After completing your GCSEs, there are lots of options available to you. In England, you are required to stay in some form of full-time education until you are 18. However, this encompasses lots of different paths. You may want to stay at your current school if it has a sixth form attached. This will usually involve studying A-Levels. If this isn’t for you, you might want to enrol on an apprenticeship course. Alternatively, you might want to transfer to a different sixth form or sixth form college. This can be confusing, and many students have questions about this process, such as when you apply and what deadlines there are.
Generally speaking, you apply for college just under one academic year before you want to start studying there. So, if you want to start college for Year 12, you apply in the autumn term of Year 11 – usually starting in October or November. The application window is fairly long, so don’t worry if you have left it later. Most colleges will accept applications well into the spring term, around 6 months later. Every college sets their own specific deadlines, so make sure to check on their website, or get in contact, to find out when this is.
Keep reading for plenty more information about when you should apply for colleges in the UK, including deadlines, special circumstances and more!
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When should you apply for college in 2023?
You should start thinking about applications for college the year before you want to start studying there. For most people, this will be in the autumn term of Year 11, so they can join college for the autumn term of Year 12.
This page from UCAS about post-16 choices suggests researching your options for college and planning your next steps in the last term of Year 10, to the first term of Year 11. It says that applications themselves usually open in October or November.
You want to start researching colleges and their application processes before this, so you are prepared to complete the application when it actually opens. Often, colleges will have open days and events for prospective applicants, in around September. It’s a really good idea to attend a few of these.
Open days can help you get a feel of the place, to make sure you would be happy studying there for two years. They are also an opportunity to ask any questions you have, including their application process, and any information you want about actually studying there. You will need to make sure they offer the courses you are interested in and might want to ask about things like teaching styles and facilities.
When should you send off your application for college in 2023?
Once applications themselves open, it is best to send in your application as soon as possible. This doesn’t make you any more likely to get in. However, it can be a weight off your mind to have sent your applications, and even get replies confirming your place, earlier in the year.
That being said, you may have mock exams earlier in the year, in November or December. In this case, you might want to focus on those, and send off college applications in January. As long as this is before the application deadline for the colleges you want to apply to, this is absolutely fine – it is just advised not to leave it too late in the school year.
Year 11 is a busy school year, as you will likely be sitting your GCSE exams at the end of it. Leaving your college application late in the year, when you are revising for GCSEs, can make the process more stressful as you already have a lot on your mind.
When is the college application deadline for 2023?
The deadlines for sending off your college application can differ significantly between colleges. For example, this article from Evening Standard about applying post-16 says that most deadlines fall between December and February. However, this UCAS article states that the application window is usually until the end of the spring term, which is until March or April.
The reason for this difference is that colleges have different stages as part of their application process. Some of them will only ask for basic information, such as your current school and predicted GCSE grades. This can be quickly filled out, and is quick for colleges to look through, so they will likely leave applications open for longer.
Others will ask you to write something like a personal statement or answer a few questions. This will probably include why you want to study there and is an opportunity to show off your skills to the college. In this case, the deadline might be earlier to allow the college to look over all these written applications.
The earliest deadlines are usually if the college wants to interview you before giving you a place. They need to get all the applications relatively early in the year, so they can go through them and decide who to interview. They need time after that to interview candidates, and then to decide who to offer a place to.
What age do you apply for college?
Most students apply for college as a post-16 choice, then attend college for two years, from the age of 16 to 18. As you are applying in Year 11, around a year before you start, you will normally be 15 or 16 when you actually apply.
However, this is not the only option. There is a group of colleges – further education colleges – which also allow mature students to study for a range of courses such as A-Levels, equivalent qualifications, or vocational courses.
Although most of the students studying here are aged 16 to 18, these colleges take students of all ages. In this case, there is no real limit on the age you can be when you apply. For more information about further education colleges, have a look at this article from Careerpilot.
Does each college have different application dates?
