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How Does UCAS Work?

Very hard! Ha-de-har! Not funny? Seriously? Ah well, we’ll work on the humour side of things then. In the meantime, allow us to explain the entire UCAS process so you know exactly what to expect an when to expect it.

Research Courses

Before you even dream to start of making an application, you need to have a sit down and think about what you want to study at university. There are two ways to think about this. Firstly, you may be eager to follow a specific career path and therefore want to study a degree that is necessary for your career prospects, such as law or medicine. Alternatively, you may not know what career you want just yet, but you do know that you want to study your favourite subject in more depth and detail and are aware that the transferable skills a degree provides you with, such as critical thinking and time management.

Next, you’ll need to get hold of your predicted A-level (or equivalent) grades and cross reference them with the entry requirements for courses that interest you. You can search for all undergraduate courses on UCAS.

Make a note of the courses or universities that interest you and then head over to their websites to book your place on an open day. Whilst a course may look interesting on paper, you have no idea if you’ll actually like the university. As you’re set to spend at least three years of your life at the university, possibly in a new city, you want to make sure it’s the right fit for you. It’s hard to measure this objectively, and it’s often down to personal feeling. Either way, open days are recommended, as it allows you to see if the specific university is for you.


Following your research and open day visits, you need to narrow down your choices to five courses, although you can apply for more than one course at the same university. The biggest part of the UCAS application is the personal statement. It’s safe to say that you should put a lot of time and effort into this part of your application. More advice on the UCAS application and the UCAS personal statement can be found by clicking the links.

Once you’ve double checked everything, get everyone in your family from your youngest sister to great aunt Mabel to double check it too. You want your personal statement to be as perfect as possible. How disappointed would you be if you missed out on a place at university if your personal statement was littered with typos?

Receiving & Confirming Offers

UCAS send your application off to the admissions department for each university, where it’s checked over. You can track the status of your applications on UCAS and there are various types of offer you can receive from a university. An unconditional offer will mean that the university want you to study there, regardless of your A-level results. Whilst it’d be great to receive an unconditional offer, you’re more likely to receive a conditional offer. This means there are certain conditions to your offer, such as the attainment of specific grades in your A-level exams. For example, my conditional offer was BBB with a B in history at A-level. You could also be invited to an interview before a decision is made on what type of offer you receive, or your application could also be deemed unsuccessful.

When you have heard back from all your choices, it’s time to narrow them down even more. You need to make a firm and insurance choice. Making a firm choice will mean that once you meet any conditions, the place is yours. An insurance choice is essentially a back-up choice. You need to make sure that the conditions are lower than your firm choice, otherwise if your exams don’t go exactly to plan you will be left without a place!

On Results Day…

If you’ve met the conditions of your firm offer, well done! If you missed out on your firm choice but met the conditions of your insurance choice, well done also! Both of these outcomes would mean that you’re off to university.

If you did better than expected you can see what’s available in adjustment or if things didn’t quite go to plan, then you can check out clearing options.

And there we have it in a 700-odd word nutshell; the entire UCAS process! 

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