Understanding your UCAS application

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by Lucia, BA(Hons) English Language and Linguistics.

The moment you decide that university is the right ‘next step’ for you, things can be very daunting. From choosing a course to receiving an offer, it can become stressful and even confusing. That’s why I’m here to explain the application process and give you some student-style top tips.

Applying through UCAS

So, what is UCAS? UCAS is the organisation that operates and assists you with your entire university application for undergraduate study. They provide the communication between yourself and the universities you’ve chosen.

Once you’ve registered and filled out all your personal details and references, you can start researching courses and universities that interest you. When choosing a university, it’s always good to consider things like how far away from home it is, the facilities and accommodation it has to offer and roughly how the university compares to others.

A good tip is to look at how the course is structured and assessed. The teaching style varies from one institution to another, so it’s always good to spend that extra time making sure you decide on a place you’re happy with. It’s worth getting the process started early, as the deadline for the majority of courses is January.

Writing your personal statement

Once you’ve gathered a general idea of your choices and courses, you’re asked to write a personal statement. Usually, your personal statement caters towards the course or courses you’re looking to study, so it’s always good to add a bit of your own knowledge (if you can) about that subject area.

Your personal statement is also a brilliant way to show off what you’ve accomplished so far. A top tip: make sure you’re always concise and ‘to the point’ – there’s a word count and you want to be able to include all your achievements. This gives universities a really clear image of who you are and what you’re passionate about.

Choosing your universities

When your statement is done, you’ll submit this to UCAS alongside your chosen university choices and courses. If you can, try your best to pick 5 of your favourite universities. The more you can pick, the more chance you have of backup options if something were to happen to your first or second choices.

It’s also good to look at all options, of course within reason. If you have your heart set on an institution with higher UCAS entry points and you’re willing to work really hard to get the grades you need, you can always still apply using one of your 5 places.

If you don’t end up achieving the grades you need, there’s still a possibility that you’ll be accepted anyway. After deciding your places, you have to choose your main first and second choices – i.e. the ones you really want to go to.

The next steps are relatively simple and you can breathe a small sigh of relief. The decision is now in the hands of your chosen universities. Over the coming months (following the January deadline), your institutions will look over your information, read your personal statement and references and make a decision.

Getting offers from universities

You should usually receive a reply by the end of March at the latest, confirming whether you have or haven’t been given a place. Some universities ask for an interview before they determine your place.

Don’t worry if a university declines your offer – it’s definitely not personal, although it can feel like it. I can assure you there are plenty of other options, and you can even apply for the university again through a process called Clearing.

If you’re offered a place, you’ll receive either a conditional or unconditional offer. A conditional offer means the university is provisionally accepting you, subject to your grades on results day (this is usually the most common option). If you receive an unconditional offer instead, this means they’re offering you a place before you’ve received your results.

Be aware that some universities can offer you an unconditional offer in the hope that you’ll pursue them as your first choice. If this is your first choice anyway, that’s amazing. But if not, remember to keep your options open.

What happens on results day

On results day, after a long wait, you’ll finally get the information about your next steps. If you’re offered a place, your confirmation letter will be sent to you via UCAS Track. Then your university of choice will contact you with the next steps.

If you do better or not as well as expected, there’s always the option to contact other universities through Clearing. You may ask, how does this work? Clearing is how institutions fill any leftover places on their courses and it’s a great way of finding another course that interests you.

You’ll need to register for Clearing through the UCAS website so you can receive a Clearing number. Don’t worry, the UCAS website is very straightforward and will give you the option when you first apply. With the whole process now complete, you can look forward to preparing for your new venture.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone who felt unsure about the process. Good luck with your application, and remember there are so many options and paths you can take. Try to think positively about the process and enjoy the end result.

Find out more about applying for undergraduate study at UWE Bristol.

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