How do UCAS Applications Work?

Oxford university image for UCAS Application article

The UK does admissions differently to the US. While the UCAS application process has similarities to it’s US counterpart, its nuances, intricacies, and key points are unique. So much so that we have our own, dedicated UK Admissions Consultant, Brian Wong.

If continuing your education in the UK is something you’d like to consider, it’s wise to start early. In just a few months, admissions will open. UCAS (that’s University and College Admissions Services) applications due by October 2021 for a handful of courses, such as medicine, and January 2022 for the majority, ahead of the start of term in September 2022. 

So, that’s a little over 18 months from applications opening to term starting. And by the time you’re starting your application, you need to make sure you’ve already got the all right academic and extra-curricular credentials to fill your application with. Do you see why we’re suggesting an early start? 

If you’re planning to attend University in 2023 or 2024, now would be a great time to come and talk to us! If you’re planning on attending in 2022, it’s not too late. There’s still plenty of support we can give you to ensure your application blows the admissions board away. 

What do I need for my application?

UCAS applications are broken down into 3 parts. Predicted grades, personal statement, and references. 

Predicted Grades

Courses will usually have subject requirements, as well as grade requirements. These are based on A-Level subjects. Let’s look at some examples. 

Imperial BSc Mathematics

A* A* A (Offer conditions)

A* in Mathematics, A* in Further Mathematics, A in another subject (Chemistry, Physics useful, not essential)

So, whilst Chemistry or Physics might be a good idea and would weigh the odds in your favour, if you and your teachers don’t think you’re likely to get an A in Chemistry or Physics, but excel in English and are likely to get an A*, well, it’s something to weigh up when choosing your A-Level subjects. 

Oxford BA Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Mathematics is recommended.

History is useful.

Oxbridge will expect A A A grades, but for PPE, no subjects are required. However, if you don’t firstly enjoy Mathematics and History and secondly, get good grades in them, perhaps PPE isn’t a very good choice for you. 

When you get an offer, it will usually be conditional, so it’s only valid if you achieve those predicted grades. Occasionally, admission may be granted if you fall slightly short of the grades. This is not to be relied upon, especially for competitive subjects. 

Oh, and remember that almost all universities will not accept General Studies as a valid A-Level! Choosing your subjects can be a real mine-field. You want to study things you enjoy, things you’re good at, and things that align with your future goals. Maybe you don’t know what your future goals are, so you want to focus on things you enjoy, are good at, and apply to multiple courses or careers that you may decide on in the future. This is where we come in. A strategy is important when picking your subjects, we will see that you make the right selection. 

Personal Statement

Just like US colleges, UK Universities do not want cookie-cutter students, applying for courses because their parents and teachers told them it was the right thing to do. They want passionate, motivated students. If you’re not excited to write and explain why you’re the right person to study this subject at this university then, well, maybe that’s not the right course for you! 

Your UCAS application personal statement is your chance to show the admissions board who you are and why they should invite you to join their university. Yes, they’re going to want to see a demonstration of your academic competence, but they’re also going to want to know why you want to study this particular subject. And why you think you’re a great fit for their particular institution. If you’ve got any independently gained experiences that demonstrate your brilliant capacity for learning, time management skills, and independence, such as internships or extra-curricular activities, now is the time to talk about them, always remember to keep it in context and show how it supports your application. 

Your personal statement is just that. Personal. We can’t tell you what to write. We can, however, offer a critical eye, reading your statement as an admissions tutor would, and let you know if anything is missing. We’re also pretty good at spotting what it is about you that an admissions board will love, and helping you play that up!

Academic References

A reference must be academic in nature. Ideally, it will be provided by a teacher who knows you well, although this is not a hard and fast rule. We can talk about options if for whatever reason this is not a good option. Your UCAS application academic reference might include things like:

  • How suitable your teacher feels you are for the course, with evidence and examples from the work they have been doing with you to back this up. 
  • Your future goals, again with examples such as work experience or volunteering to support your good fit in this field. 
  • How you learn, your work ethic, how you work with others and how you contribute to the culture of the school. 
  • Any mitigating circumstances, such as how the COVID-19 pandemic may have adversely impacted your studies and how you’ve overcome these challenges. 

It’s important to talk to your referee about your goals, and that they know your character well so that your reference can be not only wonderfully complimentary, but relevant and supportive of your application. 

Need To Know More?

We could go on for days about the ins and outs of a UCAS application, and UCAS is almost the last step in your UK university application journey! We’re sure you’re hungry to find out more, so here’s what you can do. 

Our resident expert, Brian Wong, is holding a free webinar on Wednesday 10th March, at 12.30pm. Registrations are open now here.