The ultimate guide to UCAS: PART ONE

Applying for university can be a tough and tedious time. This guide will definitely help you keep a cool head throughout the whole process, no matter how hard it is.

Firstly, you will want to sign up with UCAS before Year 12 finishes, or as soon as you can. The summer holidays are a great time to start researching courses and universities, particularly towards the end when you start to get bored.

 Key point no.1 – Putting effort into deciding what course you want to do is key – it makes everything a whole lot easier in the long run.

The first thing is to sum up your interests, academic achievements, future aspirations and subjects you enjoy. All four should play a vital role in what course you choose, so be honest in what you want to do, no matter how stupid it sounds. Next step is to look for courses.

Your first port of call should be the Stamford test on the UCAS website (, or if you want to spend money, the centrigrade test is more indepth ( ). These tests ask you questions about yourself and your interests to find courses you might be interested in. The results of this test will be your starting point for course ideas. You should copy and paste the lists onto a word processing programme and then filter through it, deleting first the courses you are not interested in, and then highlighting in grey, the courses you do not have the subjects for  i.e. its not worth selecting chemical engineering if you don’t do chemistry).  Remember though that this test is a very basic indication of the courses available. It is worth baring in mind that for some subjects, universities will offer a top-up course if you do not meet the grades or come from an academic background different to the course, so if you like English, but would like to do an aeronautical degree, its worth baring this in mind, hence why we are only highlighting the courses we do not have the subjects for but like as opposed to deleting them

Also bear in mind a joint honours degree. This combines two alike or unalike subjects where you receive a degree in both subjects, however, if you want to do a joint honours, particularly a strange one, then you should be definite about this and determined to do it, as often only a few universities will offer the joint honours degree you are interested on, and sometimes, only one university in the UK will offer it, so you need to have good grades, or be sure you want to do it. For instance, if you wanted to do physics or maths with Japanese (only available and Manchester), but weren’t sure which one you wanted to do, you would have a tough time writing a personal statement, which could cost you getting a place at all the unis you apply for, so its important to concentrate on one subject or two very similar subjects. If , however, you cencentrsated on just the maths and physics, you could write a very good personal statement which could win you a place on the course.

Once you have selected and added the courses you like best, time to start searching. Go to the UCAS website, click course search, and select your year of entry. Type in the key words of the course you want to look for in the search box, and UCAS will bring up all the potential possibilities. Spend time looking through, clicking the courses that sound good and visiting the universities department website to have a look at the course structure. If you like a uni and the course, you need to make another list and write down the name of the uni so you can order a prospectus at a later date and also rate the course on a scale of one to ten for later reference. Do this for all the courses you searching  for. After a few days you should have a long list of universities and courses you like. Now time to send for the prospectuses. Google the university name and go to their website. They will often have the link on the first page, but all should have a search bar if you can’t find it, so just type in ‘prospectus’ and the link should be right in front of you. It may also be worth going to the department website and seeing if their are department specific prospectuses, if there are, order one of these too.

Key point no.2 – Don’t be afraid to order hundreds of prospectuses, just make sure you recycle them all!

Now you just have to wait for them to come in the post. In your house, shed or garage you should have a little area, maybe behind the sofa or under the bed where you can make three piles – a like, maybe and dislike pile for your prospectuses. As soon as you receive a prospectus, read it – look at the course popularity, future career prospects, course structure and the university and put it in a pile.

Make a list of prospectuses you have ordered and buy, find or borrow three different coloured highlighters.  Associate one colour with like, one with maybe and one with dislike. Once you have read the prospectuses, rate the university and highlight it in the colour corresponding to the pile you put it in. Once you have received them all, give it a few days, write or print a new copy of your prospectus list and re-read all the prospectuses again, and like before, rate and highlight them.

From your highlighted lists, you can see the universities you like lots. Often your opinion of a course will change once you see other courses – so it is vital to compare these lists.

For the universities that get likes on both lists – book your open day ASAP for ASAP.

For universities that get a like and a maybe, double maybes, dislike -> maybe or dislike -> like, book the open day when you get a chance, but it isn’t wickedly desperate. Book these ones once term starts at the university so you can get a better feel for what life is like at the university, which will help you make a decision.

For universities that go from maybe -> dislike, like ->dislike or are double dislikes, recycle them or offer them to a friend or school. Don’t book an open day – it won’t be worth it and it will waste time.

To book open days, do as you did with prospectuses. It should be on the opening page, but if not, search for it in the search bar. Schools are usually quite lenient on letting students out in school time for open days, so book one during school time if you can – it is a day off school and you get to see more of what the university is like in study hours.


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