This document was written with applying to a British university, for an student living in England. Scottish applicants are governed by different (better) funding and application laws, as are foreign students. Qualifications vary in the differing countries of the UK and world-wide, so they are also subject to different systems. However, many aspects of the whole experience are applicable everywhere, so this guide should serve as a useful tool to any would-be UK student.

Where I write from personal experience, I am writing as a student from England who applied to an English university (Teesside) for the academic year starting September 2002, on the strength of my A-level results. I was means tested for my loan and tuition fees, and my offer was based on points. I got in.

UPDATED Disclaimer
Since I wrote this node, I've applied to university, been accepted, studied, graduated, and got A Proper Job TM. Things may well have changed a bit over the last few years, and I just don't have the patience to research and update this node. Still, the basics should still be about right.


Applying to university is a lengthy process. There's a lot of paperwork involved, a fair few intimidating forms, and a long and twisting timeline of events. All the dates of things happening rely on previous events: when you handed such-and-such a form in, working weeks, the time it takes for cheques to clear, universities considering applications, and so at times it can seem like you're way behind schedule compared with friends, or that you're racing ahead needlessly.

But it's really quite straightforward. All you have to do is fill out every form to the best of your knowledge, and make sure you fill them in as soon as you get them. The deadlines for applications and confirmations are generous, so as long as you don't keep putting things off "until tomorrow," you'll be fine.

Broadly speaking, you decide where you want to go, and apply, then get the grades required, acquire some debt, and then pack your bags and go. It'll take nearly two years of red tape, you'll fill in approximately eight long forms along the way, and receive a small rainforest of post, but it'll all work out in the end.

If I can do it, anyone can.


Where to go
Hopefully, you have some idea what kind of course you want to study, and a vague idea of where you want to study it. If not, don't worry too much. There are plenty of guides out there to help you, and your sixth-form or college may well have a careers department to help you out.

The Independent newspaper is a useful tool. Around application time it runs articles on universities, and carries league tables comparing their relative merits. In addition, UCAS publishes a grand index of all the courses ran by all the universities in the UK, along with their unique course codes and award levels.

Many universities hold careers and higher education fairs, which are a good source of ideas, as are the prospectuses that you will be bombarded with. Other factors to consider are:

  • Location: do you want a city or countryside campus?
  • Living cost: can you afford to live in your city of choice? Would you stay at home?
  • Reputation: a degree from Cambridge might take you further than a polytechnic.
  • Course: New or old? Do you want to be well-established or bleeding edge?

Always remember, they want you as much as you need them, so you're in control. Actually visiting a campus can change your ideas, so it's always well worth the trip.


Applying with UCAS
The next step, once you've picked out some potential candidates is to actually apply. You do this through UCAS - the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service - who will happily charge you for the pleasure.

You can apply for five separate courses at once, and they can be at any number of different institutions. UCAS is charging a flat rate for this, so you might as well stack the odds in your favour. It's a good idea to apply for one course slightly higher and one slightly below your level, just in case you pull a blinder or stumble, come exam time.

The next step is to think about writing your personal statement. This is just as bad as it sounds, but shouldn't be a problem for you creative noders. The idea is to sell yourself and stand out from the other hundreds of applicants with equal qualifications, but without sounding arrogant or just plain stupid. Charity work, extra-curricular qualifications and part-time work all stand in your favour, as does sporting and dramatic achievements.

Whatever you write, tell the truth! If you get asked for an interview, your application form will be part of the questioning, and it's no good being given a violin to play if you're tone deaf.

With your application form filled in, you now sit back and wait for UCAS to get back to you...


Offers and Rejections
A few weeks after you send your application form in to UCAS, you should start receiving letters back detailing the offers (or rejections) from the universities you applied to. These letters are quite likely to be fairly spread apart over the months, so don't worry if they seem to be taking a long time to arrive.

As with all your correspondence, keep all these letters, they'll come in handy later. Universities can make you an offer in three ways:

  • Unconditional: the university wants you so bad, they don't care what grades you get.
  • Conditional tariff-points based: each qualification is worth so many points (A = 120 down to a E at 60, at A-level) and you have to score x amount of points.
  • Conditional grades: you must achieve a given set of grades, e.g.: ABB or DCC.

The university might also mix-and-match, for example, "180 points with at least a B in chemistry".

With all your offers in, you can decide where you want to go. You have to make two choices: a firm choice and an insurance choice. If you get the grades for your firm option, you are sent there, else if you get the insurance choices' grades, you go there. If you fail to get either, you'll have to go into clearing and find a placement yourself - UCAS washes it's hands of you at that point.

