What are UCAS points and how do I get them?

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What are UCAS points?

You’ve probably heard teachers talk about them, or older siblings discuss what they got – but do you really know what they are, why they matter, and how to get UCAS points?

The UCAS tariff is a score system to help university staff compare the different qualifications people may be applying with. Although you might be most familiar with A-levels, there are a tonne of different qualifications people study at the same level, including the International Baccalaureate (IB), higher diplomas, and BTEC.

Now you know what they are, we answer six more questions you might have about UCAS points:

1. Why do UCAS points matter?

Most universities use the UCAS system to decide which students to let in.

You’ll notice we say "most". Although the UCAS tariff is a common way for admissions staff to show entry requirements, don’t be worried if you come across a few universities who don’t use the tariff – it’s not compulsory for universities to use this. However, a lot of them do, so knowing what they are, why they matter and how you get them is really important. 

2. How do I get UCAS points?

You get UCAS points when you pass a qualification like an A-level – the number of points you get depends on the grade you achieve.

It's easy to work out how many UCAS points you have or can expect to get. Use the official UCAS points calculator and follow three simple steps:

  1. Choose your qualification (e.g. "A-level").
  2. Put in your grade or projected grade (e.g. "B").
  3. Click "Add" to add another subject.

The calculator will automatically add up your total points.

3. How many UCAS points are my A-level grades worth?

UCAS points are changing for students going on to university and higher education from September 2017.

Starting university in September 2017

If you need 144 points to do your dream university course, you’ll need three A-level A grades. But of course, it changes with different qualifications – so if you get a triple distinction (DDD) for a BTEC diploma, you’ll also get 144 points.

Use our quick UCAS tariff chart below to find out what your predicted UCAS points could be at A-level:

A-level grades

UCAS points 

A*

56

A

48

B

40

C

32

D

24

E

16

The old points system

Students entering higher education before September 2017 will use the old UCAS points system:

A-level grades

UCAS points 

A

120

B

100

C

80

D

60

E

40

 

Alternatively, if you prefer something a little more colourful, check out this UCAS points infographic created by Which? University:

4. How do I find the UCAS entry requirements?

Not all universities use UCAS points to assess applicants. When searching for a course on a university’s official website, clicking on the "entry requirements" tab will tell you:

  • Whether or not they are using the UCAS tariff;
  • How many points you will need.

Typically, it will state the points, e.g. 120-168, and then explain any acceptable alternatives.

4. Are universities flexible with entry requirements?

They can be. Universities will state UCAS points for courses, but if you don’t think you’ll reach that number, don’t be put off! Many are willing to be flexible on requirements and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

If you’ve found a course you're not sure you’ll get onto, call up the admissions team and explain your predicted grades and subjects as well as a bit about yourself, asking whether they would consider your application.

If they will, ask for it in writing! You can then use this on results day. Sure, they might say no, but this is also worth knowing so you don’t waste one of your five uni choices.

5. What else is important? 

Points matter, but it’s rare that this is all a uni will ask for. There will usually be other conditions. If you’re applying for an English language degree, yes they might want 144 points, but they will probably also want 48 of those points to be from an A-level in English.

Subject matter is important – if you’re applying for a medicine degree that asks for 144 UCAS points, it’s unlikely that A grades in photography, film studies and German are going to be accepted. Other conditions might be that general studies grades are not included, or specifically getting your points from a BTEC qualification. Always read the small print and those extra conditions!

Once you know how many UCAS points you have, the next step is to use the UCAS course finder to see what universities and courses you're able to apply for.

Another useful tool that you can use to track your application once it's been submitted is the UCAS tracker. You'll need your personal ID and password ready in order to access this tool.

6. What is the difference between a conditional and an unconditional university offer?

Once you’ve sent off that UCAS application, it’s a case of waiting for the offer from university. The majority of you will receive what’s called a "conditional" offer – this means they’ll offer you the place, on the condition of a certain number of UCAS points, e.g. "80 UCAS tariff points, and an A in English".

If you receive an "unconditional" offer, it means you’ve met their entry requirements - so the place is yours whatever your results! Be sure to check whether there is anything else they’d like to see first, including a DBS check or any proof of prior qualifications. 

Now you know what UCAS points are, check out our five top tips on making a star application.

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