The Open University UCAS
UCAS points and A levels
The Open University UCAS, Employers recruit graduates because they value the academic knowledge and transferable skills a degree gives. There are some graduate recruiters who ask for A level grades or UCAS points as a requirement. For some it’s about prestige: they ask for three As or 360 points, plus a 1st or 2:1, so that they can say they employ ‘the very best people’. For other employers it is a way to reduce the very high number of applications they receive. There can be many reasons why employers ask for A levels, but this can cause problems for OU students who are already working and studying, and may not have the time or the willingness to take on A levels at this stage of their life.
What if I don’t have A levels?
The good news is that not all graduate employers ask for them. In recent years many recruiters have actively moved away from A levels as an indicator of competencies and abilities. For example, retailers such as The Co-op have stopped asking for them. See their entry in our Employer Showcase. So your first strategy should be to do your research and find those that don’t. This might mean for some careers you have to look at smaller companies rather than the large national or international ones, but the key is to start your research early. Go to Job Seeking for more information on how to do this.
What can I do instead?
As an OU student you could have more flexibility than a full-time student, because you also have the option of finding work while you are studying. If you specifically want to do a graduate scheme that also asks for A levels, then one option is that you could apply for opportunities with the company during your OU study that don’t require a degree. This will enhance your skills and knowledge, and will give you specific experience of that firm. They are more likely to accept someone they already know who hasn’t got A levels, than someone they don’t. An example of this can be seen in ‘What Employers Say’ where OU graduate Ruth Stokes, talks about how she was sponsored by KPMG through her OU study (students only).
Should I re-take my A levels?
- Think carefully about whether you have the time to do this.
- Ask the employer whether they will actually accept them now, as some want the A levels taken ‘at the first sitting’. You may find you have spent two years doing something that is not necessary or won’t be recognised.
Some employers who ask for A levels/UCAS points (for example, KPMG) will accept students without them, if they can demonstrate ‘extenuating circumstances’ on the application form. This is your opportunity to explain why you don’t have A levels or why the grades you have are low. It is important that you use this section to highlight the things you have done since then, i.e., your OU study, and any work experience you have done that show you have the ability and skills to do the job. Many mature applicants actually possess skills that younger students with UCAS points often lack, so the important thing is that you can market these skills to the employer on the form.
Don’t treat the fact that you’re a mature student as a disadvantage. Turn it round and try and make it an advantage. Certainly from our point of view, the fact that you’ve taken the decision to study, that you are thinking about changing the direction of your career or moving your career up a level, that’s a real positive for us.
Another option is that you don’t go for specific ‘graduate schemes’ at all. There are lots of companies that recruit graduates but they don’t have specific schemes.
- The most important thing is that you do some thorough research and preparation well in advance of applying.
- Do a ‘skills audit’ early on and look at ways to enhance these if you don’t have the skills employers are looking for in lieu of A levels.
- Look at the ‘Plan your career’ section for activities.
- If you are an OU student you can also look at or request a copy of our Career Planning and Job Seeking Workbook.
What employers say
In terms of entry requirements what I would suggest to everyone and anyone applying to organisations is to make sure that they are clear and that they understand what entry requirements an organisation is looking for.
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