FOR many of us, January is the month of looking ahead, adopting positive habits and making New Year’s resolutions.

For sixth formers hoping to go to university this autumn, it is also a time in which they are very much focused on the future — January being the month in which UCAS forms must be submitted: the deadline for autumn 2018 entry is next Monday.

Obtaining a place on the course and at the university of one’s choice will for many students come as the culmination of years of study and at the end of a fairly lengthy selection process.

No doubt many sixth formers will have been doing the rounds of university visits, analysing league tables, discussing the pros and cons of various courses and devoting a good deal of time to the application process. Then, for some lucky students, come perhaps one or more unconditional offers which mean they have a guaranteed place at university, regardless of their exam results this summer. Or are they in fact so lucky?

The numbers of students receiving unconditional offers are rising: according to UCAS, 12 100 such offers were made in 2014 and 23 400 in 2015. Good news, you would think? Are there any down sides to this trend?

Unfortunately, it appears so. A study carried out shows that students in 2015 were significantly less likely to achieve the grades of which they were thought capable if they received an unconditional offer.

In fact, they were 23 per cent more likely to miss their predicted grades by two or more levels than those students with offers conditional on them achieving certain results.

Why is this? Well, as you might expect, the thought is that students who receive unconditional offers might be tempted to take their foot off the gas. It seems that, while the prospect of relieving the pressure to obtain high grades might be an enticing one, in fact a certain amount of pressure really does encourage us to up our expectations and work rate.

Which brings me back to the New Year and any resolutions we have to live more fulfilling and rewarding lives.

While it is perfectly understandable to bemoan pressure in our lives, high expectations do seem to help us to perform better.

And surely life and education are about challenging ourselves in order to find out what we’re really capable of achieving?