How To Make Your UCAS Application Stand Out

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For me, applying for university was probably one of the most stressful parts of sixth form and that’s including exams, coursework and balancing all of that with the rest of my life. Each year, thousands of students apply, but there’s only a certain number of places. Teachers, careers advisors and everyone else like to remind us of this all the time. The only question is how do we better our chances of getting in?

For so long, I was unsure about just how to do this. However, after a ton of research, lots of trial and error and a little bit of creativity, I figured out a plan that worked for me to make my UCAS application the best that it could be.

If you feel you’re in the same position as I was and have no idea where to get started, worry not. This article is jam-packed full of ideas, which you can start ASAP, to give your UCAS application the boost it needs.

What is involved in a UCAS application?

Before we can even begin going through tips on how to boost your application, we first need to make sure we’re clear on what actually needs boosting. The entire UCAS application is made up of several different parts, although when it comes to boosting it, students will often only think of the personal statement.

While this no doubt is the main section, the other parts can be really important as well. For the entire UCAS application, there are 3 separate parts, each with several specific sections.

The first part is your profile. This is where students need to put in their important personal details, including their background information, their contact details, how they’re planning to finance their studies, and other things that are important for anyone who may be handling your application to know.

The second part is the experience section. This section covers your education history, your employment history and asks about any extra activities that you’ve done to help you prepare for university.

The final part is for your personal statement and references. While this part is pretty self-explanatory, it’s arguably the most important part of your entire application.

Looking at the UCAS application in separate parts, we only need to focus on 2, these are the experience and personal statement and references parts. Due to this, the following suggestions on boosting your UCAS application will be in reference to these parts of the application.

While this information is based off my own experience in applying to university, you can see more about the parts of a UCAS application on this page of the UCAS website.

1. Do wider reading to boost your UCAS application

If you’re in sixth form or college, you’ve probably heard your teachers, form tutor or maybe even careers advisors talk about “wider reading”. Wider reading very simply means reading around the subject area, outside of what you’re being taught in class.

This can be done in a variety of different ways. This can be anything from reading books, reports, articles and essays to even watching films and documentaries or even doing courses related to the subject area that you’re applying for.

Wider reading can help boost your university application in a variety of ways. The most traditional way is that you can talk about this wider reading to boost your personal statement as it shows universities and other higher education providers that you have a deep interest in the subject and that you’re willing to do work outside of your course. In this same way, you can talk about any wider reading you’ve done if you end up being invited to an interview at the next stage of your application.

Wider reading may also help you to boost your grade, which may even end up with you getting a higher predicted or actual grade to go onto your application. This is because, particularly for essay questions, students can often get higher marks for bringing in their own knowledge and not just relying on what is taught.

Personally, I used the wider reading that I had done to help link my A-Level subjects to the course that I was apply for as it acted as a way of bridging the gap and helping to give my personal statement a sort of “theme”.

2. Take part in university-run programmes to boost your UCAS application

Many universities run different schemes and programmes, such as summer schools or even mentoring programmes. These programmes tend to be done in specific subject areas, although only a limited number of subjects tend to be offered.

Due to this, these kinds of programmes can give you an insight into what your chosen subject looks like at university level. These programmes also increase students’ knowledge and help to increase certain soft skills, such as working independently, working in teams and potentially even some specific skills needed for your course.

While I didn’t personally do one of these programmes, I know many people who did. They said that these were very beneficial for both their applications and simply preparing for university as it gave them more experience relating to their course.

You can learn about some of these university-run programmes in this page of the Uni Taster Days website.

3. Do MOOCs or other courses to boost your university application

The term MOOC stands for massive open online course. These MOOCs are online courses, that are typically free and generally open to anyone. MOOCs are available in a wide range of different subjects across many different learning platforms.

Due to this, MOOCs are great for boosting your UCAS application for 2 main reasons. First of all, they act as a form of wider reading, showing your interest and knowledge in your subject area.

Due to this, they can be great to talk about in your personal statement and if you need to do an interview as a part of your application.

The other way that MOOCs can be used to boost your UCAS application is by mentioning them in the extra activities section of the experience part of the UCAS application. When applying, I was able to put up to 2 courses into this section. As this is still being sent to universities, it still demonstrates what additional work you’re putting in.

4. Do an EPQ to help you get into university

An EPQ is another level 3 qualification that you can take that is equivalent to half an A-Level. The term EPQ stands for extended project qualification and is offered by several different exam boards, although the names may slightly vary.

Doing an EPQ can help your university application in several ways.

First of all, some universities offer students who have done an EPQ lower entry requirements for their 3 A-Levels if they receive an A grade in it. For example, if the course normally has an entry requirement of ABB, with an A grade in your EPQ, your entry requirements will instead be BBB.

EPQs also show that you have some of the necessary skills needed for university, such as independent working and extended essay writing. Therefore, EPQs can show admissions officers that you’re prepared for the workload of a university course. Plus, they can give you something to talk about in your personal statement and even an interview, as it’s a topic you know in depth.

You can learn more about EPQs in this Think Student article. Also, if you’re wondering how to relate it to your subject, have a look at this Think Student article, which has over 1000 EPQ ideas for a range of different subjects.

5. Take part in essay competitions to boost your university application

Lots of organisations, including universities and other independent organisations, run essay competitions, specifically for sixth form students. These will often be for Year 12 students, although some are open to Year 13 also.

These essay competitions can show off the same skills as an EPQ, as they show your ability to write an extended essay and independently carry out the research to do so. They also show your knowledge and interest in a specific subject as these essay competitions will typically give either a specific theme or question to write on.

This can make your application stand out from others as it shows you’re going that extra mile and that you put in the work. Plus, if you’re able to win the competition or get a runner’s up place, this looks even better and shows off the extent of your ability to admissions officers.

Have a look at this page and this page from the Minds Underground website to see some examples of these competitions, although there are many more out there.

6. Get a part-time job to boost your university application

Getting a part-time job, while you’re at sixth form or college can have an immense range of benefits, including when it comes to your university applications. This is because jobs can teach students a wide range of transferable skills that are even useful for academic study, such as time management, independence, group working and even leadership.

Moreover, having a part-time job shows admissions officers that you can balance your academic life with other aspects and that you’re a well-rounded student. As the application naturally asks for your employment history, you could simply let this speak for itself.

However, especially if your job links to what you want to do at university, you could mention it in your personal statement and try to link it to other parts of this.

Have a look at this Think Student article for some tips on getting your first job.

From my own experience, I would just say that it’s important for you to make sure that you’re balancing your time properly to make sure that you don’t get burnt out.

7. Do work experience to boost your UCAS application

In some cases, you may not be able to get a part-time job, or you may feel that it would be a lot to manage alongside your studies. However, you should still try to get some work experience, especially as certain courses will require it.

Like a job, work experience can teach you a wide range of useful skills for your course. However, it will be for a shorter period and can be more directly related to what you want to study at university or what you want to do after that. This can be important to show admissions officers that you’re thinking about what to do with your course and what to do next, which can make them feel more positively towards your application.

Due to this, you can link it to the wider reading you do and other things that you mention during within personal statement to make this stand out further. From my own experience, I found that you may be able to find programmes in the holidays or even directly contact local businesses that don’t officially have work experience programmes.

Have a look at this Think Student article to see over 100 ideas of what you can do for work experience.

*Please note that this article has been primarily based on my own experience of applying for university and that these are just some examples of how to make your UCAS application stand out, although you may find other ways more suitable for you.

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