If you want to go to university, you will have to apply through a central admissions service known as UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). It costs £20 to apply for one course, or £26 to apply for multiple courses. Please speak to your school or college first if you have difficulty in affording the application fee. Most schools and colleges will cover the cost of your application fee if you can’t afford this yourself. Each student can apply for a maximum of 5 courses, at different universities or the same university. You should be aware though that for medicine, vet and dentistry you can only apply for 4 specific courses (e.g. vet) and a related subject (e.g. biology),  and if you want to go to Oxford or Cambridge, you can only apply for one course from one of the two universities. You should also know that there is no way to list the universities in order of preference and universities cannot see where else you’ve applied to. Having a preference, or at least showing that you have one in your UCAS statement, is a bad idea because it may stop other universities from offering you a place.

UCAS explained 

The Application Form

You only have to fill out one application form for all of the universities you apply for. For this reason, it is not a good idea to apply for more than one course area. Much of the application is designed to show commitment to a particular subject and explain why you have chosen it, this is impossible if you are using the same personal statement and application to apply for say Biology and History.

A UCAS application includes the following sections:

  • Personal Details
  • Education and Qualifications
  • Employment History
  • Chosen Course(s) and Institution(s)
  • Personal Statement
  • References

The personal statement and the references are probably the most important part of the application as these tell the universities what you are like and why you have chosen a particular course. References describe your personality, what kind of learner you are, what your strengths are and what you would bring to the university, and are written by your teachers. It is important that you ask teachers who know you well and who you get on with, as a personal statement easily sways a university into accepting or rejecting you. For more information on what personal statements entail, please see our guide.


UCAS Points

UCAS uses a tariff system to convert your qualifications into points. All of the different grades and qualifications are worth a number of these UCAS points, for example, an A at A-Level is worth 48 points. As well as gaining points for A-Levels etc., you can gain points for other qualifications such as music, dance and drama exams, an Extended Project Qualification and the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Each course at university will require applicants to have a certain number of points to gain a place and may specify certain criteria, for example, 104-120 points altogether including an A in Maths.


Deferred Entry

If you are planning on taking a gap year it is possible to fill out your UCAS form one year early. This is called deferred entry and means that you will be able to gain a place for the following year and hold it. If you are planning to take a year out, it is a good idea to apply with deferred entry because it means that you can take advantage of the advice of your teachers and careers advisors at school and you can avoid all of the stress of applying to uni during your year off.


Key Dates

You will probably start thinking about your application and your statement in the summer before your final year of college.

  • First Applications Accepted: 1st September
  • Deadline for Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine, Vet & Dentistry: 15th October
  • Deadline for the majority of the Other Courses: 15th January (you can check the course details using the UCAS search tool for the correct deadline).

Each applicant is given their own unique ID by UCAS and this means that they will email you with news of any offers. If you get an offer, it will be either conditional or unconditional:

  • Conditional - This means that the offer is dependant on you getting certain grades in your A-Levels. The offer might say that you need at least 180 UCAS points, at least AAA or may specifically ask for a certain grade in a certain subject e.g. A in Maths.
  • Unconditional - This means that you have a place at university, no matter what grades you get. This is more likely if you have already taken your A-Levels but it is becoming more common, even for students who have not yet taken their exams.

Prior to being accepted, you may be required to take an interview, attend an audition, submit a portfolio, or take an additional test. If this is the case, following the interview, audition, etc. offers will be processed in the usual way.

If your application has been received by 15th January, universities should make a decision by 31st March. However, response times tend to vary greatly. If you are worried, you can always track the progress of your application online.


Accepting Offers

If you get an offer from a university, you will be invited to attend a post-application open day, to help you get a feel for the university. This should help you to decide which offers to accept. You can accept two of your offers:

  • The Firm Acceptance - This is the university you would prefer to go to, and if you already have an unconditional offer, you will be guaranteed a place here come September.

  • The Insurance Acceptance - This is your backup choice. If your first choice is a conditional offer, it may be that you don’t do as well in your exams as you hope and don’t get the grades required to go there. In this case, you will attend your insurance university. For this reason, it’s better to choose a university with lower acceptance grades than your first choice.   

For more information about which universities you should choose, please see our UCAS offers page. After submitting your choices, you should start thinking about accommodation and funding. If you did not receive any offers or any that you wanted to accept, you can apply for another university through UCAS extra.


Results Day

A-Level results are released on the second Thursday of August. If you get the grades required by either your firm or insurance university, you don’t need to do anything and you’re off to university in the Autumn. If you do not get the grades you need for either of these, you can use Clearing to find a place at a university that still has spaces. Alternatively, if get much better grades than you expected, you can upgrade and apply to a better university through UCAS Adjustment.

If you've applied through UCAS, used all your five choices and haven't received any offers (either you've been unsuccessful or declined the offers you've received), you may be able to apply for another course through UCAS Extra. 

How does it work?

Extra is available from 25th February until early July. If you are eligible, in the Track section of your UCAS application 'Add Extra Choice' will become available. Click on this and enter the details of the university and course, and UCAS will send them a copy of your application.

You can only make one choice at a time, and once you commit to a course you can't apply to any more universities, however, there's no limit to the number of times you can add an Extra choice to your application.

To find universities and courses which still have places you can use the UCAS search tool - those open are indicated with a grey 'X' while you can also search using the 'Applying through Extra' filter.

If you accept an offer through Extra you'll be placed with them if you meet the conditions of your offer. If you don't meet the conditions of their offer, you can use Clearing to find a place after your A-level results have come out, while if you don't initially find a place through Extra you can also use Clearing.

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