Guide to UK Applications • Undergraduate

The UK UCAS Undergraduate Admissions: An Ultimate Guide

POSTED ON 04/19/2023 BY The Red Pen

Young woman studying for undergraduate admissions

If you’ve decided to study in the UK and are wondering how to apply to universities there, rest assured that the process is more straightforward than you think. But you need to be well-versed with UK’s UCAS system. In essence, it is the interface between students wanting to pursue a course of their choice in the UK and the various colleges and universities offering such courses.  

Here’s a comprehensive guide to the UK UCAS application platform

What is the UK UCAS? 

UCAS stands for Universities and Colleges Admission Services. It is an organisation that offers centralised admission and application services to most universities in the UK. Both domestic and international students must apply to their selected colleges through the official UCAS website. 

Instead of applying separately to different universities, the UCAS platform offers to send your application to several colleges through a single process. Every year, it manages 700,000 people for full-time undergraduate courses at over 380 universities and colleges across the UK. 

What unique terms does the UK UCAS use? 

It may be worth remembering that UCAS uses unique terminology. To help you navigate the website seamlessly, here’s a list of the most commonly used terms:

  • Buzzword: Your school will give you a buzzword so you can link your application to them. It’s a word you use when registering on the UCAS platform.
  • Confirmation: A confirmation is the outcome of your accepted conditional offer. If you meet the conditions, a spot is reserved for you.
  • Deferral: If you wish to join the university a year after the offer, you must defer your admissions.
  • Personal ID: When you register on the UCAS platform, you get a 10-digit number, which you must provide every time you contact customer care.
  • Scheme code: Along with your Personal ID, a scheme code is used to identify your application.
  • Sandwich course: A course with an additional year where you work in the profession you’re studying for is called a sandwich course.
  • UCAS Tariff: This system allocates points to your different qualifications. 
  • Withdrawal: Before deciding,  you and the university can withdraw your applications. 
  • UCAS Conservatoires: The application service for performance-based courses is termed UCAS Conservatories. 
  • Adjustment: If you’ve met and exceeded your conditions and wish to explore a course with higher entry requirements, you may use the adjustment service while holding on to your original confirmed place.

What are the key features of the UK UCAS website? 

The UCAS website covers everything from exploration and application to confirmation. You can browse, discover and collate data on the regions, universities, courses, and opportunities in the UK. An easy-to-navigate interface and comprehensive information simplify the application process. Here are a few key features of the UCAS portal:  

  • The UCAS Hub: After creating an account, you gain access to the UCAS Hub. It covers every course and programme offered by the UK higher education system. Divided into multiple subsections, you can discover an institution of choice by region or course, mark favourites and even filter your final decisions.
  • UCAS Discovery Days: The  Discovery Days section on the main page offers a mix of virtual and in-person events, and exhibitions hosted by universities across the UK. These events provide interactive and personalised content to help you make informed choices. These events give direction to your thought. For example, if you want to understand how living costs and work opportunities in South Wales differ from those in the Midlands, you can log into virtual Discovery Days for each location. Here’s a step-by-step toolkit to help you make the most of your time at a UCAS Discovery event. 
  • Chat to Uni Students: The Chat to Uni Students section lets you chat with undergraduates currently studying in the UK, allowing you to gain insights you wouldn’t otherwise find on university websites. For instance, you may discover that parts of the country will pay much higher for a mechanical engineer or chance upon a career path in Northern Ireland! Most students find this section extremely useful. “The informal chats with students influenced my decision to choose a campus or city university. I finally went with the latter because of the vast opportunities it presents.” – Mumbai student, International Development.
  • UCAS Tariff Calculator: UCAS Tariff points are the numerical value of your qualifications and grades. Higher Education providers or universities use this numerical value to assess whether you meet their entry requirements for a particular course. The UCAS Tariff Calculator is a section on the website that translates your grades into tariff points and matches them with university requirements. 
  • Student Support: From information on student loans to details on scholarships, bursaries, and grants—this section provides valuable insights to fund your education. You will also discover aid options for students who are physically or mentally challenged, have learning disabilities, are seeking asylum and have caregiving responsibilities. It also provides information on accommodation, be it living on campus, staying in residence halls or sharing an apartment.  
  • Apprenticeships and Traineeships: This section on the UCAS platform opens your eyes to alternative learning. It includes how to apply for apprenticeships, an explanation of traineeships and school leaver programmes, internship eligibility, volunteer programmes and more.
  • Career Advice: Choosing a career can be difficult, and this section helps you find your dream job. From industry guides and advice on contracts or payments to quizzes, available jobs and more–it will be helpful long after you’ve earned your degree. 

