A complete guide to applying to uni through UCAS!

Worried about applying to Uni? No idea where to start? As someone who has applied to uni twice in two years, I can talk you through how to do it from start to finish!

So some of you might know that I am going to university in September after a year off from academia to work in the field I want to work in (Marketing if you’re interested)

If you know me you’ll know that I had a bit of an existential crisis regarding university. Twice. When I was finishing up my A-levels and final year of school I was certain I was going to university to study media.

And then all of a sudden I wasn’t so sure that it was the right option for me. But I had already applied and got accepted! In the end, I found a full-time job managing a companies social media presence and thought that would be the perfect way to decide if spending all the money on University would really be worth it.

And that job did help me narrow down the area of media I wanted to go in to but it was past the UCAS deadline when I was certain that that was what I wanted to do. Oops! But I applied to Uni again anyway and once again I got accepted into all 5 courses I had applied for!

I’m no expert on applying to Uni but having applied twice myself, once through college and once completely on my own as well as having helped friends once or twice I can give a few bits of advice!

Choosing a Uni and a course

Ah, the big choices. The choices that supposedly impact on the rest of your life. And only you can decide.

Choosing your course is supposed to be the easy bit. Logically you should think about what you enjoy, what you’re good at, and what you want to do in the future. But what if you don’t know the answer to any of these things?!

Whilst it is a good idea to ask friends and family as well as teachers what they think you must always remember that you’re the one in charge here. This is YOUR future and no one else’s.

I was lucky in that I’ve always known I wanted a career in marketing/advertising/film/anything related to Media Studies. It was my favourite subject throughout my education and the only question for me was which area I wanted to really focus on and excel at.

In order to decide this, I took a year out and gained some work experience – which I genuinely believe has not only helped me make a decision but also to really appreciate University.

What do you need to consider?

Choosing your university can seem like such an intimidating experience what with all the options and choices. Russell group or not? Stay local or move away? How important is social life? Accommodation? Cost of living?

All of these things should come into consideration when you’re choosing where you want to spend the next three to four years of your life. But there will be things that will be more important to you than others. Only you know what is truly important to you. When I first applied to Uni I created a document that I filled in to help me compare the unis easily and quickly.

Once you’ve decided what’s important you can choose up to five courses to apply for. I would recommend using all five choices even if you are set on one or two certain universities.

laptop on end of bed

Signing up to UCAS

If you’re in the UK then you’ll be using UCAS to apply to your university. It’s like a central, one application fits all kinda deal. Signing up to UCAS really is easy, the steps go as follows.

You sign up using your email and create a password. If you’re applying with a college/school then you will be asked to enter their buzzword so that they can be involved in your application.

After that, it’s a nice easy process of filling in some details and some boxes as well as inputting all your education certificates and work experience. It sounds like a lot of work but I promise it just takes an hour of sitting down with all the documents you need and boom you’re almost done.

The Personal Statement

Ah the dreaded personal statement. If you are or ever have been a sixth form student/someone applying to Uni the chances are that these words fill you with horror. You may have even had nightmares regarding your personal statement.

You sit there with a blank page in front of you and suddenly you have to convince someone that you are worthy of having at their prestigious institution in 4000 characters or less? Sounds terrifying.

And I’m here to tell you that it’s nowhere near as bad as it seems.

If you follow a simple process you’ll have an excellent personal statement in no time.

Step 1 – Learn about a personal statement

How can you write something if you’ve got no idea about content or structure? You can’t – at least not well.

The first thing to do is head on over to the UCAS website and see what they have to say about how to write the perfect personal statement – with all the tools they have you might not even need to read the rest of this!

(https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/applying-university/how-write-ucas-undergraduate-personal-statement)

One of the most important things to learn here is the structure of your personal statement – start with talking about the course and why you’re interested in it, then move on to your skills and achievements. This should take up the bulk of your statement. And finally, pop in any extracurriculars and hobbies and finish with a perfect closing statement.

Sounds easy right?

Maybe not. But it can be made easier by following the next step!

Step 2 – Mind map

I’m sure everyone knows how much I love a mind map. (Or brain dump, or spider diagram or whatever you might call it)

So it’s no surprise that one of my top tips is to take 20 minutes and sit down with a pen and paper and think of the answers to all these questions.

I thought about mine in that structure we mentioned before.

The course

The course. Jot down what the course is. Why do you want to study that course? Is it what you want to do for a career? Is it something you enjoyed in school? Or are you just interested in it? What made you want to spend the next three years of your life learning about this? Let the person reading your statement know!

You

This is the hard bit for most people. When faced with a blank sheet of paper or a flickering cursor they suddenly think that they’ve never done anything noteworthy in their whole life. BELIEVE ME you have. I promise that you will have something to talk about here.

