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UCAS points and A levels

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. 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 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.

Graduate Recruitment Manager, CGI

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're an OU student you can also look at or request a copy of the Career planning guide.

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.

Kelly Marwick, IBM UK Graduate and Student Recruitment: Schools and Universities Attraction Manager

IBMs requirements

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Kelly Marwick, IBM UK Graduate and Student Recruitment: Schools and Universities Attraction Manager, IBM:

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.

Often people ask about UCAS points so IBM we don’t include UCAS points in any of our requirements. So you don’t have to worry about that.

With our degree level we look for a 2:1 or above. So this unfortunately is what we need. So I have to say that those that aren't on track for that or haven't achieved that unfortunately wouldn't be able to apply.

If of course there are mitigating circumstances around it which people feel really you know did affect their ability to get that 2:1 or above yes, please do get in touch with us to let us know but I would say people just widely make sure you are aware of what the requirements are before you begin applying just to save yourself time if you realise afterwards that unfortunately you don’t quite have the grades you need.

For our experienced professional entry route I believe that there isn't a particular degree level that’s asked for. On all of the job descriptions in our experienced hire area they will very clearly state out the skills required.

Often it does say you know an undergraduate degree but it doesn’t necessarily say what level that needs to be. So I would just say yeah, make sure you know re the job spec – make sure you understand exactly what requirements are needed as a basic before you begin applying.

Here are the views of some employers on UCAS points:

Enterprise

Enterprise didn't really care about how many UCAS points I had or what A Levels or GCSEs I'd studied… but what they were really interested in was how I would apply myself within this company.

There is probably a stereotype of graduate recruitment programmes that they tend to attract a younger audience, however, we've had some great examples of people who've been, in their late 50's, 60's coming on board and being a management trainee, and doing really really well at that job.

Co-op

We ask for a degree in any subject: a minimum of 2:2. We do not ask for UCAS points or grades. We look for a range of experience and qualities from applicants... Be proud of being an OU graduate. The time management, self drive and prioritisation it takes to manage your own learning is something to be incredibly proud of.


Your career planning guide

Your career planning guide (PDF, 34 KB)

Deciding what you want to do with your career can feel like the start of an exciting journey, but it can also feel daunting if you're not sure where to start. This guide will help you:

  • Learn about yourself and your skills
  • Explore different careers, sectors and the world of work
  • Make informed decisions about your career
  • Plan your career journey
  • Look and apply for jobs and work experience

Last updated 9 months ago