Thinking about university

Understanding UCAS

UCAS application process

Making an informed and strong application through UCAS is a lengthy process, lasing approximately 18 months from initial research to enrolling on a degree programme.

UCAS Application Process

We take you through the UCAS application process in this quick video guide

The UCAS application process can be broken down into four key stages:

Step 1


Research should begin as early as possible, ideally during your GCSE years to ensure you have the correct suite of FE qualifications are chosen and you obtain the necessary GCSE grades.

One you enter the sixth form your research should increase, we would encourage you to request prospectuses, attend Open Days, UCAS fairs and ask lots of questions to make sure you have all the information you need to make the best decision for you.

Step 2


You can start to complete the sections of the UCAS form in the July of year 12 and continue to work on it throughout the summer.

Applications officially open in September of year 13 and close on October 15th for Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science and January 15th for all other courses. Application forms received after this date will be marked as late and universities are not under any obligation to consider them.

At this stage you do not have to indicate or rank your course choices in order of preference, they will be listed alphabetically and UCAS act as a mailing house, it is not possible for a university to see the other institutions you have applied to.

It is important to remember that you only make one UCAS application and therefore your course choices need to be similar so that your form can be focused on why you have chosen that particular field.

Step 3

Making final choices

If your application is received on time, then you'll receive your decisions from your chosen institutions by the 24th March.

You then have until the start of May to decide which will be your first choice University (known as Firm) and your second choice (known as Insurance), once this decision has been made you need to indicate your preference on UCAS track.

Please remember that this is irreversible, so discarded courses and this stage cannot be retrieved.

In order for the Insurance choice to act as a life line should your results not be as expected it should ideally have an offer of 40 UCAS points / two grades lower than the Firm choice – although this may not always be possible.

Ultimately, the Firm choice needs to be the one you most want to attend.

Step 4

Results and confirmation

Once you receive your FE results it will hopefully be a time to celebrate! If you have met (or exceeded) the conditions of your Firm offer then your place will be confirmed, similarly if you have missed your Firm but achieved your Insurance offer then this will be confirmed.

If you unfortunately missed the grades required for both Firm and Insurance then you will be entered into Clearing and will be able to approach alternative institutions to try and secure a place. On the other hand, if you exceed your Firm offer you are eligible for Adjustment (providing your offer wasn’t Unconditional). This allows you to approach universities that were perhaps initially perceived as too ambitious and enquire if they would be willing to accept you. Adjustment is purely optional and you don’t need to feel obliged to utilise it.

Once your place has been confirmed your can continue to prepare everything that you may need and begin the countdown to Freshers week!

Downloads and useful links

Results Day

Advice and top tips for when you receive your exam results

next steps