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Applying for a course on UCAS

Schools and Colleges of Further Education support their students with their UCAS application, so make sure that you attend all the relevant lessons that will tell you what you need to do - and ask if you are unsure. Some of you may be planning to apply once you have left school or college, perhaps during a gap year, so it is worth checking with your school or college to find out what support they can give you once you have left.

Here is a summary:

  1. Register with UCAS.
  2. Complete your details.
  3. Add your education history.
  4. Complete your employment history. 
  5. Select your course choices. 
  6. Write a personal statement. 
  7. Submit your application.

UCAS offers on-screen help and advice as you work your way through ‘Apply’. You can also watch the UCAS video guide to using Apply.

If you need help or advice on your application, you should contact your careers adviser or call the UCAS Customer Service Unit on 0371 468 0468. You will need your personal ID number so they can find your record. 

For anyone applying to university for a full time course, you should follow these general steps when applying.

  • Check information about the course on the UCAS site.
  • Check what the entry requirements are - do they accept your qualifications and will you meet the grades they want? If you are not sure you will need to contact the university’s admissions department by phone or email to check. Just because it isn’t on their list, doesn’t always mean that your application will not be considered.
  • You may select up to five courses. For most courses, you should try to apply between September 1st and January 31th (for 2024 entry). It is important to note, however, that applications for Oxford or Cambridge (Oxbridge), medicine, veterinary science, and dentistry must be completed before October 16th (for 2024 entry). Some courses are competitive so an early application can put you in a stronger position.
  • Part of the application process requires you to write a personal statement telling the universities why you want to study that degree. You will need to think about your skills and experiences as well as your academic qualifications. There is lots of help on the internet to get you started with your personal statement on UCAS. Many universities offer help with personal statements - check out what is available on their websites. Tempting as it might be, do not copy – it’s your personal statement and UCAS has a very sophisticated system to catch out those who have copied from other sources. The information in your Careerpilot Post 16 Skills Map can help you complete your personal statement. Universitycompare has example personal statements.
  • If you are still at school or at a college of FE, they will need to write a reference for you. If you have left full-time education, depending on the timescale they may still be able to help. If not, consider who you could ask, but remember, they will need to be able to comment on your suitability for study.
  • If you are not ready to apply by the recommended deadlines, a later application may be possible as long as courses are not full.

The UCAS Application Process - 'You've applied; now what?'

Entry Requirements

As well as your UCAS application which includes your personal statement, UCAS reference and qualifications, there may be  other entry requirements as part of the application process depending on the course and where you are applying to.

  • Admissions Tests (see below).
  • Interviews - there are a few courses where it is more typical that an interview is part of the assessment including nursing, teaching, social work. Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial interview most of their applicants if they have been shortlisted.
  • Portfolios - Often required for creative courses such as fine art and photography and can include a show-reel for course such as music and animation. Check whether or not they will accept online portfolios.
  • Work experience - some courses set very clear expectations about the amount of work experience required as part of their entry criteria, for example teaching, social work, health care courses such as physiotherapy, paramedic and medical.
  • Written work - some courses may require a specific piece of work or essay to support your application.
  • Audition - if you are applying for a performing arts course such as drama or music you will usually be expected to attend one or several live auditions although it may be acceptable to submit digital versions e.g. YouTube.

Admissions Tests

As part of the application process you may be asked to take an admissions test and this depends on the type of course you are applying for and where you are hoping to study.  You will need to check what the deadline dates are for registering and taking an admissions test. 

Remember to check the entry requirements for each university you are applying to and if they require you to take any of the following admissions tests.

For more information about admissions tests take a look at the Student Room Uni Guide

Have you missed your deadline? 

First of all you have to work out which deadline! There are different ones and you need to check with UCAS to see which one is relevant to you. There is a deadline for: Courses at Oxford and Cambridge; Medicine, veterinary medicine/science and dentistry courses; For the conservatoires; Some art and design courses have different deadlines; A small number of courses, such as nursing, may have two course starts each year. If you think you have missed your deadline, it is still possible to apply to university, but you will need to check with the universities you are interested in and the specific courses to see if they accept late applications. You may be lucky, but it really does depend where and what you are applying for. If you apply late some of the more competitive courses may already have made their offers and it could be that you would have a greater choice if you apply the following year. Would it be better for you to take time out? You could fill your year with relevant work experience or other activities such as voluntary work or travelling and give yourself the opportunity to develop your skills.

Deferring your application

Having done all your research for your university courses, you may feel ready to make your application, but wish to defer accepting your place until the following year. You can do this by indicating your wish on the UCAS form. Before doing this, you should check the provider's policy on deferred entry for each of your choices. You can do this on their websites or by contacting the provider. Some universities have detailed information on their policy that varies from course to course, whilst other universities produce a general statement. Some university courses will not consider deferred entry so it is essential that you check.

Many universities will expect you to explain in your personal statement why you wish to defer and some universities indicate a preference on their websites that they would like the gap year to be spent in a ‘constructive' manner by working or travelling. Check what your university is indicating.

As a student, it may feel great that you are offered a deferred place and can go off on your gap year with everything sorted, but you will need to be absolutely sure about the course as once you have accepted, you are committed to that course and can only be released from that course if the university agrees.

If you think that you might like to take a year out, it may be worth considering applying once you have your results. This way, you can make a more tailored application and it will have given you an additional year to be more certain about your choices. 

If you decide during the application cycle that you wish to defer or you need to defer due to personal circumstances, you will need to contact the university direct, as the decision is theirs. 

Part-time

There are lots of opportunities for part-time study in colleges and universities - check out their websites to find out what is on offer.

Applying for part-time study is simpler and quicker than for a full-time course. Applications for part-time courses are made directly to the university or college where you wish to study. Apply direct to The Open University if you are considering studying with them.  

How to apply

Find out all you can about the course and the entry requirements by checking information on an institution's website.

Check with your college or university about the application form you need to complete for your chosen course and then apply online or get a form from Academic Registry or the Admissions Office.

Check when your chosen course starts as part-time courses commence at various dates and times throughout the academic year. The date for submitting applications should be in the details about the course on the university/college website, or in the course prospectus.

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