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What is a UCAS application, how does it work and when do I apply?

UCAS Application

UCAS – it’s not just a mysterious abbreviation! If you’re thinking about going to university, here we explain what the UCAS application process is all about, how to do it, and when.

What does UCAS stand for?

UCAS stands for University and Colleges Admissions Services and it’s the charitable organisation through which your applications to universities and most colleges of higher education are processed. Higher education, or HE, is the next step up the educational ladder after GCSEs at school and A-levels in the sixth form. UCAS process over two million full time undergraduate course applications every year. UCAS has a step-by-step guide to the application process on its website.

Why are UCAS so important and how will I know how to apply?

Rising tuition fees for university courses have put a huge amount of pressure on young people to choose the right course and the right university so that they don’t make an expensive mistake. UCAS are important because they are the primary route for everyone choosing to go down the university road. UCAS understands the twists and turns of the journey students will be making and they are there to provide guidance every step of the way. UCAS even provide a list of all the unfamiliar words and terms they use.

When do I need to apply through UCAS?

There are three application deadlines in the UCAS calendar which students who are applying through UCAS need to be aware of: October for those applying to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, January for those applying to all other universities and March for those wishing to apply to do a degree in art and design. The first two are referred to as ‘A’ route applications and the last as ‘B’ route, as the process for applying to art and design courses is quite different to applying to study academic subjects.

What else do I need to know about the UCAS application process?

Before you start filling in your UCAS form, it’s really important to start doing the research into which unis offer the kinds of courses you’re interested in studying. The UCAS website contains details on all the universities, the courses they run (there are thousands!), student finance, accommodation and much more. There’s also the UCAS Connect page on their website where you can read blogs ask questions and share information with other applicants.

Researching all the possibilities and choosing the right HE course is important because what you study will have an impact on your career prospects and the kind of jobs you’ll be able to do. Courses are not all the same – each university will have structured its degree courses differently, depending on the subject so there’s a lot to get your head around! A degree or an HND significantly improves your chances of finding a fulfilling job and for some professions, like medicine or law, a higher education qualification is essential.

Help for parents from UCAS

If you’re talking through your options with your parents or guardians, UCAS have a great parents page on their website where they can go for information – make sure you tell them about it so that they’re not in the dark about the UCAS application process. They’ll then be able to help you with form-filling and making decisions!

Key dates for your diary – UCAS application 2015-16 process

15 January 2016, 18:00 (UK time) – This is the UCAS application deadline for the majority of courses.

24 March 2016, 18:00 (UK time) – This is the UCAS application deadline for applying for some art and design courses.

All applications received after 30 June are entered into Clearing , which is a process for finding places for late applicants and those who do not receive the grades they need and who need to find an alternative university to go to.

If you’re applying through your school or college, sometimes they give you earlier deadlines to fill in your UCAS application than ours – this is to make sure they can write your reference and send your application on time.

What are tariff points? 

This is where we explain how points don’t mean prizes – but hopefully, UCAS tariff points do mean a university offer! When you’re looking through a university prospectus and notice a column named ‘entry requirements: 280-320 UCAS points’ and you’re like, what? What about my A-level grades or my pass rates on my BTEC course? Don’t panic! It’s just the system that UCAS use.

The UCAS points system converts your post-16 qualifications into points by means of a tariff. This doesn’t affect your grades or make them more or less valuable – it just helps universities evaluate each student’s grades and makes it easier to make comparisons between the wide variety of courses and qualifications available. There’s a grades/points conversion chart on the UCAS website.

However, not all universities and colleges use this system, which makes it even more important that you remember which university is asking for which grades. Some do ask for your raw grades, for example, ABB with one qualification in biology if you’re applying to do medicine. Each university, depending on the course you want to do, may ask for more specific entry requirements, but most use either UCAS points or raw grades. Don’t be alarmed if they ask for both as this does happen sometimes.

It is very important that you take note of entry requirements when first looking for a potential university or college, as it will make you aware whether the course is right for you. If, for example, your target grades for A-level are ABB and you look at a course asking for triple A*, it may be a bit out of your depth. The flip side to this is that you also don’t want to look around a university asking for lower than your target grades, as you may mean you won’t be tested hard enough and you may not reach your full potential.

So how do you calculate UCAS tariff points? The official UCAS website contains all the tariff tables for nearly every qualification in the UK and the number of points allocated to each. Use these tariff tables to calculate your expected UCAS points you’ll gain from your own qualifications, including A-levels, BTECs and the International Baccalaureate, amongst others.

Getting extra UCAS points

Good news if you have a hobby! If you play a musical instrument, have participated in a dance class and have passed exams at grade 6 level or above or if you’ve taken an exam in a vocational subject, these all classify for extra UCAS points too! Ok, so they are not going to get you into higher education on their own (a pass at grade 6 is only worth 20 points) but these can pull up your total points and help get you that place.

There are a number of elements that universities and colleges will consider when determining whether you are a suitable candidate but the major factor for most of them is purely and simply your grades. Having said that, universities also take into account your personal statement, work experience and anything else you do outside of school which is relevant to your course or shows that you have other skills.

About Lynette Daly

Lynette is the publishing editor of Moving On magazine. Moving On is devoted to helping young people make good choices for their future – education, qualifications and careers. Moving On really wants to motivate you! Our articles cover a range of topics to inspire and give ideas. Our magazines are delivered free to all schools, colleges and sixth forms in England and is also available online.

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