Guide To UCAS For Parents Quick Links:
What is UCAS?
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation that is responsible for the processing of applications for most UK higher education providers across a wide range of subject areas and modes of study. For most UK universities and colleges, UCAS is the only application portal, and serves as a central point between your Child and universities and colleges. When your child submits university and college applications to UCAS, the organisation verifies that the applications are complete and then forward these to the higher education providers. Then, these schools relay their decisions to UCAS and in turn, UCAS informs your Child.
The university application has changed drastically from what you knew it to be. Maybe the entire notion of UCAS may be unfamiliar to you but it is imperative that you and your child understand its application process, application requirements, the points system and are aware of the key dates and deadline. Below we have outlined the different areas you and your child should pay particular attention to. Be sure to read the entire guide because each section is important and a weakness in any can be the difference between an offer and a rejection.
Choosing The Right Course
Before applying through UCAS, your child first needs to choose their preferred courses. For students who have always known what they wanted to study, course selection is a breeze. But there are still those who are undecided. If your teenager is undecided about their future plans, you will need to provide help and guidance.
First, have your teenager narrow down their interests. What do they love doing? What are their favourite subjects? Then search for careers based on these answers. A career fair is a great way to find out about careers possibilities in their preferred fields. Most schools offer career fairs, so encourage your teenager to attend these. There are even subject specific career fairs such as the Science Career Fair.
After choosing a career path, your child needs to select the type of course to pursue and the preferred mode of study. Most students choose an undergraduate degree, which is normally a three-year or four-year course but there are other higher education qualifications. These are: Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) and Higher National Certificate (HNC), which are one year courses; Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE), Higher National Diploma (HND) and a Foundation degree, which are two-year courses. If your child desires a career in the performing arts industry, then a conservatoire can be considered in lieu of a theory-based performing arts degree.
As evident, there are many course options. Your child must give serious and considerable thought before a path is chosen. A poor course choice can lead to lost time or limit their future prospects. For example, CertHEs, HNCs, DipHEs, HNDs and foundation degrees are shorter courses but they are not undergraduate degrees and cannot be used for a straight entry into a postgraduate course. However, these alternative courses can be great entryways into certain vocational industries such as the music, hospitality, business, fashion, beauty and health industries.
So choosing the right course comes down to the future career your Child desires. With that career in mind, let them do some research and write down a clear pathway to it. If a full degree is vital to attaining that career, encourage them to apply for an undergraduate degree. According to research done by the University of Dundee, there are currently 40% of jobs which are available to persons with a degree in any subject. So choosing a degree course based on a favourite subject can still land your teenager a job. Nonetheless, there are careers which demand a specific degree such as medicine, law and architecture.
Conversely, if your Child desires a vocational career, a CertHE, HNC, DipHE, HND or a foundation degree can be chosen. They require a shorter study period allowing your Child to enter quickly into the workforce and attain the practical experience that is needed to advance in these types of careers.
Now, once courses are chosen, the next step for your child is to select a university or college that offers these courses and is a school that they actually want to go to.
Choosing The Right University Or College
For students, selecting universities and colleges is akin to renting or buying a first home. The want list is long and everything is a must have or it is a deal breaker. Every single thing must be perfect despite everyone else correctly advising that there are always compromises to be made. Be prepared for your child to assertive about their notions of the perfect school but do not let that deter you from offering advice.
UCAS has an excellent search tool for higher education providers. This search tool can be a great starting point. Your child will be able to narrow the schools down to course selection, location, and study mode (whether full time or part time).
In most instances, there will be more than one search result. This is a good thing and it is recommended that your child applies to as many schools as possible if they meet the criteria. Yes, it is perfectly okay to have a favourite school in mind but your child should never apply to only one school. Remember, admissions into UK universities and colleges are extremely competitive. Applying to a singular school will severely limit your teenager’s chances of gaining entry into a university or college.
Your teenager is an individual with a unique personality and preferences. Thus, the schools they apply to must match most of their needs and wants and correspond with that personality. Firstly, the school has to offer their selected course but there are many more variables to consider.
Key Considerations for Choosing a UCAS School:
- Your teenager meeting the course and school’s general entry requirements.
- Tuition fees.
- The student experience.
- The educational culture.
- The school’s surroundings and neighbourhood.
- The school’s extra-curricular activities, sports, clubs, societies, and organisations
- Student housing.
- Distance from home.
- Whether the school is campus based or spread over a town.
- Course options such as accelerated course programmes, gap years and study abroad.
- Safety reputation.
A thorough online search can answer many questions you and your teenager may have about a potential school. Additionally, universities and colleges offer open days. These are ideal ways to check out the university firsthand, and also for you to get involved in the selection process. Visit on open days with your teenager and then have discussion afterwards about what they liked and did not like.
This is undoubtedly an exciting time but do not be too pushy. You child is now looking to have much more independence in their lives, beginning the transition from a teenager into an adult. They will definitely need your guidance but provide this gently and diplomatically.
After the courses and school have been chosen, your child is now ready to start the application process.
What Is The Standard UCAS Application Process?
The UCAS application is a long process but it does not need to be completely filled out in one sitting; it can be saved and completed at intervals.
Here are the main steps to filling out the application:
- Register to apply.
- Fill in personal details.
- Submit student finance information.
- Select up to 5 courses.
- Give education history including exams which are pending.
- Give paid employment history.
- Write the personal statement.
- Overview of the application, make edits if necessary and then mark as complete.
- Submit a reference, pay application fees and then send off.
