If you’re apply to university this year, chances are you’ll have at least a few questions about the process involved (yup, unfortunately it’s a bit of a slog). But hey, like thousands of students before, you will make it through in the end.
This FAQ guide is designed to help you through each stage, from making the initial decisions about what and where to apply to, up until what to do next after you’ve graduated.
So put your worries aside, and start getting your UCAS application sorted today.
1. I can’t decide which university and/or course to apply for?
These are obviously two of the most important yet difficult decisions to make when filling out your UCAS application.
You want to make sure you spend the next few years of your life in the right environment, where you feel safe, comfortable and are able to enjoy yourself.
Factors to consider include location, rankings/league tables, student services, clubs and societies, entertainment, friends and your thoughts/feelings from attending open days.
For more detailed information, check out our choosing a university guide.
Deciding which subject to apply for also carries its own list of considerations. These include qualifications and entry requirements, course material, assessment methods, work experience placements/opportunities, choice of specialist modules, career path or future plans, university subject rankings, course flexibility and your enjoyment of the subject.
For more detailed information on each of these points, please see our Choosing A Degree guide.
Comprehensive advice can also be found in our ebook guide, Choosing A Degree & University, available to download on Amazon Kindle.
2. Will universities accept qualifications other than A levels?
Yes, many universities in the UK list qualifications other than A levels on their entry requirements for undergraduate courses. Check their website carefully to make sure the qualifications you are currently taking or already hold are displayed there.
Unfortunately there are a handful of universities that choose not to recognise qualifications other than A levels for entry on to their programmes. These include the University of Edinburgh (except for Art & Design) and the University of Cambridge.
If the entrance requirements are in any way unclear on the university’s website, call their admissions team and ask directly.
3. How do I apply for an undergraduate course?
As mentioned earlier, the UCAS application is a rather drawn out process that begins with filling out the UCAS undergraduate application form online, through a system called Apply.
It is made up of a number of sections, including:
- Personal details
- Personal Statement
It’s a lot of information to complete, but don’t worry, as you can save what you’ve done so far and come back to it later.
For detailed information on what each section involves and how to fill it out, please visit the Undergraduate Application section at UCAS, and our guide to writing the personal statement and getting a UCAS reference.
4. What are the UCAS application deadlines?
For many students, this will be the 15th January if you want to make sure the universities you are applying to consider your application.
However, if you’re applying for medicine, veterinary science, dentistry, or a course at Oxbridge, then the application deadline is 15th October.
For a full list of UCAS application deadlines, please see our timeline.
5. What happens if I miss the deadline?
If you miss the 15th January, 24th March and 30th June deadlines for your UCAS application, you can still apply, but you will automatically be placed in Clearing.
Applications received after 15th January but before 30th June will still be sent to your choices, but admissions tutors are not obliged to consider your application.
Their decision depends upon where you are in their queue, and how many vacancies they still have available.
It’s always worth contacting universities directly by phone or email to see if they are willing to accept late applications for the course you want to study.
6. I’m an international student – where can I find help with my UCAS application?
If you’re an international student applying to university in the UK, please look at our international student guide for detailed information on entry requirements, filling out your application, documents you need to submit, accommodation, finance and more.
7. I’m a mature student – where can I find help with my UCAS application?
If you’re a mature student applying to university in the UK, please look at our mature student guide, which has lots of information on choosing a course and university, writing your personal statement, getting a reference, and more.
8. I’m a disabled student – where can I find help with my UCAS application?
For disabled UCAS applicants, we have a dedicated disabled students guide with detailed information and advice on visiting universities, disability coordinators, writing your personal statement, the disabled students’ allowance, and more.
9. How can I make my UCAS application stand out from the crowd?
To make your application stand out to the admissions tutors from thousands of others, you’ll need to:
- Make sure you’ve filled out every section on the UCAS form correctly
- Write a brilliant personal statement that convinces admissions staff you will be a valuable and successful student on their course.
Tutors won’t be impressed if you’ve forgotten to fill out all the appropriate parts of your UCAS form, see spelling mistakes, or discover you have entered details incorrectly.
This is why it’s important to read through your application form thoroughly before hitting the “submit” button, so you don’t end up on the rejection pile instantly by making basic errors.
Your personal statement is probably the most important part of your application, as it tells the admissions tutors who you are, why you are applying for this course and where you hope it will take you in the future.
For the best chance of being accepted on to a degree, you need to construct a thoughtful, well-rounded statement that demonstrates a passion for the subject you are applying for, and a commitment to the field.
You should do this by relaying all your relevant skills, knowledge and personal qualities, and backing everything up with solid examples (we cannot emphasise this enough!).
