What is UCAS?
UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) is the organisation which processes all full-time applications to UK University and higher education college courses. Any student who wants to gain a degree on one of the 37,000 undergraduate courses at any of the 370 UK Universities and colleges will need to complete an online application through UCAS Apply. This centralised system then keeps students informed on the progress of each application through UCAS Track.
Applying to University
The first step is to decide which universities and courses you want to apply to. Attend university open days, consider university and subject-specific league tables, and explore the facilities and atmosphere different universities have to offer. Research courses that interest you – having a genuine passion for that subject will be central to the three (or more) years you will be studying it, and can mean greater success in the course. In addition, research the individual course content at the institutions you’re interested in – the syllabi and teaching style of courses vary greatly from university to university, so choose a course that is suited to your preferences. Check the entry requirements for the course using the UCAS Search tool, or on the university's website.
In your UCAS application you can apply for up to five courses. There is no preference order between these, and the universities will not see the other choices. You are allowed to apply for multiple courses at one university (but each course counts as one of the five choices). There are some exceptions - only four courses can be chosen for Medicine/Dentistry/Veterinary Science; you can only apply to one or other (but not both) of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; and neither Oxford nor Cambridge will accept applications for multiple courses at that university.
Once you have decided where to apply, the next step is to complete your application online through UCAS Apply. This is made up of several sections including personal details, education and employment history, a reference usually written by your school or college, your course choices, and finally the infamous 4000-character Personal Statement.
Once you have completed all sections of the UCAS Apply form, you will need to pay UCAS a fee of £23 to submit the application (or £12 if only applying for a single choice). Once submitted, your application will be sent to your relevant chosen institutions who will consider your application. You will be notified about replies, and any conditions attached to offers, on UCAS Track.
Dates and deadlines
It is important to be aware of the various dates and deadlines that accompany the UCAS application process. For courses starting in September 2017, UCAS will open to applications in September 2016. The deadline for submitting your application is January 2017 for most courses – the exception being October 2016 for all applications to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and Medicine/Dentistry/Veterinary Science. Note, most schools and colleges have individual internal deadlines before the official UCAS deadlines. UCAS Extra opens on February 2017. A-Level results day is August 2017.
Some universities interview applicants as part of their admissions process. There is no set list of universities and courses that do and don’t interview – you will need to check the individual universities’ website for information.
If you have used all five choices on your UCAS application, but have not been offered a place by any university, you can apply through UCAS Extra for another course with vacancies. UCAS Extra opens in February 2017 and closes in early July 2017.
Offers and Results
Depending on when you submit your application, it can take up to several months for universities to make a decision. There are three types of replies:
‘conditional offer’ – if you are still waiting to receive qualifications when you apply (eg. A-Levels), the university will only accept you onto the course if you get the grades specified in your offer.
‘unconditional offer’ – your place is confirmed and does not rely on any academic requirements.
‘unsuccessful’ – the university was not able to offer you a place.
Once you have received decisions from all the universities you applied to, you must then choose which offers to accept, and which to decline. Your first choice – the offer you most want to accept – is called your “firm” choice. Your back-up, which should have lower offer conditions than your firm, is called your “insurance” choice. You must decline all the other offers you received.
On results day, you will find out if you have met the conditions for your choices. If you met the conditions for your firm choice, then congratulations – you will have been accepted at your firm university. If you didn’t meet the conditions of your firm choice, but you did meet the conditions of your insurance choice, then you will have been accepted at your insurance university.
If, however, you missed the conditions of both your firm and insurance choices – you will still have a second chance to go to university that year, by applying through a UCAS process called Clearing.
If you have met and exceeded your firm offer, you will be eligible to consider ‘upgrading’ to an alternative course – potentially at a higher-ranked university. This process is called Adjustment.
Student Finance and Accommodation
Once you have replied to your offers, you will need to consider and arrange Student Finance loans to cover the £9000 per year tuition fees, as well potentially a “maintenance loan” to help fund accommodation and living expenses. The suggested deadline for student finance applications through Student Finance England is 31 May, to be guaranteed that you will receive the first instalment of your loan before your first university term starts. If you have not met the conditions of your firm choice, you will have to contact the student finance company to ensure the money is received by the new university.
You will also need to arrange university accommodation once you have replied to your offers. All universities have different deadlines, application processes and rent rates – check your university's website for more information on first-year accommodation and when to apply for it.