UCAS: Your Pathway to Higher Education

The University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) is the organisation which co-ordinates the applications for most universities across the UK. Their purpose is to help students (and their parents and advisors) make informed choices about what higher education they want to study, and where they should study it, and to guide them through the entire process. It’s a huge operation. The UCAS processes over 2.5 million applications every year, for some 650,000 prospective students across the UK and beyond, helping them gain access to more than 340 UK universities and colleges.

The UCAS have a very informative website,, that you can interact with in a number of ways. It gives you advice to help you decide what to study and what qualifications you need. Then you can apply and enter the clearing system. There are also sections on student finance and preparing for your studies (and student life!) once you’ve been accepted.

Here is a summary of the way the UCAS system works. For detailed information and making your application look at the website mentioned above.

You can apply online for a maximum of 5 programmes. They are in no order of priority- all have equal status. For 2013 entry to a college or university this year (2013) the charge is £12 if you choose a single programme and £23 for 2-5 . You fill in your application form, checking the application deadlines, and complete a personal statement. The personal statement needs to convey why you’d be a great student. You need this to persuade Uni’s and colleges to accept you on their course. You only need one personal statement regardless of what courses you are applying for, so if you are applying for a variety of courses write about common themes, such as your creativity, problem-solving and commitment to seeing things through.

Once you’ve applied and paid you can track your progress online on UCAS Track. This allows you to view your choices, and, later, to respond to any offers made by the colleges or universities that you have applied to. You will receive a response or responses from the colleges/uni’s to which you have applied. An offer of a place can be conditional (in other words it depends on whether you get the required examination results) or unconditional (if you already meet the entrance requirements).

Once all their decisions are in you have to reply to your offers by a specific deadline. If your firm acceptance is to an unconditional offer, then the place is yours. If it’s conditional it’s yours if you meet the entry requirements. Decline the rest (or have one as an insurance/back-up acceptance).

If you have had no offers or you’ve declined all offers, then all you can still find other courses. This will be by either by adding more choices one at a time as part of the UCAS “Extra” service, or if you didn’t meet the conditions and Clearing has started, you can seen which courses still have vacancies. What is Clearing? Applicants who have been unsuccessful in obtaining a place through the main scheme or Extra are entered into Clearing. After the A-level results are published in August, institutions with available places will consider applicants through this route. Learn more about clearing in this video from University of Greenwich:

If you’ve been given a conditional place and you have passed your exams and meet the conditions, then you can accept the offer. There’s also a scheme whereby if you have done particularly well in your exams, you might be able to look for alternative courses in the UCAS Adjustment service while still holding your original confirmed place.

Remember that this is just a guide to the UCAS system. The details can be found at the website address given above, along with helpful videos and diagrams to explain what you need to do.

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