Now that you've made the decision to go to university, find out how to successfully complete your UCAS application before the deadline

Once you've weighed up all the information available, attended university open days and discussed your degree options with friends, family and those in the know - chiefly course tutors and college careers advisers - you may feel ready to begin the application process for 2018 entry.

Registering with UCAS

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is the central organisation responsible for processing applications for full-time undergraduate study at UK universities.

When it comes to registering your details and completing your application, you can do this through your school or college and they'll send it to UCAS on your behalf. However, it's important to confirm the college deadline, as this may be earlier than the one set by UCAS.

Alternatively, if you've already left college, or you're an international student looking to study in the UK, you'll need to register with UCAS as an individual and apply to them through their online system, while adhering to the timeframe set out below.

Applying for university through UCAS

Online applications for full-time undergraduate study are made at UCAS Apply, where you'll be able to find all details relating to entry requirements and filling in the information. When applying, you can select up to five courses at different universities. However, you can only apply once in a cycle.

The UCAS process for 2018 entry is already underway, but completed applications cannot be submitted to UCAS until 6 September 2017. The 2017 entry application fee was £13 for a single choice, rising to £24 for two choices or more. Your college may collect the payment for entry, or could ask you to pay UCAS directly.

Before the application deadline you'll need to have:

  • filled in all your details, qualifications and courses selected
  • written your personal statement - see personal statements for university applications
  • included a written reference from a tutor or teacher who knows you
  • ensured that your UCAS application fee has been paid.

Points system

While institutions do ask for grades in certain subjects at A-level (or equivalent) as part of their course entry requirements, they may also request a particular amount of UCAS Tariff points. Although this system is optional, it is often used by admissions staff when comparing applicants.

A-level and Advanced VCE gradeTariff points
A*56
A48
B40
C32
D24
E16
Tariff points for A-level qualifications from 2017 admissions onwards

It's important to remember that course providers don't immediately dismiss those that fall short of their exact requirements, so you may still receive an offer for a place on a course if you don't quite achieve your predicted grades.

UCAS application deadlines

Course application deadlines can sometimes be well in advance of the final deadline set by UCAS.

Here are the key dates, including application deadlines, for courses starting in 2018:

  • 6 September 2017 - completed applications are now being accepted by UCAS.
  • 15 October 2017 (6pm) - deadline for all courses at Oxford and Cambridge, plus the majority of courses in dentistry, veterinary medicine/science, and medicine.
  • 15 January 2018 (6pm) - deadline for most undergraduate courses.
  • 25 February 2018 - Extra opens.
  • 24 March 2018 (6pm) - deadline for some courses in art and design.
  • 30 June 2018 (6pm) - all applications received after this date enter into Clearing.
  • 4 July 2018 - Extra ends.
  • 5 July 2018 - Clearing opens.
  • 16 August 2018 - Adjustment opens
  • 31 August 2018 - Adjustment ends.
  • 20 September 2018 (6pm) - final application deadline.
  • 23 October 2018 - deadline for Clearing choices to be added.

Applicants who have used all five choices but are not holding any offers (or have declined those received) might consider the UCAS Extra service, which allows you to add one more choice.

If you still have choices remaining from the five originally available, you may be able to enter more using Track. However, this will incur a further application fee and needs to be done before the final UCAS deadline. You can't use this feature if you've already accepted or declined your offers.

Tracking your application

Once your application has been sent and you've received a welcome email, you can follow its progress by logging in to UCAS Track. To use this online system, simply sign in with your personal ID and password.

You'll then be able to find out if you have any offers for a place on a course or receive an invitation to attend an interview. You can also respond to any offers you receive from your chosen universities.

Don't worry about missing out on important updates, as you'll be notified by email of any changes to your application. It's normal to not see much activity at first - it can take months to receive verdicts.

While there are some things that can still be changed, including swapping choices, you'll need to be aware of the timescales involved.

Applying directly to the university

If you choose to study part time or are interested in distance learning degrees, you'll need to contact the university directly to apply, although you can still search for courses on the UCAS website between July and September.

The application process is also a lot shorter, so you typically don't need to find a course as far in advance. Exact deadlines are set by individual course providers.

International students will still apply through UCAS, but may need to send proof of qualifications directly to the university. If this concerns you, speak to your chosen institution to find out their policy on receiving results.

Getting offers

It can take months before you start receiving offers, but when a university makes an offer, you'll receive a notification email (as long as you're set up in Track). You can then log in to Track and view the offer.

The four types of offers are:

  • Conditional - you'll still need to meet the entry requirements, typically your A-level results.
  • Unconditional - you've been allocated a place on the course, but a few things may still need to be arranged. For example, you may need to get a DBS check, provide proof of your qualifications or meet other medical or financial requirements.
  • Unsuccessful - the university has made the decision not to offer you a place on their course. You may or may not be given a reason.
  • Withdrawn - either you or the university chooses to withdraw a course choice. In these circumstances, you should receive an explanation from the university through Track.

Instead of simply making you an offer, universities might first decide to invite you to an interview or audition. You'll find out about this through Track. Find out how to go about preparing for a university interview.

Once all your UCAS offers are in, you'll then have to make a decision and respond by a specific deadline. You can:

  • pick a firm choice, your preferred option
  • select an insurance choice as back-up, if your firm choice is conditional
  • decline the other offers.

You may choose to decline all the offers, adding more courses through the UCAS Extra service (see above for UCAS application deadlines).

If you have a conditional place on a course, your status will be updated by the university once they've received your exam results.

After you've been firmly accepted by a university, your confirmation letter will be viewable in Track between five and seven days following confirmation of your place.

Student finance

As soon as you've sent off your application you can begin to look for ways to fund your study.

There are various options available, including tuition fee loans, maintenance loans and non-repayable grants. Eligibility will usually depend on where in the UK you live. For more information on the different types of funding, see student loans and finance.

Results day and Clearing

If you've received offers which are conditional on your exam results, A-level results day becomes even more highly anticipated and stressful. For those looking to go to university in 2017, this day falls on 17 August 2017. In 2018, the date for your diary is 16 August.

In the majority of cases, exam results are sent directly from UCAS to your various choices. Find out more at what to do on A-level results day.

All's not lost if you didn't receive any offers or if you didn't get the grades you hoped for, as Clearing has been set up for universities and colleges to fill any remaining course vacancies. You can use the regularly updated UCAS search tool to find courses between July and September each year. Explore your university Clearing options.

If you achieved better than expected results, Adjustment allows you to look for an alternative course. If you decide that you want to swap what you're studying, you can register for this through Track. You'll need to contact university admissions offices directly to discuss course vacancies. Make sure you only verbally agree just the one course choice, as it will appear as a new option for you to confirm in Track. You can then update the UCAS service with your final decision.