On here: things to take into account for your UCAS application to university, including a general timeline.
The timeline below is only a representation with broad guidelines and is not to be taken to the letter. Always check the the course page and/or university for specific information on requirements and deadlines. Deadlines for some courses are in October! Some students will need more time to plan and may have to perform extra tasks as part of their application. Others may need less time or may need to do only part of what is mentioned below. Applicants and their supporters will be responsible for their applications and how they achieve these. I strongly suggest that you do your own research in addition to what is on this page. Helpful resources may be www.ucas.com and www.gov.uk/browse/education/student-finance, alongside universities and their websites.
Your school sixth form staff will guide you through the process. There will be a lot of support and advice available through school.
Click or tap on markers for more information.
The tool above only applies to applicants to undergraduate courses at mainstream universities. It indicates important points in time for you to consider if you apply through the UCAS system, as most students will. These are only guidelines. Don’t worry if you are not up to date with these tasks. You can still apply but you will have to step up the work you do to be successful. There is also an excellent timeline available on:
More information on deadlines and what you can do if you’re a late applicant can be found on:
Important things to remember!
As you will probably be aware already, as a sixth form leaver applicant you don’t apply directly to university (or college/study centre) for higher education courses. In addition to this, you will be in competition for places with all the other applicants.
As an UCAS applicant you can, and will ideally, also apply to up to five different universities or courses and make a choice depending on the offers you get.
For undergraduate courses:
- You would need to choose a course and a university.
- You will need to make sure you have a good referee. Normally this is your secondary school or college where you did your A levels or college course. You will need the ‘Buzzword’ from that institution.
- You will need to register on UCAS Apply.
- The next step is to start filling in your application form online.
- In the meantime, you have to write your Personal Statement – ideally you will have put activities in place throughout year 12 and the first part of year 13.
- You then send off your application form online, which will go to your referee who will add the reference. Only when the referee clicks ‘send’ will it go to the universities you selected. Please see the timeline on here for details and leave enough time to allow for this.
Once you have sent off your application form you will get offers, which you accept or decline.
If you don’t get any offers you can re-apply for one course at a time through UCAS Extra.
If your grades are not what you thought they would be, and you can’t take up your place, you need to find a place through Clearing from half through August. This will involve calling universities direct. However, before you do this, contact your choice universities anyway to see if they would still accept you with those lower grades.
In the meantime you will or may have to sort out:
- Additional entry exams or tests if the subject or university requires this. You can find out more on course pages on the university website, on ucas.com or on https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/applying-university/admissions-tests
- Attendance of additional interviews or selection events at the universities you applied to.
- Student funding. Don’t worry, you have plenty of time to apply. Check on https://www.gov.uk/get-undergraduate-student-loan. Also check the student finance pages on this website.
- Where you are going to stay. In the first year this is normally at the university, after which you will be expected to organise your own accommodation.
Your application – more detail
As mentioned all undergraduate applications normally go through UCAS, which is the national central application system.
From the timeline at the top of this page and on some of the links you will have had a good idea of what is expected already if you are an undergraduate (new degree student).
This will normally be someone who teaches you in sixth form. If you would like to know more, please talk to your head of sixth form. Also bear in mind that when you send off your application, it will go to your nominated referee first, for them to add their reference. You need to take this into account when planning when to send off your application. Ideally you need to send this off before the Christmas holidays, but your school will have set you a deadline for this already, or will once you’re in year 13.
Competition can be fierce, especially for those degrees which are in high demand, such as law, medicine and nursing. Work experience can make the difference between getting a place or not, especially for the more practical/vocational degrees.
Many, if not most university applicants in the UK do some form of work experience, voluntary work or anything else that benefits and supports their application. If you decide not to do this you may find yourself at a disadvantage. For example, if you would like to study medicine it’s of course not expected you’ve done open heart surgery, but you could think about what skills, insights and personality you need to have/develop to be a good doctor, and look for work experience that will benefit you and will provide evidence for university admission staff that you are serious about your degree. It doesn’t always have to be the most obvious option. Something different may make you stand out in a good way! This is a challenging thing to think about and organise but if you think it through logically, then you will be able to find something that helps you.
How do you find (work) experience?
Think of your subject and/or the career linked to it if you can. If you find this difficult, you can explore these on the Prospects website.
- On there you could look up your subject and explore what skills, knowledge etc… you may need to make a success of your studies.
- Linked to that, you could explore some career options linked to your subject in the same way.
- Together they will give you a good idea what you are expected to develop over the course of your studies.
- You could then explore what work experience options are open to you that broadly link in with these.
- If you are able to find work experience that broadly fits in you can use this in both your personal statement and your interview to convince admission staff and tutors that you deserve a place.