For more detailed advice on writing a great UCAS personal statement, please take a look at the following resources:
- What Not To Write In Your UCAS Personal Statement
- Writing A Personal Statement: Why You Should Do It Yourself
- How To Write A Personal Statement For Medicine
- What To Include In Your Personal Statement: 4 Top Tips
- How To Write A Law Personal Statement
- UCAS Personal Statement FAQs
- Analysis of a Personal Statement Example
- Personal Statement Tips
- A Teacher's Personal Statement Advice
- How To Write A Personal Statement Guide
- Personal Statement Examples Library
- Personal Statement Template Worksheet
- Personal Statement Timeline
- Personal Statement Length Checker
- Personal Statement Editing & Review Service
You may also find our eBook guides useful, all available on Amazon Kindle:
- How To Write A Brilliant UCAS Personal Statement
- How to write your Nursing UCAS Personal Statement
- How to write your Engineering UCAS Personal Statement
10. How much are tuition fees?
Pretty much all UK universities are now charging £9,000 a year for tuition fees.
Of course, you can get help with paying these in the form of student loans, which don’t have to be paid back until you are earning over the £21,000 threshold (where repayments will be 9% of your total salary).
For more information on university tuition fees and applying for loans, please see our comprehensive Student Finance Guide.
11. Can I visit the universities I’m interested in applying to?
Yes, all universities usually hold open days throughout the year where prospective students can visit to see what the campus is like and what they have to offer.
It’s also a great opportunity to speak to teaching staff, admissions tutors, and students currently studying on the course, as well as ask any questions you may have about the course content, accommodation, social scene, etc.
There’s nothing like first-hand experience and honest feedback of a particular university to help you decide whether it’s the right place for you, so it’s important to go along to as many as you can.
This part of the research process is vital for helping you to narrow down your university choices to just five.
For more information on open days, please see:
12. Do university rankings matter?
Yes and no.
They’re usually worth looking at to check interesting (and perhaps important) statistics such as student satisfaction, graduate employment and research quality.
You can view these at The Complete University Guide and The Guardian (though please note their rankings are usually different from each other).
However, all of this is only relative, and university league tables should not be used as a standalone factor in making your decisions where to apply to, or be the overall deciding factor that swings it.
For example, Imperial College London may score extremely highly in the graduate prospects stakes, but that’s no good if you don’t want to live in a big city and the university isn’t offering the exact course you want to take.
So using rankings and league tables as a rough guide at the most is probably best, but consider all other factors above this (please see question 1).
13. Where will I stay at university?
First year students are normally given the bonus of staying in halls of residence during their first year of study (unless you apply late in the application cycle, where you may have to be given accommodation elsewhere off-campus).
In the second and third year, students usually move out of their halls into shared houses or flats in the local area.
Check the university’s website for more details on their accommodation and how it is allocated, and if you have any queries, call their accommodation office for help.
14. What is the UCAS Tariff and how does it work?
The UCAS Tariff is a points system used to measure achievement across a wide range of qualifications.
Some universities use it as part of their minimum entry requirements, but don’t worry if they don’t – there is still a good chance they will still accept your qualification.
For more information on the UCAS Tariff and how it’s used, please see our UCAS Tariff Guide and our blog post, UCAS Points Explained.
15. What is UCAS Extra and how can this service help me get a place at university?
UCAS Extra is a service that runs from the end of February to the end of June, where you can choose to apply for one course at a time if you didn’t receive any university offers, or decided to turn down the ones you received.
Extra is basically a second chance to apply for a place, but please be aware that if you declined all your previous offers, and add a new choice through the Extra service, you will not be able to accept any of your original ones later on.
To find out more, please visit our UCAS Extra guide and read our blog post, UCAS Extra: A Brief Guide On What To Do If You Hold No University Offers.
16. Where can I find advice about getting a UCAS reference?
Your UCAS reference should be written by someone (not related to you or associated with you as a friend) that knows you well, and is able to convey an insight into your character and skills.
This is normally a tutor if you’re currently (or were recently) at school or college, or work colleague such as line manager if you have been in employment.
Please read our UCAS reference guide for more information.
17. I’m worried I’ll have to go into Clearing – where can I find help?
Clearing may seem like a daunting prospect if you’re concerned you haven’t performed as well as you had hoped in your exams, but this process isn’t one to be afraid of – you can still find a place at university for the autumn if you wish.
If you’re in this situation, or have already received your results and not done as well as you had expected, read our comprehensive Clearing Guide for more information on what to do next. The important thing is not to panic and do some thorough preparation.
