What to do if you don't have the UCAS points or A levels required by employers?
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.
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 our Job Seeking pages for more information on how to do this.
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 our ‘What Employers Say’ pages where OU graduate Ruth Stokes, talks about how she was sponsored by KPMG through her OU study
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.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.
"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.
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.
Mature applicants tend to be much more considered about who they apply to work for, and as a result are more committed to the organisation over the long term. We encourage applicants from this group by not setting a minimum number of UCAS points as a barrier to application, and we work with organisations that have a strong age profile such as the OU.