With choices made, all you have to do is get some money, and study hard to get the grades you need. So get revising and keep going to classes -- now is not the time to skip lessons!


Money and the SLC
Going to university is not cheap. You don't even get a grant anymore. The best you can hope for is a loan from the SLC (Student Loan Company) and for your LEA (Local Education Authority) to pay your tuition fees for you.

After you've applied to your universities and decided your firm place, you can start to apply for some money. This is all done through your LEA, who provide all the forms. There are two roads to try here:

  • Non-means tested: you pay the majority at a flat rate, for those with large incomes or complex finances;
  • Means-tested funding: for the rest of us mortals - based on your calculated income, you pay part or all of your tuition fees, and receive a student loan.

What this boils down to is filling in more forms and providing financial documentation of income: P45 forms, wage slips, accountants' records. Pretty much everything is taken into account if you go for means-testing: savings, liquid assets, stocks and shares, properties, the whole kit and caboodle.

Once you and your parents have filled everything in, you'll be sent details in triplicate of your financial allowances: how much loan you're entitled to, and how much you have to contribute to your tuition fees. Whatever you do, hang on to these forms! You'll send one back to the Student Loan Company telling them how much of the money you're entitled to you want, and where they are to deposit it.

Once they receive that form, you'll receive an official confirmation of your finances, with a schedule for payment into your account. This is another important one to hang onto, kids!


Exams and Qualifications
This is the really important bit. You need the grades, or you're not going anywhere! So revise, keep cool and do your best. This isn't the node to go into exam technique and revision strategies, so go look elsewhere. I'll just tell you how many points your grades will be worth:

    A2-Level:   A            120       AS-Level:     60
                B            100                     50
                C             80                     40
                D             60                     30
                E             40                     20

As of last year's admissions (2002) universities weren't taking much notice of anything other than A2-Level (full A-level) qualifications, despite the governments' promises of AS-level qualifications being of use. At the time of writing, an AS-level is about as useful as a broken leg, and the whole higher-education system is in turmoil over A-level results. So what qualifications will be need by next year is anyone's guess.

I would imagine three A-levels at C standard will remain a benchmark.


Results Day
Well? How did you do? Well done! Or, never mind. The truth is, whether you did better or worse than you were expecting, you'll quite probably be going to university officially now - it just might take longer than planned if you didn't quite get the grades.

If you got grades equal or higher than your offer then you need do nothing - you're in. If, however, your grades are lower than both your offers then you need to get on the phone to your universities and ask if they'll take you anyway. Get a teacher to help argue your case. Get your mum to harass them. You're worth about £5000 to the university, so chances are, they'll take you in.

If you still can't get a place, then you'll either have to give up and try again next year, or go into clearing. Both the UCAS website (http://www.ucas.com) and The Independent have listings of courses with spare places, so all you have to do is ring or email and politely beg for a place. Clearing typically lasts until the end of August.

Once you've been accepted somewhere, you'll receive an official confirmation of placement from UCAS, and never hear from them again. Keep it safe for now, and you can relax. Until September.


Preparing to Leave
This is it! Chances are, you're moving out, and if you're not, you can skip most of this section.

By the end of September, you'll be a proper student, living away form home. You'll have new friends and be living in a strange city. So now is the time to spend some time with the friends you'll be leaving behind, and to prepare to leave home. Your universities' accommodation people will have told you how your room is furnished, and what facilities they provide, so you need to buy all the rest. You'll need things like:

Once you're all packed up (isn't it depressing to see your entire life in two suitcases and six cardboard boxes?) you need to kiss your loved ones goodbye (you'll be back, honest!) and leave for pastures new...


Arriving at University
Welcome to student life! You'll soon learn the nutritional value of the humble Pot Noodle and the attraction of daytime TV, but for now, you have to get through enrolment (more form filling) and Freshers Week (more forms, but with alcohol).

On arrival, your first concern is your accommodation. You should have instructions, so follow them. Get a key, move your stuff in, put some posters up, and say goodbye to mum and dad. You're on your own now, so go out and go to the pub with all the other nervous-looking freshers.

During Freshers Week, you'll have to enrole, which is basically filling in another form: who you are, what you're doing, and how you're paying for it, which is why you need all those letters and forms I told you to keep. A cheque book would be handy too, because you're going to have to pay for your tuition and accommodation pretty soon.

After getting your room and enrolment sorted, your next concern is getting some money. You'll need to go and get your student loan, which is usually at the universities finances department, or accommodation office. You'll have about 30 days to go collect it before it's turned null and void, so don't worry too much. In order to get it, you'll need your confirmation of student load amount letter, some proof of course enrolment and photo ID.

With that all done, you're on your own. You made it!



