Applying to university is a long and complicated process. You need to get it right so that you end up in the right place.
You need to start at least a year beforehand, but if you're thinking about applying somewhere really competitive—say, Oxford, Cambridge, or a course in medicine—you need to start much, much earlier so that your UCAS application and your personal statement look impressive. Let's assume that you've done that bit, and that you've got all the work experience and all the different bits you’ll need for your personal statement.
It's summertime, and school has broken up, so what I want you to do is start thinking about your university choices. Start doing a bit of research into courses and universities, and start thinking about your personal statement. The best place to start is by making a big, broad list of things about you. Don't start writing it yet, but start thinking about what sort of things you could put in there. Loads of university open days happen in June/July, so it’s a great idea to go and visit the places you’re interested in to see what it feels like to be there. Do you get a good feeling when you're there, or is the feeling not so great? University applications open early September, but universities do not wait around until the deadlines to start handing out places.
Remember, the earlier you apply the better, so the more organized you are, the sooner you can get your application in. That's why it's terrific to have spent the summer thinking about what course you want to pursue and which university you want to attend. All of this will help you craft a polished personal statement. You also need to start nagging your referees—and I mean gently nagging, of course! You don't want to bother them too much, but your application can't be submitted until your referees have added their reference. So even if you're super organized, and you've written your personal statement, and you're ready to go at the beginning of September, your referee may not be. That's why it is a bad idea to leave your application until right before the deadline. If you tell your teacher the day before the deadline that you want to apply to Oxford, they will have to write a reference quickly, and they may not do an outstanding job if they don't have much time. They may not even get it done at all!
The deadline for Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine, Veterinary, Dentistry is mid-October. That's mid-October the year before you start. The deadline for the rest of the courses is going to be mid-January, which is the same year that you start. If you get rejected by all five places, you can add some more on in about mid-February. Art and Design courses have slightly different deadlines, which tend to be around mid-March.
After you've received all of your five decisions, you have roughly a month to decide which one you're going to accept as your firm and which one is going to be your insurance choice. For example, if you have them all by the end of March, then you have to make your decision by the beginning of May. If you have them all by the end of May, you have to make your decision by the beginning of July.
In July, Clearing is going to open. If you don't have any offers and you didn't want to put any more on, then you can apply through Clearing. If you didn't apply at all the first time around, then you can also apply through Clearing. This is where the universities open up any remaining unfilled slots they have in their courses. In mid-August, we get to A-Level results day, and this is when Adjustment places open. If you did better than expected, you could apply for an Adjustment place, or if you did worse than expected, you might have to go through the Clearing system.
Ana has A-levels in Biology (B), Chemsitry (B) and German (C). She undertook a lot of work experience at a local science start up company.
My name is Ana and I’m a student at the University of Nottingham, currently finishing off my final year of Pharmacy. As well as having experienced the UCAS application process myself, I’ve helped friends and family with their applications, and volunteered for the University during interview and applicant days, which has left me with lots of experience with university applications on the whole.
Now that I’ve been through it all, the only thing I regret is not doing more reading around before submitting my application. This was vital, especially since, at first, I was on the fence about whether or not to go to University at all. Whilst I wouldn’t change a thing about the past few years and ultimately I’m happy I ended up here, it would’ve been nice to know what other routes there were into my chosen career path. The one thing I did do in terms of research was attend a UCAS University Exhibition day, where representatives from different subjects and universities come along to sell their course to prospective students. These sorts of events are the best ways to gauge your interest in a course or a subject matter, and attending one definitely made me certain that University was where I wanted to be.
Another thing I’m glad I researched is the individual course breakdowns once I’d decided which course I wanted to go into. Whilst many people may tell you a degree is a degree, this is only true to an extent. Different universities can teach similar subjects in very different ways. I’m definitely more suited to coursework, and it was important to me that I didn’t end up doing a course where the majority of my grade was based on performance during exams. Nowadays course breakdowns are available on the University’s website, but when I applied a few years ago, the information wasn’t as readily available – so I phoned up and asked. While it did take a while for some departments to get back to me, it was definitely worth it.
Another thing I wish I’d done is spend a little bit more time in the cities I was considering studying in, just to see what living here would be like. At the end of the day, University isn’t just about the course – essentially you're moving home, so the city around it is just as important. My course has about 30 timetabled hours per week, and during term I spend all of the rest of my time in libraries, cafes, restaurants, the gym, or out in the evenings. When I was making my choice, I focused solely on the university itself, not its surroundings, and whilst I’ve finally learned the ins and outs of the city, I wish I’d factored it in when I was picking between courses. Having said this, if you end up really falling in love with a university even if the city it’s in doesn’t quite appeal to you, you could always take public transport or taxis to neighbouring cities.
The last thing I wish I had done was pay more attention during my interview day. The people who interviewed me were the same people teaching me when I returned in September, and the building where I was interviewed was the exact same building I found myself back in during first year. Getting to know the campus a little bit better during my interview would’ve made settling in during first year much less daunting