Changes to the way results were awarded in summer 2020 has meant some private candidates were not able to receive a grade. Below, we offer advice on your options and explain how universities are working to help independent applicants.
What do we mean by a ‘private candidate’?

Students may study for a qualification independently of a school or college for a number of reasons. Some of these may include:

  • resitting exams (e.g. to achieve a higher grade)
  • sitting an exam outside of their school or college (e.g. if a particular qualification is not offered)
  • home educated
  • mature students (e.g. taking distance learning courses)
  • those studying outside of a school or college for another reason

Some students will be working with a recognised distance learning provider who can provide a tutored course and help with exam entry, but others will be working independently possibly through self study or with private tutors. These students have  to make their own arrangements to enter for the exams and do so as private candidates. 

What are my options?

If you received a centre assessed grade (CAG) in summer 2020

  • If your awarded grade was lower than your CAG, it will have been adjusted back to your CAG – contact the centre that submitted your grade to check this.
  • If you did not meet your firm choice offer conditions, but your revised CAG means you now meet those conditions, and you would still like to go there, contact them directly to discuss your options. Where possible, they may be able to offer you a place on your original course, on an alternative course, or for deferred place.
  • If you have already confirmed a place you are happy with, you don’t need to do anything else.
  • If you are unhappy with your CAG result, speak to the centre that submitted your grade, and they will check it for you. Read more information about appeals this year.

If you did not receive a centre assessed grade (CAG) in summer 2020

Not all private candidates were able to provide evidence about their attainment in order to receive a CAG. If your original offer was dependent on you meeting certain conditions, there are several options open to you:

  • Speak to the uni: Contact your firm choice to discuss your circumstances – wherever possible they will try to be flexible when considering your application.
  • Consider your insurance offer: If you are unable to secure a place at your first choice, your insurance option may be able to offer you a place instead.
  • Explore options available in Clearing: There are thousands of courses available – use our search tool to find something new. Make a shortlist of unis and speak to them to see if they will accept you. Read more about applying to university through Clearing.
  • Sit the exam: Students in England may sit the exam in October – this will be too late for an autumn start but it’s worth checking with the uni to see if there is a later start date available. Alternatively, you may sit the exams in summer 2021. Speak to your centre for details.
  • Defer entry: Some unis may be able to accept you for a deferred entry in 2021, either by extending their current offer to allow you to meet the conditions later, or as you are. Think about how you might spend the time constructively – such as additional study or work experience. Get more advice on taking a gap year.
  • Consider a distance learning course: if attending a physical university is not important to you, it’s worth exploring online learning options, where entry requirements may be more flexible – find out more about online learning.
  • Explore apprenticeships: Earn a salary while you study and have your course fees paid by your employer and the Government. Visit our apprenticeship hub to find out more and look for vacancies.
  • Consider alternative options: Like taking an internship, gap year or going straight into the world of work. Find out more about the different options available to you.

How are universities supporting private candidates?

Each university sets its own entry requirements, and wants to make sure that students are a good fit for their university and will succeed on the course. Their policies on considering applications from private candidates may vary, and applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. It’s always a good idea to speak to the uni directly about your individual circumstances.

To help universities support private candidates, UCAS developed good practice guidance to help them identify private candidates and support them. Here, we have asked universities to be as flexible as possible, and to consider the following when making decisions about private candidates this year:

  • Understand the applicant’s individual circumstances.
  • Check the qualification(s) being studied privately and consider whether the applicant can be accepted without it. For some professional courses, a student must have taken certain qualifications to be allowed onto the course.
  • Take into account any existing qualifications.
  • Assess the candidate independently to determine their suitability.
  • Offer an alternative pathway – such as a different course or route.

Read UCAS’ good practice considerations for supporting private candidates during COVID-19.

Universities UK, which represents higher education providers around the UK, has confirmed that universities are committed to being as flexible as possible and are doing what they can to work through these issues.

Case studies

Universities have shared examples of how they have helped private candidates to entry. Here we have some different examples of how private students were accepted as a result of universities being flexible when considering their applications.

Student A sat two A levels at school and received CAGs. She studied a third A level independently as this subject was not offered by her school – the university accepted the predicted grade for this A level, which had been submitted by a private tutor.

Student B was resitting his A levels – his existing grades did not quite meet the university’s minimum entry requirements. However, they university looked at his application as a whole, including his references and information about his mitigating circumstances, and accepted him based on this.

Student C was in a similar position to Student B but his grades were lower, and therefore well below the minimum entry requirements. In this instance, the university offered an alternative pathway to the course via a foundation year. This option allowed the student to access their first choice, but ensured they were academically suited to the course.

Student D was resitting GCSE English and Maths to meet minimum entry requirements – the university took her other GCSEs into consideration and offered her a place.

Student E is a mature student who had been taking an Access to HE course. She had also been studying for Functional Skills qualifications at a centre because she had no GCSE level qualifications. The university considered her circumstances and her application as a whole to make her an offer.

Read Laura’s story on the National Extension College website.