University Admissions

Virtually all Abingdonians proceed from school to university and there is a list published each year of our leavers' destinations. Much care is given in the sixth form to the shaping of an appropriate and effective application. Advice from tutors and housemasters is combined with the expertise of specialists and the senior staff team. The University Admissions office is located in Mercers' Court, and contains a wealth of information about the multitude of courses available at universities, both in the UK and abroad. Boys are welcome to browse the prospectuses, or consult staff for assistance. The UCAS advisors form part of the team of staff dedicated to helping the Sixth Form not only with university and further education applications but also providing career guidance and help with managing academic studies. 

For further information contact

Mr Andrew Swarbrick,
University Applications Co-ordinator
andrew.swarbrick@abingdon.org.uk

Mr James Hallinan,
Oxford and Cambridge Applications
james.hallinan@abingdon.or.uk

Mr Michael Triff,
Non-UK University Applications (including US Universities)
michael.triff@abingdon.org.uk​

Mr Ben Whitworth,
Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science Applications
ben.whitworth@abingdon.org.uk

Telephone: 01235 849069

The Admissions Process:

Andrew Swarbrick has been involved in advising pupils on the process of applying to university for 30 years. As University Applications Co-ordinator at Abingdon, Andrew works alongside a team of staff preparing boys – and their parents – for the next step.

Do:

  • Be honest about what YOU want to do
  • Take ownership of the process
  • Start early - research universities and course content and delivery
  • Use school holidays to take a look at universities
  • Attend offer-holder days
  • Defer - if it is what you want to do and it is an option for your course
  • Have good gap year plans if you are deferring
  • Be ambitious but also have a ‘plan B’
  • Avoid a last minute rush with your personal statement
  • Be available on results day

Don’t:

  • Judge universities entirely by league tables
  • Make your personal statement an essay on your subject, or a CV, or simply a list of achievements
  • Neglect administrative tasks such as filling in your details on the School’s internal UCAS database
  • Leave anything to the last minute
  • Worry if peers are hearing from universities before you do
  • Ignore or overlook communications from UCAS

It’s never too early to start thinking about what you would like to do, researching courses and institutions and discussing options with friends, family and the school. There is plenty of help on hand. The UCAS website is one place to start and there are other useful websites such as Unistats and Which? University.

Statistics abound and can be helpful: employment prospects, percentage of 2:1s and first class degrees awarded, ratio of males:females. All interesting to know but don’t get too bogged down with stats: they are only a guide.

Universities will state which A level subjects are required to study a particular course and it is prudent to make sure A level options, following GCSEs, take into consideration required, recommended and what the Russell Group universities define as facilitating* subjects.

*Facilitating subjects – These are the subjects most frequently required by Russell Group universities and their advice is that having at least one facilitating subject amongst three A levels is useful in keeping open a wide range of degree options. The subjects are: Maths and Further Maths, English, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History and Languages (Classical and Modern).

Common questions are whether to study abroad and whether to take a gap year. There is an increasing number of students looking at Europe, Hong Kong and the USA but in reality the take up of places abroad by Abingdon boys is still small. The overseas application process is completely independent of UCAS and the Abingdon team has specialists who look after particular areas.

Deferred entry i.e. applying with a gap year, is not generally a problem especially if the year is used wisely. Some admissions tutors in maths and engineering are not keen, believing skills lapse during the period away from study. Also some of the longer courses such as medicine, veterinary medicine and architecture might be concerned. It’s always best to read the particular policies for each course and to get in touch directly with a university department. It is sometimes possible to change your mind and opt for a gap year even as late as having accepted an offer for the upcoming autumn. The universities are under no obligation to let you defer your place and might ask you to re-apply but quite often they will extend the offer to the following year provided you get the grades at the right time. 

Occasionally a pupil really will not know what they want to do. Advice can be to apply post A level, get more work experience and generally give themselves a bit more time. Some students apply and then have doubts and withdraw. This is not uncommon and not the end of the world; our advice is always ‘It’s best to be sure’. All the help and resources at Abingdon are still there to be used if you apply in the year following your A Levels. 

At Abingdon the UCAS application gets underway in the Lower Sixth but most boys will have been mulling it over well before then. In the Lent term, boys and their parents are invited into school to hear from visiting speakers involved in admissions to universities. The speakers are enormously helpful, offering useful tips and demystifying the process. Work on the all-important personal statement begins in the spring, not necessarily by putting pen to paper but more talking to staff and information gathering.

