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Five Top Tips on Applying to Uni Through UCAS (Updated for 2024)

If you're applying to university, you'll almost certainly be doing it through UCAS. But there's more to it than just filling in a form – you've got to choose your courses and university options, make sure you meet all the deadlines, and submit a flawless application as well. Never fear – here are our tips to help you succeed...

First of all, make sure you're familiar with the process:

1. Choose your courses and universities wisely

You have five university choices (or four medical courses plus one other course if you are applying to uni for medicine) – so use them wisely. You should be aiming to go to the best university possible for your course that you're likely to get into with your expected grades.

Use the UCAS course search to help you create a shortlist that appeals to you. You should aim for one or two universities asking for slightly better grades than those you are predicted (as long as you are being realistic!), two with the same grades and one or two which are asking for lower grades than the ones you are expecting. Hopefully you’ll then get an offer from the uni you ideally want to go to, but by picking a course asking for lower grades, you will have an insurance option should you miss your final grades in the summer.

To help you choose your university courses, take a look at the UCAS course search.

2. Go to open days

You’re making a decision about where you are going to spend the next three or four years of your life, so make sure you take the time to visit the unis you are interested in. There are open days throughout the year and if you can't make an open day, you can contact the admissions office, who will usually be more than happy to arrange a special visit.

If you're making a last-minute application, you may not have time to do this before you apply, instead relying on prospectuses and league tables to make the decision. However, before you accept any offers, make sure you have visited and spoken to some current students and faculty staff.

3. Double check your UCAS application

The UCAS application form is long, and contains a lot of tick boxes and drop down menus – don’t make a silly mistake, like clicking ‘Chinese’ instead of ‘chemistry’ on your list of A-levels.

Your UCAS application form is a legal document, where you have to declare all your qualifications – this means you can’t leave out that dodgy GCSE result or the A-level you decided to drop. Double check with your teacher if you are unsure of anything – but always read through one final time before you send it off!

Make sure you know how to put together a strong personal statement as this could have a decisive impact on your applications:

UCAS infographic

4. Don’t delay on submitting your application form

The UCAS deadline for applications to UK universities through UCAS is the last Wednesday in January, while Oxford, Cambridge and medicine courses have the earlier UCAS deadline of 15th October. However, some universities start giving out offers before Christmas, so you should aim to get your application in before the end of November if you can – otherwise you may be reducing your chances of success.

5. Stay on the ball even after you’ve accepted your offers

In the balmy post-exam, post-school, post-exam stress summer sun, it’s possible to forget that you’re going to be off to university soon.  It’s all too easy to miss the email from your uni asking about your preferences for accommodation or sharing that three-page reading list for your course.

Living in halls with your fellow students is one of the best bits about heading off to university for the first time, so keep an eye on your inbox to make sure you are on top of the first-year logistics.  You’ll also need to sort out your student loan, insurance and student bank account – all of which you should research properly as it could save you money and hassle later on down the line.

And don't forget that you can still apply to university through UCAS Clearing. For more information on this, take a look at our post on how to apply university through Clearing.

Image credits

Infographic from Rochester College