If you are thinking about applying for university in the UK, you will become very familiar with UCAS. This is the organisation that coordinates the applications. Through your account’s ‘hub’ on their website, you fill in details including your personal information, and relevant qualifications such as GCSEs. You also choose where you want to apply, for which courses, and write a personal statement to demonstrate your skills to universities.
Often, schools and colleges guide you through this application process. However, there are lots of different parts involved, and it can be confusing to keep track of them all. One common question people have is whether or not you have to pay for your UCAS application, and if so, how much.
There is indeed a small cost when you send off your university application. If you are only applying to one course at one institution, UCAS charges an application fee of £22.50. However, most people apply for multiple different universities, up to a maximum of five. For more than one choice, the total application fee is £27 – this is what the majority of students end up paying. This is a relatively low fee to cover UCAS’s administration costs – it is not intended to be a barrier to anyone wanting to apply to university.
To find out plenty more about the charges associated with applying to university, including what the money goes towards and options for financial help, keep reading!
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Do you have to pay for a UCAS application?
As mentioned, there is a small charge you pay when you send off your UCAS application to universities. This sometimes comes as a surprise to students, as it is not a widely publicised or talked about part of the process. More often, students are thinking and researching about writing their personal statement or choosing which five universities to apply to.
However, this charge is not something to worry about. It is a relatively small amount and should never be an issue that stops you from completing the application.
The reason for this charge is that UCAS as an organisation is actually a charity. This means they use the fees you and universities pay them to run their services.
As you might expect, this includes the administrative costs needed to run the applications themselves. The online form, sending this to universities, and communicating information about offers, rejections and conditions is all a part of this.
However, the fee also goes towards other important parts of UCAS. For example, they have various support services and events to make sure young people make informed choices about university.
Additionally, they run Extra and Clearing services, which help even more students get university places after the main application cycle. Check out this article from the University of Stirling for more information about UCAS Extra and Clearing, and the difference between them.
How much is a UCAS application in 2023?
For most students, the application fee is £27, as of 2023. However, as discussed, this may vary if you don’t use all your choices.
In the UCAS application, you are able to select up to five choices. Each one of these is a particular university or similar higher education institution, along with the particular course you want to study there. For more about how many choices you get, check out this Think Student article.
Often, all five choices are for similar courses, at five different universities, but this isn’t the only option. For example, you could apply for two courses at the same university (although there are a few exceptions – you are not allowed to do this for Oxford or Cambridge).
Alternatively, you could apply for five completely different courses. The only thing that makes this difficult is that you can only write one personal statement to cater to all your choices. For plenty more information on personal statements, including advice on writing one, check out this article from Think Student.
If you only choose to use one of your choices, the application fee is reduced to £22.50. The vast majority of students use two or more choices, in which case the fee is the standard £27.
For more about this, as well as information about the UCAS form as a whole, have a look at this page of the official UCAS website.
Who pays for a UCAS application?
In most cases, the student who is applying pays the application fee. Once you have completed all the other sections of the application, there will be an option to pay the charge and submit the application. Check out this page from UCAS for help paying for your application.
Generally, students apply through their school or college. In this case, you normally submit the application to them. Your teachers will add their reference, and then send off the application on your behalf to universities (via UCAS).
In some cases, schools may set you an earlier deadline than the official one, to make sure they have time to add references and check your details before they submit the application. Be sure to double check with your teachers exactly what deadlines you need to meet for your application.
If you are not applying through a school or college, you pay the fee after the reference has been added and send your entire application directly to UCAS yourself.
What happens if you can’t afford the UCAS application fee?
UCAS’s charge is not meant to prevent anyone from applying to university. There should always be a way to cover the fee.
The first thing to do if you are worried about paying this is ask your school or college. Often, they will be able to pay on your behalf, or through a bursary system, if you can’t afford it. Otherwise, there are various other sources of support to check.
For more details, scroll down to the end of this article from the official UCAS site. It includes advice and links to external support you may be eligible for, for example, if you have ever been in care.
What does a UCAS application include?
Your online UCAS hub and form will form the bulk of your university application. For a full example application form and explanations, have a read through this file from UCAS. Keep reading for a brief overview of what’s included.
Basic personal details are the easiest part of the form, such as your name, address and contact details. Additionally, the reference is completed by your school or college, so isn’t usually something for you to worry about.
The application also asks for your education history (where you have been to school) and qualifications. For most people, this is all their GCSEs, or equivalent qualifications. The qualifications you are currently studying for (such as A-Levels) are also included, and your school or college assigns them predicted grades.
You can also include other achievements, such as music exams and Duke of Edinburgh awards. Often, people put these on their application if they give them extra UCAS points. For more on UCAS points, check out this Think Student article.
There is also space to fill in details about any paid employment you have had, or other activities to prepare you for university such as summer schools or online lectures and courses.
Finally, are the two most widely discussed parts of the application that we’ve already mentioned: a personal statement and picking up to five choices to apply for.
What else is involved in applying for university?
Although the UCAS application is the main section, there might be other things you need to do to complete your application. Universities will make it clear if they need anything else from you, either via UCAS, or email.
Some courses require you to sit an entrance test. This is most common if you are looking to study law or medicine, but a few other courses ask for this. To learn more about these entrance exams, check out this Think Student article.
Another aspect of a university application that you may need to complete is an interview. This is standard if you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge, or for any medicine course. Click on the Think Student articles here, here and here to get more information about university interviews as well as some great tips and advice for if you have to do one.
However, the majority of courses will just use the information they get from your UCAS application to decide whether or not to offer you a place.
Are there more charges associated with applying to university?
If the UCAS application is all you need to complete, there are no more costs for your application. Although waiting can be difficult, there is usually nothing else you need to do until the universities make their decision and communicate it to you via UCAS.
However, if there are other parts of your application like an entrance test or interview, there may be costs for these. Some entrance exams, such as the UCAT for medicine, charge an entrance fee.
If you have an in-person interview, you will also need to budget for travel costs. To learn more about all of the different university entrance exams and to find where to get more information about their costs, check out this guide from UCAS.
Remember that none of these costs are meant to prevent you from applying to university. If you think you will struggle to meet them, talk to your school or college, who should be able to direct you to the best form of financial support for you.