By the summer term in the Lower Sixth the process is well under way and UCAS registration opens in June. The information provided by the School on the UCAS form is in place and references are being written. Personal statements are drafted and interview practice arranged for those whose choices require it. Pupils and parents meet with the advisory team and teaching staff to discuss plans. The pupil is centre stage and the School’s role is advisory, offering a gentle steer, providing information and also making sure that there is a ‘Plan B’. 

There is a balance to be struck between choosing the course and choosing the university, and in our view the course is the primary consideration. The Russell Group of universities is prestigious but there are plenty of excellent universities and courses outside these and a prestigious university but the wrong course is not a happy partnership. Three years is a long time so the course should take priority. Achieving a good degree will be directly related to the quality of engagement with the course and attaining a minimum of a 2:1 is seen as crucial by many employers.   

By the Michaelmas/autumn term of the upper sixth, AS results are in and the UCAS form needs to be finalised. AS results can be hugely important for a successful UCAS application, particularly for Cambridge candidates, where the precise percentages achieved at AS, not just the overall grades, form part of the selection process. Inevitably it is in the early part of this term that the pressure is most intense on those applying for Oxford and Cambridge as they prepare for that hoped-for interview in December.

There are the School’s internal UCAS deadlines to be met early in the Michaelmas term and it’s the personal statement that inevitably causes most anxiety. But this doesn’t have to be the case; if you use the lower sixth summer term wisely you can avoid a last minute panic and the all too common ‘all-nighter’ to get it finished. Remember, it’s the applicant’s statement – no one else’s. Often there can be conflicting advice from interested parties about style and content but the applicant is the only person who ultimately can decide. The personal statement is, for many applicants, an unfamiliar form of writing. It is not an essay, or CV, a job application or a simple record of achievements.  It is an evidence-based, reflective piece of writing that describes and supports an interest. It answers the question ‘why this course?’ explaining what has been done, seen and read to support the application.

Some courses require additional testing or assignments to support an application; for example, Law (LNAT), Medicine (UKCAT and BMAT) and many courses at Oxford and Cambridge, and these also have deadlines. Some are sat as external exams and others are taken within school.

It is vital for the applicant to take ownership of the UCAS application process. They need to know any additional requirements, how to register, the deadlines and when and where they need to be. Abingdon will advise but it’s up to the pupil to lead the application.

These come around very quickly (15 October for Oxbridge applicants, medics, vets and dentistry). There is a balance to be struck between allowing space to come to considered decisions whilst acknowledging that deadlines have to be met.  The final deadline to submit all other applications is 15 January but at Abingdon the vast majority will be in well before then.

Once the UCAS form is submitted it’s a waiting game and often a frustrating one. Applicants get responses at different times. Some universities make offers earlier than others, some courses interview, others don’t. It’s a case of head down and try not to worry. It’s a long process and months of suspense sometimes have to be got through before all universities have responded. 

The applicant, through UCAS Track, receives interview notifications, offers and rejections. Applicants holding more than one offer then have to decide which to hold as ‘firm’ and which as an ‘insurance’. The deadline for making the decision varies depending on when the applicant has heard back from all the universities applied to; it can be anytime from early May to the end of June. Applicants often need to talk through their options and get advice. Recently some universities have been seen positively attracting the top students. Incentives can range from a free iPad to help with tuition fees and occasionally an unconditional or lower offer attached to non-academic conditions such as being the applicant’s first choice. 

On very rare occasions, an applicant can be rejected from all their choices but it is not necessarily the end of the process. UCAS Extra opens in late February and can be used to apply to any course that still has vacancies. You don’t have to apply for the same course as your original application. You can also use UCAS Extra if you decline any existing offers and want to re-apply. By this stage in the process however choices are limited and many courses will not consider further applications.

Come results day in August, and universities know their numbers, UCAS Clearing then becomes important for finding places, both for those applicants holding no offers and for those who have not met the conditions of their offers.

Although results day can be a bit stressful, at Abingdon most boys will have secured their place at their first choice university. But it’s worth remembering that all might not be lost if you don’t quite get the grades you need. The universities are operating in a speculative environment and their offers are based on historical statistics. Hence, sometimes, universities can find themselves with places to fill. But the most competitive courses at the most competitive universities have to be severe – it’s not unknown for a student, one mark off three A* grades, to be turned down but depending on what results the universities are presented with there is sometimes leeway.

Clearing is fast becoming a genuine mechanism for what is in effect a post A level application. The key is to be proactive, make contact and talk to the university. And if, on those very rare occasions, there is nothing forthcoming, take heart: a gap year gives time to think, explore, review and evaluate, and has been the making of many.