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The UCAS Form
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is the matchmaker for applicants and institutions. The UCAS online form is what UCAS takes from you and gives to the institutions to decide if you are suitable for them. It is therefore a fundamental element in applying to university and is your chance to explain why they should pick you over others. It is probably the most important document you will have to fill out this year and therefore it deserves some serious attention. By taking heed of the following advice you will improve the quality of your application.
How the system works
You can submit the online form between the 1st of September and the 15th January. However, the closing date for applications to the University of Oxford, Cambridge and courses in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science or veterinary medicine is 15th October. Most people will have five choices but for Medicine, Dentistry, and Veterinary Sciences there are only four choices (though you can choose 2 other courses in addition to these). UCAS acknowledges receipt of your form to you and then sends copies of the form to all of the institutions to which you have applied.
UCAS holds all information on rejections and acceptances, but institutions will also send letters directly to you. Each institution, including the Oxbridge colleges, makes a decision on your application. This is either a 'yes' (which is conditional on grades, or unconditional), or a 'no'. Once you have your statement of final decisions, you must reply to all your offers. There are three possible responses to your application:
- U = Unconditional offer
- C = Conditional offer
- R = Reject
You must either give each offer a firm acceptance, an insurance acceptance or a decline. So, for example, you may make either a firm acceptance of an unconditional offer (UF) or a firm acceptance of a conditional offer (CF). You may also have one insurance (CI or UI), and the rest will be declined (D). Thus, each offer needs a form of F, I or D. If you leave a box blank on the reply slip UCAS will assume you have declined it. After your A-level results are published UCAS sends a letter confirming if you have a place, and they also automatically send institutions your A-level results.
Clearing is a process through which an applicant, who has not yet secured a place, can apply for vacancies available. It should be noted that clearing is not only designed to help students who have missed their grades, but also for those who have done significantly better than expected.
UCAS Form - nuts and bolts
The personal statement should obviously receive the majority of your attention but getting the other details right is essential nonetheless.
- Course applied for. You should list the institutions and courses applied to in the order they appear in the UCAS directory.
- Course choices. The courses you are applying to should be similar. Many admissions tutors look for a 'passion' and if you're applying for different courses at other universities, they may well think you just want to go to their university, as opposed to being passionate about a particular course.
- Insurance institution. Always have an insurance choice. Don't forget you can apply for more than one course at the same university.
- Parental occupation. This information is not passed on to institutions until after an offer has been made. The same is true of Section 6. This information is used by UCAS for research on the demographic make-up of university applicants and not for selection purposes.
- Exams. They should be listed in the chronological order they were taken (but don't worry about the exact date of each GCSE!). Don't conceal fails, you have to sign the document, and in this section you are declaring all the results of all exams you have taken. Include details on first results if you have repeated any subjects or papers.
- Additional exams. The following should be listed: Associated Board exams in music, Guildhall, RSA, LAMDA, Pitman, Youth Award Scheme.
- How tutors evaluate exam results. With AS and A-Level exams they want subjects that satisfy entry requirements and subjects that can be included in an offer. However, if there is anything that may have resulted in you not fulfilling your potential for reasons outside of your control, make the admissions tutors/office aware of this. This could range from a family bereavement to having gone to a school with a poor track record of getting its students into the university you have applied for. Exam results are important, but increasingly admissions tutors recognise that they are by no means the only (or in some cases best) indicator of success and potential.
- Previous employment. This includes jobs and work experience. Work experience that is relevant to your course is clearly beneficial, as is employment that shows certain characteristics such as dedication, reliability and commitment. Employers are not contacted without your permission.
- Deferred entry. If you are applying for a gap year, explain what you plan to do with it in your personal statement. Don't be vague: say exactly what you have planned, it makes you look more organised than the candidate who hasn't yet decided!
- Reference. Use a teacher rather than a relative. You must have a reference, otherwise UCAS returns the form. The referee is there to comment on your academic achievement and potential, suitability and motivation. They also help the tutors assess your personal qualities, career aspirations and exam predictions.
The Personal Statement
You can't really control or influence other parts of the form at this point. You can't improve your GCSE results or take extra music exams. However, what you can do is write an amazing personal statement. You have 47 lines to tell the admissions tutors about yourself in relation to the course. This is your chance to outline your abilities, motivations and achievements, but, more importantly, show why you will make a fantastic undergraduate on their course.
Keep in mind who is going to read it. Imagine an admissions tutor with a stack of hundreds of UCAS forms. You may well be competing against a number of other students for the same place. What are you going to do to make your form stand out? For a start avoid the following:
- Clichés ("I've always wanted to study...")
- Starting sentences with 'Also', 'I read that...' or 'I did this...'.
Make it sharp, crisp, interesting, to the point and clear. Do the admissions tutor a favour and don't bore them! Remember, they have to want to teach you.
A possible four-paragraph structure would be:
Introduction. Why do you want to study the course? Your answer to this question could be based on a number of things such as a personal trigger, work experience, volunteering, etc. Please avoid using clichés such as 'I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was four after falling over and hurting my knee'! You also need to show that you understand what the course entails and you can even relate your course to current affairs or select a quote from a book which has inspired you.
Your interest in the subect. This is where you talk about your academic ability and interest in the course. What you've read, around and beyond your subject? what have you done that shows passion? Have you attended lectures, gone to taster days, watched documentaries, met professionals in your field? How have your A-levels have fired interest in your subject. What interests you about the course, and which specific areas of the degree course are you looking forward to stuidying in greater depth? . You can also talk about your academic achievements which relate to your course. This could be work experience (e.g. if you are applying for Medicine, you could have carried out work experience in a hospital), any trips you have been on, museum and exhibition visits, or seminars you have attended that are relevant to your course. the important thing here is to talk about what you learnt from each of these experiences.
Wider Skills / Personal. Here is where you explain your non-academic achievements which have developed key skills making you a well-rounded individual. This could be any volunteering or part-time work you have done. You might have been captain of the football or netball team, or you might be a Grade 5 piano player. You really need to show the tutor that you are well-rounded invidual and that you can contribute both academically and socially to their university. In this section, you can also mention any positions of responsibilities such as prefect or head boy/girl. The tutor needs to see potential in you so really sell yourself and remember to relate your achievements back to your course.
Conclusion. This is the last thing that the tutor will read so summaries exactly why they should select you, what your career aims are (if you have any) and how you are the perfect candidate.Be careful to summarise the above and not repeat it!
Your personal statement should show your analytical skill and ability to organise material, so make sure you structure it carefully.
Admissions tutors may well use an assessment sheet to mark your personal statement. Try to show evidence of the following criteria they might use:
- Passion for the subject- including reading
- Leadership skills
- Communication skills
- Work-social balance
- Commitment, dedication and enthusiasm
- Time management
- Writing style
- Maturity of thought
- Sense of responsibility
Keep in mind, through the whole drafting process, that tutors want applicants with the following:
- Intellectual ability
- People who will make a contribution
- Those who will get the grades
- Those who will perform well on the course
Good luck, and make sure you spend time browsing the Personal Statement Zone to look at hundreds of past statements to inspire your own.
Need help with your personal statement? Why not visit the Personal Statement Homepage where you can get top tips on how to fill out your UCAS form and browse through our library of over 350 personal statements.
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