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UCAS applications

The UCAS system in outline

How UCAS works for you

The UCAS system in outline

For the vast majority of first degree courses, you apply through UCAS (the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service). It handles over 600,000 applications for over 38,000 courses every year and runs a central applications system for almost all UK universities and colleges.

You make a single application for up to five courses. UCAS forwards your application to the admissions staff at each individual university you have specified, and then makes sure that each university takes a decision about your application. It plays no part in the selection process itself. Each university and college decides for itself whether to offer you a place and on what terms; and you decide whether or not to accept each or any offer. Communication between you and the universities at this stage is through UCAS. The system works according to a strict timetable.

UCAS has an applicants’ enquiry line for help and advice on 0871 468 0 468 (if you have hearing difficulties, call the Text Relay service on 18001 0871 468 0 468 or +44 151494 1260 from outside the UK).

But the key to its operation is its website – www.ucas.com – which has loads of information on the application procedure, courses with unfilled places etc. It allows you to apply online (Apply), track the progress of your own application (Track) and search for course details (Course Finder).

How UCAS works for you

First choose your courses

First you need to decide which courses you want to apply to, at which universities – see Making your shortlist. You can choose up to five courses. These may include different courses at the same university, a mixture of degrees at different universities, and more than one subject – the choice is yours (each university will obviously know which of its own courses you have applied to, but it won’t see what you have applied to at any other university). Course Finder on the UCAS website has up-to-date information on courses and their entrance requirements.

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Then apply

You make a single UCAS application. You can apply from anywhere in the world with internet access, using the secure web-based application system called Apply. You can apply either as an independent applicant or through a UCAS-registered centre (eg a school, college or careers office). If you apply through your school or college, they are responsible for getting your application and reference to UCAS.

When you apply online, you will find pull-down menus and help-text to ensure you enter valid university and course information in the choices section of your application.

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Apply as early as you can

There are different deadlines to keep your eye on. You can apply any time from mid-September and the earlier the better – UCAS and admissions tutors are very busy around deadlines. With a few exceptions, applications should be with UCAS by 15 January of the year for which you are applying – so in by 15 January 2013 to start in September 2013. But if you are applying for medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine/science, or to any course at the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, applications have to be in by 15 October the previous year. Some art and design courses have a deadline date of 15 January, some 24 March; you should check this on Course Finder on the UCAS website.

If you miss the 15 January deadline, all may not be lost. UCAS will still accept your application but the universities and colleges are not obliged to consider you, so you may miss out on courses in high demand (this does not apply to international applicants from outside the EU). Applications received after 30 June will not be sent on to universities in the normal way but will go straight into the summer Clearing − although you can of course contact your chosen universities and colleges directly in the meantime. UCAS will accept new applications in Clearing until 20 September but by then most courses will have closed admissions.

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This will usually be your head of sixth or sixth-form tutor. Whoever you choose, make sure you give them enough time to write your reference. Referees will have more than one reference to write and yours needs to be processed in time to reach UCAS by the appropriate date.

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Application fee

If you are applying individually or you are an international applicant, generally you will need to pay by credit or debit card. If you are applying through your school or college, they will let you know how to pay: either by credit or debit card online; or you pay the school or college who will then pay UCAS. For 2012 entry, the fee is £22 (£11 if you are applying only for one course) and is likely to be slightly higher for 2013.

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UCAS will

UCAS will do the following –

  • Confirm receipt of your application (electronically).
  • Send you a Welcome letter, which confirms details of your application and lists the courses and institutions they have recorded for you. Check these details carefully. This letter also gives you your own, individual Personal ID and Track username. Keep them safe; you will need these for all future correspondence and to check the progress of your application on the UCAS website using Track.
  • Pass your application on to the universities and colleges you have chosen.

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The universities decide

The admissions tutors for all your chosen courses consider your application. They decide whether to offer you a place and, if so, whether the offer is conditional (on, say, the results of summer exams) or unconditional. Sometimes this may involve an interview. Once an institution has made a decision, UCAS sends you an email telling you to check Track for the details. So long as you have applied by the January deadline, you should expect to hear from all your choices by early May.

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You decide

When you have had responses from all your choices (and if they include at least one offer), you need to decide whether to accept. If all your offers are unconditional, you can make your final decision and accept just one offer. If some or all of your offers are conditional, you can accept a maximum of two – a first choice and an optional insurance offer (usually more sensible to choose a lower offer!).

You do not have to reply to your offers until you have heard from all your choices; but if you know you have the offer(s) you want, you can cancel your other choices and then accept the offer(s) you want − all using Track. You must reply by the deadline given – which is your own personal deadline, depending on when your offers were made.

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If you have used all your choices and either you receive no offers or you turn down the ones you have, then you can make further choices (one at a time) through Extra. This operates from late February to early July. Extra allows you to change direction completely (eg if you’ve gone off medicine, you can change to sports science). Check vacancies on the courses you are interested in – either with the universities or on the UCAS website (Course Finder).

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If you are taking exams in the summer

UCAS will receive your summer exam results direct from the exam boards for most UK qualifications (eg A-levels, IB, BTEC National Diploma, SQA) so you don’t need to tell UCAS your results, or any university holding a place for you.

  • If you have met the conditions of your offer (precisely), you definitely have a place; you will be able to confirm this on Track. UCAS will also send you a Confirmation letter, which will tell you if you need to take any further action to confirm your place. If the letter asks you confirm with the university that you accept the place, then you must do this within seven days or risk losing it. Institutions usually act quickly after the results come out, so you should take action if you have not heard from UCAS after ten days; check Track to see that your place has been confirmed or then contact the university direct.
  • If your results are lower than those specified in the offer, you might still have a place. For instance, the university may still take you if you got 3 C grades instead of a B and 2 Cs, or if you don’t get precisely the right grade in history − but it is entirely at their discretion. Ring and persuade them; lots of others may be in the same boat but you want them to notice you. If they will still take you, they will confirm your place and UCAS will inform you by letter.
  • If your results are better than you needed for your firm choice, you might want to reconsider where and what to study; you can do this through Adjustment. For a very short time (5 calendar days), you can look for a course you prefer that still has places available, whilst still holding your original offer. Do this by registering for Adjustment (using Track) and then contact universities to find a place you prefer.

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No place yet? Then you are entered into Clearing, which operates from mid-July to September (but mostly after A-level results are published in mid-August). If you do not have a place, because your application was late or your results did not match your offer, you will automatically be given a Clearing Number (shown on Track). But don’t wait that long to hassle admissions tutors for a place – there is nothing to prevent you from getting in touch with any university or college direct and the earlier the better. Go for it – and do it yourself; don’t expect the university to accept you on the basis of a call from your parents. For more detail, see Clearing.

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