Firm and Insurance Choices : The end of the beginning


Imperial College London has offered you a place for Chemical Engineering, subject to conditions. Please view the choice to see these.


This is the typical update on the UCAS portal when you receive an offer from a university. If Imperial College was your first choice university, you’d already be jumping for joy albeit the uninspiring offer confirmation.


Once you’ve received replies from all five of your university choices (four if you applied for medicine or veterinary science), you’ve still got one thing left to do. Make your firm and insurance choices. Its importance is frequently underestimated.

In short, if you don’t make a firm and insurance choice (or at least a firm choice), you just don’t end up in university. Simple as that.


This post is meant to be a guide so let’s consider two scenarios.



Scenario 1: You get your preferred choice + others


This is the scenario I hope everyone will be in. Supposing you were realistic about the grades you could achieve and that matched the requirements of your first choice university, the firm choice should be fairly self-explanatory.


The insurance choice is slightly trickier. The key thing to note is that your insurance choice is not necessarily your second choice university. This is another flaw of the UCAS system but we can leave that discussion for another time. Your insurance choice should demand lower requirements than your firm choice. For the simple reason that if both your firm and insurance choices demanded equal grades, if you miss your firm, you’ll also miss your insurance and you’ll end up in Clearing which will place unnecessary stress on you.


For some, their second choice university demanded lower grades and thus makes for a straightforward insurance option. However, for many, the decision is not so clear-cut and will necessitate further deliberation.


My advice is to start to think about this early on and not rush your decision. Take your time (within the timeframe set by UCAS of course) and have open discussions with your family and teachers. In the end, you have to be happy with your choice and be willing to accept your insurance choice should life not turn out the way you hoped (pray not).



Scenario 2: Do not get your preferred choice but get other choices


In the case where you could rank all five (or four) of your choices, it makes logical sense to select your second choice university (or next preferred university) as your firm choice.

If your second choice university requires the same grades as your first choice university which you were unfortunate enough not to receive an offer from, then you should apply the same principle as the first scenario when deciding on your insurance choice.

Now some of you may have set your mind on one particular university and did not receive an offer from that institution, and are not really enthused about going to any of the other universities you applied to.


This was me. And still is.


I wanted nothing more than to go to Cambridge and I received an offer from everywhere else but Cambridge. Distraught, I couldn’t sleep let alone make a firm/insurance choice.

In this instance, you should still select a firm and insurance choice no matter how hard it is. From my experience, doing this involves tough conversations with family and teachers and trade-offs amongst various factors such as social life and academic reputation. If you really want to reapply and don’t mind taking a year off (I’m not going to say whether I recommend it or not here, but if you contact me personally, I’ll share my opinion), I’d wait until your results are released to decide if you stand a good chance.



Key takeaways


All this seems very daunting and maybe I am partially to blame for this as I am adopting a grave tone to this. Yet it is comforting to know that even if you select firm and insurance choices, they are not set in stone.


Of course it is easier if you made good choices at the time of selection as it simplifies your life. But if you had a change of heart regarding your preferred university or even course, you are not obligated to take up your place at your firm choice even if you make the grades; you can always withdraw your entire UCAS application and apply the following year. In the case of the former, your school can write to the university and explain your desire to attend the said university rather than your initial choice.


To wrap up this series of UK university application tips and advice, I feel it is also appropriate to mention that even if your results fall short of what is demanded by your firm choice, you can still be admitted. I personally know many people who have made it to their dream universities including Oxbridge and Russell Group universities in this manner. Your school can write to your firm choice university explaining why they should still admit you and provide your past results and relevant extracurricular activities as evidence of your academic ability. Admissions tutors have hearts. You’d be surprised.


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