaving. I have spent the years since finishing trying to get to a high enough level in my real areas of interest, where I have to compete with graduates for jobs.
Chris, UK

I think this would be a very good idea. I had to apply to universities on the basis of my predicted grades, which were BCC, which therefore limited the courses that I could apply to. When my results came through I had done better than expected, with ABB, but was unable to get onto a better course because it had already been decided. I think that if students were allowed to choose their universities knowing what grades they had, then they may be a lot happier on the courses that they choose.
Melanie, UK

A much better way of applying
Simon Scott, Middlesbrough, UK
I have been through the university application system as a clearing student (applying after results) and found that this was a much better way of applying as I believe you cannot decide what direction to take until you know the results you have achieved.
Simon Scott, Middlesbrough, UK

The best time to apply for university should quite simply be when one's ready. Sadly, mounting pressures on young people today afford neither the option to organise their own agendas nor, even, the opportunity to be certain of course suitability.
Patrick V. Staton, Guildford, UK

How will it make any difference? The real problem is that there are currently too many top-grade students chasing too few places in top-grade departments.
David Lester, UK

At last, someone is talking some sense. The best time to apply is once your results are known and you've got some sort of life/work experience behind you. University should start at 21, not 18, when people are a little more mature about their studies and might actually take it seriously.
Paul, Isle of Man

It would seem that applying once results are known will avoid a lot of uncertainty - so the higher education establishments should change their term dates accordingly.
Jorg, UK

Post-results student place plan
12 Nov 03  |  Education

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