A GUIDE TO APPLYING TO UCAS When it comes to the start of your second year at college your teachers will begin to urge you to start using UCAS and writing your personal statement. ‘What’s the rush?’ you ask: well, although it may seem a distant blur at the moment, your time at university is just around the corner and you need to get moving in the right direction. UCAS is the website that makes it all happen so you need to gain some basic understanding of how to use the site. There is no need to worry though, we’re here to guide you through the ins and outs of what may seem a very scary time of your life, this article is all about how to master UCAS and make sure you do the best you possibly can.  

Step 1: Plan
Before you even start using the UCAS website think about what you want to do at university. If you have a good idea of the career you want in later life then try and get some work experience in that field. The summer holidays are the perfect time for this so write a letter well in advance asking whether you can have a placement at a company, newspaper or wherever you wish or even just go  for tours of hospitals, law courts or suchlike if these are what interest you and you can’t or don’t want to get an actual placement. This will be invaluable when writing your personal statement later on and show you are sure that you know your course choice is the right one for you. If you don’t like the work you were doing then it gives you time to reconsider whether that career really is for you and if not then you can work towards finding an alternative and maybe a completely different subject area you want to study. Also, if you want to get ahead of the game then take a look ahead at step 3 and consider signing up for open days at this stage too so you are well prepared.

Step 2: Sign Up
Yes, it’s really that simple. Visit www.ucas.com as soon as you can and sign up for an account. You just need to provide a few basic details and you get your own username which you will be using throughout the coming weeks and months to fill in all the vital information the universities need to know about. Once you are registered you will get a letter through the post soon after telling you all about what you should do next and explaining exactly what UCAS is for. It is also worthwhile to start writing the all important personal statement at this time, or at least making a plan of it, as you will have time to polish it if you do and make sure that it is your best work and fully reflects you.

Step 3: Search for Courses
If you haven’t already then take a look in the ‘Course Search’ section of the site, use the search option and simply type in the course you are interested in, any particular area of the country you want to study and the type of qualification you want at the end of it. Click the search button at the bottom of the page and voila, a list of universities with each course they offer for your chosen subject. Click on the name of the university for useful links, such as to their website and e-mail, and then go and have a browse around if you like. Keep looking until you find a few that you are interested in and have a look at their websites to register for the forthcoming open days. These days will allow you to look into the courses you are interested in at a greater depth and are a brilliant way to get an insight into student life. Try and do this step early as you want to make sure you sign up for the days in time. A very important point is also to check when the closing date is for your application as some universities or courses need you to submit it before others, so if you are interested in one that does then you need to know so you can be clear and ensure you meet the deadline.

Step 4: Filling in the Blanks
Fill the ‘Personal Details’ and ‘Additional Information’ sections in fully if you haven’t already as you do not need anything with you in order to do them. Next time you log on have your results slips from your GCSEs and AS Levels handy and fill in the ‘Education’ part of the application. Make sure the dates are correct as you may have a bit of trouble at the later stages otherwise. If you are unsure of the names of your modules then either visit the sites of the exam boards you use or ask your teachers for help. If you plan to retake a module then write this in the additional information box next to your grade and it will appear to the universities when you send it off. Make sure you write in all of the modules you will be taking at A2 Level in order to ensure that they know which subjects you have continued. If you have previous experience of employment then make sure you fill this section in too, if you haven’t then there is no need to worry and you can just leave it blank.

Step 5: Personal Statement Time
Ideally you should start this stage well in advance but if you haven’t then there is nothing to fear. It can be a daunting task writing something that will ultimately decide whether or not you get into the university you want. Remember, drafting is essential and so are regular consultations with your tutor or student advisor to make sure that you do your best work. Make sure you try and have an interesting, original opening- maybe a quote that you feel reflects you as a person or a snappy opening sentence which will leave the admissions tutors hooked. From there move on logically, keep it concise and run through: why you want to study your chosen subject, what you aspire to do in the future, any relevant work experience, why you feel you would be good at the course and how your current subjects have helped you to realise this, what particularly interests you (for instance a particular law case, books you enjoy or a piece of art that surmise your interest in the subject and show what specific parts of it you might want to look into in your time at the university) and finish with a tidy conclusion that rounds up everything you have said without being repetitive. It may sound tricky but by working through this slowly and consulting regularly you will be able to tailor a statement that reflects you and your strengths and will be strong enough to land you a place at whichever institution you wish. Always bear in mind the word limit and so keep your points sharp and don’t overcomplicate with irrelevant details. When you type your statement in structure it into paragraphs and press submit. If it is too long then you can go back and cut it down until it is the right length. Take your time over this, it is a chance to have your own say and really persuade the universities that you are a great candidate!

