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Why grade 'A' students miss out on their dream courses

By Augustine Oduor | December 8th 2021

Candidates at Kisumu Boys High school in a seating arrangement on November 03, 2019, ahead of KCSE. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The pressure and desire to study in top universities and failure to carefully balance competitive programmes when making choices are among the poor decisions that cost students their dream careers.

And students who score top grades may still miss out if they continue to select prime courses in top universities while ignoring other institutions, as this lowers their placement chances.

Failure to assess their individual scores against the general performance of students in national examinations, it emerged, also leads to wrong selection of courses.

The Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) has laid bare the placement procedures and oversights that cost learners dream careers.

KUCCPS Chief Executive Mercy Wahome said the process starts with universities and colleges declaring their available capacities.

For universities, the Commission for University Education (CUE) vets and approves the institutions’ capacities based on various measures.

This is because some universities may declare more spaces but they do not have the capacity to sustain the huge numbers they request in terms of lecture halls, laboratories, or library resources.

“Once CUE has vetted the capacities, they advise us on the optimum numbers in universities and this is what we use to place students,” said Wahome.

KUCCPS then opens the portal for applications of courses for KCSE candidates between January and March.

“This is where students start making mistakes as most of them consecutively pick high-ranking courses and do so only in top universities, which are very competitive,” said Wahome.

Overall, students have 18 choices open to them when making applications. Of these are six options for degree courses, four for diploma programmes, and a similar number for craft certificate options. Another four options are available for artisan certificate courses.

For degrees, candidates are expected to list their preferred four courses in the order of priority. Choice number one has three slots for the same programme (in three different universities).

This is meant to increase applicants’ chances of securing their most preferred course.

For choices number two, three, and four, the candidates are required to pick any other course, in the order of their preference.

The KUCCPS boss said that during applications, students only take seriously their first three courses but pick any other courses for the remaining slots without careful thought, just to fill up the remaining spaces.

“And this is dangerous because the first selected courses are often competitive and once they miss out on those ones, they end up getting the other choices which they picked up just for the sake of filling up spaces,” said Wahome.

She said submitting engineering courses across all the four choices or going for medicine as choice one followed by nursing, engineering, and architecture means if a candidate misses the first choice, they are likely to miss the rest.

Wahome said in most cases, students fail to take into account the relative performance of candidates in their year when comparing their cluster weights with previous cut-off points.

During placement, Wahome said that KUCCPS compares students’ scores against the overall performance and this is what gives the weighted cluster point.

For instance, for medicine courses, four subjects are considered - English, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Biology, and the minimum requirement is a B in these subjects.

Wahome said that a student’s score in the four subjects is compared against overall performance to get the cluster weight.

The students’ cluster weights are then listed downwards based on their performance to generate a merit list.

“For instance, if the cluster weight for a student who scored A’s in all the four subjects required for medicine is 45.000, the next score is 49.999, then 49.998, 49.997, and 49.996. The students merit list is generated in this order until we get to the total available capacity for Medicine in that university,” said Wahome. “If the University of Nairobi capacity for Medicine category is 400, a line is drawn at that point. Wahome said that if the 400th student in the generated merit list at the University of Nairobi had a cluster weight of 43.001, this becomes the cut-off point for medicine in that university.

This means that if those who qualified and applied for medicine at the university are 1000, the remaining 600 are locked out of the course,” said Wahome.

The cut-off point for medicine for the University of Nairobi may be different from that of Kenyatta University depending on capacities and number of applicants for the programme.

She said a merit list per programme is generated in this manner, for all the universities.

“A complete merit list is generated for all the universities that offer a course and the students who made it their first choice,” she said.

Wahome explained that the students who missed out at the University of Nairobi after the cut-off line was drawn, even if they scored a grade A cannot at this stage be placed to Medicine course in the next university.

“This is because other students made that course their first choices in those institutions and are given priority. And so they will wait for revision when they will have another chance to change their courses and the same placement procedure is done,” said Wahome.

Wahome said a student’s choice plays a key role in placement and noted that candidates are given priority based on what they ranked as first options.

“Even if you score an A, but you missed on your first choice, you cannot be given priority over someone who made your second choice their first option,” said Wahome.

She said the grade A student’s third option may also be someone’s first or another second choice and so those students are given priority in that order before the grade A student is placed.

“This explains why a student who has a mean grade of an A (plain) fails to get a medicine course at one university yet another who scored A- (minus), B+ or even a B (plain) gets a chance in another university,” said Wahome.

She said these candidates who scored A (plain) and are locked out of medicine courses do not get first priority because there are students who made their second choice the first choice.

“This procedure is done for all other courses and priority is given to first choices made by candidates. But those who lose in the first round always have a chance to revise their courses,” she said.

Wahome said one mistake students make during the application process and revision is to go for top universities and pick prime courses only.

“If they make a good blend based on their performance, for example, first choice competitive and make the second less competitive and get a good balance of choices, they will likely get what they want,” said Wahome.

“You cannot pick medicine, engineering or law programmes consecutively and expect less competition in those programmes. And also, you cannot select the same courses at UoN, Kenyatta University, JKUAT, Moi or Egerton in that order and fail to face competition because others made it their first option in those institutions,” said Wahome.

The courses revision portal is always open for students in May.

“However, we have seen many cases where students make first to fourth choices in top universities and they end up missing, yet they scored an A,” said Wahome.

She said even at the revision, if students are not guided, they still apply for competitive courses even when they have not properly qualified.

KUCCPS then allocates courses to those who are again locked out at this stage, based on what is related to what they had applied.

According to KUCCPS, the number of applicants to be placed in a given programme is done on merit, and according to a candidate’s preferred choices.

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