University Decision Time Series: What are ‘firm’ and ‘insurance’ choices?
It’s that time of year when you’ll start agonising over which university offers you want to place as your ‘firm’ choice, and which one will become your back-up ‘insurance’ choice.
In this blog, I will walk you through what ‘firm’ and ‘insurance’ means through a hypothetical example. This example isn’t necessarily relatable to everyone- but it’s generic enough to be related to the vast majority of applicants.
Let’s begin with the basics.
Normally, students apply for up to 5 different courses. Not everyone does. Not everyone gets an offer from all of their applications. If you’re rejected from all of your choices (or you decide not to accept any of these offers as your ‘firm’ or ‘insurance’), you can still apply through UCAS Extra. This is a topic for another blog, but it’s a small technical point of potential things that could happen (there will be a lot of these).
Anyways, suppose you apply for 5 different courses and receive 4 offers in total with 1 unfortunate rejection. This means you’ve heard back from everywhere now and you can begin to select 2 offers that you will place as your ‘firm’ and ‘insurance’ choice. Note that everyone will hear back at different times of the year. Some people hear back quite quickly, whereas others that are usually applying to more competitive courses will tend to hear back much later on in the year. If you and a friend applied to the same university for the same course, and they hear back before you, it’s still ok. Each university has its own process and these things can take time.
Moving on now to that point when you have heard back from all of the universities.
Before explaining what ‘firm’ and ‘insurance’ choices are, it’s important to also note something that your teachers/friends/family have probably encouraged you to do – that is to apply for a mixture of universities ranging from ‘aspirational’ to ‘safe’ choices. This is in accordance with the entry requirements and your past/current/expected academic performance. So, this means that you should be fairly confident of meeting your ‘safe’ university offer’s requirements as it’ll be much lower than the grades you expect to get. However, there’s also a chance that you will achieve the ‘aspirational’ university’s grade requirements too. This scope is crucial in your decision making.
Returning back to the example, out of the 4 offers, you can select 2 of these offers that you basically want to reserve a place on. Once again, we’re assuming that these are conditional (and not unconditional) offers. The ‘firm’ choice is basically your top choice. If you had the grades now (and some do – in which case it’s an unconditional offer), you would basically accept it and be ready to join in September.
Think back to the point about applying to a mixture of universities. You can potentially place your ‘aspirational’ choice or the one you like as your top ‘firm’ choice. Do what’s best for you (in my next blog, I will be discussing some ways you can make that decision). Usually, people place ‘aspirational’ universities as their top choice as they would really like to go there if they get the grades. This isn’t always the case as you can put other offers that have grades, which are relatively more achievable, there too. You don’t even need to base your decision on the entry requirements, but for the sake of the example, it’s important. Anyways, let’s assume your ‘firm’ choice is an ‘aspirational‘ offer.
Here’s where ‘insurance’ comes into play.
Assume on results day that you don’t get the grades to meet the ‘firm’ university course’s offer. You can still have the option to still go to university through your ‘insurance’ choice. This is the 2 offer that you had reserved. This is the fall-back option as it’s the option you place in-case you don’t get accepted on results day from your ‘firm choice’. Again, this tends to be the offer, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be, that’s usually got a lower entry requirement than your ‘firm’ choice. Essentially, it could be a safety net. Not everyone will meet their ‘insurance’ choice’s requirements too. So, in this case, you can apply through ‘clearing’ – but again this is a completely different topic.
In my next blog, I will discuss some factors that you can use to help support with your decision making.