Yes – each college can set their own application dates and deadlines, so they often vary between colleges. Many people expect there to be a universal deadline for applying to college. For example, if you apply to university, UCAS has two clear deadlines for submitting your application – for more information, check out this article from Think Student.
However, for college applications, this is less strict. There will still be deadlines in place, but they don’t have to be the same between colleges. As mentioned, this means they can differ quite a lot.
Make sure to check the application deadlines of any college you are thinking of applying to. This information should be readily available on college websites. If not, then their website will have contact information such as an email address, which you can use to ask for this information.
Who’s responsible for your college application?
Ultimately, you are the person responsible for your own college application. This includes everything from deciding where to apply, to filling out applications, to sending them to colleges before their deadlines.
That being said, this doesn’t mean you have to go through the process completely independently. In fact, the best idea is to discuss each stage with parents and teachers. Family and friends can often help with choosing colleges to apply to, while teachers will likely know more about the logistics of the application itself, and what colleges are looking for.
If you currently attend a school that doesn’t have a sixth form, everyone there will be leaving that school post-16, many of them applying to college. In this case, your school should offer information and potentially PSHE lessons to help the year group with applications. Although your individual application is still your responsibility, it can help to have this extra guidance.
On the other hand, if your school has a sixth form attached, the majority of students often stay on in the same school. Teachers will still be happy to help, but you may have to take the initiative to let them know you are applying elsewhere and ask them any questions you have.
This is most probably the first time students have to manage applications largely by themselves. Previously, when applying for things like secondary schools, it is parents who take the main responsibility.
While this can be a daunting thought, it can actually be a great way to improve your confidence and independence. Applications aren’t just restricted to college, and you will almost certainly have to complete them later in life, for things like university, jobs and more. Completing your college application is therefore a useful learning experience!
What happens if you miss the college application deadline?
Colleges set application deadlines for a reason, so you may be at a disadvantage if you leave it too late. Some colleges will not accept any applications after the deadline. Others will prioritise students who got their application in on time, so even if you can send an application, it might not be considered equally to earlier ones.
However, college application deadlines are often less strict than, for example, UCAS deadlines. Plenty of colleges will accept applications after their official deadline. Although this isn’t ideal – they may no longer have space on the courses you want, for example – it means you can still go to a college you want.
Ultimately, the best advice is to fully research the deadlines early in Year 11, to make sure you don’t find yourself in this situation. Even if you realise you have missed the deadline, contact colleges to check if they will still consider your application, and send it in as early as possible. Missing the deadline by a few days will be far less of an issue than trying to find a college place only a couple of months before you want to start.
When should you apply for college if you have a learning disability?
If you have a learning disability, it should not affect the timeframe for applying to college. You will still have the same application deadlines and forms as other students. Still, as with any other student, it is recommended to apply earlier rather than later, as we have discussed earlier in the article.
Usually, there will be a section of each application where you can tell the college about any learning requirements you have. It is best to include as much information as you can here. This will make sure there is plenty of time for the college to discuss the necessary arrangements with you. Often, the college will ask for a meeting, either in person or online, to discuss your requirements.
When should you apply for college if you have a training course planned after GCSEs?
Training courses help you to gain work experience and employment skills, preparing you to enter the next stage – usually an apprenticeship or a job. For more about what exactly they are, check out this article from UCAS.
You may have a confirmed place on a training course after GCSEs and want to go to college once you have completed this. The rules for when to apply are the same – the year before you want to start college.
Colleges nearly always start in September. If this overlaps with your planned training course, you will need to wait and apply to start the following year. This will usually mean applying for college around the time of your training course, rather than at the start of Year 11.
On the other hand, if your training course is over the summer holidays of Year 11, you can start college that September. In this case, you will apply for college in the first term of Year 11, as we have discussed in this article.
If you are planning to complete a training course after GCSEs, but do not yet have a confirmed place, you may want to apply to a few colleges as a back-up plan for the following year. In this case, you also follow the same application timeframe that has been discussed in this article, applying in Year 11. It is better to have backup places that you can decline once your training course has been confirmed, than to not apply and limit your options for the next year.