In the United Kingdom, students apply to universities and colleges through a centralized system called UCAS. Here is a breakdown of the UCAS and what students can expect during the application process. If you are not familiar with the UCAS application process, don't worry. One of SchoolApply's expert education advisors can help you with your application from start to finish.


What is the UCAS?

UCAS stands for Universities and Colleges Admission Service and it is a centralized service used in the UK for student applications. Basically, if you want to apply to an undergraduate program in the UK, then you will have to apply through the UCAS. The online application portal also offers students a search platform and helpful information on the application process. The system is entirely online and is user-friendly to help students from all around the world choose and apply to universities in the UK.

Choosing a University and Course Subject

UCAS Explained in blog 1

Before you fill out your applications, you need to choose a subject of study and university. Think about the topics that interest you, the subjects you are good at and what jobs and careers are available in your field of interest. When you are selecting a course and university, remember to choose carefully as it is not easy to change universities or courses once you have started.

Here are a few great colleges you may want to consider:

London South Bank University
Aberystwyth University
York St John University
University of Hull
University of East Anglia
Liverpool John Moores University
Northumbria University

Furthermore, SchoolApply has partnerships with each of these schools, and we can help you with any information you may need about them.

Through the UCAS, you can apply to up to five different courses at one time. Ensure that you have not missed application deadlines, as many schools have different application dates. You must also review what the course requirements are for each school as these vary across universities.  

Types of Courses

There are also different types of undergraduate courses to choose from, two of the most popular are Bachelor’s Degrees and Foundation Years. Bachelor’s Degrees in the UK typically last three years, sometimes four, and students can study one or more subjects. Foundation Years, on the other hand, last one year and are an excellent bridge option for many international students who do not meet UK universities’ English and academic requirements. The Foundation Year course enables students to prepare for joining a mainstream UK course the following year.

UCAS Tariff Points

UCAS Explained in blog 2

The UCAS has implemented a point or tariff system so that universities can easily set minimum entry requirements and make offers of acceptance to students. Each UCAS course has a minimum amount of UCAS points that each student must meet in order to receive an acceptance offer. Each student grade from their A Levels (or equivalent) is correlated to a certain number of UCAS points.

Some university programs may still require specific grades in certain subjects on top of UCAS points, in order to meet entry requirements. And yet again, some universities may not use the UCAS tariff system at all. Please read course requirements carefully before applying.

UCAS Registration and Application

Now that you have researched course and university information and have checked course requirements and application deadlines, you are ready to start your UCAS application. Application requirements differ slightly depending on whether you are a UK, EU or international student, so make sure to read the correct instructions.

In order to register and apply with the UCAS system, you must first read and accept the UCAS terms and conditions. You must also obtain a “buzzword” from your school in order to carry out your application. Then, you create a UCAS account with a username and password. After you are registered and logged in, you will see that there are seven sections to the UCAS application for you to complete: Personal Details, Additional Information (for UK applicants only), Student Finance, Course Choices, Education, Employment, and your Personal Statement. Students must also acquire a Reference and pay the UCAS application fees.    

SchoolApply will help you in searching and applying to UCAS colleges in the UK

Learn More

Remember that you can log in to your account as many times as required and complete the application at your own pace, in as many sessions as you need.

English-language Skills

UCAS Explained in blog 3

International students will also have to take an English language test to demonstrate their proficiency levels. Check with each university and college as to which test is required for applications and to process student visas.

Processing the Application

After you have submitted and paid for your application and your reference has been submitted, UCAS will send you an acknowledgement of receipt after a few days and will let you know if there were any issues or problems with your application. UCAS will also send you a Personal ID/Application Number so you can track the progress of your application online. The universities you applied to can now view your applications through the UCAS portal, but they cannot see all your choices. Some universities may also ask students to go through an interview process. The university can then make an unconditional offer, a conditional offer, or reject your application via the UCAS portal.

University Offers

If a university gives you an unconditional offer that means they have accepted you no matter what your final grades may end up being. If you accept an unconditional offer, then you cannot keep other offers on hold.

A conditional offer means that the university will accept you as long as you meet the targets they set regarding your final grades. You can accept up to two conditional offers (a “firm acceptance” and an “insurance” school) and must decline any other offers that you receive. If you do not get into your first choice, you are then committed to attending your insurance choice, so make both choices wisely. When your exam results are published, the universities will either accept or reject your application depending on whether you met the conditional grades set earlier by the university.  

If you do not fulfill your conditional offers or do not receive any offers from the universities of your choice, there are still some options open to you, such as UCAS Extra, Direct Application, Clearing and Adjustment.

UCAS Extra

If you do not receive any offers, then you can apply for more courses via the UCAS Extra system. With this, universities add courses to the Extra system to which you can apply. Within ten days you will receive either an offer or a rejection by your Extra university choices.


UCAS Explained in blog 4

Clearing begins after all exam results are published and most students have decided which university and course they are attending. During Clearing, universities who have not filled all the available places in their courses try to match with suitable applicants who have not yet secured a position at a university.

Direct Application

There are also some universities that will accept direct applications. If a university has positions available and they have a direct application system, you can contact them directly to show your interest and have them consider your application.


When you receive your final results, if you have met or exceeded your offer conditions, you have five days from when you received your confirmation to find a course available that meets your grade results. If you choose to go this route, then you must opt in for Adjustment via the UCAS online system.  

If you still have questions, speak to a SchoolApply rep.

About the Author: Muneeza Kizilbash grew up in the United States and Pakistan and was active in her university’s International Student Council. Now settled in Dubai, she loves to inform, educate and entertain her readers through her writing.