Are you thinking of applying to a university in the UK? Here is everything you need to know to submit a UCAS application, in the admissions system for universities in the United Kingdom.
Learn how you can prepare the necessary documents to apply with peace of mind in this ultimate guide to the UCAS application process.
What is UCAS?
UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) is the UK educational system that centralizes all applications to public universities in the UK.
Applications on UCAS only concern first-cycle university admissions, i.e. admissions to bachelor (license) or certain foundation courses (preparatory classes).
To apply to a UK university after the Baccalaureate, your UCAS application will therefore pass through this platform. To get started, start by identifying the courses that interest you and then create an account on UCAS!
UCAS Application Process
To start your UCAS application process, you will need to follow a few essential steps:
- Choose your university course
- Create an account on UCAS
- Complete your personal information
- Write your Personal Statement or cover letter
- Convert your Baccalaureate grades or predictive grades into Tariff Points
- Find a reference
- Pay the registration fee
- Submit your application on time
Choose your university course
Once your registration on the UCAS site has been validated and your personal information has been completed, you can select up to five university courses.
UCAS search tool: start research
To find the courses that interest you, you can use the UCAS search tool.
There are in fact over 50,000 degree courses across the UK, so it is important to do some research before deciding.
To begin, define which subject interests you. By choosing a field that appeals to you, even that you are passionate about, you increase your chances of succeeding in the sector you are considering.
UCAS provides future students with a guide to the subjects that can be studied at the university. From archaeology to chemistry, dentistry, law, engineering or finance, there are many paths.
Ask yourself about study programs, entry requirements, as well as possible career opportunities and choices.
Once you have defined the course you wish to follow, you can use the UCAS search tool to determine which universities offer courses in this field, their programs, duration, prerequisites, etc.
You will see that there are also joint programs, which combine several disciplines. This is the type of course chosen by Antoine L., who did his Bachelor of European Studies and Modern Language at the University of Bath:
There is a multitude of licenses and subjects offered with different combinations in each university.
Maximize your chances of success
Since your application to UCAS is common to all the courses chosen, it must be consistent.
Thus, if you are applying for a BA in History of Art at the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Physics at King’s College London, it will be difficult for you to justify these choices and defend them in the same application.
To stay relevant, select similar programs or disciplines that have strong ties to each other.
To ensure your chances of getting at least one offer, also choose universities whose entry criteria are more or less selective. Antoine L. shares with us the strategy he followed to optimize his chances:
I was advised to put a university for which I did not necessarily have the level, but which I could perhaps have according to my marks in the Bac, with two choices within my reach and two backup choices.
Note that there is no hierarchy at UCAS, so the order of your choices does not matter.
How to choose your university?
You have spotted several courses in different universities and do not know how to decide between them. Several factors must be taken into account to refine your choices, such as:
- The prestige of the university and its selection criteria;
- The reputation and content of the targeted program;
- The employability rate and possible opportunities after graduation;
- The living environment: where is the university located? How is its campus organized? What is his size?
- Housing options;
Tuition fees and cost of living on-site, as well as the possibility of funding through a scholarship.
Choosing the right university and course is essential to ensure a positive and enriching experience.
UCAS Personal Statement
The UCAS Personal Statement is the centrepiece of your application file on UCAS. This personal statement, which must not exceed 4000 characters, must summarise your background and your accomplishments while expressing your motivation, your qualities and your skills for the course in question.
Writing a personal statement that will convince you, you have to be original but above all patient. It is indeed recommended to start early to be able to optimize its text and its arguments.
To help you, at Student Good Guide we have a detailed guide on how to write a personal statement and UCAS personal statements. For some inspiration, you can take a look at our base of 1000+ personal statement examples.
UCAS Tariff Points
Some universities practice the UCAS Tariff Points system, that is to say, they require students to have a minimum of UCAS points to integrate their courses.
You will therefore need to convert your Baccalaureate grades or predictive grades to find out if you meet the admission criteria.
If you apply before you have obtained your Baccalaureate results, you can provide the university with the marks you think you have.
These predictive scores, usually indicated by the academic referent, can then be converted into UCAS Tariff Points.
Reference for UCAS
To complete your UCAS application, the reference letter also plays a fundamental role.
