With over 60 universities in the UK, it should be relatively easy to find an institution and course that fits a student's capabilities and both current interests and future hopes while extending and challenging them academically.
UCAS is the national body responsible for managing all applications to universities. Their website is comprehensive and provides access to all universities websites along with relevant data and application details.
Applying to a university is a lengthy process that requires plenty of thought, research, and management of a timeline.
Nearly all schools or colleges of further education have careers departments who are well versed in how to apply and able to provide students with the relevant links to online forms or information about universities for them to read as part of their research. Alternatively, our educational consultants are just a phone call away and would be happy to give advice and help re making choices and completing applications.
"Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential."
14 + GCSEs
Carefully consider these as some A levels require specific GCSEs and many universities require certain A levels for some degrees. Potential teachers need to have at least one GCSE Science subject or level 4 qualification with a minimum of a C grade. Medics obviously need also need strong science grades.
16 + Summer after GCSEs
Find work experience. Anything is fine, although it may not be as easy as for insurance and health and safety reasons some organisations are not allowed to have anyone aged under 16 onsite.
Work experience does not need to be in a field that will be relevant to a future career. We often recommend taking on some work experience in an area previously not considered or perhaps one where there is no interest as sometimes actually being in a workplace may alter any preconceptions.
Any work experience is better than none the only time it is not is when sitting doing nothing other than looking at Facebook on a phone. A better cure for boredom is to be proactive, talk to a supervisor and ask for something to do. Remember that if work experience has been a success, it could be worth talking to the company about future employment with them. If that is not viable asking for a reference is a good plan!
16+ First year sixth
Start talking to students in the year above, find out what they are doing, where they are going. Read up about universities, start looking at their open day program and maybe go along - just to get a feel for the whole idea. On the subject of university open days DON'T go during school holidays as of course, this is also when students are on holiday.There is little point in visiting a university devoid of students. The idea of open days is to see what the department is like, see the facilities the university offer, meet staff, meet students and have an opportunity to question them about the course or university. Possibly ask an older sibling, cousin or an older friend who is at university if they would be happy to provide a bed (floor space) for a night extending the idea of experiencing how it feels to be an undergrad.
If applying to a collegiate university think about college preferences also. The role of the college differs between universities. At Oxford and Cambridge, the colleges are the source of accommodation, social life and education. At the other collegiate universities (Durham, Lancaster, York, Kent and UCL) the colleges have varying roles and tend to be closer to being halls of residence. Once again research all the options fully to make sure there are no surprises on arrival.
Sign up and create an account with The Student Room. This is an excellent resource, a forum where it is possible to ask real-life students any and every question about what like being a student at their university.
While considering university degrees try and unearth some books that might relate to an appealing aspect of the course. Read around the subject, over it, under it and find a topic that can be discussed in a personal statement, try to have more than a fleeting understanding of the subject. This research might also highlight what is exciting about the course or the outcomes it can offer.
Attend public lectures, visit art galleries, mine all networks for ideas and experiences that will help create a three-dimensional person on the application form and in a personal statement.
Organise more work experience now and if possible make it relevant experience.
Future medics N.B. applicants must spend some time in the two years before applying to med school working in a medical environment. This criterion ensures that students have the particular aptitude and personality that is required for such a vocational career. Work experience can be in any medical area, including working as a first aider or in a care home. Further details can be found here via the Medical Schools Council website.
Those considering more vocational degrees such as teaching or veterinary science might also consider related work experience to ensure they comprehend the career options that their chosen degree could lead to. To a certain extent, all careers have vocational aspects which is one reason why work experience is so valuable to students, enabling them to discover passions as well as some new strengths or maybe weakness that can be worked on. Work experience is also valued by universities when reading personal statements.
During the holidays write the first draft of your personal statement. It does not have to be brilliant, but please do leave plenty of time for this in order to ensure all the information can be carefully crafted in the most intelligent way possible within the restricted 47 lines or 4000 characters. If applying for two or more different degree courses at five universities creating a 'one size fits all' personal statement can present a challenge, but others have been there before and achieved it. The rule of thumb is to write your personal statement to fit your first choice of university, particularly if it is Oxbridge.
UCAS has excellent advice regarding how to construct a strong personal statement relevant to each degree field. We suggest reading it.
If a school referee is not an option, start considering who would be a good referee, someone who understands your academic potential and is not a member of the family or a family friend. Contact a previous employer, work experience supervisor or teacher who knows you reasonably well.
Get ready for a fast roller coaster ride. Not only will the workload increase but a commitment to which universities and course options will finally need to be made and personal statements turned from a draft into reality. UCAS use an online system that, happily, allows you to input information and save it so the application form does not have to be completed in one sitting.
The closing date for applications excluding Oxbridge, medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses is the second week in January, check the UCAS website to confirm. A few Arts related degrees have an extended application closing date of March.
The exceptions, Oxbridge and the science related degrees have an earlier application closing date which will always be on the 15th October at 18.00hrs the year before students go up to university. No consideration is made for late applications so be ready and don't leave submission until the last minute.
Universities may send an offer through immediately, but they may also wait until the closing date which is May to send out offers - it could be an agonisingly long wait which just has to be accepted. Revision could be the answer to helping focus the mind elsewhere!
Oxbridge is an amalgamated name that is applied to Oxford and Cambridge Universities as well as the process of applying to them. As two of the world's most academic and revered institutions, their assessment process is understandably rigorous and specific to themselves.
Firstly, note that although applications are still made through UCAS the closing date for applications is in October, not January.
At Oxford, students can submit preferences for a college on their UCAS form or leave their college application open which means that a computer will allocate places. At Cambridge, students can either apply to a particular college or use the open application system. In both universities, all the colleges teach exactly the same content and are overseen by the university governing body.
Each college will not necessarily offer the same number of places for each degree or even teach certain subjects. Teaching is provided by the colleges 'in-house' and by the professors and tutors attached to each college.
Colleges have many variants: student age and college age, student sex, proximity to the rest of the campus, facilities, funding and architecture.
Once applications have been received by Oxford and Cambridge, all applicants are likely to be asked to submit either a transcript of recent work or enter some further information about themselves online.
Submissions are reviewed and invitations to attend an interview, which is held in early December, will be sent out in November.
Oxford interviews can be over two days, accommodation and meals are provided.
Cambridge interviews take place on the same day.
Successful candidates will receive confirmation of their offer in early January. Both the college and UCAS will make contact with details of the offer which will as with other university offers will either be
Conditional- exams are still to be sat so the offer is dependent on attaining certain grades.
Unconditional- exams have already been taken and the offer is based on known results.
For further information on Oxbridge entry read our Good Schools Guide commentary here.