Helping your child apply to university (UCAS)

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At a glance

Understand the university application (UCAS) process as your child prepares for further studies after A levels.

The application process (UCAS)

Your child’s school will help with the university application process (known as UCAS), but if you understand the process as well, you can ask useful questions and be sure your child is making good progress and informed decisions.

An application gives your child the chance to make an initial five choices about what they want to study and where. Each choice will either lead to an offer or rejection. An offer is usually conditional on your child getting certain grades at A level. Your child should choose two offers of a place. Once your child has made their choices they can't be changed. If no initial offers are made your child may decide to make a further additional choice or wait for their A level results and apply through a system known as 'clearing' for any vacant university places still available.

The UCAS calendar

Mid-SeptemberApplications open and are accessible online via the Track system on UCAS site
Mid-OctoberThe closing date for applications if your child is applying to Oxford or Cambridge, or for medicine, veterinary science or dentistry anywhere.
Mid-JanuaryThe closing date for all other applications. You can check the exact dates online at on the UCAS site.
February/MarchThe offers start to come through online.
May/JuneYour child should have received offers or rejections online via the UCAS site. Your child should choose two offers - a 'firm acceptance' indicates your child's first choice and a second 'insurance acceptance', which should have lower conditional grades.
August (3rd Thursday)A level results are published on the third Thursday in the month but will have been passed on to the universities before this day. The UCAS website is updated by Thursday morning, so that when your child logs on at 7am on Thursday morning they may see which university they have a place at before going in to school to find out their actual results.

Making a personal statement

As part of the online application form your child has to make a personal statement, explaining in around 600 words what they want to study and why, as well as giving an idea about who they are, any extra-curricular interests and work experience they have.

The personal statement can make a big difference to your child's application. Encourage your child to spend time working on their personal statement and do several drafts to perfect it. The UCAS website offers some good advice for writing a personal statement. The aim is to give a sense of their personality and evidence of why they're keen to study their chosen subject.

Results day

It's really important to be available on results day, because if things don't go exactly to plan your child may need to contact universities to find out if there are other places available. Sometimes universities confirm a place even if one A level is a grade lower than the conditional offer.

It's also important to make sure your child follows the instructions on the letter they received making an offer of a place, to ensure they confirm their acceptance if they have the right A level results.

What is Clearing?

If your child's grades are lower than expected they can still go through 'clearing', a system which gives your child a chance to apply to any courses that still have vacancies. It is worth contacting clearing as early as possible on results day. Vacancies are listed online at

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