Sixth graders applying to the university this year may face the toughest competition in a decade, especially for courses like medicine, where prestigious universities offer fewer offers or require higher grades, say admissions experts.
As the deadline for applications for medicine, veterinary science and dentistry approaches October 15, admissions managers are urging applicants to be careful and realistic with their applications and choice of “insurance” offerings.
This year, some selective universities were left to find enough bedrooms, seminar rooms and staff, after thousands of extra students achieved the high grades at A-level they needed to secure their place. With many students already postponed from last year, as well as several 18-year-olds in the system, universities say the competition will be fierce.
Dr Rohan Agarwal, founder of UniAdmissions, a mentoring service that supports students applying for the most competitive courses, says: “This will probably be the most competitive year I have seen and I have been doing this for almost a decade. Last year, 20% more students applied to medical schools.
“They say that when there is a war, everyone will be a soldier. Well, when there is a pandemic, everyone wants to be a doctor. “He predicts that most decisions about whether to offer a place will be made about students’ performance through interviews or through additional entrance exams. He says the toughest competition is likely to take place in medicine, but Russell Group universities will also reject more applicants for other courses this year.
Some oversubscribed medical schools offered students £ 10,000 to switch to another university after the increase in applications was followed by several hundred students who obtained the best grades.
Exeter University offered successful medical students £ 10,000 and a year of free accommodation to defer until 2022, after the number of successful applicants with the course as their first choice shot up from 20% to 60%. There will now be significant extra pressure on the seats in the coming year.
Professor Ian Fussell, associate professor of education at Exeter’s medical school, says: “Medical schools have had a very uneven ride in the last two years, so they will all manage their admissions very carefully. Students need to talk to the schools they want to go to about how the situation is this year, and think flexibly. ”
Fussell says students who want to study medicine can expect fierce competition across the country. “They could consider whether a year out might be appropriate for them, or whether they could take another course before they started taking medication,” he says.
Ofqual, the exam regulator, said last Thursday that 2022 would be a “transition year,” with grades at A level not returning to pre-pandemic level, and students receiving fewer top grades than the 2021 cohort. However, experts say that this alone will not stop popular universities from being extra careful with the offerings they provide.
Andrew Hargreaves, founder of dataHE, a consulting firm that advises universities on admissions, says schools should recommend to their students that they only apply for high-tariff courses at elite universities if they have a realistic chance of getting the required grades. “Teachers need to understand that applicants have just had a decade with a less competitive environment, but that is changing. They must ensure that their students make appropriate applications. ”
Hargreaves says it is “reasonable” for selective universities, which have had to take more students than they would in the last two years, to recruit fewer in 2022. “Some will be tight-lipped and stick to their grade requirements exactly, “he says.
Places in medicine are restricted by the government. But for the past two years, ministers have been forced to provide emergency assistance to new places in medicine to help universities deal with the surplus of successful applicants. The universities want the government not to leave the planning until the last minute this year, but commit to extra places long before the results are out.
However, Fussell says that even with extra cash, many universities will still not be able to expand their courses much further. “Our problem is around educational placements,” he says. “We have one hospital in Exeter, one in Cornwall and one in Barnstaple. Everyone is already under such pressure and one cannot just immediately create extra space or training capacity even if there were extra funds. ”
There are concerns about how this fierce competition will affect year 13 students who have already had their education severely disrupted by the pandemic.
Liz Bowhay, whose daughter is in sixth grade at Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, last year, says: “This cohort has never taken a formal exam. She stayed after school for an audit class last March and came home to discover that her GCSEs had been canceled. She just broke down in tears. ”
Bowhay says she as a parent is very concerned about the extra competition for college places. But when her daughter had an unused prom dress in her wardrobe, no date for her driving test, and her first experience of college interrupted: “I have not really discussed it with her because I do not want to add to her worries. ”
Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at Exeter University, says: “The next two cohorts of A-level students coming through are now facing major challenges: the great pressure on university places created by the bulge in top grades this year, with many postponements in one year, combined with a tougher grading system next year, which will mean fewer A-grades and even fewer the following year. ”
He is concerned that the incumbent A levels next year will not have experience with “high stakes” exams. He adds: “All of this is likely to hit the most disadvantaged students the hardest, who will have missed the most education during the pandemic.”
Kerry O’Shea, director of admissions at the University of Bristol, advises students to pay close attention to what universities are asking for and be realistic when applying. “If you are worried about meeting the entry requirements, it can be a risk,” she says. She encourages students to choose a course that is a real backup option for their “insurance” choice if they do not get the grades they hope for.
Students with poorer backgrounds should, she adds, look for schemes that will give them a helping hand. “We provide contextual offers to graduates from under-represented groups that are two grades lower than our standard offer,” she says.