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UCAS Points – Who Needs Them?




It’s probably been a few years since you took your A Levels or BTEC so it can come as a surprise to find out that you won’t only need a 2.1 degree or above to apply for some graduate schemes or sandwich placements. Suzanne Ball from our Careers Adviser team explains why some employers use UCAS points as part of their selection criteria and what you can do if you don’t have enough points to apply for some jobs or placements.

Why do employers want to know my UCAS points score?

It’s common for large companies to include a minimum UCAS points score as one of the entry requirements for their graduate training schemes and sandwich placements.  The theory is that good performance at A Level predicts good performance at university and in the workplace. However employers are starting to recognise that they’re missing out on talented students who are performing well at degree level but underachieved at A Level.  It’s also been noted that focusing on UCAS points skews the selection process in favour of students from more affluent backgrounds. On the positive side some large employers e.g. EY and PwC have recently stopped taking candidates’ UCAS points into account and it’s likely that this trend will spread to other companies.

What should I do if my UCAS points total isn’t high enough?

It’s frustrating if you’re prevented from applying for a job or placement that really interests you because the employer is asking for a minimum of 300 UCAS points and you only have 280.  It’s particularly galling if you’re on track for a good degree and have lots of relevant experience.  However don’t despair, even if you don’t have say 300 or 320 UCAS points it doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to a graduate training scheme or placement.  Try the following tactics:

Check the small print. Some employers make life even more difficult by stating that the 320 points required must be from your best three A Levels (so an additional AS Level won’t count) or from exams taken in one sitting (causing a problem for people who did resits).  However others will accept a points total from all your qualifications so it’s possible that additional courses you took while at college or in the sixth form will boost your points total.

Look at other companies. There is some variation in the number of UCAS points required from company to company so don’t give up your job search – particularly if you are a “near miss”.  You can also target organisations that don’t use UCAS points as selection criteria which will include public sector organisations such as the NHS, some large companies and most smaller companies.

Do you have (genuine) extenuating circumstances? Some (but not all) employers will be flexible if there are genuine, verifiable, reasons for a disappointing performance at A Level. If you can provide evidence, e.g. medical certificates, then you should contact the employer’s recruitment team directly by phone or email to see if they would be prepared to take your circumstances into consideration.  Make sure you do this well before the closing date.  Bear in mind that you will usually need very compelling evidence for the employer to be flexible.

Try a foot-in-the-door approach. If you are a first or second year student then you could try applying for sandwich placements or summer internships at companies that have high UCAS point requirements for their graduate schemes.  Some companies have more flexible entry requirements for placements/internships and it’s possible that if you excel in your placement the company might fast-track you through the application process for its graduate scheme.  Another option, if you are very keen to work for a particular company, is to look for a lower level job within the organisation after you graduate with the aim of working your way up.

Resitting your A Levels is usually not the answer. Resitting one or more A Levels sounds like the obvious solution but there are a few problems with this approach.  Firstly, some employers will only accept points from exams taken in one sitting.  Secondly, you need to think about the impact that time-consuming additional study will have on your university work.  It won’t help you to achieve an A in your Maths A Level resit if it means that your degree classification falls from a 2.1 to a 2.2.  Thirdly, there’s no guarantee that you will improve your points total in a meaningful way even after doing resits.

Finally, it’s important to remember that employers rarely specify UCAS points when recruiting more experienced staff so once you have some graduate employment experience a low UCAS points score will no longer be a problem.

No UCAS points?  Look out for our blog post coming up soon.

Suzanne Ball is the Careers Adviser for the School of Creative Arts and the School of Health & Social Work at the University of Hertfordshire.  She regularly tweets on all things creative via @careerview


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