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Applying to university

Completing your UCAS application

The university application process can seem daunting. Our UCAS application advice with hints and tips is here to make the process easier.

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CONTENTS

  1. UCAS application form

  2. Course choices

  3. Tips for success

  4. What happens after you submit your application?

UCAS application form

You may find applying for university an intimidating process, so we've compiled some advice to help you on your way.

It's important to read through each section of the UCAS guidance slowly and carefully. Bear in mind when completing your application that what you say may be all the university uses to make a decision.

Address 

If any of your contact details change, you must tell UCAS immediately.

If you don’t keep your phone, home and email addresses up to date you could miss being sent valuable information, or even offers/confirmation of a place at university. UCAS will automatically notify your university choices of any changes.

Universities tend to correspond by email, so make sure you don’t miss out on anything important by making sure your inbox is able to receive bulk emails. Check your inbox isn't full, especially during results time in JulyAugust and into September. Also check that your school/college email address still works if you're using this with your UCAS application.

Keep an eye on your inbox. You may not use email much, but universities do.

Exam results 

When completing a UCAS application it’s important that you get the correct details of the exams you'll be taking. Any mistakes could mean difficulty for UCAS when matching your application with your exam results straight away. It could result in an unnecessary delay in universities making their decisions.

List your subjects with their full titles, for example, if you're taking English Language and Literature, put the full title and not just English. List full module details of any BTEC awards and make sure you list the right BTEC – i.e. the exact one you're taking.

Don't try to give a UK equivalent for results of examinations taken in another country. State exactly what you’re doing and let the university decide the equivalence to avoid any confusion. If the column headings on the form are inappropriate, ignore them.

Be honest. UCAS has some extremely sophisticated fraud-busting techniques and experienced admissions tutors who can spot rogue applications.

If the information you’ve given is found to be false or incomplete, you could be rejected from the UCAS application process and lose any chance of a place at university that year. If false information goes undetected by UCAS it may be noticed when your prospective university asks you to present your certificates, and will be investigated with the examining board.

If your prospective university finds out your grades don't match your application, you could be asked to leave.

Personal statement 

This is your chance to show off all you've learned and all the relevant experiences you’ve had.

Here are some key things to remember before you start: 

  • Give yourself plenty of time to prepare 
  • UCAS Apply will let you paste in your personal statement from another source
  • It’s a good idea to prepare in advance and check thoroughly before entering your UCAS application
  • Brainstorm, re-read and edit to produce a well-written piece of work that shows your full potential
  • Try to keep within the word count  you only have around 450 words (45 lines, 4,000 characters max) in which to make your statement, so keep it clear and concise

Everyone has positive attributes and motivations – tease them out and express them on your statement.

What should be included:

  • Why do you want to study your chosen subject?
  • What particular qualities and experience can you bring to the course?
  • Details of any work experience or voluntary activity, especially if it's relevant to your course
  • Any other evidence of extracurricular achievements
  • Details of any sponsorship or placements you've secured or applied for
  • Your career aspirations
  • Any aspects of life that make you an interesting and well-rounded student
  • If your first language isn't English, describe any opportunities you've had to use English (such as attending an English-speaking school or working somewhere where the main language is English)
  • If you plan to take a gap year, mention how the experience may help you in your personal development for your chosen subject

What not to include:

  • Don't under any circumstances be tempted to plagiarise your personal statement, as UCAS uses detection software on all applications  if there's evidence that your application isn't your own work, any offers can be withdrawn and universities will be informed of the level of plagiarism
  • Try to avoid being too wacky – not all admissions tutors will share your sense of humour
  • Don't send additional papers to UCAS  if you have to, they can be sent directly to the universities you've applied to with your UCAS application number clearly indicated
  • Only mention your interest in a topic if you can talk sensibly about it in your interview, or you’ll risk looking immature and jeopardising your chance of an offer

Advice and tips on how to make your personal statement stand out

There's no ideal way to structure your statement. It’s a good idea to use paragraphs or sub-headings to make the presentation clear and easy for an admissions tutor to read. It’s always best to be honest and be yourself.

  • If there's anything about your application that is even slightly unusual, then explain why
  • If you want to defer your entry to the following year, say why and what you intend to do with your year out
  • If you're a mature student, explain why you want to enter or return to higher education
  • If you're applying for a vocational course, you need to emphasise your commitment to the profession and relevant experience you've gained
  • If you're applying for an academic course, you need to show real passion for the subject and explain why you want to study it for the next few years
  • Be specific in what you write  don't just say you're interested in reading, describe what you like to read and why

Students walking on stairs between class

Course choices 

Advice about your course choices 

By the time you fill in your application, you should have your choice of courses ready.

You're allowed up to five choices, unless you’re applying for Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Science/Medicine, then you’re only allowed to choose four. 

You only get to write one personal statement, so if you opt for radically different courses it will be difficult to construct a personal statement that demonstrates your enthusiasm for all of them equally.

If your choices are so varied, perhaps it may be better to wait another year and get a clearer understanding of who you are and what you want to achieve.