One point is academics, what are you studying now and how does it relate to the course? Be as specific as possible here in order to make yourself stand out. Think of relevant examples such as certain assignments you’ve done or topics you’ve studied.

I bet that you haven’t just decided to do this course on a whim, tell the reader about the books you’ve read, the videos you’ve watched and all the other things that you might have done to prepare yourself.

As I said before this bit of your statement should be the biggest bit so you can elaborate as much as you like. The best thing to do is just write and write and write without worrying about the character limit. Editing is the easy bit!

And lastly – hobbies and interests

This is the bit where you let your personality shine through. Are you a history student who is also a fantastic gymnast? Say here! This could be relevant to your course or it could be completely irrelevant. Either way, this bit of the personal statement is where you help yourself stand out. Think of all the people applying to uni – what is it about you that stands out?

Write

coffee and laptop on desk

This is the intimidating bit, you now have to turn that page full of information about you into a personal statement.

Some people prefer to write it in the order that it will appear on the statement (similar to the above structure) and some prefer to write certain bits and then other bits but whatever you do you should ensure you edit it to form a cohesive structure.

The best thing to do is just write down everything you can possibly think of and not worry about the character limit. Once you’ve done that you will have to edit as there is a very strict 4000 character limit.

Hopefully, you’ll have gone over the limit so my tip would be to get some other people to have a look at your statement and help you figure out what can be condensed and what isn’t necessary. A tutor or teacher is ideal for this but if you aren’t currently in education, like me when I applied the second time, parents and friends can be just as much help.

Edit

The last thing you must do for your personal statement is to spell check it. Once, twice, three times. Read it out loud. Get someone to read it to you. You want to be 100% sure that there are no mistakes and it sounds exactly like you want it to. 

And then all you have to do is upload it into the UCAS box.

Press the button

Once you’ve put your personal statement in UCAS and filled out all the information including courses you have done everything you can do. The next step is to simply pay for your application and send it. This will go to your referee first whether you’re independent or applying through your school so you need to do this in plenty of time to allow them time to complete your reference.

Track

This is the worst bit of the whole applying process.

The waiting game. 

After UCAS has accepted your application you’ll be sent some login details for UCAS track. This is where you will find out whether or not the Universities have accepted you. Some don’t tell you for ages and some universities will get back to you pretty quickly. The last time I applied I had heard from all 5 of my choices in 2 days because I had applied after the deadline. Although I would not recommend it – very risky! When there is an update on track Ucas will email you. It is highly nerve-wracking waiting to log on to track to find out what that update is!

Eventually, you will hear from all of your choices and the next step is for you to pick which ones you want as your firm and insurance choices. There is a deadline for this but it varies every year so check out the UCAS website to find out. In case you’re confused I’ll quickly run through the different types of offers you can get and the difference between a firm and insurance choice.

Types of offers and choices

A conditional offer is an offer which is made to you based on your grades. The Uni tells you that you can go there in September providing you get ABC in your exams. This is the most common type of offer.

An Unconditional offer is where the University will have you no matter what you get in your exams. Smaller Universities are more likely to do this. Often the condition of the unconditional offer is that you make them your firm choice.

A firm choice is a choice that you most want to go to. It is often the place you had in mind when you were applying to uni. If you got the grades you’d definitely go there. As I said before some Universities offer you unconditional offers if you choose them as your firm choice so make sure to read your offer letters carefully.

An Insurance choice is a choice that you would go to if you didn’t make the grades for your firm choice. The entry requirements are often lower than that of your firm choice but you should make sure that you would be just as happy attending this University as your firm choice. 

Once you’ve accepted your offers all you can do is put your full effort into your exams and wait for results day!

What happens on results day?

On results, day track will update very early in the morning. That means that you will often know if you’ve been accepted into your chosen Uni before you even make it over to pick up your results.

If you’ve been accepted to your firm choice congrats and your uni will be in touch with you soon to sort anything they need to out and set up your timetable etc.

If you haven’t been accepted into your firm choice but you have your insurance choice again congratulations and the Uni will be in touch soon. There may be a touch of urgency to sort out accommodation and the likes but overall it shouldn’t be too stressful.

If you get your results and find that you’ve only missed out on your firm choice by one grade it can be worth giving them a call. You can remind them of all the other amazing things you have done and it has been known in the past that they will then accept you but don’t pin all your hopes on it.

And what if you haven’t made the grades for either of your choices? Never fear there is a magical UCAS tool called clearing. This is where all the courses that still have spaces are advertised. You can call and find out if they will accept you. I’ve heard it’s a slightly stressful process but it could be well worth it in the end.

Need to know more about clearing? Head over to the UCAS website! – https://www.ucas.com/

And there you go.

That is the whole process of applying to uni from start to finish. I hope this helps you in some way. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to shoot me a message or leave a comment below!

Good luck in applying! Let me know how it’s going for you in the comments!

Related post: How to use time management to your advantage

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