GNVQ gets a mixed reception from campuses. Karen Gold explains how to make it count
"DON'T quote me, but we don't take people with GNVQ," the head of admissions at a large, long-established civic university told Christine Megson, vice-principal of Gloucestershire College of Arts and Technology.

He was not alone. Many of the first cohort of students on the advanced General National Vocational Qualification courses (the equivalent of A- levels) did get higher-education places last year. Indeed, their success rate was marginally better than that of A-level applicants. But some universities were definitely keener than others.

The trouble is, nobody knows exactly which ones. Older universities probably took fewer GNVQ students than new ones. Universities close to colleges with lots of GNVQ students were more likely to have had meetings with GNVQ tutors and know more about the courses. But if you are one of this year's 9,000 Ucas applicants with GNVQ, compared with 900 last year, how can you know where to apply?

The simple answer is, you cannot. You can check which clearing vacancies, if any, specify a grade at GNVQ, rather than simply asking for A-level points. Colleges and universities that have thought to do that are likely to be more comfortable and familiar with GNVQ. But otherwise you can only minimise the chance of instant rejection in four ways.

1 When you get through on the phone to those running your chosen course, ask if they have already taken anyone on that course with GNVQ. If so, you can move on to your own case at once.

2 If they have not taken anyone with GNVQ before, ask if you can discuss your qualifications with an admissions tutor in your subject. Make sure you can talk about what your course has covered and what skills you have acquired. (Many admissions tutors complain they do not know what GNVQ students know, because syllubuses vary so much.)

But keep it simple: "People seem to think admissions tutors have an enormous amount of time to spend browsing through portfolios," says a head of admissions at a university that has taken only a handful of applicants with GNVQ. "This just isn't consistent with reality."

3 Enlist the support of your school or college. Many university admissions tutors, used to hair-splitting differences between grades C and D at A- level, find the broad groupings of distinction, merit and pass in GNVQ frustrating.

Some consequently demand a distinction or nothing. They are reluctant to drop down to merit because they may find themselves with 40 extra students, instead of the three they need to fill the course. A conversation about your GNVQ work, in which your school or college tutor explains what your strengths are, preferably with some comparison with A-level grades, may be enough to get you an interview or a place in that lucky three.

4 Be prepared to cut your losses. Some universities are not going to be enthusiastic about GNVQ until there are so many GNVQ students applying that they have no choice. Others have gone on record as saying they positively encourage applicants with advanced GNVQ.

Keele is among those that have promised to interview all applicants with GNVQ, although it may not continue that policy through clearing. West of England University at Bristol has issued a handbook to admissions tutors explaining how GNVQs work, what they cover, and what the marking system means.

Given the widely varying level of support, it probably is not worth trying to persuade a reluctant tutor to take you. Instead move on, particularly as your potential choice of courses may be better than that open to A- level candidates, Ms Megson says. Life will get easier for GNVQ students as they become more commonplace, she says: "This year the awareness of GNVQ has definitely been greater. Last year, when our students didn't get offers, we were having to ring people up and say, `Would you be prepared to see this student?' This year that hasn't happened.

"But, it still has to be said, the awareness is more among the new universities than the traditional ones. There people are still saying they have so many A-level students they don't need to look anywhere else."