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  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

What is UCAS?

All UK based university applications are made through the University and Colleges Admissions Service (“UCAS”). In short, anyone who wants to study an undergraduate degree in the UK will need to apply through UCAS. In 2018, UCAS processed over 2 million student applications and helped over 500 000 students secure a full-time place in a university or college across the UK. To learn more about UCAS and the work they do, click here.

How does my child apply to university through UCAS?

In order to apply to university within the UK your child will need to submit an online application through UCAS. There are seven sections for completion: 1. Personal details 2. Additional information 3. Student finance 4. Choices 5. Education details 6. Personal statement 7. Employment The process itself is reasonably straightforward but much of the content requires considerable preparation before submission so this is absolutely not something to leave until the last minute. Applications that have been rushed and insufficiently thought-through are obvious and a slap-dash approach could jeopardise opportunities so ensure your child invests plenty of time in making the application.

What is UCAS boy computer applying to university in bedroom The Parents' Guide to
What is UCAS?

When must my child submit their application to UCAS?

Unlike schools that can sometimes flex deadlines for academic work, the UCAS deadlines are fixed and late applications may not be considered at all so it’s important to respect the timetable outlined. The deadline for when your child must submit their application will depend on the university and course they are applying to. For most universities and courses, the deadline is January 15th each year, but an earlier deadline applies for applications to Oxbridge and some specific course. Make sure your child sticks to the deadlines set by their school or college as this will allow time for applications to be checked, changes to be made and for school references to be written.

Nominated access

Whilst your child needs to complete the application themselves, in the personal information section, there’s the option for them to add your name as “nominated access” which means that, with a few of their personal details, you will be able to track progress with their application directly either with UCAS or the universities they’ve applied to. This is very handy if they are travelling and out of contact, or not very good at keeping you updated on progress.

Asian mother and teenage son applying to university computer UCAS living room home The Parents Guide to
Applying through UCAS

How many university courses can my child apply to?

When making an application through UCAS, your child will only be able to apply for a maximum of five courses in any one year. This can be five versions of the same course at five different universities, or five different courses all at the same university or any combination thereof. Try to encourage your child to apply for a range of courses with different entry requirements in case academic expectations are surpassed or not met. It is usually advised to apply for a mix of aspirational, realistic and safe university options. Applying to a range of universities with similar entry requirements may prove to be a costly error in receiving offers or not on results day. In some cases, universities automatically offer similar alternatives if an applicant doesn’t make their preferred choice, so using applications for multiple variations of a similar degree to the same university can be a wasted opportunity.


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Entry requirements & UCAS tariff points

In order to compare students as equitably as possible, UCAS offers a tariff (previously known as the “points system”) whereby each sixth form qualification is awarded a certain number of points according to a combination of the time spent studying it and the grade achieved. This tariff is recognised nationally across the UK and universities use it to gauge the standard of achievement for sixth form students. It enables them to make comparisons between students who have studied different types of sixth form courses – i.e. National Highers, BTEC, A Levels, T Levels etc.

Depending on the perceived course difficulty and the type of university, the minimum entry requirements will vary both from university to university and from course to course within the same university. Not all post sixth form establishments cite a UCAS tariff, they might specify grade requirements (i.e. x3 A Levels, minimum ABB), but it is the same thing. However, if they do cite a UCAS tariff (i.e. minimum 120 points), check out the tariff tables using the UCAS calculator to work out what qualification and grades will be needed to gain university entry.

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Personal statement

As part of the university application through UCAS, your child will need to submit a personal statement. Effectively, this is a short (4,000 characters or circa 500 words) advert that lets your child showcase why they would make a great student. Content for a personal statement isn’t something that can be created overnight. It takes time to assimilate ideas, finesse them, so it’s good to encourage them to start thinking about this well ahead of submission time. For help on how to support your child with their personal statement, click here.

Maintain relevance

As your child can only make one application through UCAS in each given year, it’s important to ensure that the overall application is relevant to each admission tutor reading it. For example, if applying for economics and politics at one university, but economics and philosophy at another, it might be wise to focus subject (course) related discussion on economics (the common denominator in both cases) and use references in the personal statement to indicate suitability to study politics and philosophy. If all of the text in the course section relates to economics and politics, a tutor offering a place for economics and philosophy might interpret that this is not their preferred option and dismiss their application accordingly. Applying for courses that are completely different – irrespective of university location – could be interpreted that your child doesn’t know where their interest lies and is unlikely to be looked upon favourably. If this happens, it might be better for them to go back to the drawing board and reconsider their course choices.

Click here to read our article on how to help your child choose the right university course.


Is your child applying to university this year?

For more information on the UCAS application process and how it works, you may be interested in reading The Parents’ Guide to University

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