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Applying to university? Here's how you do it

So you've decided to go to university, but how do you actually get a place? Read on for our step-by-step guide to the UCAS application process.

How do I apply to university?

UCAS stands for the University College and Admissions Service. It is the organisation that looks after people’s applications to higher education. So, they act as a kind of link between you, your school and all the universities you might want to apply to.

If you want to go to university, you need to fill out a UCAS application online. Here's how you do it:

Register with UCAS

To get things started, you need to register with UCAS by giving some personal details. If you're applying through your school or college, you'll need to ask them for a 'buzzword' as well. This will give you access to your Apply page, where you make your application.  

Registering with UCAS costs £22 if you apply for more than one course, or £11 for just one. 

If you have trouble accessing the internet, UCAS will send out a paper application form 'in exceptional circumstances'. See the UCAS website for more information.

Applying to universityChoosing a subject

You're allowed up to five different course choices, which most people use to apply for courses in the same subject at different universities. You don't have to make five choices though, if you're sure you know where you want to go, and there are also a couple of exceptions:

  • You can only apply for four different medicine, dentistry or veterinary science courses, although you can use your fifth choice for something different
  • You can only apply for one course at either Oxford or Cambridge. 

Choosing where to study

UCAS Course Search is a good place to start researching courses at different universities, and our Picking a university article has plenty of other advice about this.

Universities have entry requirements for their courses, which are based on UCAS points. After researching each university's entry requirements, you should fill in your choices on your Apply page. Most students will pick one university with lower entry requirements than their other choices in case they don't get the grades they expect - this is called an 'insurance' choice.

Personal statement

As well as the qualifications you already have and the predicted grades given by your school or college, universities will judge you on your personal statement. This is where you tell them why you want to study the subject, and other reasons like big achievements or extracurricular activities which will convince them to take you. See our article How do I write my personal statement? to help yours stand out from the crowd.

But remember that you only write one personal statement for your overall application, not one for each individual university. Universities will not know which other universities you've applied for when they see your personal statement - so it's important not to mention any by name.

Getting a reference

You also need a 'referee' who can write a statement about you, confirming your details and that you're suitable to study at university. This will normally be a teacher at your school or college, but could also be someone like your boss at work. However, your referee cannot be a member of your family or close friend. 

Application deadline

Applications for most courses need to be made by 15 January, with some exceptions:

  • Medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses have a deadline of 15 October, as do all courses at Oxford and Cambridge
  • Some art and design courses have a deadline of 24 March
  • You can still apply after the 15 January deadline, but universities might not give your application the same consideration as they would to people who applied on time. Any applications received after June 30 are automatically put into clearing

What happens then?

UCAS sends your application to the admissions office your university choices, who will decide whether or not to offer you a place. Most universities will make their decision based on your predicted grades and personal statement, but you might need to sit an entrance exam for some courses like medicine or law, and certain universities might ask you to attend an interview.

Your offers and rejections are sent to your personal UCAS page, and you should start receiving them in March. See the University offers explained article for more information. Now it's time to buckle down for those all-important exams to get the grades for where you want to go!

What happens when I get my results?

Results day is when you find out whether you're going to university or not. It's likely to be one of the most nerve-wracking days of your life, so take a look at our Results day explained article to find out what you need to do, whether its good news or bad. Best of luck!

  • Date published: 13th November 2014
  • Written by: Ian Thomas

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