Applying for universities can be a very stressful time. In the UK, students are expected to narrow down from all the universities across the countries to just 5 choices. Furthermore, they also have to submit tonnes of information about their grades, interests, achievements, and educational history to help these universities decide who to admit. Luckily, a system called UCAS helps to centralise all of these applications into one place, simplifying the process and allowing students to easily get all the information they need for their application and eventual choices.
In this article we will explain UCAS, including how to use it, top tips to get the most out of the system, and how to perfect each part of your application. As a student who recently went through UCAS to apply to university, I will offer you up-to-date tips and insight on the application process and website.
UCAS is an acronym for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. It centralises applications to higher education in the UK into one place, making it much easier for students to apply for university. Students can apply for up to 5 university courses on UCAS, as well as places at a conservatoire.
UCAS can also be used to apply for post-graduate study. UCAS also provides guidance and support for students and their parents/teachers throughout the application process, including helpful articles with details about courses and university life.
While this should have given you a short answer to your questions about UCAS, please read on for more information.
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What is UCAS used for?
UCAS stands for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. It is a charity which provides a central and shared admissions service for higher education in the UK.
This means that they allow students to apply for higher education at multiple universities or other institutions, all in one place.
UCAS also provides information and advice to students, both about the application process and life at university (such as finances and housing tips). They also provide inspiration for different degree paths or opportunities such as apprenticeships, to help people understand all the options open to them. Furthermore, they also provide application services for conservatoires, and postgraduate opportunities.
They also allow students and universities to see all they key information about applications in one place. This means that throughout the whole process, from choosing a university to finalising your choices by accepting a place, UCAS is there to simplify and support students to make the process as smooth and easy as possible.
UCAS’ article on who they are includes more helpful information and can be found here.
Who can use UCAS?
UCAS’ main audience is future undergraduate students from the UK. This tends to mean those at sixth form or college, who are going to go to university next year or after a gap year. They are the main focus of much of its content in advice and guidance and form the largest part of its users.
However, sixth formers are not the only people to use UCAS. Any prospective student at university in the UK will usually have to use it to apply. This includes mature students, who are also applying for undergraduate degrees.
UCAS also provides similar services for postgraduate students, giving advice and guidance on available programmes and courses, and in some cases allowing students to apply for courses. However, UCAS isn’t typically used to apply for postgraduate courses, which you can learn more in this Think Student article.
Furthermore, parents and teachers (such as academic advisers or careers professionals) can also use UCAS to get advice and learn how to support their young person in applying for university. They can also help students to make applications, with schools providing corroborating evidence for applications such as references and proofreading personal statements.
UCAS also provides information and applications to conservatoires for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. They have several conservatoires which can be applied to through their website, as well as a lot of information about the application process, and how to prepare for auditions and portfolio viewings.
Finally, UCAS also has pages dedicated to apprenticeships, including advice and guidance on how applications work, and how to find the best apprenticeship for you. This means it can be useful to students who may not be interested in a typical university degree or want a more modern and practical choice after sixth form.
You can find all this and more by checking out the UCAS website here.
Can you apply to university without using UCAS?
UCAS is a great system, which makes applications very simple for students. However, understandably some students might feel they do not want to apply for university through UCAS.
One common reason for this is wanting to apply for more than 5 courses. However, unfortunately if you are applying for a full-time undergraduate course before getting your grades you are definitely going to need to go through UCAS. It is a centralised system, so each application does go straight to the university you have chosen, just from one point.
Most universities in the UK will not allow you to apply directly for their courses. Some part-time courses, or post-graduate schemes may allow this, but this is becoming rarer. One example of a university that allows this is the University of Brighton, and more details on how it works can be found from their website, here.
It may be possible to just apply to a university through Clearing. While this is still generally done through UCAS, some universities allow you to apply directly.
Look at the same page from the University of Brighton, which also allows direct application through clearing, for an example of this. More information about Clearing can be found here, in a Think Student article.
This is called a “record of prior acceptance” and can be done by calling the university directly during clearing, so after the general deadline for applications. You would give them the information, you would have put into UCAS, such as grades, and possibly a personal statement.
However, this only allows you to apply to a single university. You are not allowed to apply to any others if one gives you a place through prior acceptance.
This also means that you will not have any insurance options to fall back on. This can be a dangerous game, particularly if applying for top universities where competition for places is high.
For more information on how many universities you can apply for through UCAS, please see this Think Student article. If you are interested in applying for more courses after your original application, please see this article from Think Student about UCAS Extra.
Is UCAS free?
The fact that UCAS is a charity often confuses applicants, who may be led to believe that applying to UCAS is free. However, this is not the case.
Applying to UCAS costs from £22.50-£27 based on how many courses you apply to. Most students apply to more than one, and so will pay £27. However, if you are only applying to one course your application will cost £22.50.
These numbers are correct as of 2023. More details on paying for UCAS can be found here, in Think Student’s helpful guide.
UCAS states on their website that they earn money from application fees, fees charged from universities for every student they accept, and also from their media subsidiaries. They use this money to fund their running costs, such as paying employees and sending applications.
UCAS do not get any financial support directly from the government. Their charitable status just means they are exempt from some taxes which they may otherwise pay, helping keep costs down for students. They are not running for-profit organisations, and gift-aid the profits of their media subsidiary to charity.
What do you need to apply on UCAS?
Applying for UCAS can seem complicated, and students often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of things you seem to need to apply! However, the process is actually much simpler than many believe.
The most important part of UCAS applications are your predicted grades (or achieved grades if you are applying after results). These are used by universities to determine whether you will have the academic skills needed to complete their degree, and if you do not meet the grade requirements you will likely not get a place on the course.
Another way that these grades are used is to calculate how many UCAS points you have achieved. Other achievements, such as music or dance grades for example, can also count towards this total. For more information on what UCAS points are and how they work, please see this Think Student guide.
Furthermore, Think Student has a great article which informs you how many points you need on UCAS to get into university, which can be found here.
Other things that you might need to apply for UCAS include a personal statement, which details all your achievements and interests within your subject area, to help universities understand more about you. You will also of course need to have your chosen degree courses and universities listed.
Finally, your school will also need to write you a reference which states what kind of student you are and shows your strengths.
When is the UCAS deadline?
The UCAS deadline is usually around the 25th of January in the year that you take your A-Levels (or the year after if you are applying for a gap year). This is variable in different years but is usually around the end of January.
This is also the time which many universities begin to send offers out. It is known as the equal consideration deadline because any application submitted before that deadline will be treated equally, no matter if it is months or minutes before the deadline.
There are also exceptions to this rule. For those applying for medicine or veterinary courses, the deadline is usually around the 15th of October. Oxford and Cambridge applicants to any degree course also must apply by this date.
This earlier date is to allow for the extra interviews and exams which often go along with these applications. If you are unsure about the application date for your course, please check with your university or on the UCAS website.
For more information on the UCAS application deadline, please visit this Think Student article.