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Undergraduate

Information for unsuccessful applicants

Every year we receive many more applications than the number of offers we can make. This means that we inevitably we have to disappoint many excellent applicants who meet and often exceed our standard offer requirements, but whose applications are, in our assessment, not the strongest we have received. Last year, for example, we received 22,948 applications for 3,320 places. 

We take a holistic approach to every application, seeking to recruit the most able and motivated students who can best benefit from a Durham University education. Applications are individually assessed in an open competition relative to other applications to the programme. We take multiple factors into account to identify those candidates with the greatest merit and potential. Only after taking these factors into account do our admissions selectors make their final decision.

Information published on this web page attempts to provide further details to unsuccessful applicants, as we draw attention to several factors that may have resulted in an application being unsuccessful.

If you have any further queries after consulting this site, we would suggest consulting the website of the department responsible for the programme which you applied for (which can be found via www.durham.ac.uk/departments) before contacting the department directly. Due to the number of applications we receive, and to comply with data protection requirements, we are only able to provide detailed feedback to unsuccessful applicants on written request. Please bear in mind that we will not disclose details of your application to a third party such as a parent or teacher without your express permission in writing.

If you have any queries about the admissions process at Durham, please do not hesitate to contact the department responsible for the programme to which you have applied or the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office at admissions@durham.ac.uk or by telephone on (0191) 334 6128.

Factors

  • Merit and potential
  • Predicted achievement
  • Achieved results
  • Personal statement
  • Insufficient subject background
  • Subject choice not available
  • Course full
  • Interview
  • Reference

Merit and potential

The University interprets "merit" as the positive attributes of an applicant seeking to study at Durham, which is based on the evidence of prior achievement. Mindful of the context of prior achievement, the University judges "potential" as the scope for a student to benefit from what Durham has to offer, and the promise for future achievement and contribution to the University.

Predicted achievement

We take a holistic approach to every application judging both merit and potential, academic qualifications achieved, predicted grades, the personal statement and reference. In many cases, predicted achievement enables us to differentiate between the strong applications we receive.

Where applications are unsuccessful due to predicted achievement, we have found that predicted grades are not quite as strong as other applications for the specific degree programme to which applicants apply or did not meet the minimum requirements. 

Information regarding minimum entry requirements is available at departmental websites, via UCAS's entry profiles or via our prospectus.

Achieved results

We take a holistic approach to every application judging both merit and potential, academic qualifications achieved, predicted grades, the personal statement and reference. In many cases, achieved results enable us to differentiate between the strong applications we receive. 

In some cases, our decision not to make an offer is informed either by previous qualifications, which were not as strong as those offered by other applicants, or did not meet our minimum entry requirements. Some programmes specify a minimum grade at GCSE (or equivalent qualification) in a particular subject. If an applicant has not achieved this and has not indicated in his or her application that he/she is taking this qualification as part of his/her current studies, supported by a prediction from the referee that the required grade(s) will be achieved, then we will be unable to consider making an offer. 

Further information regarding minimum entry requirements is available at our departmental websites, UCAS's entry profiles or our prospectus.

Personal statement

We take a holistic approach to every application judging both merit and potential, academic qualifications achieved, predicted grades, the personal statement and reference, but, in many cases, find the personal statement helpful in differentiating between applicants. 

In considering personal statements our selectors consider:

  • Why applicants want to study the subject
  • What applicants have done in the past that makes them particularly suitable to study the subject, including independent thought and working
  • Evidence of extra-curricular experience, i.e. what makes an applicant an interesting and unique individual.

In many cases applicants describe and report on their subject-related experiences but fail to reflect and critically analyse them, for example, elaborating on what they learnt, how their view changed or what challenged them.

Related to the above, applicants describe a number of books they have read or lectures they have attended without providing any further detail that reveals a deeper understanding of the relevant subject issue.

In addition, some applicants fail to make an explicit link between their A-level (or equivalent) subjects and the specific degree course to which they have applied. It is very important for some programmes that applicants explain how their choice of A level or equivalent qualification subjects is related to either their degree programme and/or to their non-academic interests or career aspirations.

Finally, a lot of applicants are unsuccessful because their statement was rather too generic and did not demonstrate a deeper level of understanding of the subject to which they were applying. Extra-curricular activities, such as travelling, reading relevant publications and attending additional subject-related lectures is excellent but common to the vast majority of our applicants. Thus, our selectors often look for a statement that has something extra and offers a more critical insight into personal experiences and the subject the applicant wishes to study.

Insufficient subject background

In some cases, insufficient subject background prevents us from considering making an offer.

Our decision not to make an offer can be informed by an applicant's subject background. Unfortunately, in some applications, the experience and/or subject background presented is not as strong as other candidates in demonstrating capability for the course to which an applicant has applied or to study the subject combination specified.

Subject choice not available

Occasionally, the subject or combination of subjects to which an applicant applies is not available. Further information regarding subject choices is available at our departmental websites, UCAS's entry profiles or our prospectus.

Course full

Our processes ensure that we consider all applications received by UCAS's deadline of 15 January equally. However, many of our more over-subscribed courses close following this date and our admissions selectors are unable to consider any late applications. This reason may be cited if the course to which an applicant applies is full by the time we received his or her application.

Interview

Durham University does not normally use interviews as a means for selection except in the following circumstances:

  • where external bodies determine that interviewing is compulsory (such as applicants to Initial Teacher Training and Medicine)
  • applicants to the Foundation Centre
  • applicants who do not in their application show adequate evidence of recent and relevant knowledge or who have experienced a break in their study prior to application. This will be determined by academic departments on an individual basis having considered all the information provided in the application.

If an applicant has been unsuccessful following an interview, it has been agreed that the performance at interview was not quite as strong as other applicants in demonstrating merit and potential for the course to which the applicant applied.

Reference

We take a holistic approach to every application judging both merit and potential, academic qualifications achieved, predicted grades, the personal statement and reference, but, in some cases find the reference included within the UCAS application enables us to differentiate between applicants.

Occasionally, it is felt that a reference does not support an applicant as strongly as other applicants' references. This may be, for instance, because other applicants have displayed a greater commitment to their school studies or within their personal context contributed more to extra-curricular activities.