Home » Your study options » Higher education » Your UCAS application: Essential advice

Your UCAS application: Essential advice

A student typing on a computer at Lancaster University

Updated: 23 September 2016

If you’re applying to an undergraduate course in the UK (and for some postgraduate courses) you’ll need to fill out an online application from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

The UCAS system allows you to track your applications. You can apply independently or through your school, college, university or an education agent.

We asked UCAS, admissions officers and international officers from UK universities and colleges what they look for – what makes the ‘perfect’ application, and what are their tips for writing that all-important personal statement?

Before you apply

Step 1: Registering on UCAS

Step 2: Choosing your courses

Step 3: Education and employment history

Step 4: Personal statement

Step 5: Declarations, references, fees… and submit!

Tracking your application

Replying to offers

Before you apply

For most undergraduate courses, the deadline is 15 January (although there are variations – see course deadlines for more information). Undergraduate courses usually start in September or October – so for example, if you plan to start your studies in Sept/Oct 2017, the deadline for applications is on 15 January 2017.

You can apply after 15 January, but more competitive courses may be full after this time, so you can’t guarantee that your application will be considered. So leave yourself plenty of time to apply – and if you do miss a deadline, contact the university or college you’re applying to.

Make sure you meet the entry requirements – some courses require a certain level of English, for example. You might also need a visa to study in the UK. See Higher education: Entry requirements for more information.

You might like to get in touch with the university or college international office or admissions office to register your interest as an international student. They might have more advice to help with your application, and can answer any questions you have about the process.

Step 1: Registering on UCAS

Log on to UCAS Apply and select the type of course you’re applying for (to find out about higher education courses and qualifications, see Your study options).

You’ll be asked to add personal details, create a username, password and security questions and, if you’re applying through a school, college, centre or agent, fill in the buzzword they gave you. After this, you can log in to fill in the rest of your personal details, including funding options and special needs.

Step 2: Choosing your courses

You can apply for up to five courses (four for medicine, dentistry or veterinary science/medicine). There’s no order of preference and the universities and colleges won’t know where else you’ve applied.

To find courses, use the Education UK search tool, or look up your chosen institution to find out more about what they have to offer.

Usually you can only apply to either the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge, but not both. Contact the universities for more details.

Step 3: Education and employment history

In the education section of your application form, enter your full education history right up to your current school, college or university (if applicable).

Enter all qualifications you have a result for, including those in your own language and education system. Also enter any exams for which you are awaiting results and any you have left to take – if you get an offer from an institution, you can let them know the results later.

UK NARIC offers a paid service that compares UK qualifications with qualifications from other countries. You can also get in touch with your local British Council office for more information.

In your employment history, you can put the details of up to five paid jobs that you’ve done (full-time or part-time). Don’t include unpaid or voluntary work – this goes in your personal statement. If you haven’t done any jobs, leave this section blank.

Step 4: Personal statement

The personal statement is your chance to shine! Here’s where you tell the university or college in your own words why you’re applying for the course, why your skills and interests make you suitable – and why they should want to teach you!

How to write your personal statement

  • Write in English (or if you are applying to study in Wales, you can apply in either English or Welsh).
  • Use complete sentences.
  • You can write a maximum of 4,000 characters or 47 lines of text (including spaces).
  • Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation to ensure there are no mistakes. If you can, find a native English speaker or a teacher to proofread your form for you.
  • Make sure this is your statement and don’t copy! Plagiarism is a serious offence in the UK and UCAS has software that can identify copied statements. See Avoiding plagiarism for more information.

What to write

  • Explain why you’re applying for the course and why you’re interested in the subject – this will be the most important point and should come at the start.
  • Mention any wider work you’ve done on the subject outside your studies (books you’ve read in your own time, competitions you’ve entered, etc.)
  • Talk about your future ambitions and why this course will help you achieve your goals.
  • Mention extracurricular activities, past experience (e.g. courses you’ve taken) and work experience (either paid or voluntary) that will also help you on the course. For example, if you want to study politics, and you’ve run for class president, here’s the place to put that down!
  • Briefly mention activities, experience or interests you have that will make you an interesting person to teach – such as playing in an orchestra, doing a first aid course or captaining your local football team.

Check out UCAS’s advice on personal statements for more tips.

Step 5: Declaration, references, fees… submit!

Once you’re happy with your application, mark it as ‘complete’, save it and agree to the declaration (UCAS's terms and conditions).

Ask a tutor, adviser or professional who knows you to act as your referee and add their email and phone number to the reference page, or select the option that allows you to ask your school, college or centre to write your reference. See UCAS: References, payment and sending for more information about references.

Pay the application fee online: £12 for one course, £23 for multiple courses (2016 entry). If you’re applying through a school, college or centre, find out whether they are paying this fee for you.

...and you’re done!

Tracking your application

Once you’ve submitted the application, you can log into your UCAS profile, called Track, at any time to see the progress of your application. You’ll get an email alert whenever there’s an update to your application.

If you get an offer, it could be unconditional (which means your place on the course is secure) or conditional (your place is secure provided you meet certain requirements, usually getting certain grades in your final exams).

You might also get an invitation – this means the university or college would like to meet you for an interview or audition. Read Interviews: Essential advice from admissions officers for advice about interviews.

Check the UCAS guide to tracking your application for more information.

Replying to offers

You can only reply to your offers once you’ve received all of your decisions – or withdraw your application from universities or colleges you’re still waiting to hear from.

You are allowed to make one firm acceptance and one insurance acceptance with lower entry requirements, in case you don’t meet the grades for your first choice. If you have unconditional offers you wish to accept (i.e. you’ve already met the academic requirements) you can only select one to confirm your place – you can’t make an insurance choice.

Check the UCAS website to find out the last reply dates.

Find out more at www.ucas.com.

Read more: How to write a personal statement for a UK university (British Council Voices)

Next: Essential advice for your university or college interview