Anyone who wants to go to university in the UK will quickly become familiar with UCAS, which is the body that oversees university applications across the country. Although this application system is widely used, that definitely doesn’t mean it is simple. There are a lot of new terms and concepts associated with applying to university that can be overwhelming at first. One part of the process that many people are unsure about is UCAS points – you may have heard of them, but what exactly are they?
UCAS points (officially called UCAS Tariff points) are essentially scores assigned to a wide variety of advanced qualifications that universities may be interested in. Students from across the world apply to universities with a wide range of qualifications, which have different grading systems and difficulty levels. Therefore, matching each one to a number of UCAS points allows universities to compare them fairly. The more advanced the qualification, and the higher your grade, the more UCAS points you are awarded.
This article will explain in more detail what UCAS points are, as well as how you get them and how they are involved in the university application process, so keep reading.
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What counts as UCAS points?
There are a huge variety of qualifications that count towards your UCAS points total in the UK. The most common source of UCAS points for students in England is their A-Levels.
Although there are many ways to collect UCAS points, the vast majority of the qualifications involved are difficult and will require a lot of a student’s time and effort. As a result of this, most students gain all their UCAS points through qualifications they have achieved through their school or college, over a period of at least 2 years. This is because UCAS points are only assigned to qualifications at Level 3 or higher.
‘Levels’ are a system used by the government to compare equivalent qualifications such as GCSEs and Scottish National 5s. Level 3 qualifications are relatively advanced in this scale and are usually completed during post-16 education.
To give some examples, GCSEs are Level 2 qualifications, so do not get converted to UCAS points. However, a variety of qualifications typically studied in sixth form or college do count, as they are Level 3 qualifications, such as Scottish Advanced Highers and the higher level BTECs. Alongside this, some students get extra UCAS points through advanced extra-curricular activities, such as music or dance grades 6, 7 or 8. For more ways to get UCAS points, see this Think Student article.
What are UCAS points used for?
UCAS points may be used when you apply for post-18 positions such as university places, apprenticeships or jobs. As UCAS is primarily focussed on university applications, this is the most common place where they are used, but future employers may also use UCAS points to assess how well-qualified applicants are for a certain position.
UCAS points may be used by universities when considering your application to them. Each university often has to deal with thousands of people applying with different qualifications, not only from the UK but internationally. UCAS points provide a way for the university to standardise the grades of all applicants, and therefore assess them fairly. For example, students who have achieved an A* in an A-Level receive the same number of points as those who got an A in a Scottish Advanced Higher. Although these are different qualifications and grades, the UCAS points they are worth are an easy way to show universities that they are equally well-qualified applicants. For more information on how these points are used, see this guide on ucas.com
However, universities are now using these points less and less in their admissions processes. It has been estimated that only a third of universities still state their entry requirements as a number of UCAS points, but instead have specific qualifications and grades listed on their websites. They also use non-numerical information about applicants as part of the admissions process, such as interviews and personal statements.
As well as this, your UCAS points may be used by employers, although this is more unlikely as it is not recommended by UCAS. In these cases, the employer may want to see that you have completed a certain number of A-Levels (or equivalent qualifications) and achieved certain grades and express this requirement in terms of UCAS points.
For example, if an employer wants you to have GCSEs in English and Maths at a Grade 4 or higher, they would most likely state just that, because GCSEs are not given UCAS points. However, if they want their job applicants to have at least 2 A-Levels at a Grade C or higher, they may advertise this as having 64 UCAS points or higher. This would also allow applicants more flexibility in terms of how they make up that number of points – they could also have 2 A-Levels at grades B and D, and have the same number of points, so can still apply.
How many UCAS points do you have?
A key thing to remember is that for each qualification, different grades correspond to a different number of UCAS points. This table shows the way A-Level grades are assigned to points:
|A-Level Grade||UCAS Points|
For more information, this page from thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk has a brief guide to UCAS points, as well as tables that convert common post-16 qualifications into UCAS points. As well as this, if you are maybe further on in the application process, you can use this points calculator from the official UCAS website to work out how many UCAS points your specific qualifications and predicted grades are worth.
What does having 96 UCAS points mean?
One number you may have heard in reference to UCAS points is 96, which can seem a bit abstract at first. To give this number a little context, the most common way students get this number is by passing A-Levels in 3 subjects (so a grade C in each). This gives a UCAS points total of 32 + 32 + 32 = 96.
As there are so many different qualifications that give you these points, there are many other ways to achieve 96 in total, for example, your A-Level grades could be ACE instead of CCC. This page from the Oxford Brookes University website gives a range of ways that your points total could add up to 96, including many different qualifications and grades.
Most people think of this number as the minimum number of points you need to get into university, but this is not entirely true. Check out this article to find out how many UCAS points you need to get into university.
How many UCAS points do you need to get into university?
Unfortunately, there is no set number of UCAS points that will guarantee you a place at any university. As every university looks for slightly different skills and qualities in their applicants, it is best to check the websites of any universities you are considering applying to. On their website there will be a full list of their entry requirements for each course.
As mentioned, a significant number of universities do not directly use UCAS points. Instead, they ask for certain grades, in particular Level 3 qualifications. What exactly these grades are depends on the course and university. More popular courses (such as law or medicine) as well as more competitive universities (such as those in the Russell Group) will generally ask for higher grades, which in turn corresponds to more UCAS points. For more information on UCAS points and how universities use them, check out this article from Think Student.
There are many other aspects involved in a university application. Sometimes, universities will require you to have qualifications that do not give you UCAS points, for instance, a minimum number of GCSEs. Other qualifications, like the Duke of Edinburgh award, do not count towards UCAS points, but still may be considered by universities and benefit your application.
Some sources suggest the average university applicant has 112 UCAS points or more, which could be achieved by having 3 A-Levels at grades BBC, but this is a very rough guide. The most effective way to get information about whether or not an institution looks at UCAS points, and what else they consider as part of your application, is to look directly at official university websites.