Varied applications 

Students who apply to university through UCAS Extra can email a revised personal statement to their chosen university. 

Clearing/Adjustment applicants are advised to submit a revised personal statement.

Any correspondence should include your UCAS applicant number for easy cross-referencing.

Finishing your application 

  • Check your application carefully
  • Make sure all grammar and punctuation are correct
  • Get someone else to check it for you as you may not spot some subtle errors and typos
  • Print out a copy and arrange for your referee to add their reference and follow the instructions on how to pay

In 2020 the fee is £20 for one course and £25 for two to five choices.

International applicants need to pay by credit card.

Should you apply early? 

Universities are required by UCAS to treat all applications received by the appropriate deadline on an equal basis. However, applying early never does any harm and in some circumstances, there can be a small advantage (before Christmas is advised).

Your application can be received by UCAS anytime between 1 September and 15 January (or 15 October if applying to Oxford or Cambridge). International applicants can apply after the 15 January deadline (until 30 June) and UK students are unlikely to be rejected for most courses if they apply late, but it’s best to stick to the deadlines. 

Applying after the deadline 

If you apply after the deadline, your application will still be processed by UCAS but universities don't have to consider it. They can reject you because they’ve received enough applications already, or there's very high demand for the subject you've chosen. For oversubscribed courses, the university could decide to tighten its criteria, meaning late applications would be at a higher risk of being rejected.

If you’re applying for a low-demand subject you'll probably get equal treatment, even if your application arrives well after the deadline. However, this is an ill-advised and risky strategy.

Allowances for late applications

If you’re applying from outside the EU, you’ll probably find your application is treated like those that arrived on time, and many universities may make allowances for mature applicants engaged on one-year Access Diplomas.

Tips for success

Going to university is a big decision and you need to make your application as good as it can be. Below are some of our tips for success. 

Be sure about the course you pick

With more than 37,000 courses on offer, choosing the right one for you isn’t always easy. Luckily, we're here to help.

You should:

  • Research courses thoroughly
  • Look at what modules you’ll be taking and where courses are likely to take you in the long term  this will give you something to refer to in your personal statement and show admissions tutors you’re truly interested 
  • Be realistic  have you got grades for the courses you want and are you going to be able to achieve the A Levels they’re asking for?

Check our course chooser and guide to choosing a course to help.

Consider who'll read your statement

Admissions tutors live and breathe their subjects and want to fill their places with good students. 

Make sure your personal statement shows you as an interested, sensible and independent individual. This may be by mentioning extracurricular pursuits or showing you’ve genuinely engaged in the application process and have done your research.

Does your personal statement reflect that level of passion for your chosen subject? If you haven’t done anything practical that displays a level of interest, read up on the content of the degree and relate your interests to it.

Get the basics right

Check your spelling and grammar, and then do it again, and once more. With so many applications to choose from, admissions tutors may well dismiss yours if it contains misspelt words and basic grammatical errors. They may feel it demonstrates you won’t be able to perform to university standards in academic work.

Get it proofread. It’s always useful to have a second or even third opinion. This will help iron out any silly mistakes, and people who know you will be able to tell if you’ve described yourself correctly.

Final advice

Don’t leave it until the last minute.

Applications received after the 15 January deadline will still be processed by UCAS, but universities can, if they want, reject you on the grounds that they've already received enough applications. 

However, if you’re applying for one of the less competitive courses, or are applying from outside the EU, you’re likely to find your application is treated just like those that arrived on time.

Don’t worry if you haven't completed your application – focus on what still needs to be done and get your application off to UCAS as soon as you can.

What happens after you submit your application?

Confirmation message

After you've submitted your application to UCAS, you’ll get a message confirming the courses and universities you’ve chosen, as well as your application number and your password for UCAS Track.

Check this message carefully to make sure there are no mistakes, and keep your application number and password safe as you may need it later.

Focus on your exams and assessments

There’s nothing else to do but wait and focus on doing your best in your exams. You may find some decisions arriving fairly soon, but if your application arrived at UCAS close to the main deadline it can take several weeks before you begin to get correspondence from the universities.

Receiving offers

When any decisions do arrive, they'll be one of the following:

  • Unconditional Offer (U): This means you've already met all the entry requirements for the course. Read more about unconditional offers
  • Conditional Offer (C): This means the university will accept you if you meet certain additional requirements, usually specified grades in the exams you'll be taking
  • Rejection (R): This means that either you haven't got, and are unlikely to get, some key requirement for the course, or that you've lost out in the competition with other applicants

You can hold onto any offer you get until all your chosen universities have made their decisions, and then you have to choose which ones you want to accept.

Visiting the universities

If you get an offer, you're likely to be invited to visit the university.

This is a good chance to find out much more about the course and university and ask questions. As well as giving you the opportunity to find out more, the occasion is designed to encourage you to accept the offer, so be critical of what you’re told and look for evidence of any claims that are made.

Remember that you’re investing a lot of time and money into this very important decision.

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