                               Timetable of Events
       Obviously, all the times given here are approximate. Check with 
       your tutors and sixth form careers people to make sure you're 
       up-to-date, don't get behind, and keep all your letters from 
       UCAS together.
                               Two years before entry
    Start drafting your personal statement          Start early in your first
    Take evening classes                            year of sixth form -- two
    Visit prospective universities                  years before you intend 
    Considering courses                             to start your course.
       You will start receiving offers or rejections from universities
       depending on the institution and the date UCAS receive your    
       form: the earlier the better! Keep all your letters from UCAS, 
       even the rejections. They'll come in handy later.              
    Fill in UCAS forms                              November time
    UCAS final deadline for forms                   Mid-March
       As soon as you get your last offer from the universities you have
       applied to, you can make your final and insurance choices. It's a
       good idea to get this out of the way as soon as possible, as your
       final choice university will be getting in touch to sort out your
       accommodation details and send you final details of your course.
                                     Year of entry
    Start revising for A-level exams                Start as early as you can!
    Sort out bank account details                   Set up a student account ASAP.
      The next step is to apply for your Student Loan, and to be means tested
      for any funding towards your tuition fees. The timing of this will 
      depend on your own individual LEA, and your college - mine gave out forms 
      for applying only when every student was ready. Again, times for 
      progressing here depend on how soon you get your form in, so don't hang
    Apply to LEA for loan and tuition fee grants    Late May/June..
    Confirm loan amounts, receive confirmation      shortly after, depending on LEA.
      Actually getting any money out of your LEA is a long and involved process.
      Eventually, you will be sent a form showing how much you are entitled to, and
      asking how much of it you want, and where you want it. You will also receive
      details of any LEA contribution to your tuition fees. Keep copies of everything.
    Sit A-levels                                    June/July time. Good Luck!
    Confirm accommodation with university           Depends on time of application.
      Your firm choice university doesn't want to see you living on the streets, so
      they may well offer the chance to live in their halls of residence, or offer to
      help you find student accommodation. Use them all you can, and remember, living
      away from home is all part of the experience. This means filling in more forms,
      I'm afraid, and later handing over more money.. But you need to live somewhere!
    Results day                                     Mid-August.
    Clearing                                        Until the end of August.
      If things go well on the day and you meet either the offer for your first
      or insurance choice places, well done, you're in! You should receive an
      official confirmation of your place by post in a few days time. If things don't
      quite go according to plan, ring your universities and beg -- chances are,
      they'll take you anyway. If not, you'll go into clearing: you and a phonebook,
      asking universities for spare places.
    Official UCAS Confirmation of placement         Up to a week after results day.
    Buying equipment to take                        After confirmation of place.
      Once you're in, you're going to need everything you'll need to live away from
      home, if you're moving out, so now's the time to take your parent's wallet for
      a shopping trip. You're going to need all sorts of scary items, like irons and
      pans and Tupperware. It's scary, but you'll manage. Honest.
                                     The final stretch
    Prepare to leave home and friends               You have a good few months after
    Relax for a while!                              finishing your exams to have fun
    Pack up things, clothes and entire life         and say your goodbyes.
      This is it. You're finally either flying the nest, or, well, living at home
      but going to university. Either way, it's a massive change of lifestyle, and
      there's no turning back now...
    Arrive at University                            Mid- to late- September.
    Freshers Weeks                                  The following week. 
    Enrol on course, join NUS                       Usually during Freshers Week.
      Freshers Week isn't just about finding all the local pubs and marvelling at the
      cheap Student Union beer. It's also a good time to enrol at a local doctors and
      dentists, join some societies, and hopefully start to find your way around the
      campus. It's also a good idea to use this time to join the libraries, get an
      account on the university network, and find out your timetable.
    Get student loan cheque                         ASAP after enrolment.
      If your university is anything like mine, collection of student load cheques
      won't be announced, so you'll have to find your way to the university's finance
      office yourself. To collect your cheque, you'll need a copy of your loan
      confirmation cheque (told you you'd need a copy!) and your official confirmation
      of enrolment on your course. You usually only have 30 days to collect it.
    Pay tuition fees                               Payment of these fees could be
    Pay accommodation fees                         at any date after enrolment.
      Well done! You made it! All you have to do now is get a copy of your timetable
      and remember to go home for Christmas...


Phew! It might take two years and a huge amount of paper, but applying to university isn't as hard or as stressful as it might seem at the time. A degree can add a huge amount of money to your potential earnings, you'll mature a huge amount as a person, and make some friends that'll likely stay with you for life.

Just make sure you fill everything in, send off the forms as soon as you get hold of them, and try not to eat pasta-based snacks for every meal...

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.