Applying to University

UCAS Unpacked: Applying to University

UCAS stands for University and Colleges Admissions Services and it’s the charitable organisation through which your applications to universities and most colleges of higher education are processed. Higher education, or HE, is the next step up the educational ladder after GCSEs at school and A-levels in the Sixth Form. UCAS process over two million full time undergraduate course applications every year and has a step-by-step guide to the application process on its website.

There are three application deadlines in the UCAS calendar which students who are applying through UCAS need to be aware of: October for those applying to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, January for those applying to all other universities and March for those wishing to apply to do a degree in art and design. The first two are referred to as ‘A’ route applications and the last as ‘B’ route, as the process for applying to art and design courses is quite different to applying to study academic subjects.

Before you start filling in your UCAS form, it’s really important to start doing the research into which universities offer the kind of courses you are interested in studying. The UCAS website contains details on all the universities, the courses they run (there are thousands!), student finance, accommodation and much more. There’s also the UCAS Connect page on their website where you can read blogs ask questions and share information with other applicants​

Researching all the possibilities and choosing the right HE course is important because what you study will have an impact on your career prospects and the kind of jobs you’ll be able to do. Courses are not all the same – each university will have structured its degree courses differently, depending on the subject so there’s a lot to get your head around! A degree or an HND significantly improves your chances of finding a fulfilling job and for some professions, like medicine or law, a higher education qualification is essential.

If you’re talking through your options with your parents or guardians, UCAS have a great parents page on their website where they can go for information – make sure you tell them about it so that they’re not in the dark about the UCAS application process. They’ll then be able to help you with form-filling and making decisions!

What are tariff points? 

This is where we explain how points don’t mean prizes – but hopefully, UCAS tariff points do mean a university offer! When you’re looking through a university prospectus and notice a column named ‘entry requirements: 280-320 UCAS points’ and you’re like, what? What about my A-level grades or my pass rates on my BTEC course? Don’t panic! It’s just the system that UCAS use.

The UCAS points system converts your post-16 qualifications into points by means of a tariff. This doesn’t affect your grades or make them more or less valuable – it just helps universities evaluate each student’s grades and makes it easier to make comparisons between the wide variety of courses and qualifications available. There’s a grades/points conversion chart on the UCAS website.

However, not all universities and colleges use this system, which makes it even more important that you remember which university is asking for which grades. Some do ask for your raw grades, for example, ABB with one qualification in Biology if you’re applying to do medicine. Each university, depending on the course you want to do, may ask for more specific entry requirements, but most use either UCAS points or raw grades. Don’t be alarmed if they ask for both as this does happen sometimes.

It is very important that you take note of entry requirements when first looking for a potential university or college, as it will make you aware whether the course is right for you. If, for example, your target grades for A-level are ABB and you look at a course asking for triple A*, it may be a bit out of your depth. The flip side to this is that you also don’t want to look around a university asking for lower than your target grades, as you may mean you won’t be tested hard enough and you may not reach your full potential.

So how do you calculate UCAS tariff points? The official UCAS website contains all the tariff tables for nearly every qualification in the UK and the number of points allocated to each. Use these tariff tables to calculate your expected UCAS points you’ll gain from your own qualifications, including A-levels, BTECs and the International Baccalaureate, amongst others.

Getting extra UCAS points

Good news if you have a hobby! If you play a musical instrument, have participated in a dance class and have passed exams at grade 6 level or above or if you’ve taken an exam in a vocational subject, these all classify for extra UCAS points too! Ok, so they are not going to get you into higher education on their own (a pass at grade 6 is only worth 20 points) but these can pull up your total points and help get you that place.

There are a number of elements that universities and colleges will consider when determining whether you are a suitable candidate but the major factor for most of them is purely and simply your grades. Having said that, universities also take into account your personal statement, work experience and anything else you do outside of school which is relevant to your course or shows that you have other skills.

A LevelUCAS PointsBTEC DiplomaUCAS PointsBTEC Subs DiplomaUCAS PointsAS LevelUCAS PointsEPQUCAS Points

Our UCAS  Application River Timeline


  • Begin UCAS process at HE Events and in school/college


  • Research courses/universities and UCAS system
  • Obtain information on courses/universities
  • Receive careers guidance from professionals
  • Visit universities
  • Attend open day events


  • Begin to restrict number of courses/universities
  • Produce a draft UCAS application & personal statement


  • Check draft UCAS application in early September
  • Start formal UCAS application


  • Deadline for completed applications to be received by UCAS for medicine, dentistry, veterinary and Oxbridge applications


  • Deadline for all UK university applications (except some Art & Design courses)
  • Some students will now begin to receive decisions
  • This is also the time to apply for your student finance on the website:


  • Late February ‘UCAS Extra’ can be used if all choices are used up and you have been unsuccessful. You can add another course/university choice up until clearing begins


  • Mid March, deadline for some Art & Design courses


  • Mid August Results Day
  • Clearing system starts shortly after results day


  • University start date