- In order to get a placement you could do the following:
- let everyone around you know you are looking, and what you are looking for. That way you have lots of people working in your interest…
- find charities that offer opportunities in the skill set you are looking for.
- think of employers in your area that may be sympathetic to giving you an opportunity. Make sure not to make assumptions… you may be surprised at what is possible! Just ask and see what happens.
- do additional short courses such as First Aid if you are thinking of medicine, or additional IT courses or similar if you are thinking of business… be creative!
What you are looking for are the professional skills, general or specific study skills, knowledge and softer skills (that prove commitment, hard work, motivation, dedication etc…) that you need to successfully study at university and/or are essential or important in your chosen subject or linked career. Work experience as a cleaner may be difficult to link to an academic education, but even that would be better than nothing as it may prove determination and sticking with something that doesn’t necessarily appeal. I don’t need to say that the more it fits in with your subject/career/general academic study, the easier it can be used to promote yourself as a good candidate for your chosen course.
I would just like to repeat that work experience may be very important in getting you a place!
You will need to write a personal statement explaining why you would be a good candidate. This follows strict guidelines when it comes to length and UCAS has strong plagiarism software it applies to all statements. So be very careful not to copy anything.
Your personal statement may be one of the most important things you write for a long time. Together with your secondary school results and your interview, if you will have one, it’s one of the ‘make or break’ aspects of getting in. Very basically, it consists of more or less one A4 page (4000 characters including spaces) of writing to support your application. This may include any experiences you had, why you would be a good student for university X to have, why you would like to study subject Y, your insight or knowledge of the subject etc… No need to say, one A4 page is not a lot of space to write all of that down, so every word and every letter, space etc… counts! You ideally will also need to include the key words the reader of your personal statement wants to see, after all, familiarity makes agreement to have you as a student easier. The personal statement will take up most of your time of the actual application… it needs to be as perfect as it can be! UCAS has a tool and suggestions on their website.
I have also written a step by step guide for writing a UCAS Personal statement. Please let me know if you would like a copy using the contact form at the bottom of this page and I’ll be happy to email you one.
In addition to all this, as I mentioned it’s very important not to copy anything as UCAS uses anti plagiarism software to go through statements. You will be caught out!
The interview is not there to catch you out but to find those students that will do best on the course and those who fit in best with the university’s culture and way of teaching. Sometimes universities will ask you what sound like very strange questions to make you think creatively and on the spot. It’s all too easy to pre-prepare the most obvious questions or to recite directly from one of your course books. To avoid candidates doing this, university staff will ask questions you can’t prepare for. Usually, interviews are more about your skills than your knowledge.
Interviews are daunting to anyone, but at the same time there is nothing to be afraid of. After all… you’ve been preparing for the best part of six years!
Entry tests (BMAT, ELAT, TSA, STEP…):
For some degrees and at some universities you will have to sit an entry test before you are accepted. This will be mentioned in the course description, where you will also find the sort of test you will have to sit. It’s often important to contact the university/universities you apply to, to make sure you sit the right paper. Normally those tests will be taken at your school or college. Your head of sixth form can tell you more.
- BMAT: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/
- UCAT: https://www.ucat.ac.uk/
- ELAT: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/elat/about-elat/
- TSA: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/thinking-skills-assessment/tsa-oxford/about-tsa-oxford/
- STEP: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/step/about-step/
An overview of these and other tests can be found on: https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/applying-university/admissions-tests
English (or Welsh?):
If your first language isn’t English and this is a requirement, then there are three main ways of doing this, depending on university requirements:
- IELTS or the International English Language Testing System: arguably the most required test for entry to UK universities.
- Cambridge Assessments test or English for Speakers of Other Languages: required for some courses at UK universities and well respected by employers.
- TOEFL or Test of English as a foreign language, is sometimes required in the UK but is mainly aimed at American universities.
Which of these you need to take depends on which university and which course. Most of the time, the preferred test will be mentioned in the course description. It is possible to sit these tests quite late in the application procedure, but it could also be useful to do this early on and to mention it in your application. This may make it easier for universities to say yes to your application.
All these tests assess your reading, listening, writing and speaking ability and will attach a score to your result.
- Academic IELTS is scored between 0 and 9 (expert user)
- The ESOL course is scored differently and it depends on the papers you sat. CAE and CPE are the most interesting for applicants to university and these are graded A to E, where A to C grades are passes. CPE is the highest level, similar to the level of native speakers.
Useful web addresses:
Websites for applying:
Website useful for exploring work experience through course requirements:
- Prospects: see in the relevant section above for how you can use this website to good effect for exploring work experience options.
- Cambridge Assessments: useful website for information on entry tests.
- Test Preparation: click on ‘select a test’ at the top of the page.
Let me know if you would like an appointment or a copy of the step by step guide for writing a UCAS Personal statement, or a step by step CV writing guide.