Even the thought of university and the basics of making a decision on where you want to go and what you want to study can be very daunting. And the process can often seem that much more stressful when the moment comes to complete the UCAS application form.
This isn’t because the form is particularly nasty or unnecessarily complicated–the online UCAS system is very nicely laid out, functional and helpful–but rather because there’s simply so much information to put in. Add in the fact that you might be worried that you’re not sure if you’ve filled in things correctly or that the way you’ve filled it in might not show you off in the best light and the whole thing seems even more daunting.
But the process needn’t be too painful, so long as you’re well organized, take your time over it and talk to the right people if need be. And as many people discover having fretted about the whole thing for several weeks, the process becomes a lot less stressful if you take the time to carefully read over how it all works.
In that spirit, we hope that you find this handy little guide to the UCAS application process useful. We’ll work on the assumption that by the time you’re at the point of filling in the application you’ve already chosen your five courses, in part because it’s probably easier for you to get that big decision out of the way before you go about the fiddly business of completing the form.
The first step is to head to the UCAS website (www.ucas.com) and then select Apply section from the menu on the middle-left of the page. You then follow the link ‘Register/Log In to Use Apply’. This will open up a pop-up window (so make sure your browser’s set to allow pop-ups).
After reading the brief introductory blurb, and accepting the conditions of use, the process begins. The registration steps involves filling in your key personal bits of information such as your name, date of birth and gender, address, phone numbers and email address, and you’ll also be asked to create a password for your account.
The other two key features of this part of the process are that you need to specify whether you’re applying as an individual or through a school, college or other place of learning. Essentially this means that if you fall into this second category your application will be automatically linked with your school or college’s UCAS account, making it easier for them to do things like fill in your reference. To be linked to your institution in this way you enter the Buzzword that the person there who is responsible for UCAS applications should have given you. But if you’re not in school or are not applying having just left school then you will need to fill in a couple of extra questions, just to check that you’re in the right place for what you want to be doing.
Once all this is done the system will generate a username to go with your password. Make sure you store it in a safe place as you’ll need it to log in in the future! At this point they’ll also send you a confirmation email to confirm that the email address you’ve put in is correct.
After you’re registered and logged in the next step is going through the personal details section. You should find that all the pieces of info you put in while registering have automatically been filled in for you, but there are still some more details they need from you before you can get stuck into the trickier bits of the application. Many of these are to establish what sort of tuition fees you should be paying and are based on things like which countries you have lived in in recent years and the marital status of your parents. In other words, they’re the sort of things a parent or guardian will be able to give you definite answers to, or alternatively if you’re a bit older will be information that you’ll know yourself.
You can specify in this section whether you will allow another person to be able to contact universities or deal with UCAS on your behalf, meaning if need be your parents or a friend can be on hand to sort out any matters that you can’t handle yourself. And you’ll also be given the option to share your details with the Student Loans Company (or SAAS if you’re applying from Scotland) to speed up the process of getting a loan/grant when the time comes.
The parts of the application prior to putting in your course choices, grades and employment details and your personal statement also offer you a little bit of a chance to start making a good impression with the admissions officers. There is an Activities in Preparation for Higher Education section, in which you can provide details of activities that fall outside the other key aspects of your application but could be important. For example, if you’ve attended some sort of summer school relating to your course then this should be entered here. You’ll no doubt also talk about it in your personal statement, but by also including it here you’ve got it clearly laid out for any admissions officers who are in a hurry to see.
Education and Work Experience Details
After your personal information should come the task of filling in sections on your previous or expected qualifications and your work history. Remember that these sections are people from all different walks of life can show what they’ve been doing in recent years, so don’t feel daunted if, for example, you don’t have much to put in the employment section if you are only seventeen or eighteen.
The education part of the application essentially involves a lot of selecting things from menus and entering grades into boxes. If you’re following the typical path from a UK school into a university, this part should be fairly straightforward; just make sure you enter all of the information accurately. Things can be a little more time-consuming if you’ve got any unusual qualifications or studied abroad, but if you can’t find your qualification on any lists you have the opportunity to select Other.
A word of warning about the qualifications section: don’t be tempted to lie or omit anything. It’s just not worth the trouble it could cause further down the road.
The employment section is a little more straightforward, as it’s simply a question of filling in information on the job position, name of employer and the dates of work. You can enter up to five previous jobs. Bear in mind that this isn’t the section to explain how relevant these positions were to your application; that comes in the personal statement.
As we’ve assumed that you’ve already made a decision about what courses you want to apply for, this is in fact the simplest section, with you either using the search function or keying in the UCAS course code along with the institution where you want to study that course.
Bear in mind that this is the point where things start to become set in stone. Once the application is submitted you can’t change your mind and substitute any of these choices for another one. The only way that you can apply for a different course from your five choices after this point is through Clearing or UCAS Extra.
When you fill in this section it’s also worth double checking that there aren’t any additional application requirements for any of your courses by looking them up on the universities’ own websites.
The personal statement is of course the thing that everyone thinks about most when it comes to making an application. We won’t deal with the content here as we have plenty of other resources to help you with this. But it’s worth us restating the basics: the statement cannot contain more than 4,000 characters (including spaces); it cannot be plagiarized (you will be caught if you do this due to UCAS’s thorough detection system); and you should write the entire statement in a word-processor document file, saving it and backing it up, before then copying and pasting the text into this section of the application. Otherwise you’ll lose your whole statement in the event of your web browser crashing!
Making a payment
Once the personal statement has been filled in, your final involvement in the application is making the payment for it. This fee currently stands at £23, though if you apply to only one course there’s a discount. This part is really just a question of filling in your card details like you would if you were shopping for anything else online!
Strangely enough, one of the most important parts of the application is one that you don’t even write yourself: the reference. If you’ve applied via an institution, once you’ve filled in the other sections of the application everything will automatically go to your referee for them to fill it in. If you’re applying as an individual then you’ll fill in contact details for them and they’ll be sent a link through which they fill in the reference.
Whether you’re applying as an individual or through a centre, a key thing here is to make sure you give your referee time to write the reference for you. The deadlines that UCAS make for applications include the reference, so it’s essential that your referee knows when they need to get everything sent off by.