There is a lot to think about and prepare if you are applying to university.
You will be spending 3 or more years studying and living at the university you choose. Funding your studies will also be a big financial commitment. So, it's important to do your research and start preparing for your application early. The Spring term of Year 12 or the year before you will start your course is a good time to start.
All applications for higher education courses are made centrally through UCAS.
Key UCAS dates and deadlines
It’s useful to know that:
- There are key dates throughout the year, for example when applications open and the deadline by which they must be submitted
- You can check key dates, application deadlines and find more information on UCAS Key dates
- Deadlines for applying for medicine, dentistry or veterinary science, or for Oxford or Cambridge are earlier than the majority of other courses
- Music applications to UCAS Conservatoires are also different. You can find out more on UCAS conservatoires when to apply
- It is important that you check with the individual universities for the application deadline
Research your course
Making sure you choose a course that is right for you is the most important part of your application. There are a lot of decisions to think through:
- What subject?
- Which course? Find out more on choosing a course at 18
- Full-time, part-time or distance learning?
- What about a Sandwich degree course?
- What are the job prospects?
- Which course is needed for your career idea?
- What are the entry requirements?
Start with the UCAS Search Tool to search for courses and do more research using individual university websites.
Research universities and attend open days
You will be studying and living at the university you choose for 3 or more years, so it is important you think through your decision and consider these questions to help you decide:
- Do you want to be far from home or close?
- Would you prefer a campus-based university or a city-based university?
- What other clubs and university facilities are important to you, for example university sports clubs?
- How expensive will it be to live in the town or city?
Some universities may offer a mixture of open days 'online' and 'in person'.
You can do plenty of research on university websites but it is never as good as visiting the university on an open day. Use opendays.com to check when universities are holding their open days and go and see for yourself.
We can help you prepare and make the most of your University open days.
Preparing your application
Think about any aptitude, admissions tests and portfolios needed
Depending on the course and university, you may be required to take an aptitude or admissions test or submit a portfolio of your work. Some examples are:
- Most courses in Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science will require you to take an aptitude test such as University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) or Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT)
- Oxford and Cambridge have course specific admissions tests and assessments
- Law courses may require completion of LNAT – National Admissions Test for Law
- Many arts and creative course such as Photography or Architecture require you to submit a portfolio of your work
Check the university website or UCAS for which tests or other submissions are required for your course and the deadlines for taking the test or submitting work.
Practise using online sample tests. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare any portfolios or other submissions required.
Preparing for aptitude and admissions tests
Preparing your Personal Statement
Your personal statement is your chance to make your application stand out. Your personal statement is as important as the qualifications and grades you get. Start preparing and drafting your statement early. It may take many drafts before you are happy with it:
- Visit the UCAS website for information on how to write a UCAS undergraduate personal statement
- Research subject specific examples of personal statements. There are some on www.thestudentroom.co.uk and www.universitycompare.com but remember not to copy
- Write your statement to demonstrate your suitability and interest in the courses you are applying for. Remember you can only submit one personal statement on the UCAS application
- Ask teachers, friends and family to proof read your statement
Think about suitable references
Remember you need a reference from your school or college. Find out more on References for UCAS undergraduate applications on UCAS.
Boost your application
Finding work experience and volunteering
Universities want to see that you are committed to the course, subject or career area. Work experience or volunteering is not only a great way to try out your career ideas, but can help develop the skills you will need and demonstrate your passion for the subject.
Taking part in 'Super-curricular activities'
Another way to show your commitment and passion for the subject or course is by undertaking academic enrichment activities or ‘super-curricular activities’. These will be over and above your normal coursework. You could:
- Read around the subject, and be up-to-date with the latest issues in the field
- Join academic societies and attend additional lectures
- Subscribe to a relevant journal or magazine
- Maybe even, set up your own subject specific club in your school or college
These activities will not only show your commitment and drive, but that you have an enquiring mind and a passion for learning.
Get more ideas in 'The 34 Best Super-Curricular Activities for Applicants to Top Universities' on Oxford Royale Academy.
Attending interviews and auditions
You may be invited to an interview or audition. This will vary depending on the subject and the university, some examples include:
- Most medicine, dentistry and veterinary science courses will invite you for interview
- Other vocational courses such as nursing may require an interview
- Oxford and Cambridge invite for interview
- Performing arts courses usually require an audition
Check the admissions details for the university and course you are thinking about. Look at undergraduate interview invitations on UCAS.
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