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Applying to university

If you are thinking about applying to university there is a lot to think about and prepare.

You will be spending 3 or more years studying and living at the university you choose.  Funding your studies will also be a big financial commitment so it is really important to do your research thoroughly and start preparing for your application early.

All applications for higher education courses are made centrally through UCAS.

Key UCAS dates & deadlines

  • May - UCAS opens for undergraduates to start preparing applications
  • July - UCAS Conservatoires Apply is live for undergraduates to submit applications
  • September -  UCAS undergraduate applications can be submitted
  • 1st October -  Deadline for music applications
  • 15th October -  Early UCAS deadline for Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science, Oxford and Cambridge
  • 15th January - UCAS deadline for majority of undergraduate courses

Check all dates and deadlines on UCAS Key dates.

There is a lot to research. There is a lot to prepare. A great time to start is early in the Spring term of Year 12 or the year before you will start your course.

Start preparing your application by:

Researching your course

Making sure you choose the course that is right for you is the most important part of your application. There are a lot of decisions to think through:

  • What subject?
  • Which course?
  • Full-time or part-time?
  • What about a Sandwich degree course? 
  • What are the job prospects?
  • Which course is needed for your career idea?

Start with the UCAS Search Tool to search for courses and do lots more research using individual university websites.

Researching universities and attend open days

You will be studying and living at the university you choose for 3 or more years, so it is important you think through your decision:

  • Do you want to be far from home or close?
  • Would you prefer a campus-based university or a city-based university?
  • What other clubs and university facilities are important to you, for example university sports clubs?
  • How expensive will it be to live in the town or city?

You can do plenty of research on university websites but it is never as good as visiting the university on an open day. Use opendays.com to check when universities are holding their open days and go and see for yourself.

We can help you prepare and make the most of your University open days.

Preparing your Personal Statement

Your Personal Statement is your chance to make your application stand out. Your Personal Statement is as important as the qualifications and grades you get. Start preparing and drafting your statement early. It may take many drafts before you are happy with it:

  • Research subject specific examples of personal statements.There are some on www.thestudentroom.co.uk and www.universitycompare.com but remember not to copy
  • Write your statement to demonstrate your suitability and interest in the courses you are applying for. Remember you can only submit one Personal Statement on the UCAS application
  • Ask teachers, friends and family to proof read your statement
  • Use our Hints and Tips to get you started
Finding work experience and volunteering

Universities want to see that you are committed to the course, subject or career area. Work experience or volunteering is not only a great way to try out your career ideas, but can help develop the skills you will need and demonstrate your passion for the subject.

Find out how you could volunteer or get work experience.

Taking part in 'Super-curricular activities'

Another way to show your commitment and passion for the subject or course is by undertaking academic enrichment activities or ‘super-curricular activities’. These will be over and above your normal coursework. You could:

  • Read around the subject, and be up-to-date with the latest issues in the field
  • Join academic societies and attend additional lectures
  • Subscribe to a relevant journal or magazine
  • Or maybe even, set up your own subject specific club in your school or college

These activities will not only show your commitment and drive, but that you have an enquiring mind and a passion for learning.

Get more ideas in 'The 34 Best Super-Curricular Activities for Applicants to Top Universities' on Oxford Royale Academy.

Thinking about any Aptitude, admissions tests and portfolios needed

Depending on the course and university, you may be required to take an aptitude or admissions test or submit a portfolio of your work. Some examples are:

  • Most courses in Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science will require you to take an aptitude test such as UKCAT or BMAT
  • Oxford and Cambridge have course specific admissions tests and assessments
  • Law courses may require completion of LNAT
  • Many arts and creative course such as Photography or Architecture require you to submit a portfolio of your work

Check the university website or UCAS for which tests or other submissions  are required for your course and the deadlines for taking the test or submitting work. Practise using online sample tests. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare any portfolios or other submissions required.

Check deadlines for tests and work submissions. Remember these are often before the UCAS application deadline.

Attending interviews and auditions

You may be invited to an interview or audition. This will vary depending on the subject and the university, some examples include:

  • Most Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science courses will invite you for interview
  • Other vocational courses such as Nursing may require an interview
  • Oxford and Cambridge invite for interview
  • Performing arts courses usually require an audition

Check the admissions details for the university and course you are thinking about. Look at Start preparing for interview or audition on UCAS.

Thinking about suitable references

Remember you also need a reference from your school or college. Find out more on how to get a reference on UCAS.


Which course? Which university?


Preparing for aptitude and admissions tests


More information


View the videos and consider what's next after your degree?


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