The application process

If your student decides that university is right for them, the next stage is the application process.

To apply to UK university courses, they will need to apply through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website. The application process starts one year before your student wants to attend university.

What you need to know

  • Your student can apply for up to five different university courses with one application.
  • Teachers are often happy to review their students’ applications. Make sure your student takes advantage of their expert knowledge by giving them a draft a few weeks before the deadline.
  • Your student is likely to hear back from the universities they applied to between March and July. Some university courses will invite applicants for an interview or audition before making their decision.

What is UCAS?

UCAS is a charity that processes applications to study full-time courses at universities, colleges, and conservatoires in the UK.

Alongside the applications process, UCAS aim to help students make informed choices that are right for them, by guiding them through the entire Higher Education application process and beyond. To support this, UCAS provides a wide range of valuable information and services for applicants, their parents and supporters, and teachers.

Your student can use the UCAS website to find out how to get started, research their options, make their application, and track its progress. There’s information especially for parents and guardians, including details of the application process, a host of helpful video guides, and a link to sign up for monthly newsletters.

How to fill in the UCAS application

First, they’ll need to register – it only takes about five minutes to enter their basic details and set up security information. Next there are seven key sections:

  • personal details
  • additional information
  • student finance
  • choice – they can pick up to five universities
  • education
  • personal statement
  • employment.

Once your student has finished their application, it gets sent to their school – at this point the school will write a supporting statement to accompany your student's statement. Proofread their work, or get a friend or neighbour to read it through with them.

Schools and colleges have their own individual deadlines for personal statements – get your student to check this with their school or college.

Personal statements

Most people find writing their personal statement the most difficult part of the application process. For many, it will be the first time they’ve had to write reflectively about themselves. Taking a positive approach and leaving enough time to do a good job really can make your student's application stand out from the crowd.

For help with how to write and structure a statement, try the UCAS personal statement tool.

Encourage them to:

  • think about what makes them interesting and what makes them stand out in a positive way
  • write down a whole load of words – anything that shows why they’re excited about the course(s) they’re applying for
  • remember why they chose the subject
  • list work experience or other activities as supporting evidence to show why they’d make a great student
  • think about skills they could use on the course, such as leadership, communication, and time management
  • ask you, their teacher, and their friends for ideas and feedback.

Interviews

Interviews have become a common feature in the admissions process for many universities. Some universities will offer an interview for all their degrees, but others can be very targeted. 

Interviews allow universities the opportunity to get to know your student beyond their application and find out what interests them about their chosen course. University interviews normally take place in an informal setting, giving your student the chance to show off and stand out from the crowd.

Nowadays, a successful interview can lead to a guaranteed place at university – this can alleviate some of the pressure your student may be experiencing in the build up to their exams.

Interview top tips

Be yourself

Remind your student that it’s okay to relax and be themselves in an interview.

Be prepared

Find out if they need to prepare anything for the interview e.g. a monologue for a drama interview.

Arrive early

Make sure you know where you’re going, and have contact details to hand in case something goes wrong.

Research the course

The interviewer wants to see why your student would be a good fit for their course, so find out all you can about it.

Re-read their personal statement

It’s very likely the interviewer will ask them about it.

Practice

Ask a teacher or careers advisor at their school to give them a mock interview in preparation.

Make a list of questions

An interview is also your student's opportunity to ask questions about the university and course. Make sure they write down anything they want to know, or aren't sure about.

Decisions

The possible decisions that a university can make on an application are:

Conditional offer

The university offers your student a place on their course, subject to exam results or other requirements.

Unconditional offer

The university offers your student a place on their course, with no academic conditions. This might be because:

  • they have already achieved their Level 3 qualifications and have taken a gap year before applying to university and are deemed qualified for entry
  • having either assessed a portfolio of work, interviewed or auditioned the applicant, the university thinks the applicant is sufficiently well prepared and has demonstrated enough talent to succeed on the course, regardless of pending exam results.

Reject

The university is unable to offer the applicant a place on a course. This is usually because the applicant does not meet entry requirements or has not been selected following an interview or audition.

Your student will need to reply to their offers. The types of reply they can make are:

Firm acceptance

Your student's first choice – if your student makes a firm acceptance of an unconditional offer, the university will expect them as their student. If it’s a conditional offer, they will have a place on the course as long as they meet the conditions.

Insurance acceptance

Your student's second choice – the insurance choice is a back-up, and therefore it is recommended to choose a course that asks for lower grades than the firm choice. Your student will only have a place on the insurance course if they don’t get the grades for the firm choice.

Decline

Your student will need to decline any other offers they have received.

Results day

Results day can be a really emotional experience. For most, it will be a celebration of hard work and securing a place at their first choice university but for a few students their initial plans might have to change and this can be really unnerving. Whatever the outcome the most important thing to remember is to stay calm.

Ways you can help prepare for the day

  • Have a positive but honest conversation with your student to see how they feel they performed in their final exams. If they have genuine concerns then some prior research into alternative options can make a real difference on the day.
  • Get them to list all of the things that are important to them with regards to university – course, location, etc. It is really important to remember that if they do need to look for a different institution that they still find one that meets the criteria.
  • If you feel that your student has been affected by mitigating circumstances then it is worth discussing this with their school/college and maybe even contacting their chosen university in advance of results day. This allows them to take this into consideration when finalising applications.
  • Gather all paperwork associated with UCAS together and place it in one folder. If a student needs to contact their university choice they may be asked to quote information such as their UCAS ID number. Having all of this to hand can help speed up conversations.

Don’t decide for them – remember they’re the ones studying the degree, not you! Listen and support where you can.

On the day

The most important thing to remember is for students to stay local. Universities will want to speak directly to applicants and this can prove difficult if they are away on holiday with no access to a computer and/or their UCAS information.

At approximately 8am students will find that their status on UCAS track will change:

Conditional Offer changed to Unconditional Offer

The student has been accepted onto their chosen course.

If a student hasn’t met the conditions of their firm choice they may have done so for their insurance – in which case this will have updated accordingly.

Conditional Offer changed to Unsuccessful

Unfortunately the student hasn’t met the conditions of their offer and their place has been withdrawn.

No change (conditional offer remains a conditional offer)

Don’t panic – this can be for a few reasons. Most commonly it is because the university hasn’t had all of the student’s results confirmed (for instance, they may be waiting for a GCSE resit) but it may be because a decision is still being made.

Your student may, however, find themselves in one of the following situations:

They don’t get the grades needed for their firm choice, but they meet the entry requirements for their insurance choice

The insurance choice university will be notified and will expect them as their student.

They don’t get the grades they need for their firm or insurance choice

If your student still wants to go to university this year, they may be able to find a place on another course through Clearing.

They get much higher grades than originally expected

Your student can still decide to go with their firm choice, or they can apply for a course with higher entry requirements through adjustment.

Adjustment is for students who achieve higher grades than expected and are reconsidering their options. Available courses are listed on the UCAS website and there is a short period of time in which they can decide to swap to another course if they want to.

Find our more about adjustment on the UCAS website.

If your student doesn't achieve the results they hoped for, or they have changed their mind about what and where to study, they can find an alternative option through Clearing.

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