To say that the UCAS application is daunting would be an understatement – the stakes are high, the decisions feel enormous and everything you click and write can feel as though there’s a weight of expectation behind it. Take a breath. Maybe a nice cold glass of water. You can do this - and it’s simpler than you might think.
It's important to open with the caveat early on that all information and links used are correct to our knowledge at the time of writing (July 2023). Please make sure you are up-to-date with any changes made from year-to year, perhaps most crucially, the deadlines for your application cycle.
This particular blog is going to focus on undergraduates navigating the UCAS application process for what is likely to be the first time.
We’re going to assume that you’ve reached this stage after giving your course choices some serious consideration. If, however, you are still undecided about what subject you would like to pursue as a degree, we’ve got that covered in our blog Which University Course is Right For You?
What is UCAS?
First things first, UCAS (University Central Admissions Service) is the organisation through which you apply to your university course, medical school, conservatoire, or certain apprenticeships. We’re going to take you through what to expect from the application process and outline what is required at every stage.
Create an account
In order to get started with your application, you will need to create an account. Make sure at this point that you check with your school, college or centre if they would advise you to use an email address they have provided for you. If, for example, you have a school email address, this may be deactivated when your final term ends in Year 13; you will need to be able to access any emails from UCAS across July and August when your results come through. If you use your private email address, make sure it has a professional tone and isn’t a jokey one you came up with when you were 13; SparklyGiggleFish007 might not make the impression you’re hoping for!
When you’ve verified your email address and completed the registration, you will be given a UCAS ID number – make a note of it somewhere safe!
When you’re setting up, it will ask you to select up to 3 subjects you’re interested in. Don’t be too concerned about this as it is simply to give UCAS an indication of the kind of information about open days and offers you might find interesting - you can change them at a later time if necessary.
You’ll be able to see when you have notifications from UCAS, track how much progress you have made on your application as well as lots of other kinds of useful information about open days and courses.
One particularly useful tool is the Tariff Points Calculator which is able to turn grades into points and vice versa, so when you are researching courses, you will be able to know exactly what the university is after and if it is something within your reach.
Linking to your institution
When you’re about to apply for universities or conservatoires, UCAS will ask you for a Buzzword from your school, college or centre. This is something you should know or be able to find out so UCAS can verify that you genuinely attend that institution. If you are applying for UCAS independently (and this is only recommended if you are not affiliated with an educational institution) you will not need a buzzword.
Know your deadlines
We’ve mentioned deadlines at the start - dates and deadlines for each year will be on the UCAS which you need to read carefully; add phone reminders, write them up on your calendar, in your diary – anywhere!
If you are planning on applying to Oxbridge or to study Medicine, Veterinary, Dentistry etc, you will be an Early Applicant and your official deadline will be in October.
For all other applicants, yours will be in January.
That said, your schools and colleges will want to see your applications earlier than this, giving them time to check your personal statements, write references, and make sure you haven’t made errors.
Also, the earlier you are able to get that application in, the more likely you are to hear back quickly from universities.
One section at a time
Personal details - This bit is easy-peasy!
Contact and residency details - If you are between 16 and 19, studying at a school, college or centre, it’s advisable, under “Nominated Access”, to select “Yes” and choose your parent or guardian.
Nationality details - This part is self-explanatory. The Supporting information section is relevant if you need to attach documentation which demonstrates your Nationality.
English Language skills - If English is not your first language, here’s where you will have the opportunity to outline any English language qualifications you’ve got such as IELTS.
Finance and funding - Most applicants will choose the Student Finance option and you will find all the information you need from Student Finance England, Northern Ireland, Wales or the Student Awards Agency Scotland.
Diversity and inclusion - This is pretty straightforward; please be assured that you don’t have to answer all these questions, as “prefer not to say” is one of the answers. However, be aware that the fuller the picture prospective universities have about you, the better they will be able to provide or direct you to appropriate support whether that be financial or otherwise.
More about you - There is a whole range of support for disabilities, learning conditions, social, income-related, emotional and/or mental circumstances. This is where you can explain anything about yourself and your own situation that will notify prospective universities of any assistance or particular consideration you might need should you go on to study there.
Education - You can add any place of education where you have and received qualifications, e.g. GCSEs, AS Levels. You can add multiple schools but you only need to include places where you earned those qualifications; they don’t need to know your primary school or anything earlier than 13 unless you took a GCSE extremely early!
You will need to know the date you started at that school/college and the date you left. For your date of leaving the school, college or centre you are currently at, the end date will be the date of results day as opposed to when you go on study leave. You will need your ULN (Unique Learner Number) to hand – your school/college/centre exams officer will know this if you do not.
You will be able to add your qualifications; your school/college may have created a qualifications shortlist which is handy in that they will have chosen only the kinds of qualifications they offer and you’ll be able to find them quickly. No worries if not, as you can search for your qualifications too. Make sure you refer to your exam results transcripts or certificates to ensure you have chosen exactly the correct wording.
