What is UCAS? 

UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) is a tool/website used by prospective students across the UK. Its main function is to process and facilitate university and college applications. It streamlines the process for the higher education institutions as well as the prospective students. 

Whether you’re thinking of doing an apprenticeship or studying something at a university – UCAS will become a valuable and necessary tool to take that next step. It is wise to familiarise yourself with the process. Your school’s career advisers/consultants will be able to help with every step of the process. 

UCAS allows you to search within your own parameters (area, subject, level, etc.) Take time to shop around and see what appeals to you.  

You can find their webiste here: UCAS website

When should I start looking at UCAS? 

The UCAS application cycle usually last quite a long time and gives a big window of opportunity. There’s never a reason why an application should be rushed as plenty of time is given, and your school will hopefully make this clear to you. For 2024 entry, the submissions may begin on 5th September 2023. 

The deadlines for majority of courses are 31st January 2024. If you are thinking of applying to Oxford or Cambridge the deadline is 16th October 2023. 

It is unwise to leave applications to the last minute, as the universities will constantly be processing applications. It is equally unwise to rush your application and get in as soon as possible; you should be comfortable and happy with the application and have it checked over a few times from people who can help you for the best chances of being accepted. 

Is UCAS free? 

UCAS is technically a charity, so it requires funding to provide the service. There is a small fee you have to pay for applying up to five universities. It usually amounts to no more than £30 (£27 for 2023 entry) and usually your school can help pay for this if you are unable, or they may be services that can help.  

What’s needed for an application? 

A UCAS application is all about you. Not your friends. Not your family. Not your classmates. It’s you. What that means is, you’ll need to provide an adequate and appealing account of yourself so that the university wants you to be one of its students. Being ‘appealing’ in this sense is not exclusively about what grades you can get, but more so what your experiences have been and how they can help shape you into a model student at the university. Most of this is shown in your personal statement. 

The personal statement aspect of the application is what will require the most input (other than your grades, of course). It’s the way you can set yourself aside from everyone else and make it stand out. You’ll compile a lot of your experiences and skills developed in the past few years at school and outside of it. Anything goes, so long as you can back it up on how it’s enhanced you as a person and will help you in your university career. 

Of course, your grades matter a lot too since every course will have entry requirements, which are the minimum grades you must achieve to be able to apply. When looking at courses, always keep an eye out for this as one university may expect more than another. 

What should I do before I apply? 

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to ensure you’re doing extracurricular activities or making experiences for yourself that you can use for the personal statement. This can simply be things like being part of a sports club (you can discuss the benefits of teamwork, diligence, devotion, etc) up to more intense things like the Duke of Edinburgh Award which provides a wealth of experiences to use. Keep an eye out and make the effort to build up your experiences – you will come to appreciate it when you’re writing the personal statement. In addition to all that, stick in and revise! The grades you get are a massive aspect of the process; it could be the difference between getting a conditional or unconditional offer.