The UCAS application process is tricky, and you need to make sure you get it right because this decision determines what you do with the next three or four years of your life.
The first that you need to do—and this is not a small thing in any way—is to pick five courses you want to apply for. This is complicated; you need to think about what you're going to enjoy; you need to think about entry requirements; and you need to think about where you want to live. After you've picked five courses, you need to write a personal statement. This is going to be a big part of deciding whether you get into university or not. This is the bit that the admissions tutors are going to look at when they are making their decision whether to accept you, whether to interview you, or whether to reject you. So if you get this bit wrong, you might end up with no offers. After you've picked your five courses and written your personal statement, you can then start to fill in your UCAS application form.
You're going to need to give them your essential details, as well as student finance information if you're from the U.K. or the European Union. You're going to add your course choice, your education level, your employment history, and then you're going to write your personal statement and add in your references at the end.
Your references will be significant. This is what helps the admissions tutor decide whether you're a yes, a maybe, or a no. Please note that these references have to be submitted at the same time as your application, so you shouldn't fill in your application at the deadline because you will need to have your references from previous teachers ready and waiting. If you want to apply for medicine, veterinary medicine, or dentistry, only four of your five choices can be for those courses. This is to give you a guaranteed insurance choice in case you don't meet the entry requirements for those courses because they are highly competitive. This is also true if you want to apply for Oxford or Cambridge, as only one of your five choices can be for either Oxford or Cambridge. For example, you can't apply for Oxford and Cambridge, and then three other things. For courses at Oxford, Cambridge, medicine, veterinary, or dentistry, your application needs to be in mid-October if you plan on starting your course the following September/October. The rest of your applications need in by the deadline of the middle of January for a course beginning September of that year.
It’s important to note, however, that universities will not wait to hand out offers until after the deadline. Universities start reading applications and making decisions as soon as they receive them at the beginning of September. By the time January comes around, they might have already given away a large number of their places. Just because January is the last time you can submit your application, that doesn't mean that's when you should submit your application. Get your application in as soon as possible. University admissions tutors are going to have a massive pile of admissions to go through, so you need to make sure that yours stands out, and stands out in the right way.
This is where your personal statement, your references, and your predicted grades are going to play a major factor. These three components will determine whether you are accepted straight away, whether you get asked for an interview, whether you get rejected, and whether the offer they give you is conditional or unconditional. If you get a conditional offer, you'll have to get specific grades to go into the course—whereas an unconditional offer means that they thought you were so amazing that they have accepted you no matter what your results are. Once the university has made this decision, they will notify UCAS, and then UCAS will inform you. Once you've received all of your offers, that's when you can decide which university is the one for you.
You choose one firm choice (which is where you really want to go, assuming you get the grades) and one insurance choice (which is where you want to go if you don't get the grades for your firm choice). The objective is to make sure the required grades for your insurance choice are lower than the grades for your firm choice. Then, the rest is just hard work.
On results day, you're going to need three plans: A plan for what happens if you get better results than expected, as you might be able to apply for an Adjustment higher-tier university (more on this later); a plan for what happens if you get the results that you need; and a plan for what happens if you get worse results than expected.