What Are Universities Reasons For Rejecting Students?

Despite being a model pupil, Fred, an 18-year-old comprehensive school student, has been rejected by each of the five universities that he applied to this year. His teachers are unable to comprehend why this is happening. Fred is not his real name. He has been predicted all As at A-level and scored all A and A* grades at GCSE. His headteacher, Mike Griffiths, describes him as not only academically excellent but also a person who writes plays and musicals, and organises concerts. Griffiths has written a letter to the universities to demand an explanation for their rejections.

So far, only one university has responded. Their letter was ambiguous and suggested that competition for studying English has been fierce this year, and they "had to reject even the most able candidates." Griffiths thinks that the reason behind Fred’s rejections is his choice of A-level subjects, which happen to be drama. The headteacher suspects that the universities may hold old-fashioned views of drama, and if this is the case, they should make a public announcement.

University admissions have become incredibly complex this year, with even experienced teachers relying on guesswork. Each university has its own requirements, and sometimes these can be challenging for an applicant to understand. For example, Edinburgh University prefers students from Scottish schools, and this preference is called additional weighting. In contrast, Glasgow University doesn’t have this preference.

Some universities take into account A-levels taken a year early. But some like University College London only consider A-levels taken during one sitting in the final year and only count A grades of that year. Early A-levels, counted as subsidiary subjects, don’t count towards final offers. To add to the complexity, some universities view soft subjects differently, while others favour aptitude tests.

With such complexities, it becomes difficult for teachers to know everything about every university. Admissions have become so complicated that universities have become autonomous in deciding their requirements. However, some teachers believe that universities need to give a year’s notice when changing their requirements as students halfway through the A-level course might get disadvantage.

John Morgan of the Association of School and College Leaders suggests universities should decide on their requirements at the beginning and stick to them for that application cycle. They should also offer feedback to every student they reject. Feedback should be detailed, not just a simple rejection message.

Geoff Lucas of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference agrees that institutions have an individual right to lay down different requirements, but being informed is critical. He notes that teachers should know the university’s requirements to be able to advise their students accordingly. The students who lack guidance and support are more likely to be disadvantaged.

According to Graham, the unique entry requirements of Edinburgh and UCL’s medicine faculty should not be seen as idiosyncrasies, but rather as a way for universities to ensure the fairest opportunity for all students. Graham emphasizes that this is a matter of social justice.

One issue, Graham notes, is that while there may be an abundance of information on university websites, students may not always receive the necessary guidance and support. She acknowledges that universities and the university admissions system, Ucas, are striving to provide clearer information, but there is more work to be done.

Graham also recognizes that university admissions have always been intricate, but they are becoming increasingly complex. This is due in part to the fact that students are pursuing higher education with an array of qualifications, not strictly A-levels. In addition, there has been a surge in demand for higher education since the economic recession, which has led both young and old individuals to consider enrollment.

On the other hand, Tim Hands, the master of Magdalen College school, disagrees with Graham’s assessment. According to Hands, university admissions have not always been complicated. The real issue lies in what is obscured and what is omitted in terms of the application criteria. He likens the admissions process to a complicated map without a key and, as a result, believes that extra care and attention need to be taken when advising students.


  • owengriffiths

    Owen Griffiths is 35 years old and a blogger and teacher. He has written about education for over 10 years and has a passion for helping others learn.