The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is a UK-based charity whose main role is managing applications to higher education courses in the UK. The service acts as a bridge between prospective students and institutions by providing an online application that can be completed and sent to Universities throughout the UK. Once applications are submitted UCAS alerts students of any updates or decisions made by Universities via UCAS Track.
UCAS is an independent charity providing information, advice, and admissions services to inspire and facilitate educational progression.
This means that if you wanted to apply for a Maths degree at both Manchester University and Liverpool University then you could send both applications through UCAS. You would then review your responses from all institutions through UCAS.
This services support young people making choices after their GCSEs, as well as those applying for undergraduate and postgraduate courses. A centralised admissions service for undergraduate admissions to higher education dates back to 1961 when UCCA (Universities Central Council on Admissions) was formed, to help Universities effectively manage multiple applications from students. An Executive Team of Directors, and its Board of Trustees manage UCAS.
UCCA merged with its partner organisations PCAS (Polytechnics Central Admissions System) and SCUE (Standing Conference on University Entrance) in 1993 to create one independent service – UCAS. As a centralised admissions service, we encourage students to consider courses and learning opportunities across the UK and promote choice.
In 2014, undergraduate admissions service handled almost three million applications from 700,000 UK, EU, and international students. UCAS have helped 512,000 students secure a full-time place at one of over 380 Universities and Colleges across the UK. They provide information, advice, and admissions services for UK Conservatoires, for Initial Teacher Training (UCAS Teacher Training), taught postgraduate courses (UCAS Postgraduate), and for young people looking to move to a new school or College after they’ve taken their GCSEs (UCAS Progress).
If your child using their A-levels to go to University and they hold a conditional offer, it’s likely they will have to achieve a certain number of UCAS points in order to take up the place.
Here’s how to convert your child’s A-level results into UCAS points:
If an AS and A-level has been taken in the same subject, the AS points should not be added to the A-level ones: simply count them from the highest level you have achieved.
Not all Universities or Colleges use the UCAS points system to determine entry, but will simply specify which grades they require you to achieve, often in specific subjects.
Almost everyone finds applying to University challenging in some way. From writing the perfect Statement of purpose (or Personal Statement) to understanding how the application process actually works, it’d be a miracle if we didn’t get a little bit confused at some point! UCAS is one such mystery that can be equally confusing for both UK based A Level students and international students. You may never have heard of UCAS before, but you can bet it’ll start getting mentioned when you’re ready to apply for University!
But don’t worry; it’s straightforward once you understand what UCAS is. Here we explain how UCAS affects your University application and what you can expect from this service.
When you register with UCAS they will give you a password and username so that you can access your application whenever you like. You will need to complete the online application, including your Personal Statement. You will also need to supply a reference from someone who knows you well, and is able to write about why you are suitable for higher education.
Sometimes we have students who get admitted on the spot at our ‘Spot Admission events’, however in some cases Universities will still expect an application to be made through UCAS. So, in almost all cases, yes, you do have to apply through UCAS. Your International Education Consultant will be able to help you further, including helping you stick to deadlines. Excluding courses such as Medicine, which has an earlier deadline, the deadline is usually January 15th.
‘Clearing’ is also an option and this refers to students who may have missed the earlier January deadline. Usually students apply through clearing because they didn’t receive any offers when they applied the first time around. Clearing opens on the 30th June and allows Universities to fill any remaining positions they have on their courses. As you can imagine, less popular courses will usually have more places available in clearing.
You can apply for five courses though UCAS and if you want to apply to more than one course at a preferred University, this is acceptable – however you may only get an offer for one of the courses.
For Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science, you can only apply for four Universities, however you could use your fifth option to apply for a related course (for example Biomedical Science).
There are seven sections on the application:
The application has pop-up menus with an A to Z list of Universities and higher education Colleges, and also course codes, so you just have to click and select.
Clearing is a way for students to secure a University place if they haven’t been made any offers, or if their exam results didn’t go to plan. It is also how Universities and Colleges fill any spare places they still have on their courses.
Clearing is available from July-September each year, when course vacancies are listed in the UCAS search tool and students can express interest in taking up the places. If a student’s exam results are reasonable and they're flexible on subject/location, there's still a good chance of finding another course.
The basic idea is that students identify courses that interest them, and contact course adviser directly to see if they will offer a place at our partner Universities. Here's a step-by-step guide to Clearing:
Students should make sure their UCAS Track status says: “You are in Clearing” or “Clearing has started” – if it doesn't say either of these yet, it might just be waiting for the exam results to update. Get in touch with the Universities/Colleges if it's taking a while – they might still be considering you, even if your results are a bit lower than required.
If students originally only applied for one course (for the reduced fee of £12) they will have to pay an additional £11 to enable them to apply for multiple courses.
Students should talk to our course adviser to discuss alternative courses/subjects.
UCAS will have the official vacancy list online, as well as The Telegraph in print. Students should consider different subjects; they don't have to stick with the idea on their original UCAS form. The online list is updated continually – students might not find the exact Universities or courses they're looking for – some might be full, but some might get vacancies later on, so they should keep checking back.
After identifying courses they are interested in, students should give those Universities their Clearing number (located on the Welcome and Choices pages in Track), and Personal ID number. This will let the Universities view students’ applications online.
Students should ask if the Universities they applied to originally would reconsider their decision: there may be circumstances where they offer places to applicants previously rejected.
Students should get informal offers over the phone – maybe from a variety of Universities and Colleges – then decide which ones they want to accept.
If time allows, the best way to see what a University is really like, is to go and visit it. Students should take this opportunity if they can (and we can help them out with this!), most Universities will be happy to meet people and show them around.
It’s important that students only add a Clearing choice once they've had confirmation of a place from the relevant University.
Click “Add Clearing choice” and fill in the course details by the date the University/College gave you on the phone. This counts as definitely accepting the offer, so if the University confirms it'll show as an acceptance on the Choices page of Track and UCAS will send the student a confirmation letter.
It is only possible to add one Clearing choice at a time, but if the University/College doesn't confirm the place, students can add another