Here are 15 things you need to know about UCAS…

by Anna Christodoulou, Collaborative Outreach Officer at Make Happen

Published 21 January 2021

You may already know that the UCAS deadline this year has been extended to 29 January 2021, and that you can choose up to five university courses for the application fee of £26. After this, you’ll receive your offers and will have to choose your “firm” and your “insurance” one.

But there’s way more to UCAS than that – so here are 15 things we need to tell you!

1. Deadlines
Schools and colleges usually put a deadline for students to prepare their application. This is earlier than the UCAS deadline, and it is an internal, school/ college deadline. So, if you feel like you are not going to make it, don’t give up the whole idea altogether. Talk with your teachers and see if you can get some more time.

2. And a bit more about deadlines
All applications submitted by the UCAS deadline will be given equal consideration, which means universities must consider every application received by 18:00 on 15 January equally. This doesn’t mean that you cannot still apply after the deadline. You still can, but there might be a possibility that your preferred course has run out of places.

3. Invisibility
When you apply to UCAS, your application is sent to all the courses you are applying for, but universities cannot see your other choices. This is what we call UCAS Invisibility and it is in place to ensure your other choices won’t influence any decisions.

4. You can now create your own UCAS account
UCAS have published a new tool! As of September 2020, you can create an account on UCAS Hub, a new webpage UCAS has created that helps you get organised with your university choices. You can also download it as an app on your phone for easy access to your research! Features include the Explore Tool, where you can search subjects and courses, the Apprenticeship Finder, which has local and national vacancies, the Tariff Calculator, which helps you calculate your UCAS points and the Personal Statement Builder, which is full of tips and techniques to help you with your writing.

5. Virtual open days
Unfortunately, Covid-19 has brought disruption to schools, colleges and universities and many students haven’t had the chance to attend an Open Day before making their choices. This is why Universities are now offering Virtual Open Days, while you can also compare facilities online. League tables and rankings are also available to help you make up your mind, and it is always a good idea to also compare graduate outcomes (what people who graduated from this course are doing 15 months later; are they in employment, doing a Masters/ PhD, etc). A good tool for this is provided by the Discover Uni website.

6. Fine-tuning your personal statement
The personal statement that you are submitting is about the course not the uni. Show your passion for the course. What makes you a good student to study it? The top tip on how to answer this comes from Causeway Education, one of Make Happen’s collaborators. The most important part of the personal statement is a detailed paragraph reflecting on an academic topic relevant to your subject. Remember who is going to read your personal statement: Admissions tutors are university professors, and they are people who have dedicated their life teaching and researching this subject. What they want to see is what interests you in their area of expertise, so use interesting details and have an inquisitive attitude!

7. Can’t decide? 
Are you not 100% sure of what you want to study? There are many online tools that could help you with your decision. Here are some career personality tests you could take: The Career Planner from Prospects UK goes into details of your skills and preferences, the Informed Choices Calculator shows you all the options you have with your current A levels and the UCAS personality quiz is a light-hearted way to see which sector might suit you. Don’t forget to take the results with a pinch of salt though and keep in mind that what matters the most is what you want to do. Sometimes, if the results of these quizzes are not what you had hoped they would be, then they can help you identify what you do not want to do – which is equally useful!

8. Write it down!
The best strategy to make up your mind about your course choices is to write them down! There are lots of resources that will help you organise your thinking, like this resource from Advancing Access (PDF) that helps you define what choice criteria are important for you. They even have a quiz (PDF) to help you understand if you are a campus or a city University type of person!

9. Explore financial help
Did you know there are thousands of pounds in scholarships and bursaries that go unclaimed every year because students haven’t heard of them before or are unaware that they are eligible for them? While browsing at Universities do have a look at their bursaries page – this is the first place to start. To understand the difference between all these types of funding Save the Student have made a very informative webpage. To see what scholarships are there in your selected subject Jake, from the Make Happen team, highly recommends the Scholarship Hub. You will need to make an account to access it, but then you will be able to search for scholarships in your field everywhere in the UK!

10. Entry requirements
Are you worried about the entry requirements of your favourite course? Well, you can still give it a try. Although this practice is not recommended for all your five choices at UCAS, if you have a strong favourite in heart but you miss the entry requirements for just a bit, then our advice is to still apply. Sometimes Universities are relaxing their entry requirements for the right candidate. The best way to see this, is if you go to the University Guide website. Put in the course of your choice and have a look: at the top of the page, you will see the entry requirements. At the bottom of the page, you will see the most popular A-Levels studied by their current cohort (and grade achieved) – these tend to be lower. This is because sometimes universities might accept someone with lower grades, but also due to Clearing (see below).

11. Making your firm choice
Do you know how to choose your firm choice? After you have your replies from the Universities you have applied to, it is time for you to make your firm choice. But which one should it be? Don’t get side-tracked by putting as your firm the one with the highest requirements. Your firm should be your favourite, the one you truly want to go to. And as for your insurance? This should be your second favourite, but it should also have lower entry requirements than your firm.

12. Predicted grades
Have you finished your UCAS application but are still to have your predicted grades from your school/college? Then go to your teachers and ask them directly what your predicted grades are. You can put your predicted grades into your UCAS application yourself.

13. Accepted or not accepted?
A very frequent question we are getting from worried students is what happens if none of their choices accepts them? It will be ok, you can use UCAS Extra to add extra choices for consideration at UCAS Track, one at a time.

14. Discover more about getting into uni through Clearing
Clearing is how Universities and Colleges fill any places they still have on their courses. It takes in place in August, starting on the Results Day and going on sometimes until the end of October. Clearing is there for you in case you change your mind regarding your course after the results day. In this case you can call your new choice and make an application to them. Discover more about Clearing in our Make Happen articles for Clearing (Emma’s story and Moya’s story).

15. Adjustment 
Similar to Clearing, Adjustment is an optional service for students who meet and exceed the conditions of their firm choice. It runs the same way as Clearing does, you need to call the university you want to change to, and if they still have open places you can apply to them.

We hope you find these 15 extra bits of UCAS info interesting and helpful! If you have any questions about UCAS you can always get in touch with our Make Happen Uni Buddies, to have an informal chat with one of our Student Ambassadors or Collaborative Outreach Officers.

Also, be sure to keep a lookout for our events and join us as we explore the various paths to further and higher education! 

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"You may already know that the UCAS deadline this year is 15 January 2021... but there’s way more to UCAS than that – so here are 15 things we need to tell you!"