It is important to choose the person who will write it: a teacher or any other academic referent.
Please note that members of your family, friends or partners are not authorized to be your referents.
UCAS reference must echo your personal statement and highlight your skills and qualities for the planned course as well as your academic results. Above all, it must contain an estimate of your Baccalaureate results.
How much is the UCAS application fee? To submit your file, you must pay a fee called the application fee on UCAS. You will have to pay either:
22 GBP (about 26 euros) if you have entered only one choice on UCAS; 26.50 GBP (about 31 euros) for more than one choice.
You only have access to the rules once all sections of your application have been completed.
UCAS application deadlines
Submitting your application within the deadline timeframe is essential for the universities you have chosen to study your application. Any delay in submitting your UCAS application can lead to catastrophic consequences.
Find out about the deadlines to respect and manage your time well to obtain all the elements you need.
For most courses, you will need to submit your UCAS application by 26th January.
15th October at 6 pm (UK time) is the deadline for any course at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, or for most courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science, and dentistry.
Some art and design courses have longer deadlines for candidates to work on their portfolios, and therefore close their registrations on March 24.
It is still possible to apply until 30 June of the year the start of the school year.
After this date, the UCAS application will be processed as part of the additional admission procedure, known as Clearing.
Exception on UCAS
For some courses and universities, some particularities must be taken into account to properly prepare your application to UCAS.
Oxbridge Application for Oxford and Cambridge
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge are the oldest and most prestigious in the United Kingdom. Often commonly called “Oxbridge”, they are nevertheless rivals and compete for first place in the rankings of the best universities in the world.
The deadlines for applying to Oxford and applying to Cambridge are particularly short: the UCAS application file must be submitted before October 15th of the year preceding the start of the academic year. It is therefore necessary to be diligent in respecting the deadlines and gathering all the required documents. If you wish to enter Oxbridge directly after the Bac, it is recommended that you start preparing your application from the first class.
Also, note that it is not possible to apply to both universities! You have to choose between one and the other. It should also be noted that neither participates in the Clearing nor the UCAS Extra procedure: if you wish to have a chance to join them, there will be no second chance.
Finally, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are both organized into colleges, which form the basis of student life on site. All have their particularities, with different traditions, sizes, equipment and infrastructure. In your application to UCAS, you must indicate which college you wish to join.
Medicine, dentistry and veterinary application
For courses in medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences courses, the deadlines are the same as for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge: you must apply for these courses before October 15 of the year preceding the start of the academic year.
Finally, the total of wishes on UCAS is reduced to four for these courses. You will therefore only be able to make four choices if you are applying for Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Sciences.
Do I need an English test at UCAS?
The standardized English test, such as IELTS or TOEFL is not required in the UCAS application. It is therefore not necessary to have already passed the English tests when submitting your file.
The majority of universities, on the other hand, ask candidates to prove their mastery of the English language to accept them definitively. Most, after studying the application files, will issue conditional offers: to be admitted, the candidate must provide the results of an English test.
Each institution establishes its standards and sets the minimum scores to be obtained as it sees fit. The results to be provided will therefore depend on the establishment and the course envisaged. Find out in advance, directly from the universities, to find out which test to prepare for and take.
What is IELTS?
The International English Language Testing System is an English exam organized into four tests to assess the level of comprehension and oral and written expression of the candidate. The test is jointly managed by the British Council, the University of Cambridge and IDP Education Australia, and designed in British English. Each test is marked out of 9, as is the final score which corresponds to the average of all the sections.
What is TOEFL?
The Test of English as a Foreign Language is a standardized English test that aims to assess the ability to understand and use the English language in a university context. Organized into four oral and written comprehension and expression tests, it is very similar to IELTS but differs from the American English used there. Each part of the test is scored out of 30; all are added together to determine the candidate’s final score out of 120 points.
Cambridge English Advanced
This is an international exam run by the University of Cambridge. Like the IETLS and the TOEFL, the C1 Advanced is divided into four tests to judge the candidate’s mastery of the English language. This is the fourth degree by level of difficulty issued by the Cambridge English Language Assessment. It corresponds to level C1 as defined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages of the Council of Europe.
UCAS Application Submission
Once all the necessary documents have been collected and sent, you will need to be patient and wait for the results. To check the progress of your case, go to UCAS Track.
