If you want to apply for an undergraduate course in the UK and you’re not quite sure how to go about this, you’ve come to the right place.  In this post, I’ll share with you how you can complete your UCAS in 6 easy steps.

First off, who or what is UCAS?

UCAS stands for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.  This is a central admissions organisation in the UK that sets important rules and guidelines for university applicants and for universities. For example, your course application deadline is set by UCAS, and the universities that you apply to have to make their decisions on your application by a deadline given to them by UCAS.

What UCAS can’t do…

UCAS does not make the decision on your application:  Only the universities that you have selected can.

Here is how you apply to university in 6 steps using UCAS.

Step 1:  Start your online application

Applying to university through UCAS

Go to www.ucas.com, register for an account and start your application.  You can save your application to continue working on it until you’re ready to submit it.


The UCAS application has a field that asks for a buzzword.  Don’t worry about this if you’re applying independently, i.e. not through your school.  If you’re applying through a school (or an agency) that is registered as a UCAS centre, you will need to get their buzzword. This links your application to their UCAS account, which is important, as they will need to approve and submit your application to UCAS.

Step 2:  Select 5 courses

how to choose the right UCAS choices

You write only one UCAS application but can use your application to apply to a maximum of five courses.  Your courses can be with five different universities, or you can choose more than one course with any of the universities.

Each university can only see the course(s) you have selected there, and not your other choices.  Also, the order in which you list your courses on the UCAS form doesn’t mean anything: It’s not like saying “This is my first choice, this is my second, this my third…”

Read this on how you can make sure that the courses you choose meet your future goals.


Use all your five choices to give yourself as many options as possible. But, if you’re still undecided, you don’t have to add all of them at once.  You could start by applying for three or four courses and add your other choice(s) later—as long as you’re within the deadline.

Exception 1: If you’re applying for courses in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or veterinary science, you can apply to only four courses in these subjects.

If you want to apply for a fifth course, you would have to select one in a different subject.  Students often choose courses in related subjects, such as biomedical sciences, chemistry, human biology, neuroscience or neurochemistry. It’s a good idea to give yourself a back-up choice like this, as the application success rate and the number of overseas places on the medical subjects is lower than average.

Exception 2:  If you’re applying for a course at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge (Oxbridge), you will have to choose one of them.

You can’t apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year.  You have to decide which one you prefer and you can select only one course there (unless you’re applying to Graduate Medicine at Cambridge).  You can still apply to four other courses elsewhere.

Step 3:  The UCAS form has four sections. Complete sections 1–2.

help tips for international students

Section 1 is very straightforward. You provide your name, nationality, date of birth and contact details. Universities can’t use any of this information when making a decision on your application (except for your age, which they can consider to your advantage, if you are a mature student, i.e. over 21 years old)

Section 2 is also fairly easy.  Here, you list your qualifications, including any that you haven’t yet finished.  Under each qualification, you include the individual subjects and grades as they appear on your school transcript.


You can’t attach your school transcript or certificate with your UCAS application. You will have to send these separately to the universities, however follow their instructions as many will only want them if they decide to make you an offer or need more information to make a decision.

Step 4:  Write your personal statement.

How to apply through UCAS

Section 3 of your application is the hardest to complete.  This is where you provide your personal statement to convince the universities to give you an offer.  The good news is: You write only one personal statement. The bad news: Whatever you write has to match all your course choices, and you can’t write more than approximately one page.

Step 5:  Get your school reference.

UCAS school reference

Section 4 is the only part of your UCAS application that someone else writes on your behalf.  This is where your reference (recommendation letter) is provided, usually by your school.  You won’t be able to submit your UCAS application unless your referee has completed the reference section.

Step 6:  Submit your application to UCAS.

How to submit UCAS application

Once you have finished working on sections 1–3, if you’re applying through your school, a member of staff will write your reference and will submit your application to UCAS.  They will tell you if you need to pay the UCAS application fee (£24, or £13 if you’re applying for only one course before 30 June) before or after they write your reference.

If you are applying on your own, pay your application fee by credit card and submit your application as soon as possible before the deadline (or by 6pm UK time if you are sending it on the day of the deadline).

After receiving your application, UCAS will check that your personal statement is original and that you haven’t copied it from someone else, before forwarding the entire application electronically to the universities. If you submit your application after the official deadline, UCAS will still forward it, but will let the universities know that it was late.


If, after you have submitted your UCAS application, you want to swap a course with another one at the same university, call the university’s admissions office and they will make the change for you.  If you want to cancel one university, so you can choose another one in its place, you have 14 days from the date of your UCAS welcome email.

During the first week, you can make the change in Track (the UCAS online application system).  After that, you would have to call UCAS on +44 330 3330 230.  Remember to make any changes before the relevant UCAS application deadline, otherwise they will count as a late application.

Final thoughts

Writing a good UCAS application takes time.  To give yourself a good chance to write the best application you’re capable of, it’s best that you start working on it 4–6 weeks before your submission date.  If you know in advance when the UCAS deadline is for your course, you can plan ahead and get organised.

Join me in the next post in which we’ll look at the UCAS application deadlines—and what you can do if you’ve missed the deadline for your course.

This article has been adapted from the chapter “Avoid Mistake #1: Don’t Miss Your Application Deadline” in 7 UCAS Application Mistakes to Avoid: A Guide for International Students.

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