The A-level exam season is currently underway. Not only does this mean last minute revision outside sports halls, but also last minute decision making over university offers.
For sixth formers who received all their decisions from universities by June 8, they have until June 24 to make a decision about which to accept and which to decline.
With the focus of many would-be undergraduates now firmly on careers after university, making sure you are on the right course is taking on increasing levels of importance
How much do employers take into account where you went to university? And should students only ever consider Russell Group universities if they want to secure a place on a top graduate scheme?
Here the experts offer their views. Get in touch with your own education question and see it featured on Telegraph Education (contact details at the end).
Question: Should I reject my offers and reapply to a Russell Group university next year?
I have had three university offers so far but none are from Russell Group universities. Should I reject the offers I have and wait to see what comes up in Clearing? Or should I reapply next year? I’ve heard that going to a Russell Group university is essential to getting on good graduate schemes. I am predicted ABB and want to study English.
Vivienne Durham: Firmly accept one of your offers, you can always decline it in August
I am assuming that you are currently in the middle of A-level examinations? As you know, achieving the best possible A-level grades this summer needs to be your priority.
Russell Group universities frequently require A* grades for very popular subjects, such as English, plus at least two or more A* or A grades at A-level. Very good GCSE grades will also form an important part of the Ucas tariff for highly selective universities, such as those in the Russell Group.
Clearing is a wonderful opportunity to find a university course that you had not initially considered. However, the most over-subscribed courses, such as English, will not appear in Clearing, because they have a waiting list already.
For similar reasons, some Russell Group universities, plus Oxford and Cambridge Universities, don’t take part in Clearing at all.
The euphoria of achieving or exceeding your A-level grades this August might suddenly make university an exciting immediate prospect. Vivienne Durham
The Which University website offers these wise words: “If you’re eligible for Clearing and genuinely think you have something to offer these universities and courses – and by that, we mean outstanding exam results, a wealth of extra-curricular evidence and a proven interest in the subject – it could be worth approaching them direct. But be ready for rejection or an invitation to apply next year instead.”
My own advice is to firmly accept one of your offers – and possibly a second insurance offer – via Ucas before the 24 June 2016 deadline. You can always decline these offers in August and re-apply again via Ucas for 2017.
However, the euphoria of achieving or exceeding your A-level grades this August might suddenly make university an exciting immediate prospect.
A final suggestion: re-writing and improving your personal statement will be important for any post-A-level re-application you make via Ucas. Universities will want evidence that your proposed gap year plans will enhance your potential as an undergraduate on your chosen course.
Good graduate schemes do seek the best graduates. However, an impressive record of work experience with a company during your gap year or a summer vacation could result in an invitation to apply for their graduate scheme, whichever university you attend.
Good luck – and keep revising.
Vivienne Durham, schools advisory director at Enjoy Education and former head at Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park
Shaun Fenton: Don’t do a course you don’t like just because you see the university as more prestigious
Congratulations on securing three offers. If they are from universities you like and for a course you would like to study then go for it. If, on reflection, they are not courses or universities that you feel excited about then you are right to consider a plan B.
I wish you success and good fortune with your exams. If you secure your predicted grades of ABB then there is no reason for you not to find a place on a great course at a top university. Although you will already be aware that English is one of the most competitive courses with some eye-watering grade requirements.
What about Russel Group versus non-Russell Group universities? Well, some universities do have a better reputation than others but it is more important to do a course that you are inspired by and to finish university with skills, knowledge and understanding that can transfer to professional life.
In other words, do not do a course you don’t like just because you see the university as more prestigious.
I subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s view that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ and so arriving at university a year older can sometimes help give you a sense of perspective. Shaun Fenton.
Will Clearing be the answer? Maybe, but there are fewer places in Clearing from selective universities such as those in the Russel Group, so I wouldn’t bank on clearing.
What about a gap year? I am an advocate of gap years, although they can be prohibitively expensive for some. With good planning, it can be a transformational experience involving travel, work experience, volunteering and, most importantly, some ‘growing-up’ time.
I subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s view that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ and so arriving at university a year older can sometimes help give you a sense of perspective, and can help you make more of the academic and cultural opportunities available.
In some subjects, such as maths, a gap year could be seen as a bad idea in terms of the risk of losing academic momentum. However, the opposite might be said for English, where an extra year for reading and life experience might even have some academic benefit.
Shaun Fenton, headmaster of Reigate Grammar School
Stephen Isherwood: It’s a misnomer that only Russell Group graduates make it onto good graduate schemes
What do you think you want to do once you graduate? That’s the first question you should ask yourself. You may not know exactly, but what and where you study will influence your future career.
It’s a misnomer that only Russell Group graduates make it onto good graduate schemes, so this should not be the only deciding factor as to whether you opt to go through Clearing or not.
We often make broad generic assumptions about the graduate jobs market. While it is true that many employers don’t really mind what you have studied, a retailer, a bank, a law firm or the civil service will all look for different attributes. Also don’t forget that many graduate level jobs are not necessarily a formal graduate training programme.
What is important is that you ensure you spend your time well at university, so you’re well prepared for the hiring process. Stephen Isherwood.
Graduate employers seek diverse talent, it helps them retain their competitive advantage. But one of the challenges they face is perception. The bulk of applications to many graduate programmes can come from Russell Group university students, so they are continually urging those who have studied elsewhere to apply. And many employers have dropped their academic cut offs as they have recognised that A-level grades are too crude a measure.
What is important is that you ensure you spend your time well at university, so you’re well prepared for the hiring process. Yes, enjoy everything that student life can offer, but also think about life after.
Gain experience of work through volunteering or internships, and be prepared to talk about the skills you’ve developed. Start planning early for those employers you’re most interested in, follow them on social media and make sure you understand their process.
You may find it beneficial to look at the employability information of those universities that have offered you a place. All universities take part in the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, which shows graduate careers paths such as whether they went into work or further study, unemployment rates and average salaries.
Choose a university where you will enjoy studying and a subject that will interest and challenge you.
Stephen Isherwood, chief executive at the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR)