Applying to university level study

There are many things to consider when it comes to applying to higher education, not just the application process itself: university or college? Study locally or away from home? Which course and which university or college?

Click on the answers for the questions below to help you learn more:

There are hundreds of higher education providers and thousands of courses throughout the country.
True or False?


The majority of higher education courses are offered in universities, although Further Education Colleges also offer a wide range of higher education courses.
Below are some of the things you and your child might consider when making a choice about which university and which course.

The UCAS website (University and College Admissions System) is a good place to start to research courses. It gives information on the entry requirements needed to get onto a course.

Once they have selected some courses and institutions your child should look at each institution’s website for further details about what the course involves. It will also give information about other things an institution offers such as accommodation, student life, activities, financial and study support, etc.

There are many other websites that give you help and advice on selecting courses and where to study as well as on other important questions around accommodation, social life, transport, etc. Start with the list on the Resources page.

You have to do A levels to go to university.
True or False?


There are many qualifications that are accepted by Universities including AS and A2 and BTEC Diplomas. Most courses ask for GSCE qualifications at Grade C or above especially in Maths and English and sometimes in Science and Languages as well.

Some university courses will expect your child to have studied the same or a similar subject at college, e.g. to apply for medicine, science qualifications will be required. Other courses do not require specific subjects as they will start the subject from scratch, e.g. sociology. The National Qualifications Framework shows the different routes that can be taken to gain a higher education degree.

A university and college course prospectus will give details about specific requirements, as each course in each university and college will be different. Have a look at the courses our partner universities and colleges offer and their entry requirements on Our HE Partners page.

My child has to move away from home.
True or False?

OnFalsee of the biggest decisions your child will have to make is whether to move away or study from home. Some specialised courses may only be available at a few locations so there won’t be much choice. However, most courses are available in a wide range of locations.
Some students want the experience of moving away from their home to study, and there are plenty of opportunities for this. However, increasingly students prefer to study in their local area.

If your child does prefer to study away from home, the distance between the chosen university and your family home may affect you as well as them.

Local authorities have a duty to support care leavers to go to university until they are 25 years of age.
Check with your local authority and have a look at advice from the Who Cares? Trust and on the Propel website.

My child didn’t get the grades so now won’t get a place at university.
True or False?

UniversiFalseties and colleges advertise places that are still available on their courses from July onwards. Your child can then apply directly to a university or college during the summer – this process is called ‘clearing’.

There is a lot of information on how clearing works on the UCAS website.

The year before your child goes to university or college – 5 steps.
Step 1: Deciding on the course at university or college
August – September
Your child should decide what to study and where. Make sure they do lots of research, go to open days, attend events at school/college, and talk to others.
Step 2: Completing the application form
October – January


The UCAS application
Applications for Higher Education courses are made through UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). UCAS handles applications for places on most full-time higher education courses. Students can apply for up to five courses, although potential doctors, dentists and vets are limited to four course choices (the final one can be for another subject or just left blank).

The deadline for application is usually in January but for most courses in medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine/science they should be submitted in October, as well as for courses at Oxford and Cambridge. So ensure your child allows plenty of time to complete the application and return it before the deadline.

The personal statement
This part of the application is your child’s opportunity to tell universities and colleges the skills they have that make them suitable for the course. They need to demonstrate their enthusiasm and commitment, and above all, ensure that they stand out from the crowd. Having work or voluntary experience could make all the difference. The decision to make an offer is not made solely on grades. However, it is important that your child checks that they meet the entry requirements for the courses applied for.

Check out all the advice available on the UCAS website for parents.

Step 3: Making the final choices

March – May


UCAS are not involved with the actual selection process. This is up to the institutions themselves – typically, most courses have an admissions tutor who reads all the UCAS application forms. They are busy university staff so when writing their application your child should always assume that their application form is not the only one on the application tutor’s desk.

For some courses there are also interviews but it is also quite possible that your child will not be interviewed (the policy on this can normally be found on the university or college website) – so the form is doubly important as a chance to impress.

There are also a number of admissions tests, notably those for Oxbridge; medicine and dentistry (UKCAT and BMAT); and law (LNAT). Your child should practise these under timed conditions.

Once your child has received offers, they will need to choose two: one firm choice and one insurance choice (as a back-up). Offers are either conditional (for your child to be able to take up the place, they have to get certain grades) or unconditional (your child can take up the place regardless of their final grades).

This is also when your child will be applying for student finance. The SFE YouTube video Student Finance Explained gives a short, clear explanation of student finance.

Step 4: The Offer
May – July


The university or college will offer a place if your child meets certain conditions, which are usually based on their future exams. Each offer is specific to the course they have applied for and their qualifications and circumstances.

Your child has decided which places to accept and which to decline. They can track progress on the UCAS website to confirm their offer. Make sure they don’t miss the closing date.

Step 5: Results and Clearing
August – September
For most students, confirmation of whether they have been accepted takes place in August when A level results are published. Details of whether they have been accepted onto their ‘first’ choice will be confirmed on the UCAS website.


If your child does not get the grades required, they can use the UCAS clearing system or UCAS extra to apply to courses that still have vacancies. There are usually many opportunities open, so there is a good chance that they will still be able to go to university or college. The ‘Exam Results Helpline: Ten Tips for Parents’ page on the UCAS website gives you some helpful advice!

UCAS Clearing
Clearing is the process offered by UCAS to advertise places on courses to students where there are still vacancies. This system operates directly after students receive their A level results. Clearing is normally used by students if they have not got the grades/marks required by the university/higher education institution they want to go to. However, this process can also be used to allow last minute applications to different institutions or for students who have done better than expected when they received their results.
For many students, Clearing only becomes available once their results have been released and it transpires that they haven’t met the entry criteria for their chosen courses.

UCAS Extra can be highly successful for some students who want a second chance and who do not want to wait until Clearing starts in July.

To be eligible for Extra your child has used all five choices on their application and is not holding any offers. This means that all their choices were unsuccessful, or they have declined any offers received.

In that case, UCAS Extra enables your child to have an additional choice through UCAS. It operates from late February to June for universities with vacancies. Universities have a short time to consider the application and will either make an offer or reject the application. Your child can continue to make applications (a maximum of 3) until June.

There are a number of other useful websites you can visit on clearing and UCAS extra on the Resources page.

Go to the Resources page for more useful websites to look at and check the information provided by Our HE Partners.