UCAS – The applications process explained

A level students receiving their results

If you are looking to get onto a course at pretty much any British University, the chances are that you are going to have to go through UCAS. Though there are some higher educations services who are not affiliated with UCAS (which stands for Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), anyone wishing to gain entry to an undergraduate course must go through the company, regardless of whether you are based in the UK or abroad.

The Application

Applicants are expected to apply through a form on the UCAS website, detailing the five courses for which they intend to apply, with the university of choice for each. During the process, all of these choices are strictly confidential. Later, these must be narrowed down to first choice, second choice and back-up – usually around the start of January.

Personal Statement

One of the key parts of any UCAS application – alongside your past academic performance and expected grades – is the personal statement. Giving each student the chance to showcase their hobbies, personalities and what drives them, it, in turn, give those at the university a glimpse into the student they may be recruiting. However, sometimes the importance of the personal statement is overstated – good grades will always make up for a poor personal statement, but the reverse isn’t necessarily true.

Costs and Fees

In recent years, the cost of applying via UCAs has gone up – though this isn’t as extortionate as many make it out to be. Given the amount of resources, and the quality of service provided by UCAS to students, the most recent costs of £12 for one course or £23 for two or more appear very reasonable. This can be paid by the student, or by parents. At the moment, there is no way to get a UCAS application for free.

Personal Data required

As mentioned above, the application process does require some additional personal data. Though you would expect current qualifications, courses taken and expected grades to be integral to the application, UCAS also needs any past employment, criminal history and a reference of character, generally from a teacher or tutor who has been heavily involved with the applicants development.

Getting the offer

After the January deadline for applications, students are free to concentrate their minds on getting the best grades possible in their A-Levels. UCAS generally advise organisations to make their decisions by March, and let applicants know if they have been accepted or rejected around then – but most people expect to know by May, and that is usually a certain style of offer.

Different styles of offers

There are four different types of offers that applicants can accept to receive if they’re accepted – these are Unconditional Firm (UF) – which means you have a place reardless of your results – Conditional Firm (CF) – which means that your place is dependant on achieving your predicted grades – and the same two with Unconditional Insurance and Conditional Insurance – which both relates to your second choice of University.


For those that have narrowly missed out on their places, or have yet to receive an offer, UCAS does offer a clearing service – suitably enough called UCAS Clearing – which gives applicants a chance to get a place on a University course that still has positions free. Run from late July until late September, it has become an integral part of UCAS’ services, and is relied upon heavily by those who have underperformed at A-level or have simply applied for oversubscribed courses that have been unable to grant them a place.

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