It is very important that the application is filled out correctly with the right information. If your Child encounters difficulties in filling out the application, there are several helpful how-to videos on the UCAS website. Maybe you can watch them too and you would then be better positioned to help your child.
One of the more important parts of the application process is the personal statement. This piece of writing essentially introduces the admission officer to your child. This is one area that you really want to get right. Read on to learn more about it.
The Personal Statement
The personal statement is a piece of essay type writing, written by your Child, that will inform the school why your child has chosen the particular course and school and why that school should offer a place. This is your child’s personal introduction and should always be authentic. Your teenager has to show some form of passion for the course and that they are capable and suitable to study it.
Most students find writing personal statements to be a daunting task. However, it is a compulsory part of the UCAS application process so not including one is simply not an option. More often than not, the apprehension comes from not knowing what to write; reading a few examples, which can be easily found on the internet, can be helpful.
This is certainly an area where your Child may require your help and input. Here are 5 tips to share with your teenager for writing a great personal statement:
5 Tips for Writing a Great Personal Statement
- Clearly explain the motivations behind the course choice.
- Give details on coursework and practical experiences, especially outside of the syllabus, which were undertaken and are relevant to the course.
- Give details on personality and interests (e.g. sports, music and clubs).
- Express long term goals.
- Absolutely no plagiarism.
The UCAS Tariff is a point system developed by UCAS to help admission departments compare grades, set entry requirements and make conditional offers. It is basically a means to measure achievement for a wide variety of student qualifications.
The UCAS Tariff allocates point to most qualifications, but not all. Additionally, there are universities and colleges which do not utilise the UCAS Tariff.
Do note that while the UCAS Tariff is important to a certain extent, other factors such as qualifications, the personal statement, references and exam grades play important roles in the admissions department decision making process.
UCAS Student Finance
Attaining a higher education qualification is not an inexpensive venture. Fortunately, there are many financial support avenues that your Child can consider. Remember each will have its own eligibility criteria for approval.
Main Sources for Student Financial Support
- Tuition Fee Loans – These are student loans from financial companies. The funds are disbursed directly to the school. Payments commence after the end of the course and when the graduate is able to afford payments (i.e. earning above a specific pay level).
- Maintenance Loans – Loan funds which are disbursed at the beginning of each school term to cover student maintenance costs. These loans can be applied for at the same time as the tuition fee loans and are only available to full time students.
- Maintenance Grants – Low income household grants disbursed at the beginning of each school term to cover student maintenance costs. By way of a grant, these funds do not need to be repaid but are only available to full time students.
- Scholarships, Awards And Bursaries – These types of funding are available from universities and colleges and do not need to be repaid.
- Disabled Student Allowances – These funds are available to students with disabilities and are awarded based on need and do not need to be repaid.
- University And College Hardship Funds – These funds are available for students experiencing financial hardship. The amount is decided by the university or college. It is usually in the form of a grant but it can also be a loan.
- Social Work Bursaries – Bursaries to assist social work students with tuition and maintenance fees. These funds do not need to be paid back and do not depend on household income.
- NHS Bursaries – Medical, dentistry and healthcare students are eligible for these bursaries to help with tuition and maintenance fees. These funds do no need to be repaid.
- Travel Grants – Non-repayable funds to assist students with travel expenses in study abroad courses and for medical, dental and healthcare students’ UK clinical placements.
- Student financial assistance is also available to students with dependent adults and children.
- Funding from charitable trusts.
Each finance support avenue will require some research from you and your child. To avoid missing submission deadlines and to have the funding available in time for the beginning of the school year, it is best to look into finance support and apply as early as possible.
Another set of deadlines not to be missed are UCAS’ key deadlines and dates for submission of application and documents. Miss these deadlines and your child will have to wait to apply in the following year.
UCAS Key Deadlines And Dates
Begin to submit university applications to UCAS.
Deadline for receipt of applications for Oxford, Cambridge and courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science and dentistry. These applications must be submitted to UCAS by 18:00 (UK time).
The Following Year
Deadline for the receipt of applications for the majority of courses, including the UCAS reference. Applications must be submitted to UCAS by 18:00 (UK time). This date does not pertain to courses with an October 15th deadline, nor does it refer to the Art and Design courses with a March 24th deadline.
UCAS extras begin. Extra are second chances – if your Child has applied for five courses on their UCAS application and didn’t manage to secure any offers, or turned down all the ones your child received, your child has a second chance to apply for a place.
Deadline for receipt of applications for some Art and Design courses, including the UCAS reference by 18:00 (UK time).
Deadline for replies to acceptance offers received by March 31st. Offers will be declined if there are no replies.
Deadline for replies to acceptance offers received by May 7th. Offers will be declined if there are no replies.
Deadline for replies to acceptance offers received by June 4th. Offers will be declined if there are no replies.
UCAS Extra closes.
Deadline for replies to acceptance offers, including UCAS extras, received by July 16th. Offers will be declined if there are no replies.
Keep your own copy of these dates and have one in a prominent place in the home. Teenagers usually leave things to the last minute but it is recommended that your child apply early. Some universities reply to early applicants in the autumn and knowing a decision so early is definitely an advantage to your child.
With all these pieces to consider, the university application process can quickly become overwhelming to your child. You may or not be familiar with every step of the process but you can give your child your unwavering support and work through it with them step by step.
Guide To UCAS For Parents
Before applying through UCAS, your child first needs to choose their preferred courses. For students who have always known what they wanted to study, course selection is a breeze.
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