Applying to HE

Applications for full time HE courses are made online through UCAS. If applying via UCAS you can make a maximum of 5 choices. Additional choices can be added at a later date if an applicant uses less than five on the original application. There’s no preference order and your universities/colleges won’t see where else you’ve applied until after you reply to any offers you get.

HE application process

The main UCAS deadline is the 31st of January for 2024 entry (traditionally this has been the 15th, but since the COVID outbreak this has been pushed back to a later date). For applications to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and for all medicine, veterinary science, and dentistry courses an earlier deadline of the 16th of October applies for applicants applying to start in 2024. A full list of UCAS deadlines can be found here. Some HE institutions also have several start dates (often in September and January) during the year for some of their courses so it’s important to make sure you know which courses and institutions this applies to.

Applications for part-time and distance and blended learning courses are made direct to the institution or, in the case of higher and degree apprenticeships and college leaver programmes, usually direct to the employer. There is no limit on the amount of applications, although as with UCAS there is likely to be a cost incurred for applying to cover administration costs etc. Deadline dates to apply will vary and you will need to check with individual institutions, or employers, first.

You may or may not be asked to attend an interview after applying. This depends on where you apply to and what course you are applying for. HE courses where you would expect to be interviewed include art and design, nursing, midwifery and allied health courses and social work courses.

It is advisable whenever possible for applications to be submitted in advance of official deadlines when places, particularly on popular courses, are starting to fill up. Any early application also has the potential advantage of being more carefully looked at and suggests to those reading it that the applicant is well-organised and enthusiastic.

Getting started with your application

Applications to UCAS can only be made online. To register an application through a college you will need the organisation’s “buzzword”. When using UCAS Apply, text is available on screen for each section of the form to help you complete it correctly. You can also save your form and complete it in your own time on any computer with internet access.

If you are applying for deferred entry (i.e. you plan to go a year later) make sure you’ve checked that the university or college accepts deferred entry applications for the course.

With all applications you will be expected to complete a personal statement. Other sections of the form include your personal details, HE choices, education, employment and a reference which is added after you have completed the other sections and written by a member of staff at your college.

The single application fee will no longer be available so the fee for all 2024 undergraduate applications will be £27.50.

UCAS: When To Apply

Writing an effective personal statement

Personal (or supporting) statements are a standard part of applications not only for full and part-time HE study but also for work based higher level learning, including school/college leaver schemes as well as applications for higher apprenticeships.

This is your chance to explain why you have chosen the course/job you are applying for and why they should offer you a place.

When writing a personal statement, try to look it from the point of view of the person (usually admissions staff and subject tutors) who will be reading it. What they will all want, regardless of what it is you are applying for, is a strong interest and enthusiasm for the subject. They will want to know why you want to commit to studying it and what evidence you can provide to back this up.

They want reassurance that you will be able to cope once you are on their course and have the right skills and qualities to succeed. They will be looking at the application form to see if you can write clearly and concisely and will also be looking for any spelling, punctuation or grammatical mistakes in the application.

You will need to provide evidence both from your studies and also, where relevant, work experience and other activities, including, interests, positions of responsibility and voluntary work. It’s worth mentioning that Access to HE students, when compared to younger A-level learners, are likely to have:

  • A clearer idea of exactly why they want to go on to HE
  • More experience of the world of work
  • Challenges they have overcome, which can be referred to in terms of evidencing motivation and commitment
  • Clearer long-term career goals

What to include in a personal statement

  • Why you have chosen the course(s): you need to show enthusiasm for the subject
  • The reasons why that subject area interests you: e.g. relevant books, articles and journals read; conferences and workshops attended; relevant people spoken to; relevant work experience gained etc.
  • Evidence that you understand what is required to study the course, e.g. if applying for a Nursing course, showing that you know how scientific the subject is
  • Where applicable, demonstrating an understanding of the profession you are applying to train towards (e.g. Midwifery, Physiotherapy, Social Work, Law, and Architecture), for example by detailing what you have learned from relevant work experience
  • How your current or previous studies relate to the course(s) that they have chosen
  • How you are developing a range of relevant skills that you need for all HE level study, e.g. communication, team work, time management, numeracy, as well as skills directly relevant to the course, e.g. science or language skills
  • Why you want to go to higher education, e.g. how completing this course will help you achieve your long term career plans
  • Details of jobs, placements, work experience or voluntary work, particularly if relevant to the chosen course(s) and what you have gained from these experiences that are relevant to your application
  • Details of interests and social activities that demonstrate relevant skills and abilities.

Common Mistakes made when completing a Personal Statement

  • Beginning with “I have always wanted to study/to be a…” or “Ever since I was young I wanted to…” Learners need to think of an interesting beginning
  • Describing activities/responsibilities/interests without stating what experiences and skills have been gained and why this is relevant to the course they want to study: don’t tell, show
  • Getting tied up using complicated words. If you are enthusiastic about your subject it should come through without confusing the tutor with long rambling sentences
  • Apply for lots of different subjects – it makes writing an effective personal statement impossible
  • Making a statement specific to one institution – it will not please the other 4!
  • Repeating information that admissions staff can find on the rest of the form
  • Only using a small amount of the space available and very importantly: poor spelling, punctuation etc.

And finally: rather than appealing to the admissions tutors heart with words like desire, dream, destiny, passion or even obsession, students should appeal to their head with concrete evidence via, for example, detailed analysis of something they have read outside of the syllabus and/or relevant work experience. If students can be encouraged to do this AND they avoid spelling and grammatical mistakes they will be well on their way to completing a strong personal statement.

UCAS have produced a range of personal statement resources including a worksheet to help you think about what to include and start jotting down some notes under key headings to get you started:


Personal Statement – quick fire questions answered

How to write a UCAS undergraduate personal statement

Personal Statement Worksheet

Personal Statement Tool

Other useful resources

Complete University Guide: Personal Statement Guidance

University Compare: Personal Statement Examples

If you look at sample personal statements online to get an idea of what to include that’s fine but make sure if that you avoid the temptation to copy parts of them. UCAS use Copycatch software on all applications for full-time courses for example, to spot applicants who have copied parts of sample statements that are widely available.

Read the previous sections of the Applying to Higher Education as an Adult guidance, produced in partnership with Linking London: Introduction to Higher Education and Making HE Choices.

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