What is the UCAS application fee for international students? 

For undergraduates, a single course is approximately £22.00 and £26 for more than one course or university. You can apply only once in each admission cycle and select five universities. However, if you apply for medical, veterinary or science degrees, you can only apply to four universities. You may want to read more about medical education in the UK.

If you change your mind about your selected universities after submitting your application, the UCAS platform allows you to swap your choice within 14 days of your welcome email. You can only switch your choice once. 

There are two ways to apply—via your current school or independently. If you choose the former, your school will give you a buzzword to link your application to its account. 

After making the payment, your application goes to your school counsellor, and then the school will submit it to UCAS. Independent applicants must put the recommender’s details on the UCAS form. After that, UCAS will contact the recommender directly. Independent applicants must hit ‘pay and submit’. You can only pay for your UCAS application when every section, including the reference, is marked with a tick.

What are the UK UCAS deadlines to keep in mind? 

Like every application platform, UCAS also has opening dates and deadlines for submission. While the dates may vary between courses and course providers, they change every year. So it may be a good idea to check the portal. 

Generally, the UCAS undergraduate application opens in mid-May. Applicants may begin sending their applications by the first week of September. Those looking at medicine and science courses or applying to the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge must submit their applications by mid-October (usually October 15, before 6 pm UK time). For other universities, application deadlines are around January 31. If you miss the January deadline, you may submit your application by the end of June. While the UCAS platform will send your submissions to selected colleges, universities will review them depending on available slots. 

What is the ‘Clearing’ service on the UK UCAS website? 

The Clearing service allows students to submit applications after June. You may use the Clearing if you didn’t receive any offers, choose to decline all offers or haven’t met your offer conditions. Courses that still have vacancies will be listed on the UCAS website. Here’s what you can do once you’ve found a course that piques your interest: 

  • Call the university to check if you meet the entry requirements and get a submission date. Once they give the informal confirmation, you add the university to UCAS.
  • In your application, click on the ‘Add Clearing’ choice. 
  • Fill in the course details.
  • Remember, you can only add one Clearing choice at a time. 

How to reply to offers made by universities via UCAS? 

When responses from all the universities you applied to are in, you will get an email from UCAS. You will need to reply to these offers before the given deadlines. There are three types of replies: 

1) Decline: 

If you don’t want to accept offers from your five choices, you may decline them all and add more courses in the UCAS Extra service. Alternatively, the Clearing service shows what courses still have vacancies later. 

2) Firm acceptance:

This is your first choice and the university you wish to attend. If you accept a firm unconditional offer, the place is yours! But conditional offer acceptances require a backup reply. 

3) Insurance acceptance:

This is the backup choice to a conditional firm acceptance. If you choose conditional insurance, pick something with lower offer conditions and ensure it’s somewhere you’d still be happy to attend. Doing so ensures you can secure a spot, even if your grades are lower than expected. 

Remember that you can only accept one firm choice and one insurance choice.  The UCAS deadline to select your firm and insurance universities is June 8, 2023. However, if you receive your last decision between May 18 2023 – July 12 2023, you must reply to offers by 17 July 2023.

If you want to know why the UK is a popular undergraduate destination, here are nine compelling reasons. Before using UCAS, you must select five universities from more than 380. Here’s a guide to help with the selection process of UK universities. If you need further assistance, please get in touch. Our UK specialists look forward to being a part of your application journey.