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Higher education at 18+

Apply for a course

Follow these general steps when applying for a course:

  • Find out what the application process involves by checking on the institution's website - it will be different depending on whether you are applying for full-time, part-time, etc.
  • Find out the deadlines for each course you want to apply to, and give yourself plenty of time to complete your application
  • Check what the entry requirements are - do they accept your qualifications and will you meet the grades they want?
  • Get ready to market yourself, your skills and experiences. One place to start is by completing the Careerpilot Skills Profile which will show you what skills you have already, from what you have done in life, learning and work and then will show you how you can use these skills when you are applying.
  • Use the UCAS Personal Statement Tool.
  • Think about who might be the best person to write your reference & find out about the UCAS process in your school / college


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.

UCAS is the organisation responsible for managing applications to most full-time higher education courses in the UK e.g. degrees and Foundation Degrees. 

The UCAS website has all the information on the application process.

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 15th. It is important to note, however, that applications for Oxford or Cambridge (Oxbridge), medicine, veterinary science, and dentistry must be completed before October 15th. 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 - student room, Which uni, UCAS, including this great UCAS video. 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. The information in your Careerpilot Post 16 Skills Map can also 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 website provides:

  • A wide range of information and support that will help your research and decision making before, during and after your application.
  • A tool that enables you to ‘Track’ the progress of your applications on-line, as well as managing decisions and your offers.

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. 

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.  


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.

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. 

Getting skills for university - free, online courses

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are free online learning opportunities.

FutureLearn is offering a course called: Preparing for uni

Future Learn also offers lots of other free online courses designed by universities. The courses can offer you a great way to start preparing for uni or for getting knowledge and experience related to your chosen subject. They will also look good on your personal statement, as evidence of your interest, commitment and initiative.

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

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