Some BTECs, for example, are delivered as courses worth different amounts of credits and so the names will be almost identical; take care to choose the one that applies to you! You will also need to know your BTEC registration number. Remember to include any AS qualifications (GCE Advanced Subsidiary) – if you have the results, enter them, if you are still awaiting them, select “pending”. If you studied internationally and gained qualifications which aren’t offered in the UK, don’t worry – UCAS will let you select those options too and if you can’t find them, you can enter them into the “other” box.
Assuming you are still currently studying your A-Levels or equivalent qualifications, you then need to enter the qualifications you are currently studying for in Year 13. Again, it’s important you get these right! Put the grade down as “pending” as you will not have yet received your final grade. When you do this, your teacher or referee will be given the option by UCAS to give your predicted grade. Be sure to save all your qualifications as you go along!
Employment - If you’ve had any jobs, they may be part-time or summer jobs if you are aged 16-19 , or you may have been working for many years in several different roles if you are applying for university in your 20s, 30s or beyond. Regardless, you will need to enter the employer, your job title and the period in which you worked there, or, if you are still employed there, when you started.
Extra activities - You will have an opportunity to add activities or courses you have attended run specifically by universities such as summer schools or study days; you will need to add the type of activity and who provided that activity, when it took place. You can still include activities run by universities you aren’t going to be applying to.
Personal statement - This is your opportunity in, 47 lines or 4000 characters, to demonstrate to universities that you are a highly suitable candidate for the courses you are applying for. Don’t type it straight into the box; take time to draft and redraft it in somewhere like MS Word or Google Documents. Once you’ve got the finished masterpiece, then you can paste it into the box. For top tips on how to ensure your Personal Statement is a cut above the rest, check out our blog on How to Write a Stand-out Personal Statement.
Remember to save each section as complete as you go along so it can be sent to your referee. You can see if you’ve done this as each will be marked as “Section Complete”.
How many courses do I get to choose?
You get to apply for 5 courses. As you are only able to write one personal statement, you should choose courses which are closely related to each other, if not the same subject. Your personal statement will be geared towards selling your suitability to study your particular chosen subject so if you apply for 4 French courses and your 5th option is Maths, then that particular university admissions officer will be reading something that doesn’t reflect your interest and aptitude for their course at all! They won’t be particularly interested in the fact that you went on a French exchange programme and did work experience at the Louvre!
The only slight exception is if you are applying to study Medicine, Veterinary or Dentistry. If, for example, you want to study Medicine, you can apply for only 4 courses of this kind but the 5th, if you would like to choose one, has to be something else. Ideally, this will be a subject closely related to medicine such as Biomedical Science, so your personal statement will still be full of applicable content. Very occasionally, you might be asked by that university to write a second personal statement for them.
Adding your choices
Once you have decided on your 5 choices, ensure you’ve got the name of the university and of the course right. Some course names and even a few universities are similar so make absolutely sure you’re selecting the correct one.
You’ll be asked to give your Point of Entry – most people will be starting in their first year so you will be selecting “1”, but if you are going to do a foundation course, put “0”.
If you’re going to defer a year, make sure you enter the correct starting date.
You don’t need to enter your choices in order of preference, as the universities will not see where else you have applied.
I’m Finished - What Next?
Once you have completed all aspects of the application, your application status should show that it is 100% complete. We mentioned “referees” earlier. They should be someone who knows you from an academic perspective and ideally this will be your tutor, teacher or a member of the senior leadership team of your school. If you have left school quite recently, it may be a good idea to get in touch with your former teachers to request that they are your referees. Alternatively, you can ask someone such as an employer, supervisor or trainer you can rely on and contact easily. Do not ask family, friends, partners or ex-partners though as UCAS may cancel your application.
A referee will check everything, proofread and will be another pair of eyes on everything you’ve done in your application and personal statement. You will only have the option to send your application to your referee if you have completed all sections of your profile and your personal statement. It is your referee who sends this to your universities and they should only send it once you have agreed you are happy for them to do so.
You will need to pay for the application with a debit or credit card; as of July 2023, the cost for multiple choices is £27, and is £22.50 for a single choice.
Most educational establishments will have staff dedicated to UCAS preparation, providing you with guidance and advice throughout.
If you feel you would benefit from some 1:1 UCAS application mentoring, we have tutors with a wealth of experience and advice. From undergraduates who have just been through the university application process to tutors who specialise in university admissions prep, Titanium Tutors has someone who would love to help you take the steps to your ideal university destination.
Blog Post Crafted by Jenny
Jenny is a Deputy Company Manager, co-managing our Admin Team.
She studied Theatre Studies at Rose Bruford College and got a First Class BA Hons from University of Manchester, before going on to teach Drama in schools.
She loves chilli con carne and a cup of tea, but not together, and is quite confident she could beat you at scrabble.