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Student, University, UCAS, Research, application, timelineWith over 150 universities and higher education institutions in the UK, it should be possible to find a location and course that fits a student's capabilities, current interests and future hopes while extending and challenging them academically.

Applying to university

Where do I apply? 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.

When do I apply? Applying to a university is a lengthy process that requires plenty of thought, research, and management of a timeline. 

Who can help? Nearly all schools and colleges have careers departments that are well versed in how to apply to university. They should be able to help students, as well as provide links to further information and online forms. 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.

University timeline

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 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 that work experience is not worthwhile is when the experience involves too much time 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 and maybe visit a few universities to get a feel for the whole idea, although don’t go during school holidays as there is little point in going to one devoid of students. Better still, find out when their open days are so you can see the departments and facilities on offer, meet staff and students and ask questions. 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. UCAS publishes a useful list of university open days.

Research the different colleges as the college role varies 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.

Sign up and create an account with The Student Room. It’s a forum where it is possible to ask real-life students any and every question about what like being a student at their university. We like this resource, an example of the Wisdom of Crowds.

Try and unearth some books that might relate to an appealing aspect of the course you’re considering. Read around the subject, over it, under it and find a topic that can be discussed in a personal statement so that you have more than a fleeting understanding of that 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.

Summer holidays

Organise more work experience now and if possible, make it relevant experience.

Future medic applicants, take note: you 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 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 would 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 weakness that can be improved upon. 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 leave plenty of time 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.

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. 

17+ Autumn

Get ready for a 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 that 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, but 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 of 15th October at 1800hrs 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 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!

University overseas

More and more UK school leavers are opting to continue their studies abroad. Click for information relating to studying in the USA.

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