These posts from our blog may also help you:
- Clearing: How Do I Enter & What Happens Next?
- Why Entering Clearing Is Like Being In The Hunger Games
18. I’ve received multiple offers through Clearing – can I put them all on UCAS track?
Unfortunately you can only add one place at a time, but if the university doesn’t confirm this, you can then add another.
19. It’s exam results day – what can I expect to happen?
Whether you’re feeling anxious, excited or nervous about your results, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the big day so you know what to do whatever situation you find yourself in.
Take a look at our exam results day guides for detailed tips and advice when getting your grades:
- AS Level Results Day Guide
- A Level Results Day Guide
- BTEC Results Day Guide
- International Baccalaureate Results Day Guide
- SQA Results Day Guide
If you’re worried you may have to enter Clearing, please see our Clearing Guide.
20. I’m away on holiday on results day – what can I do?
If you can, make sure you (or your parents) don’t book to go anywhere that day beforehand.
If it turns out you’ll happen to be away that particular day, you’ll have to arrange with your school or college another way of receiving your exam results, e.g. through the post or by email, if you can’t access them online.
Remember to check UCAS Track as soon as possible on results day to see if your firm choice has been confirmed.
If not and you need a place through Clearing, check vacancies via UCAS or on The Telegraph Clearing page, and start making enquiries by phone or email. If you don’t, you may find your options rather limited once you return from holiday.
21. I’ve received better grades than expected – how can UCAS Adjustment help me?
UCAS Adjustment is a service offered to help those who achieved better exam results than they expected. It’s basically a chance to secure a place at a more prestigious university than the firm choice you already hold.
Please note you cannot change your insurance offer, and you only have five days to find an alternative course (including weekends).
Adjustment runs from results day until 31st August, so it’s important to register as soon as possible (ideally before the 27th August) to ensure you get the full five days allowed.
For more information, please see:
- UCAS Adjustment Guide
- Better Grades Than Expected? How UCAS Adjustment Can Help
- Surprise! What To Do If Your A Level Grades Are Better Than Expected
22. Can I reject my insurance offer and go through Clearing?
Yes, you are allowed to do this, but please remember that if you are released by your insurance choice and don’t have at least a verbal offer from another university, you may find you have no place at all.
So if you wish to go through Clearing, make sure you do your homework, speak to universities and get something else lined up first before asking to be released from your insurance choice.
23. Is it likely a university will accept me onto a course with lower grades through Clearing?
This depends on the amount of interest they’re seeing in the course, and the quality of applicants they’re getting.
It’s certainly possible they will accept you with lower grades, but the best way to find out is get on the phone and speak to the university directly.
24. I’m nervous/excited about Freshers’ Week – what can I expect when I start uni?
Starting university can be a scary thought for some, while others are just excited.
Make sure you have everything packed with our university checklist, and that you have your student bank account, finances and accommodation sorted too.
To find out more about what to expect during fresher’s week with our Freshers’ Week Guide and Freshers’ Week Survival Tips.
25. What can I do once I’ve graduated?
Upon graduating, many students choose to start looking for a job straight away (and start paying off their student loan!). We have lots of advice on:
If you decide to look for work, you may want to consider both graduate and non-graduate roles (depending on which subject you studied at university), as well as internships (to gain some experience).
Further tips on entering the graduate job market can be found at these blog posts:
Some students decide they want to go it alone and set up their own business. This is great if you think you have a feasible idea that you turn into a startup venture, and are willing to put in the hard graft to get it off the ground.
Our enterprise section has some fantastic advice on setting up your own business, as well as some startup success stories to inspire you and spur you on.
Others decide they need a break after all that studying, and embark on a gap year.
This doesn’t necessarily mean lying on a beach at some exotic, far-flung destination (although you’ll probably want to do a bit of that) – there are lots of ways you can spend your free time, including volunteering, learning a new sport or other skill, signing up for a charity project, or getting a job overseas for a few months to soak up a different culture.
Postgraduate study is another avenue worth exploring if you’re keen to learn more about your field, and give yourself an edge over competitors in the job market.
With many universities now offering a range of postgraduate courses, you’re sure to find something that appeals to you at a suitable institution. Choices include research and taught Masters programmes, and a DPhil.
For more detailed information on postgraduate options, please take a look at our postgraduate guide.
For more tips and advice on applying to university, please see:
- Russell Group Universities
- University Interview FAQs
- Oxbridge Application Process
- UCAS Adjustment
- UCAS Extra
- International UCAS Students Guide
- Mature UCAS Students Guide
If you have any suggestions for questions you think should appear here, please pop them below, along with any other comments or feedback on my post.