UCAS Track is an application that is part of the UCAS system. It allows you to follow the status of your application in real-time.
After reviewing your UCAS application, universities are likely to give you three types of answers:
- A firm offer: you are accepted unconditionally in the selected course;
- A conditional offer: you will be definitively accepted subject to obtaining the required results in your exams, in a specific test or at the end of an interview;
- A refusal
It’s up to you to make your choice by declining or accepting offers from universities according to your preferences. You can only accept a total of two offers: a “firm choice” and an “insurance choice”.
If you accept a conditional offer as a first choice or “firm choice”, you will still have to meet the conditions set out by the university.
You can therefore choose to accept a second choice, called “insurance choice”, in case you do not meet the criteria of the establishment.
If you accept a firm offer, you ensure your place at the university: you are admitted directly and therefore do not need to ask for a second choice.
Interview at university
Some universities organise interviews to decide between candidates after studying their files. In principle, institutions indicate the stages of the selection process on their website.
Find out well in advance to find out the admission procedures for the course you wish to join.
Some institutions require, for certain specific courses, that candidates pass interviews to ensure their motivation and their qualities.
This is the case, for example, for the universities of Bristol and St Andrews or even King’s College London, which ask medical candidates to submit to an interview.
Oxford University and Imperial College London, two very prestigious educational institutions, also put students in competition through interviews for most of their courses.
To prepare for your interview, read your personal statement carefully and keep your main arguments in mind.
Ask the university to find out what the interview may consist of: some institutions organize debates while others ask the candidate to make a presentation on a subject of their choice or imposed.
Do not hesitate to practice by preparing your answers to questions likely to be asked.
For international students – as the interview takes place in English, you will need to be fluent and confident and express yourself well.
Some universities require applicants, for some of their courses, to pass specific admission tests. Institutions can organize examinations themselves or ask candidates to register for an external test at the university.
You must be well informed about the selection procedures for your course to know whether you need to register for a test. Beware, some exams take place even before the application file is submitted on UCAS, you have to be diligent and anticipate.
The Law National Aptitute Test (LNAT) is a law test required to join the LLBs of certain universities, such as UCL or Bristol for example. This exam allows institutions to know if the candidate can succeed in law school, but it also allows students to know if they are made for a legal career.
If you have to take this test, don’t worry: it is neither an exam on your knowledge of the law nor an intelligence test. LNAT aims to understand how you think, reason, analyze and interpret information.
The University of Cambridge organizes its law test, the Cambridge Law Test. If you are called for an interview, you will be required to take this one-hour exam to assess your critical comprehension and writing skills. Again, this test is not used to assess your legal knowledge.
The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
As its name suggests, the TSA is a thinking test. It is used to measure the ability to think, problem solve and critical thinking, essential for success in higher education. This is not a general knowledge test.
This test is requested by three universities:
- Oxford, to integrate its social science courses such as Geography, Philosophy, Psychology, Linguistics, etc. ;
- Cambridge, to integrate 27 of its 29 departments;
- UCL, to apply for its European Social and Political Studies courses.
It is divided into two parts:
The first section consists of a multiple-choice questionnaire and is used to assess the ability to solve problems, the way of reasoning, understanding arguments and critical thinking.
The second section is a dissertation, allowing you to see the ability to express and organize your ideas. It is only used by Oxford.
To enter mathematics or engineering courses, universities may require candidates to take one of the following tests:
- The Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT): this is a 2h30 mathematics test requested by the universities of Oxford, Warwick and Imperial College London to join the mathematics and science courses of computing.
- The Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP): this 3-hour exam is required of candidates by Imperial College London and the universities of Cambridge and Warwick to prove their level in mathematics.
- The Test of Mathematics for University Admissions (TMUA): lasting 2h30, this test takes place on a computer. It is requested by the universities of Cambridge, Bath, Durham, Sheffield, Cardiff, Lancaster, Southampton and the LSE.
Most of the very demanding courses in medicine, dentistry or veterinary sciences and studies require candidates to provide the results of either:
- The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT): this test aims to ensure that candidates have the skills and professional attitudes necessary to become good doctors and dentists;
- BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT): BMAT exam tests candidates’ ability to apply scientific and mathematical knowledge, problem-solving, and critical thinking and writing skills.
