Guide to higher education - 2012
- Published on 05 May 2011
- Written by Mrs M Rodd
Applications for higher education courses are made through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), but UCAS are not involved with the actual selection process. 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). Individual universities don't see the student's other choices. The actual closing date for applications is January 15th (October 15th for Oxford and Cambridge, plus medical dental and vet science courses). However, an earlier application is advisable for popular courses and universities; most schools and colleges set their own, much earlier, internal deadlines.
All applications are made on-line through UCAS Apply; a charge of £21 is payable. The school or college will add a reference and submit the application to UCAS, where it will be processed, and forwarded to each university applied to. Responses could include offers of a place, interviews, or rejections. The following April/May UCAS will confirm all offers and students are asked to choose two: a first, or firm, choice and an insurance choice. Come results day, if the applicant has the grades for the first choice, they go there; if not, they are off to their second. If they have missed completely they will enter Clearing.
The admissions tutor
Typically, most courses have an admissions tutor who reads all the UCAS forms. They are busy people, writing and giving lectures, researching their next book, marking essays, etc., and you should always assume that your form is not the only one on his/her desk. It's also quite possible that you will not be interviewed (prospectuses normally give the policy on this) – so the form is doubly important, as a second chance to impress in person may not be forthcoming.
What makes a good application?
All universities and departments have differing entry requirements: applicants must make sure they meet them. On the academic side, these might include GCSE grades, predicted grades or points at A2 or a particular IB score, plus, sometimes, a specific combination of subjects. There are also a number of admissions tests, notably those for Oxbridge, medicine and dentistry (UKCAT and BMAT) and law (LNAT). Students should practise these under timed conditions. Non-academic factors can include relevant experience, personal qualities (such as creativity, for art/design, or empathy for medicine) or even specific skills (like manual dexterity for dentistry). Prospectuses provided details. The crucial point is that students should only apply for courses for which they meet the entry requirements, and are predicted the necessary grades. Remember that although the UCAS Tariff ascribes points to various other qualifications (such as music certificates), universities might not include these points in their offers. Beyond the academic side, universities like to see a well-rounded individual who is motivated to go to university and actually study, and who has thoroughly researched his/her course choice.
The personal statement
This is the difficult bit, as applicants must market themselves; many attempts are often needed. Universities want to know you they have applied for that course; if it is a new subject, do you know what it is? Is there evidence that you enjoys studying, have you developed independent study skills (for example through taking the EPQ), can you manage your time effectively, and will you be mature enough to cope with the freedom of university life? Part-time jobs, voluntary work, involvement with clubs, sports and other extra-curricular activities all impress. Any major achievements indicate staying-power and time-management skills, whether it's music, sport, drama. Interests are useful, but a long list of unusual hobbies isn't necessary. 'Normal' hobbies such as reading, cinema, theatre, sport, and so on are fine (not shopping or watching TV). It is important to get the balance right between the academic and non-academic aspects: half the space devoted to one hobby is too much.