Make UCAS your friend! Source: Andrew Neel/Unsplash.

The key to studying in the UK? Getting pretty darn familiar with its university admissions system, UCAS.

If you understand it, UCAS is your friend. It keeps everything together in one handy portal where you will be walked through every stage of your application. Almost the entirety of the application process is conducted through the online portal so it is vital you get to grips with it.

Here’s everything you need to know about navigating the all-important UCAS.

You can access our printable PDF step-by-step guide here.

Before you apply

It should go without saying, but be sure to check all deadline dates. If you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge or for a veterinary, medicine or dentistry course, your deadline date is earlier, usually in October.

You will need a clear idea of where you want to study and what course you wish to enrol on before you apply. Research is your friend here. Have a look at the countless courses and universities in the UK on our search function and compare them.

You’re gunna have to make ’em! Source: GIPHY.

Check the entry requirements for each university and course to make sure you meet them – or could meet them in the near future.

Register for UCAS

This bit is pretty simple: enter your name, email address and other basic details. At this stage you will set up a username and create a password as well as security questions.

If you are applying through a school or college, your institution should have a ‘buzzword’ which you will need to enter in order to sync your details up to their system. If you are applying on your own then there will be numerous questions you will need to answer, which should be straightforward.

You will then be presented with five read-rimmed boxes in which you will have five sections to complete:

  • Personal details
  • Course and university choices
  • Academic qualifications
  • Employment history
  • Personal statement and references

Your college or school may offer to pay for you but bear in mind there will be a £13 (US$18) fee when you send your application off if you are applying to one course at one university or £24 (US$34) for more than one application.

You can send a maximum of five applications and advisably these will be all for the same course at different universities.

Personal details

In order to begin the application process, you will need to verify your email address – details on how to do so will be provided to you through UCAS.

You will then need to enter details on any funding or sponsorship money you will be receiving, your address and residential status, any special needs or impairments you may have and if you have any criminal convictions.

Don’t forget this and you’ll be aaaaall good. Source: GIPHY.

You can also set up ‘nominated access’ if you wish, which will allow a person chosen by you to access your account and contact UCAS on your behalf. This is not mandatory.

If you are an international student from the European Union you will also need to fill out the student finance section.

Course and university choices

If you followed our advice and decided beforehand which institutions you want to apply for and for what course(s), you are good to go. You will need to enter the institutions’ and courses’ UCAS codes which will be available on their websites (and UCAS’) and select the correct ones from the dropdown list.

Double, triple, quadruple check you have selected the right ones because once the applications have gone, there’s no getting them back.

Academic qualifications

In this section, you need to enter your full education history from secondary school (age 11+) onwards. Do not miss a single qualification out even if this means including fail grades or ungraded qualifications.

You also need to include any exams you are due to sit in the future and results you are still waiting for. If you have studied at university or college before but didn’t finish the course, you must also declare this, stating the date you began and finished and that you didn’t gain any qualifications from it.

Provide as much detail as you can on your qualifications including where and when they were received, the grade achieved and the type of qualification. You will find most qualifications listed by name and country, however, if you cannot find your specific one there is a box named ‘other’ which you can enter the details into.

Typically, the grades you received aged 16-18 will be transferred into ‘UCAS points‘ or ‘tariff points’ where each grade will have a point value and universities can use this to decide whether or not to accept you.

You may be required to send off proof of your results to your universities but this is likely to come later on in the application process so be aware.

Employment history

Here you need to enter any paid work you have done which could be part-time work or full-time work. Don’t worry too much if you don’t have anything to put in this section – your grades, personal statement and references are much more important.

Do not enter any unpaid work here – you can put this into your personal statement if it is relevant.

Personal statement

Do not underestimate your personal statement’s importance.

Not only is it your chance to elaborate on how awesome you are as shown through your qualifications and employment history, it is the university’s chance to get to know you.

It should set apart your application from the numerous other applications the university receives so be sure to make it personal, unique and engaging.

You have a maximum of 47 lines or 4,000 characters – not words, don’t panic –  to sell yourself to the university and convince admissions staff you are right for that course.

Describe your goals, why you want to study in your chosen field, any hobbies or interests you have and how you hope they will complement your studies and add to the university, as well as any volunteering or other experience you may have.

Have a read of some of our more detailed tips on writing your personal statement here.


You must include a written reference with your application in which, most likely, a former tutor, teacher or principal will write about your academic strengths, attitude and what you will add to the university.

If you left education a long time ago, ask an employer, volunteering supervisor or trainer to do this for you instead.

The person must know you in a professional, preferably academic, context so do not ask family, friends, partners or ex-partners to write one for you. You risk having your application scrapped if your reference is from someone you know in this context.

If you are currently studying or awaiting results, make sure your referee adds your predicted grades in their reference so universities know what to expect.

What next?

Now there’s nothing for it but to wait for responses. It’s not like job applications where a company could just never get back to you – universities will have a date in which they must let you know their decision and if they miss it, UCAS will automatically reject your application.


You will be notified by UCAS via email if a change has been made to your application which can be a heart-wrenching message to receive while you scramble to log into the portal to check if the news is good or bad.

What will meet you is either an acceptance, rejection, or an invitation to interview. The university will be in contact to organise details if they wish to interview you.

Once you receive responses to all applications you sent off, you are in the driver’s seat as you can decide which ones to accept or reject.

If you have more than one offer and are awaiting results, you are able to select a ‘first choice’ and an ‘insurance choice’ and all other offers, if you have them, will be automatically rejected.

You should select your favourite university and course which accepted you as your first choice and then your insurance choice should require lower grades than your first so if you miss out on the grades for your top choice, you still have a chance of getting into your insurance university.

On results day you may need to notify UCAS and your university of your results but this will be made clear to you beforehand.

And there you have it – UCAS decoded. Don’t forget you can view it in an even simpler format here with our handy print-out.

**All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change so always ensure you check the UCAS website.

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