Step 6: Consult
Find out who is in charge of your application being sent and book an appointment with them. Discuss exactly what you want to do and have them look over all of your sections to make sure they are happy. Talk about the course choices you want to make and get their advice as they really are there to help you. Ask them whether they can start compiling your references at this stage as you will need this to be done before the application gets sent off. This process can take a couple of weeks as all your lecturers will write something about you and then your form tutor will have to put it all together, so make sure you get an appointment in good time for them to do this. Book another consultation if you feel you might need one before finalising your application.

Step 7: Make your Course Choices
Hopefully you will have had a chance to go to some open days at this stage and so have an idea where you would really be interested in studying. Now it is time to go to the ‘Choices’ section and use the search tool to select the courses you wish to apply for. Make sure you double check what you pick as if you get the wrong code then you could end up going for a degree you didn’t even want! You have 5 choices so try and pick a variety of different institutions who want different grades to get in to their course (you can find out what they want either by looking in the prospectus or contacting them directly). If you want to then you can apply for several courses at the same university but remember, if they reject you for one then they will reject you for the others too and at the end of the day you will have to pick between all of the choices anyway so it is better to try and spread your choices around. Confirm each selection to make sure you have it right and make sure you are happy before you press the button to complete the section.

Step 8: Check
Go through every section and check for errors before you change the status for that part to complete by confirming that you are finished.  If you are satisfied with the whole thing then you can submit it and go onto the payment stage. You will need a credit or debit card for this if you are doing it online so make sure you have one that you can use ready. As only certain cards are accepted then you may have to borrow your parent’s or carer’s, with permission of course, and pay them back afterwards. Just write in the details of the card when the payment screen comes up and submit. Don’t worry, this step is completely secure, just ensure that you are on the proper UCAS site with the correct logo and suchlike before entering any information. Once this stage is all over you can send your application.

Step 9: Wait
Even if you have pressed send as you have completed your part of the application it may still be waiting for references. Be patient if the status says that it has not been sent yet and if in doubt pop in to see the person who is in charge of your application so that they know it is ready. Once it has gone fully then all you have to do is wait for letters from the universities. These may take a while to come through as universities have a lot of submissions, they will get around to yours eventually and when they do they will contact you. You can check your application’s progress and current offers by logging in to the ‘Track’ section of the site with your application number and password. Once you have received all of your offers then UCAS will send you another letter confirming them. You will then be given a date by which you have to confirm your firm and insurance choice.

Step 10: Finalising Your Choices
If you have all of your offers then you can log on to track and select which you want to have as your ‘Firm’ choice and which as your ‘Insurance’ choice. Ideally your firm choice should ask for higher grades to get in than your insurance choice and be the university you really want to go to. If you do not meet the criteria of your firm choice then your insurance choice will be the one you can fall back on as it has a lower threshold of grades or point to get in. It is important to know that if you do meet the criteria for your firm choice or have an unconditional offer for it then you cannot back down and go to your insurance choice instead. Because of this you have to make sure you put the university you really want to go to first as you don’t want to end up somewhere else. Make sure that you get this stage done by the date you were told in your letter from UCAS.

Step 11: Extra
If you were unlucky and did not receive any offers then you can now apply for ‘Extra’ which will allow you to search for any courses you may be able to get a place on instead. You can find out more about this from the UCAS website or advisors at your college.

Step 12: Wait for Results
Results day is the day students across the country both dread and look forward to in equal measures. On the day of your results you will find out if you achieved the grades or points you needed to get into university, if you didn’t do quite as well as you hoped then remember you have an insurance choice which hopefully you will have achieved the criteria for instead. If not then go and see a careers advisor and they can help you with the next step, remember that there is always next year and you can get some great experience in between. Good luck.

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