From February 25 to July 4, the UCAS Extra procedure opens for late applications, which makes it possible to add additional courses in certain specific cases.
Who can use UCAS Extra?
You can use UCAS Extra to add a new course to your wishes if:
- You recorded here choices and have not yet received an answer as of February 25;
- You have registered five choices and have not been selected by any university;
- You recorded five choices, and received offers but declined them all.
- If you haven’t used all of your choices on UCAS, you can simply log back into your account and add wishes, as long as you haven’t accepted or declined any offers yet.
If you initially paid the one-choice entry fee of £22, you will need to pay the additional £4.50 to upgrade your account to add four new wishes.
How to use UCAS Extra?
If you meet the requirements, you can use UCAS Extra easily, in just a few steps.
- Find a new course to apply to using the UCAS search tool
- Add the new course to your folder
- Wait for the response from the university
If, after 21 days, the establishment has not yet responded, you can choose either to wait again or to add a new wish.
After reviewing your application, the university is likely to make you an offer, which you can accept or decline. If it rejects your request, you then have the possibility of adding a new course thanks to UCAS Extra and starting again at the first stage.
If you haven’t received any offers from the universities you initially decided on, the deadline for applying has passed or you finally want to apply for another course, don’t worry! A second chance is given to you with the Clearing.
The additional admission procedure, known as Clearing, begins on July 5. It allows students who have not been admitted to apply for courses that still have vacant places.
Who can use Clearing?
You can participate in Clearing if:
- You have not had offers from your top five choices or have not met the requirements of your conditional offers;
- You got offers but declined them all;
- You apply after June 30;
- You have responded favourably to an offer but have decided to give it up and voluntarily put yourself in Clearing.
How to apply for Clearing?
To apply during the Clearing and submit an application to universities, the following steps must be followed:
- Use the Clearing Course Search to search for courses in which there are still places available
- Call the universities to find out if there are still places available and if you meet the admission criteria
- Validate your choice on UCAS Track, you are only authorized to enter one choice at a time during Clearing. This means that once you have selected a course, you will only be able to register for a new one if you are not admitted to the first one.
Tips for UCAS Application
To build a concrete application on UCAS and integrate a large UK university, it is necessary to be diligent and organized.
In general, anticipate! Don’t apply at the last minute. To join a university in the United Kingdom directly after the Bac, you must begin to find out about the courses and their prerequisites from the Terminale class, or even from Première.
Don’t be fooled by time, especially if you are applying to Oxbridge, medicine, dentistry, or even veterinary science: the deadlines for these universities and courses are much shorter than the others.
A good UCAS application is prepared upstream. Start gathering your ideas to write your personal statement for UCAS as soon as possible. You must have time to redo several drafts and to speak to those around you to proofread and correct you.
The same goes for the referent: the letter of recommendation is a key part of your UCAS application and it requires real work on the part of your referent.
Ask the teacher early enough to write you a letter of recommendation or reference.
You must take the time to explain your project to him so that he can adapt his speech and thus write an optimal text, which will particularly highlight you.
Check out the documentation available on the UCAS website
This is a pitfall in which many candidates fall: read all the documentation that is offered to you and do not hesitate to contact the universities directly in case of doubt.
The UCAS site explains in detail everything that is expected of you and offers additional documents full of good advice. Check out the site to read everything you need to know about each of the documents in the application!
On the websites of the universities, you will also find a lot of information. Refer to the admission procedures to find out beforehand whether you will have to take specific tests or interviews.
Take care of your English
Your UCAS application must be written in impeccable English. Get proofread and corrected by professionals. Ask for help from those around you and do not hesitate to ask your English teachers to provide you with their expertise.
If you are an international student, also expect to have to prove a good level of English to join the benches of the UK university.
Find out about the English tests recognized by the institution concerned and plan time to prepare and register for them. The TOEFL and IELTS, for example, only offer a few dates per year in specialized centres and it takes several weeks before receiving the results.
Final Thoughts on UCAS Application
Preparing your application for UCAS takes time and energy. It is better to do it upstream to be able to take good care of all the requested elements. Whether it is to prepare you for the English tests or to write your Personal Statement, be ready to start as early as possible.
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