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By Education Team | 30 Apr. 2018

What is UCAS and How Does it Work?


The Universities and Colleges Admissions System or UCAS is responsible for the admissions process to institutions of higher learning in the United Kingdom.

Formed in 1992 as a result of the merger of the previous university admissions system and the polytechnic admissions system, UCAS functions as an independent charity and is supported by fees paid by applicants, universities and advertising revenue.

UCAS utilises an online admissions portal with a variety of search tools target to students who are considering pursuing a higher education, those who already have applications pending to UK-based universities, their parents and legal guardians. The site also provides assistance to university staff members who are involved with helping students apply for admission.

Every student applying to pursue an undergraduate degree at a UK college or university must do so via UCAS, including non-European Union candidates. While it is most widely known for its undergraduate admissions process, UCAS also performs admissions services for performing arts at UK conservatories; postgraduate teacher training and some other graduate level work; and for post-16 training and education.

Filling Out the UCAS Application

In order to complete an application with the service, an applicant must first register with UCAS through its online apply service. Applicants will first fill in their personal details, such as their qualifications to attend the institution they are applying to; their employment history; any criminal history; national origin; ethnic origin; and their financial arrangements. Applicants also have the opportunity to declare if they have any special needs or disabilities or if they are a care leaver.

At the centre of the application process is the applicant’s personal statement, which allows them write about what they have achieved to date; their interest in the subject they hope to study; and their commitment to pursuing their education. The personal statement can contain up to a maximum of 4,000 characters, including spaces, or a total of 47 lines, whichever is reached first. Each line can have a maximum of 94 characters.

The application process also requires the applicant to obtain a written reference from an instructor, advisor or other professional who knows them. Afterwards students should pay the application fee and submit the application.

UCAS Deadlines

Applicants should be mindful of deadlines associated with the application process. These deadlines vary, depending upon the subject and school they are applying form

Applicants seeking admission to medical, dental or veterinary schools or those applying to Oxford or Cambridge have an Oct. 15 deadline the year before they want to begin their studies.

Other applications generally must be submitted by Jan. 15 of the year the applicant wants to begin coursework while March 24 is the deadline for some arts and design schools.

While it is possible for prospective students to submit their applications by June 30 of each year, those applications will not be given the same level of review as those that were submitted by the earlier deadline and are placed into clearing. Students are also urged to adhere to the earlier deadline since most colleges and universities send out their decisions by late March of each year.