Your race is nearly run: you’ve sat your first round of A-Levels and are preparing for Round II of your examinations.

Perhaps you’ve winnowed your list of subjects from an ambitious five down to the three that are most representative of the fields of study needed for your admissions requirements.

If you are an international student intending to study in the UK, you are furiously working toward satisfying all of your International Baccalaureate requirements.

And you study. My, how you study!

Whether IB or A-Levels, those all-important test scores are, sorry to say, only half of your battle. You still have to apply for admission – hopefully at the university of your choice and, hopefully, in the study programme that most entices you.

With all of the logistics – finance, legalities, marks and paperwork, applying for admission at university can seem an overwhelming task.

Shining a light through those convoluted turns is your Superprof, who lays out the path towards claiming your place as an undergraduate.

First Steps

In The Wizard of Oz, every munchkin and (good) witch assures Dorothy that the surest path – indeed, the only way for her wish to be granted is to make her way to Emerald City to meet with the wizard.

The remaining bad witch only wishes to send Dorothy to her doom for letting her house fall on the wicked witch’s sister.

And how does one get to Emerald City? By following the yellow brick road, of course!

All degree seeking students must follow the yellow brick road called UCAS
Much like the fabled Oz crew, you only need to follow your yellow brick road through the UCAS admission process Image by skeeze from Pixabay

For you, the student gazing into at least three more years of academia, your Wizard bears the acronymic name of UCAS.

UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is the gateway through which you must proclaim your intent to pursue higher learning.

You may follow one of two ‘yellow brick roads’ to deliver your application to UCAS; either via the Internet, by registering for an account and applying directly, or through your school/college.

If you are an international student, you too can direct yourself to the UCAS website, register for an ‘individual’ account and submit your application. An individual account means that you are not represented by any UK school.

The third type of candidate, prospective university students who have already left college, should follow the same path as international students: register for an individual account on the UCAS website and then, submit your university application.

Hopefully, you have already made the rounds of university open days at the schools you would like to attend. You should have already met with an academic advisor and discussed degree programs with your friends and family to decide what are the best options for you.

If you are outside of the UK, you might consult the University League Tables and read up on the schools that pique your interest.

You might also need to know how to choose a course of study

Before you apply, you should have worked out how you will finance your education. You may apply for financial aid: grants (money you don’t have to pay back), or student loans – either maintenance loans to pay for living expenses or tuition loans to pay for your classes.

Naturally, you may apply for all three types of financial assistance, even if you are a mature student returning to school after years away.

The Application Process

Once you have registered with UCAS, you should carefully read all the information regarding your options for selecting courses and schools before actually filling out the online application.

For UK students still in school, if you are applying through your college, you will fill out a paper application form that your school will forward to UCAS.

Back to the online application, now…

On the ‘application’ screen, you will be asked a lot of personal details: what qualifies you for the undergraduate degree program(s) you are applying for? Do you have a criminal record? Are you a ‘home’ student?

Home students are not only students native to the UK.

If you are from Tortola, you may use UCAS to file a common application for university
If you live in the British Virgin Islands, you too can use UCAS for your undergraduate admissions process Image by Anna Mustermann from Pixabay

If you are not British but have lived in the UK for at least three years and are a permanent resident, or the European Economic Area or Switzerland for that amount of time, you also qualify as a home student.

Furthermore, if you are a prospective UK university student who lives in a qualifying overseas territory, you too are considered a home student. Said territories include:

  • Antigua
  • Aruba
  • Bermuda
  • The British Virgin Islands
  • The Cayman Islands
  • Faroe Islands
  • Greenland
  • New Caledonia
  • Monserrat
  • The Falkland Islands and others

The advantage of being a home student is that you will pay the same amount for your higher education as a native British student would.

As you surely know, costs for international students are much higher, so be sure to see if you qualify as a home student before declaring your status on your application.

The application provides a space for you to declare any special needs, for instance, if you have mobility challenges that require accommodation or you have been declared a special needs (SEN) student.

You can find a great tutor on Superprof.

Choosing Courses

UCAS is essentially a clearinghouse for college applications.

When you fill out your application, you may choose up to five different courses of study, none of which may be at the same university. UCAS will duly forward your application to the school(s) in question for those administrators to consider.

That saves you quite a bit of time and anxiety, considering that each university may have different entrance criteria and application deadlines (we’ll get to those in a mo).

Think about it: rather than applying to each university individually, you just have one application process and you’re done!

Join the discussion: how soon should students start the application process?

The Personal Statement

Wait a minute; don’t press ‘submit’ just yet! You’re not quite finished with the admission application.

Every student dreads writing it, yet it is a consistent part of virtually every university admissions process, no matter where in the world said school might be.

Luckily, in the UK, those statements are not quite as demanding as elsewhere…

Your personal statement, a vital component of your application, should be no longer than 4,000 characters; around 700 words – about half as long as this article is.

That is a fairly limited number of words to express your interest in your chosen subject (or in higher education in general, if you’re applying for more than one field of study), why you should be selected for enrollment and list any special achievements or awards you’ve earned in school.

Of all the supporting documents required for university application, the personal statement is as important as your A-Level scores; a badly-written one might keep you from being accepted in the best study programs and/or the best schools, even if your grades are sterling.

For this reason, you might consider writing several drafts and asking friends, family or teachers to critique them and select the best one(s). Once you have revised your statement, making sure it is error-free, enter it into the space provided on the UCAS application page.

Find out how you can write your best personal statement

Your admissions application requires a personal statement
Many schools will make their admissions decision largely on your personal statement so writing several drafts is a good idea Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Almost Done

Now that you have your application filled out, your course(s) selected and your personal statement hammered out, you only lack two components to complete and submit your application.

The first is a letter of recommendation, preferably from someone who knows you academically; maybe a teacher or advisor. If you’ve been working, you might ask your employer for a reference letter.

And then, you have to pay your application fee. If you have selected only one course of study, your fee will be £20; two or more courses will cost £25 to apply.

All that’s left is to click ‘submit’ and wait for the offers to come rolling in!

Deadlines and Offers

Ideally, you should apply for university as soon as UCAS makes the application function available; usually mid-May – before you sit your A-Levels. That will give you the best chance for admission to the course you most want.

If you’re not an early starter, no worries; UCAS will accept your application for admission throughout the year – at least until the end of June.

After that, your application will be considered ‘clearing’, meaning that schools, rather than viewing you as a competitive candidate, will consider your application in terms of filling empty spots in their classrooms.

Still, some programs’ enrolment options close earlier than others so, if you were hoping for a spot in dance or musical theatre, you would be much better off applying quickly.

Be sure to check your UCAS account frequently for your application status!

A conditional offer means that the school accepts your application pending your A-Level scores while an unconditional offer means you have a spot – but you may have further admission requirements.

A withdrawn offer means that either you or the school has eliminated a class. If the school has done so, you should see an explanation in your UCAS tracker page.

The last possibility, an unsuccessful offer, means that the school has rejected your application. They may or may not notify you of the reason for their decision.

Between studying to make good grades and the stress of competition for the best classes, scrambling for letters of recommendation and making sure your application materials are in order – to say nothing rushing to meet your application deadline…

Applying for university is no easy task. Still, like Dorothy going to meet the wizard, all you have to do is follow the yellow brick road.

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.