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"At the heart of connecting people to higher education"
Higher-education application processing
|Mary Curnock Cook|
|£33 million (2011)|
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is a UK-based organisation whose main role is to operate the application process for British universities. It operates as an independent charity, funded by fees charged to applicants and to universities, plus advertising income.
Services provided by UCAS include several online application portals, a number of search tools, and free information and advice directed at various audiences, including students considering higher education, students with pending applications to higher education institutes, parents and legal guardians of applicants, school and Further Education college staff involved in helping students apply, and providers of higher education (universities and HE colleges).
While UCAS is best known for its undergraduate application service (the main UCAS scheme), it also operates a number of other admissions services:
- Conservatoires UK Admissions Service (CUKAS) – for performing arts at a UK conservatoire
- UCAS Teacher Training (UTT) – for postgraduate teacher training schemes
- UK Postgraduate Application and Statistical Service (UKPASS) – for some postgraduate courses
- UCAS Progress – for post-16 education and training
- 1 Location
- 2 History
- 3 Undergraduate admissions schemes
- 4 UCAS postgraduate admissions schemes
- 5 Other schemes
- 6 UCAS Media
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
UCAS is based near Marle Hill in Cheltenham at the junction of the B4075 (New Barn Lane) and the A435 (Evesham Road), near Cheltenham Racecourse and a park and ride. It is situated just inside the parish of Prestbury, Gloucestershire.
UCAS was formed in 1992 by the merger of Universities Central Council on Admissions (UCCA) and Polytechnics Central Admissions System (PCAS). The Standing Conference on University Entrance (SCUE) and The Art and Design Admissions Registry are also part of UCAS.
UCAS no longer accepts paper applications, and now operates exclusively via online channels.
Undergraduate admissions schemes
Main undergraduate scheme
Since the vast majority of UK universities and higher education colleges use the UCAS service, all students planning to study for an undergraduate degree in the UK must apply through UCAS – including home students (generally British and EU students) and international students (non-EU).
In order to apply to university, students must submit a single application via UCAS' online Apply service. The application itself requires the student to register to the service, giving a buzzword if applying through a centre, fill out personal details, write a personal statement and choose up to five courses to apply to, in no order of preference. They must then pay an application fee and obtain a reference before submitting their application online by the appropriate deadline. The application is then forwarded by UCAS to the universities and colleges that the students have applied to, who then decide whether to make students an offer of a place. Universities give students either an unconditional offer, where the student will receive a place regardless, or a conditional offer, where the student will receive a place subject to their grades being met.
For applications to universities in the UK, entry requirements for individual courses can either be based on grades of qualifications (e.g. AAA at GCE A-Level, a score of 43/45 in the IB International Baccalaureate Diploma) or in UCAS points (e.g. 300 UCAS points from 3 A-Levels or an IB score equal to 676 UCAS points). To convert individual scores or grades of specific qualifications into UCAS points, UCAS has created tariff tables indicating indexes and ratios of UCAS points and results of qualifications. For example, an A* at A-level is worth 140 UCAS points, an A 120, a B 100 and so on. For the IB, a score of 45 equals 720 UCAS points, a score of 40 is 611 points, a score of 35 is 501 etc.
Once logged into "Apply", applicants complete a number of personal details – including their current qualifications, employment and criminal history, national identity, ethnic origin and student finance arrangements. Applicants also have the option to declare if they have any individual needs – such as any disabilities; or if they’re a care leaver.
The personal statement is an integral part of the application. It gives candidates a chance to write about their achievements, their interest in the subject they are applying for, as well as their suitability, interest, and commitment to higher education. Personal statements can contain a maximum of 4,000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines – whichever comes first. A research study conducted by UCAS with over 300,000 personal statements of students revealed that the personal statement (among the student's grades) is the most important part within the application process.
Application fees and references
The final part of the process involves paying an application fee and obtaining a written reference. The process varies depending on whether a student is applying through a school, college or UCAS centre, or as an individual.
For the former, applications are sent to the school, college, or centre, who may ask applicants to pay their fee to them (which they then pass to UCAS) or pay UCAS directly, before they provide a reference and submit the form on the student’s behalf. If applications are sent to the school, college or centre, then they will attach a reference to send to UCAS. Applicants are responsible for ensuring that their school, college or centre submits the application before the appropriate deadline for their courses.
Individual applicants should request their reference – from a teacher, adviser, or professional who knows them – before paying the fee and submitting the form themselves.
For most current applications, the cost per student is £12 to apply for a single course, or £23 for two or more courses.
Depending on the subject and on the university that they are applying for, candidates must submit their application by the relevant submission deadline to ensure their application is given equal consideration by the higher education providers they are applying to.
- 15 October deadline: Those applying for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science courses and anyone applying to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge must submit their UCAS applications by 15 October – in the year before the student wishes to start their studies.
- 15 January deadline: The majority of applications must be submitted by 15 January (in the calendar year that the student wishes to begin their studies).
- 24 March deadline: Some art and design courses have a later application deadline – 24 March – to give them time to complete their portfolios.
It is possible for students to submit applications up until 30 June each year; but a late submission may not be given the same consideration as those submitted before the deadline. Applications received after 30 June are placed directly into Clearing.
