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What is UCAS?


For those about to take the path to higher education, UCAS may seem like little more than a mysterious abbreviation. Here we explain what UCAS is, the processes involved, and the services they can provide for you.

BY Charlotte O’Neill and Amy Kelly

UCAS stands for Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. It is the organisation responsible for managing applications to higher education courses in the UK. Higher education (HE) at a university or college is the step after sixth form or college. UCAS processes over two million applications for full-time undergraduate courses every year.

Why is UCAS important?

UCAS is important not only as the primary route into HE, but because of its assistance to students in making informed choices. Rising tuition fees have only added to the pressure for young people to choose the right course and the right university, amongst other vital decisions about their future. UCAS understands this leap and the benefits of researching around HE. Andrea Robertson, UCAS Director of Customer Operations, notes: ‘Whether it is the October, January or March deadline that matters to the applicant, it’s never too early to start researching choices’. The UCAS website contains details on universities, courses, finance and much more and can help with this research.

The right HE choice can be very important in terms of career prospects:

“A degree or HND can improve your chances of finding a fulfilling job, and for some professions (such as medicine) a higher education qualification is essential”

Parents, too, see the importance of HE. A recent survey of registered parents revealed that 90.6 per cent strongly agreed that university education is an important investment in their son or daughter’s lives.

Key dates for your diary 2013

june6June 2013: Start of the online application process through Apply at

sept1September 2013: Applicants can send applications to UCAS from mid-September.

oct1515 October 2013: The UCAS deadline for all applications to Oxford and Cambridge. This is also the deadline for all courses in medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine/science.

jan1515 January 2014: The deadline for the majority of courses (except for those with a 15 October deadline, and some art and design courses – check course details for the correct deadline). The reference must be completed before you send your application.

If you submit your application by this deadline, you and others who have met this date will be given equal consideration. Submitting your application after this deadline means the institutions will consider your application only if places are available on your course.

may77 May 2014: If you receive all your uni/college decisions by 31 March you must reply to any offers by this date or they’ll be declined.

june3030 June 2014: The UCAS deadline for making one or more choices. Applications submitted after this deadline will not be sent to institutions and will be automatically put into Clearing.

 What are tariff points?

So, you’re looking through a university prospectus and notice in a column “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, its 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 helps universities and colleges evaluate every students’ grades against others making for an easy comparison between the wide variety of course and qualifications available. This system also aims to make the application to universities easier for students!

However, not all universities and colleges use this system, which makes it even more important that you remember which university/college is asking for what grades. Some do ask for your raw grades, for example: ABB with one qualification in Biology if applying for a medicine course. Each university and college, and sometimes their individual courses, may ask for different or specific entry requirements, but most will mostly stick with either UCAS points or the raw grades. Don’t be alarmed if they state both as this does happen.

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 of 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 not reach your full potential.

So how do you calculate UCAS points? is the official UCAS website that contains all the tariff tables for nearly every qualification in the UK. These tariff tables can then be used to calculate your expected UCAS points from your qualifications. These include A-levels, BTEC’s and the International Baccalaureate, amongst others.

Getting extra UCAS tariff points

Good news if you have a hobby!

If you play a musical instrument or perhaps participate in a dance class and have taken an exam grade 6 or above or taken a vocational exam, these also classify for UCAS points! 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!

Don’t get too worried about the UCAS point system and tariff. In the end, there are a number of elements that universities and colleges will consider when determining whether you are a suitable candidate for them. The initial factor for them will be your results.

Don’t forget that universities don’t except you purely on your grades – its also about your personal statement, relevant work experience, etc. This also means getting the right grades does not always guarantee you a place at university! Don’t panic, however – if you don’t get the grades, there are other options.

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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