UCAS: The Unofficial Guide

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Georgia graduated with a Masters Degree in Renaissance Literature from Girton College, Cambridge, last July

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It’s October, the nights are longer, the leaves are beginning to turn brown, and this can only mean one thing: yes, that’s right, it’s university application season once again! UCAS can be stressful for university applicants, especially when it’s combined with studying for A-levels, so we’ve come up with a solution to help you out. Here is our handy, unofficial guide to the delightful UCAS form to help you sail through the applications process.

 

  1. The Application Deadline

Although most students won’t be worrying about handing in their UCAS applications just yet, for Oxbridge and most medicine, dentistry and veterinary applicants, the deadline for applying is just around the corner: 15th October this year at 6pm UK time (in case you’ve forgotten!) For all other applicants, the deadline is 15th January 2018, unless you’re applying for certain art and design courses, where the deadline is 24 March 2018. Write that one down, because there are no guarantees that universities will accept late applications (it’s worth a go if you are late though!)

  1. How many preferences do I have and do they have to be for the same course?

On your UCAS form, you can choose up to five university courses: they do not have to be of the exact same course. There is no preference order, and your universities will not be able to see where else you applied. For medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and veterinary science, you can only apply for a maximum of four courses in these subjects.

For Oxbridge, you can only apply to one course at either the University of Oxford and Cambridge for one application year, so choose wisely! If you know that you will want to take a gap year after your A-levels, make sure you check beforehand if your university offers deferred entry for your course.

If you do apply for the same course at different universities, it will make writing your personal statement much easier, as you will be able to show that you are really passionate about that particular subject. If you want to apply for joint honours, or for lots of different courses, you will have to be a bit more strategic about how you write your personal statement, as you only get to submit one.

One way of approaching this is that you can blend your statement in such a way that everything you write provides clear evidence of your academic interests, skills and the way you think that’s relevant to all of the courses you’ve chosen. You can also take the honest approach and explain why you’ve chosen to apply to different courses, giving evidence and reasons for each. It’s up to you.

  1. How do I write a great personal statement, and what is the word limit?

There is no word limit as such, but you have 4,000 characters (or 47 lines) in which to write your personal statement. To write a fabulous personal statement, you need to think about why you want to study that subject, and, vitally, what evidence you can provide that you are passionate about the subject – books you’ve read, programmes you’ve watched, museums you’ve been to, kittens you’ve saved from cardiac arrest, you get the idea.

You can read past examples of personal statements online, but I would recommend writing your own first, before you read these, as they can spook you, or you might even be tempted to ‘borrow’ something from a past example. It’s great for an admissions tutor to see some of your personality coming through in the statement, and you definitely won’t be doing that if you get too much ‘inspiration’ from a past student.

For a bit of reassurance, you can always run the statement past your friends/parents/teachers, and get their honest opinions. Ultimately, it’s not something to get too worried about, just be yourself, make sure you check it for spelling and grammatical errors before you hand it in, and the offers will fall into place.

  1. I’m worried about my reference!

Don’t be! If you’ve got someone from your school writing it for you, chances are, they know what the universities are looking for in a candidate. They will be writing it in order to help your chances to get into university, so they will be aiming to make you look great on paper, without being dishonest. If you’ve not always been the perfect student at school, that’s okay too. Everyone changes over time, and the referee (the person writing the reference) will be highlighting your strengths, not focusing on the less admirable things!

  1. What else do I need to fill in?

You’ll need to fill in your personal details, employment history, details about volunteering (you can go into this in depth in your personal statement), education history, any special needs or disabilities, funding information, and more. All this is clear on the form itself, so don’t panic, and allow yourself plenty of time to fill it in, with someone checking it over before you submit.  

  1. When will I hear back, and what if I get no offers?

This, unfortunately, is not a question I can answer for certain. If you’re applying for medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, Oxbridge or other competitive courses, you will probably have interviews to go to as well, and you will hear about these through UCAS first, and then the universities directly.

For these courses, the whole application process can take a while, so you’ll need to be patient and consider that the admissions staff have a lot to get through. That said, many university offers for non-interviewed courses come through pretty quickly (often in the first few weeks), so you may have something to celebrate very soon after submitting! In the unlikely event that you don’t get offers this time, don’t be downhearted: you can still go to university!

UCAS offer a free service called ‘Extra’ for students without offers who have used up all of their five choices (either they’ve declined their offers, or have not been offered places at any of their choices) which starts between February and July next year. Through Extra, you can add a new university choice, apply for it, and keep going until you get an offer.

Obviously it’s best not to apply to a course for the sake of it, and, with the deadline in July, you’ve got plenty of time to think about where else you might want to apply. Plus, there’s always the university Clearing services for courses with spare places, which opens in July next year.

  1. Do I have to pay?

Yes, you do. Applying for one course is £13, and £24 for multiple courses. You will probably do this through your school or college, so check with them about how you should do this.


Finally, good luck, and enjoy university!

Although the UCAS form and the applications process can look a bit daunting, it’s actually an amazing gateway which could get you to the university of your dreams, if you put your mind to it. Best of luck!

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