Applying to University in the UK Through UCAS

You’re thinking of studying in the UK. Great idea! The UK is blessed with some of the most prestigious universities in the world offering a variety of fascinating courses. Therefore, studying in the UK is very much a wonderful opportunity to pursue your academic passions at some world-leading institutions. This has led to over 350,000 international students attending UK universities every year with the number increasing annually. Find out how to apply to universities in the UK through UCAS, the applications system that controls the entries to all higher education institutions in the UK.

Stage One

The Start of the Process

First things first, consider the course options that you would be interested in studying. Generally with UCAS, you can make five course selections for five universities, or five different course options for one university selection. There can be slight exceptions to this procedure say at the likes of Oxford and Cambridge where only one application is accepted.

The importance of research here must not be understated. Thoroughly check up on the courses that you’re looking to study and the universities that interest you. Both the UCAS website and the individual website of a particular university will provide you with plenty of information for you to make an informed decision. Given that courses typically start in either September or October and require you to apply around a year in advance, giving yourself plenty of time for research is crucial.

Visit the University

Another great way of getting all of the information you need first-hand is to visit the universities that you are interested in. By visiting the university, you can gain the point of view of a student studying there as well as meeting the lecturers and tutors for your chosen course. Check the university website for ‘Open Day’ events which take place throughout the year for prospective students. For international students, attending such events might not be possible so have a look at the virtual tours on offer through UCAS.

Do your Research

When it comes to making your decision, it’s best to do so from a researched standpoint. Degrees often last between three to four years so it is important to have thoroughly assessed your choices when it comes to narrowing down your selections. For some courses such as languages and engineering, there will most likely be a study-abroad or industry placements for a year which can look great on your resume. The key here is to assess what suits you and what you would like to get out of your chosen degree. Also, examine the course fees required for your courses through the institution’s website or via UCAS as these can vary.


Another significant aspect of the process is the requirement for a particular course. Most universities and colleges in the UK will have entry requirements for prospective students so it is important to ascertain whether you meet the criteria. Contact the admissions board at your chosen university to investigate this further. It is always best to liaise with the university to see if you are eligible, as the requirements for universities can vary. For example, some universities may require English language proficiency.

Understanding the Points System

As part of the requirement process of your application, universities can stipulate that you need to achieve a particular amount of UCAS Tariff Points to be accepted onto a course. While it can be the case that universities don’t completely dismiss applicants that fall short of their UCAS point requirements, it is important to keep in mind the academic criteria that your chosen university has set.

A-level and Advanced VCE grade Tariff points
A* 56
A 48
B 40
C 32
D 24
E 16

Stage Two

So you have carefully researched and picked your course and university options, what next? It’s time to begin your application! Using the UCAS online application tool, you can apply to UK higher education institutions regardless of your location in the world. There are a number of important stages to this application process:

Personal details

The first stage of your application will be providing your personal details. These will include your basic contact details.


The next stage is to input the course choices you’ve carefully decided. Don’t worry about the order, these get decided later!


This is the step where you outline all your current qualifications that you have achieved through school, college or other courses. Additionally, you will list your forthcoming qualifications too.


Here you will detail any current or previous employment. If it’s particularly relevant for your course, note it down!

Personal Statement

Arguably the most important part of your application, your personal statement can be crucial in succeeding in an application for a course/university. Here’s your time to shine! A personal statement is an overview of who you are as an academic candidate. It’s the stage where you explain why you should be accepted by a university onto your chosen course. With a limit of 4,000 characters, describe any personal and professional achievements as well as any extra-curricular activities you have done that will make you stand out. The key is to make it clear why you are the perfect candidate for the course and university, providing an overview as to why that is. Be sure to TAKE YOUR TIME with this stage. Preparation is so important when submitting a successful personal statement. Give yourself plenty of time to write and redraft it until you have the perfect personal statement for your application. Have an independent party, such as a teacher, read over it and get them to provide you with feedback. They will have experienced advice for you and will make sure you have a statement that boasts information particularly relevant to your course application.


Essentially an academic recommendation, this will be provided by the likes of a teacher, academic tutor or careers advisor. Again, give yourself time and request a reference in a timely manner to ensure you have an application with a reference. It also gives you one less thing to worry about when it comes to the rest of the application.

Key Dates

As with any application process, time is of the essence. There are a number of crucial dates that you must be aware of as you make your application. Give yourself plenty of time with regards to these dates and remember to submit your application by 18:00 GMT, UK time.

15th October

If you’re looking to apply for any dentistry, medicine or veterinary qualifications, the majority of universities/courses apply a deadline of the 15th October one year prior to the beginning of the courses. This date is also significant for applications to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge as it applies here too.

15th January

Keep this date in mind. The majority of students will work towards this date as it is the last advised submission date. Apply later and you might find that some universities won’t consider your application.

24th March

For a number of art and design courses, the 24th March is often the last date for submission. Always double check with the universities as to when their advised application dates are as they can vary from institution to institution.

30th June

Ideally with time and preparation, your application won’t run after this date. But if it does, you will be entered into the clearing system. You will have to contact the university directly to see if there are any spots left on a course, meaning your choice is somewhat out of your hands. The UCAS website will list the applicable course (that will apply to you if you are in clearing) between early July until the dawn of term-time in September.

5th July

The clearing system opens.

For a full comprehensive list of dates, visit the UCAS website.

The Offer Process

You’ve sent off your application and are waiting to hear back as to whether it’s been successful. But how will you know? Providing you’re set up in Track, when a university makes an offer, you will receive a notification email which can state one of 4 offer types. These are:

  • Conditional - you’ve been accepted but you will need to meet the entry requirements, typically the universities’ UCAS Tariff Points criteria through your A-level results.
  • Unconditional - The most secure type of offer you can receive. You have been accepted onto the course and allocated a place. You may need to outline your qualifications and provide proof of your ability to meet certain medical and financial requirements. Largely though, receiving an unconditional offer from a university means they want you to study there.
  • Unsuccessful - Hopefully you won’t receive this type of notification, but it means that the university has decided not to offer you a place.
  • Withdrawn - This type of notification signifies that either you or the university has decided to withdraw a course selection application. Typically in these instances the university will explain this decision through Track.

Some universities may choose to invite you for an interview first before offering you a place. You will get a notification of this desire through Track.

Upon receiving your desired offers, then comes the big decision - which offer to take. From the five options, you will need to narrow it down to two:

  • Your first choice - the option that you prefer the most out of all of them
  • Your insurance choice - This is your back-up if your firm choice is a conditional offer and is unsuccessful.
  • By selecting these two choices, you will be declining the rest of the offers.

For conditional offers, the university will update your application status upon the release of your exam results. If you meet the academic requirements and have been firmly accepted by the university, you will receive a confirmation letter in Track within five to 7 seven days of your place confirmation.

Things To Consider


Obviously having all the correct documentation is essential for studying in the UK. For students outside the EEA and Switzerland, a Tier 4 Visa is required. While you can apply three months prior to the start of your course and takes two weeks to clear, it can be a fairly busy process during peak times so leaving sufficient time is advised.


University can be expensive. You will have to factor in travel, accommodation, living and bill costs. Expect to have a higher cost of living in the larger cities such as London as the smaller cities such as York. Do your research, set your budget and assess all necessities for your study in the UK.

Are there any other tips you would give to prospective students about applying to universities in the UK? Let us know in the comments below!

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