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How to apply for UCAS and key dates: A parent’s guide

Will your child be applying to university for this year? Read on to find out about some of the things you can expect from the application process.

'Some key things for parents to know about applying to university'

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If your child is applying to university, they will need to submit their application through UCAS (The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). This is a centralised system that UK universities use to process university applications. 

If this is your first time supporting a young person through the process, there are some key application stages and deadlines to be aware of. While your child’s school or college will of course be on hand to offer support, we thought we’d give an overview of how to apply for UCAS and what to expect as a parent.

Choosing which universities to apply to

Before your child begins their UCAS application, the first step is for them to decide what course they want to study, and which university they wish to study at. Deciding what course to study will entirely depend on what your child’s career aspirations are. Whether your child knows what they want to do in the future or not, it’s worth doing some research to see what degree course they will need to complete to help them get there. For some career paths, this can be quite strict, while others are more flexible.

Deciding what university to go to can depend on many factors, but a good place to start is to look at university league tables. These are published each year and are a ranking of all universities in the UK. You will be able to find overall rankings (determined by things such as entry standards, student satisfaction, teaching quality, and graduate job prospects) and rankings by specific course. The Complete University Guide and The Guardian University Guide are good examples.

Which universities your child will be able to apply to, however, will be determined by their teacher predicted grades, so it’s important to check course entry requirements to make sure that your child will be eligible to apply.

Students sitting on a wall
Attending open days is an important part of the process

Attending open days

Once your child has decided what course and universities they are interested in, the next step is to start attending some open days. Attending open days is an important part of the process, and are a chance for your child to visit any universities they are interested in studying at to gain an insight into what being a student there will really be like.

Generally, open days will provide students with the chance to explore the university campus and facilities such as accommodation and lecture halls, attend talks on things related to university life, and to join different taster sessions. If your child is interested in a particular university, it is important to try to attend an open day so that they can see if the university lives up to their expectations, and whether or not they can see themselves happily studying there.

Making an application - how to apply for UCAS 

So, your child has decided which universities and courses they are interested in. What next? They will need to register online for a UCAS account. To do this, they will need to input personal details, details about their education, exams and results and any exams still to be taken. As part of their UCAS application, your child will be able to make up to five university and course choices (but only four for courses in medicine, dentistry, or veterinary medicine/science). 

Someone typing on a laptop
Your child will need to register for a UCAS account

A key part of a UCAS application is to also submit something called a personal statement. This is an opportunity for your child to essentially sell themselves to universities and demonstrate why they are suitable applicant for their chosen course. If you want to find out more about how to apply to UCAS, UCAS have a handy parent/carer page that outlines some key information, as well as a comprehensive guide to support you through the process.

Key dates at a glance for September 2023 entry

  • 15 July 2022: UCAS Conservatoires 2023 application open.
  • 6th September 2022: Completed 2023 entry UCAS Undergraduate applications can be submitted to UCAS.
  • 3rd October 2022: 2023 entry application deadline for most UCAS Conservatoires music courses.
  • 15th October 2022 (18:00 UK time): 2023 entry deadline for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and most courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science and dentistry.
  • 25th January 2023 (18:00 UK time): 2023 entry deadline for all UCAS Undergraduate and Conservatoires applications, except for those courses with a 15th October deadline.

Is your child weighing up university and apprenticeships for their next steps? Why not have a look at some of the pros and cons?