Students must adhere to their appropriate deadline for their course. Whilst UCAS advises universities and colleges to send their decisions by the end of March, the universities have the responsibility of responding to applicants and may operate in their own timescale. Many universities (like the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge) require that applicants come to an interview before offers are received; or they may be asked to submit an additional piece of work before receiving an offer.
Offers are made through UCAS' Track service by universities and are either unconditional or conditional, where the latter means that the student will receive a place dependent on exam performance. Applicants also find out if they have been rejected through UCAS Track.
Once an applicant has received a reply from their choices, they must reply to their university before the deadline in May. Applicants normally choose two offers through UCAS, one as their firm choice and one as their insurance choice. A firm choice means that, if the student receives their grades required, then the student will receive an unconditional offer. An insurance choice means that, if the firm choice university rejected them due to their grades, then the student will get into that university, if they have met the terms and conditions of the insurance choice's conditions.
If an applicant uses all of their five choices, and does not receive any offers, or they decide to decline the offers they receive, they can apply for additional courses using UCAS’ Extra service. This allows them to keep applying, one course at a time, until they receive an offer they’re happy with. Extra runs between mid-February and the end of June. If they don’t get an offer during this time, they have the option to enter into Clearing when it opens in July.
Confirmation and clearing
When applicants receive their examination results, they will know if they have met the conditions of their firm and insurance choices. Universities give out unconditional offers and rejections when applicants receive their examination results.
Those that do have their offers confirmed are invited to accept a place on the course they applied to, which is called "confirmation". Many universities and colleges still accept students that narrowly miss their offer conditions.
Those that don’t meet their "firm" and "insurance" offer conditions are eligible to use UCAS’ Clearing service – which enables unplaced students to apply for courses with vacancies directly to the university. They do so by searching for an available course, using the UCAS search tool, and contacting each university or college concerned for a place.
Although clearing is most commonly used following results days in August, it opens at the start of July each year and closes in late September.
If applicants exceed the conditions of their firm offer, they have the option to search for a place at another university or college while retaining their original offer. This is known as "adjustment", a service which is available between 14 and 31 August.
UCAS Conservatoires – performing arts scheme
UCAS operates Conservatoires UK Admissions Service (formally known as CUKAS) in conjunction with Conservatoires UK, managing applications for both undergraduate and postgraduate music, dance, and drama courses at eight UK conservatoires:
- Birmingham Conservatoire (part of Birmingham City University)
- Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London
- Leeds College of Music
- Royal Academy of Music, London
- Royal College of Music, London
- Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
- Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
- Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff
- Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London
Students must apply through the online CUKAS service by:
- 1 October – for most music courses
- 15 January – for most undergraduate dance, drama, and screen production courses
UCAS postgraduate admissions schemes
UTT – postgraduate teacher training
UCAS Teacher Training (UTT) is an application service for postgraduates that want to become teachers. UTT replaced UCAS’ previous GTTR teacher training application service and expanded its remit to provide centralised admissions for School Direct and school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) programmes.
UTT programmes are either university/college-taught or school-based, and typically last for one academic year; usually leading to a PGCE qualification.
Students begin their application in the autumn for programmes starting in the following academic year. They start by using Apply 1 – which allows them to choose up to three programmes. Training providers then have 40 working days to make an offer. During this time they will invite candidates they’re considering offering a place to for an interview. At the end of the 40 day period, students will have responses from their three choices, and will have 10 working days to reply to any offers.
However, if students don’t get offered a place using Apply 1, or they choose to decline all of the offers they receive, they can use Apply 2 to apply for new places,adding one choice at a time, until they receive an offer.
- Apply 1 opens on 21 November each year
- Apply 2 opens on 2 January each year
UCAS Postgraduate – postgraduate admissions scheme
UCAS Postgraduate (also known as UKPASS) is UCAS’ postgraduate admissions service. It was introduced with the objective to offer students access to over 20,000 courses at 18 participating universities and colleges in England, Scotland, and Wales – both taught and research courses leading to a variety of qualifications – including MA, MSc, MBA, and LLM.
UCAS Progress – post-16 education and training admissions scheme
UCAS has launched UCAS Progress, a service enabling GCSE students to search and apply for post-16 work and education-based training courses – including academic and vocational courses (such as A levels and BTECs), as well as Apprenticeship and Traineeship programmes.
The scheme is free for students to use and is implemented as a national service – listing post-16 opportunities from all across the UK.
UCAS Progress also helps schools, colleges, and local authorities address recruitment issues and statutory obligations resulting from raising the age of participation in secondary education; an initiative which legally obliges students to remain in full-time education or work-based training until the end of the academic year that they turn 17. However this is about to change after government reforms; when students will be required to remain in education or training until their 18th birthday.
UCAS Media is a commercial enterprise that raises money by offering commercial organisations and education providers a channel to communicate with prospective students: in effect, it sells targeted advertising space.
UCAS Media does not disclose information about applicants to its advertising clients; rather, it sends communications to applicants on behalf of its clients.
All UCAS Media profits are fed back into the UCAS charity, in order to reduce the fees paid by universities and by applicants.
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