What to do if you don’t get into your first choice university


If you don’t get into your first choice of university, it’s natural to feel disappointed but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. There are still many options available to you!

From your insurance offers to applying through clearing, we outline your options and the steps you can take to secure a university place.

Reasons a university might reject your application

After receiving a rejection letter or email from a university, your first thought might be ‘why?’ - but there are some common causes why a university may reject your application. In some cases it may be down to your application itself. It could be results-related, or could even be down to applicant competition.

Your application

If you have been rejected due to your application, some common causes may be:

  • Your application was incomplete
  • Your application was missing key details
  • You missed the application deadline
  • Your application included a lot of errors
  • Your application didn’t meet the criteria requirements
  • Your application wasn’t specific enough to the course
  • Your application didn’t outline your skills and characteristics well enough

Whilst a university won’t necessarily tell you that you have been rejected due to your application, you can login to UCAS to review applications.

Always make sure to check university applications thoroughly before sending them to avoid the above mistakes.

Not meeting the minimum grade requirements

This is the most common reason why you will get rejected from a university course.

For the majority of courses, offers sent out by universities are ‘conditional’ - this means your offer only stands if you meet certain requirements. These requirements are usually set out in the form of minimum grades achieved.

Find out more about conditional and unconditional university offers.

If you do not achieve the required grades in your exams, you will likely receive an automatic rejection for your first choice university as a result. In some cases, universities will still allow you to study a certain course without meeting the minimum required grades. If this happens, contact the university to find out what your options are.


Sometimes, your application might have been fine; you might have achieved the required grades, and still you have been rejected. When this happens, it could just be that the course you have applied for has been particularly competitive for this academic year.

Even if you are predicted to achieve the minimum grade requirements, other applicants could have higher predicted grades, more relevant work experience or excelled more in their personal statement and references. There may also be applicants who have taken a gap year and already achieved specific grades for relevant subjects.

Some university courses interview applicants before issuing offers. If you have had an interview, it could be that you didn’t perform well, didn’t meet expectations or other applicants overachieved in theirs.

What happens if you get rejected from all five universities?

Throughout the application process, you will typically apply for five courses. These could be at different universities, or for related courses at the same university.

If you are applying for highly competitive and selective courses, or if you have lower expected grades than the course requires, you could receive rejections for all five of your applications.

If this happens, it’s important to know what your options are.

Can you reapply to a university that rejects you?

It is possible to reapply to a university that rejects your initial application. You can apply for the same course in a different academic year, or to other courses the university offers in the same year. It is important to evaluate your circumstances before doing this. Think about if you are likely to receive an offer and know the reason why you were rejected in the first place.

Can I appeal a university rejection?

Ultimately, you can appeal a rejection decision but only under circumstances where you believe they have done this unfairly, or there has been an error in the process. It would be difficult to appeal a university rejection, as they have their requirements and procedures in place to allocate offers.

How to deal with university rejection

Stay positive

Getting the rejection notification can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and it can be hard to acknowledge at the time. It is important however to stay in a positive mindset and believe that it is a redirection to another pathway, course or university.

Read our steps on how to overcome unexpected a-level results.

Find out why the university rejected you

If you get a notification of a rejected application with no context, you can reach out to the university. Understanding why you were rejected can help you improve in your next application and get direct feedback on what to do.

Talk with the support you have

If you have teachers, parents and friends around you, you can talk to them about how you are feeling. You can also discuss your next steps and seek guidance on how to approach what you want to do.

Evaluate your next steps

Once you have rationalised the rejection, you can make a plan of action. You can research universities, related courses, or even different courses to your original application. It is sometimes helpful to put together the pros and cons of each option and come to a final decision on your next steps.

Your options if you didn’t get into your first choice university

If you don’t get into your first choice university, don’t worry! There are options you can take to get on to the right course for you.

Undergraduate applications: accept your insurance offer

When applying for undergraduate courses, you usually make five applications. Therefore even if you don’t get into your first choice of university, you may have also selected an insurance choice.

If you meet the requirements for your insurance university, then you can go ahead and accept their offer. This will give you a place on the course that you applied for.

Make further applications using UCAS Extra

If you also didn’t get into your insurance university choice, or you’ve changed your mind about the course or university you applied to, you can make further applications with UCAS Extra.

UCAS Extra is a free service that allows you to apply for additional courses if you have already used your original five applications but aren’t currently holding a university place. This could occur if all of your applications have been rejected, or if you’ve declined all offers.

To be eligible for UCAS Extra, you must have already made an initial application via UCAS.  

The Clearing process

University Clearing is a great way to secure a place on an undergraduate course. The Clearing window opens on 5 July 2023, and allows you the opportunity to apply for courses that still have availability on them.

If you have been rejected from your first choice of university, and don’t want to attend your insurance choice, you should consider going through Clearing. It can allow you to secure a place on a course that is similar to your first choice. You can even apply to available courses at the same university as your first choice course.

This is also a good opportunity to assess your options. It is important to be prepared for what kind of subjects and courses you want to study and have an idea about where you want to apply if your first choice doesn’t work out as planned.

The Clearing process is often done on a first come, first served basis; when courses are full then they will no longer be available to apply to via Clearing. Having a clear idea and plan prior to this can ensure you have the widest possible choice.

Apply for foundation courses 

If you didn’t get the grades you were hoping for, you can look at applying for a foundation course. A foundation course is usually a one year preparation course that gives you access to an undergraduate degree course on completion. By doing this, you will learn both academic and subject skills to help you advance onto your chosen course and build a strong basis of knowledge.

Here at Heriot-Watt University, we offer accelerated pathways through our Global College, where you can advance onto the second year of a range of undergraduate degrees. 

Take a gap year 

If you have been rejected for a particular university and don’t want to explore other options, you can always reapply next year. By taking a gap year, you can use this to your advantage by using the time to get relevant work experience or enhance your skills that can be used in your course. 

Apply to Heriot-Watt University 

Heriot-Watt are proud to be taking part in the university clearing process. If you didn’t get into your first choice, then have a look at our range of undergraduate courses.

With a specialism in STEM, Business and Fashion technology, we enable students to access their dream career path. Our degrees are centred around creating career-ready graduates through quality teaching and strong industry links.

Clearing applications are open 5th July - 17th October.

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