Every year, more than 750,000 applications for undergraduate courses are made through UCAS. For students aiming to study at a British university, writing a strong UCAS application is vital.
But what is UCAS, how does it work, and how can you give your application the best chance of success?
What is UCAS and how does it work?
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is the organisation which processes applications for full-time undergraduate applications to UK universities.
To apply to universities through UCAS, a student registers either through their school (if in the UK) or independently, and submits their academic record, personal details, an academic reference, and personal statement. For more advice on writing the personal statement, including how to write a personal statement for Oxbridge, you can read our dedicated guides.
The universities they have applied to receive this information and decide whether to offer the student a place. Decisions of offers and acceptances are made through the UCAS portal.
How many universities can you apply for through UCAS?
Students can apply for up to five courses at different universities in a given application cycle. These could be at five different universities, or you could choose to apply for multiple courses at the same university.
You can only submit one application to cover all of your course choices, though. It is therefore vital to select your courses strategically so that your application (and in particular your personal statement) is relevant for all five courses.
One final note – you cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same year.
If you would like expert advice on which courses or universities to apply to, you may be interested in our university course shortlist service. This is led by highly experienced university admissions consultants, is entirely bespoke for every student, and is tailored to your specific interests, ambitions and abilities.
How much does a UCAS application cost?
In 2024, the fee for a UCAS application is £27.50 for up to five university choices.
Some schools will pay this fee on your behalf, others will collect payment for it, and still others ask students to pay this to UCAS directly.
Which universities require UCAS?
Every full-time undergraduate course in the UK requires an application through UCAS. You can apply directly to the university for some part-time and postgraduate courses.
How to calculate UCAS tariff points
Many universities will require students to achieve certain grades at A Level (or equivalent) as part of their entry requirements. For instance, the standard entry requirements for the BSc in Economics at Bristol University are A*AA at A Level.
However, UCAS also has an optional ‘Tariff points’ system which admissions teams can use as well as or instead of specific grade requirements. Each A Level or equivalent grade equates to a certain number of points – so an A* is worth 56 Tariff points, an A is worth 48, and so on.
Universities then require a certain total of Tariff points for students to study that course. For instance, the entry requirements for the BEng in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Portsmouth are 112-120 points.
A Level Tariff Points
|A Level grade
IB Diploma Tariff Points
|IB HL grade
|IB SL grade
|2 and 1
|2 and 1
Do GCSEs count for UCAS applications?
Students are required to submit their GCSE (or equivalent) grades as part of their application. Specific entry requirements will vary between universities and courses, but it is very common for universities to include certain GCSE grades in their entry requirements.
Other UCAS entry requirements
Alongside GCSE and A Level (or equivalent) grades, all UCAS applications require students to submit a personal statement and an academic reference.
Some courses, especially the most competitive, will have additional requirements, including admissions tests and an interview. For students considering Oxbridge applications, you may find our full guide to the Oxford and Cambridge admissions process and entry requirements useful.
Are UCAS entry requirements lower for international students?
A 2024 report in the Sunday Times claimed that international students were being offered indirect routes onto competitive courses at Russell Group universities, with lower entry requirements than those for their British peers.
At some universities, Foundation programmes are available to international students with much lower entry requirements than those for full-time undergraduate courses. If the student passes the Foundation programme, they will be offered a place on the undergraduate course. These Foundation programmes are not available to British applicants.
The reason for this is simple – international students pay higher fees than domestic ones, so maximising the number of international students in a cohort makes sense for universities, when the fee cap for British students has remained frozen at £9,250 since 2017.
Applications for undergraduate courses at Russell Group universities remain highly competitive, so please get in touch if you would like expert guidance on how to optimise your application.
What is UCAS status code?
The UCAS status code is a 10-digit number assigned to students when they register with UCAS. This number does not change throughout the application process. The UCAS status code can be found in UCAS Hub. It is required when students apply to open a student bank account or for student finance.
There are various deadlines to bear in mind for UCAS applications. For the 2024 admissions cycle:
- The deadline for applications to Oxford or Cambridge, or for medicine and veterinary subjects, is the 16th October 2023.
- The ‘equal consideration’ deadline for all other subjects and universities is the 31st January 2024. This means universities must give equal consideration deadline to all applications submitted by this date.
- Some universities will still consider ‘late’ applications after the January deadline. However, any applications received after the 30th June 2024 will be entered into Clearing.
How can SLT help?
A lot goes into a successful UCAS application – from a stellar personal statement to strong grades and a great academic reference. If you are working on your application, please get in touch with our friendly team of university admissions consultants to discuss how we can help optimise your chances of admission.
From shortlisting the courses and universities which suit your ambitions and interests, and guiding you through the process of writing the personal statement, to preparing for subject admissions tests and interviews, our university placement package enhances students’ applications at every stage.
96% of our university placement students receive an offer from one of their top two choices.
Frequently asked questions
No. Both UK and international students will need to use UCAS when applying for UK universities. UK students may be registered with UCAS by their schools, while international students are likely to have to register independently.
Applying through UCAS is required for all full-time undergraduate courses at UK universities. For part-time or postgraduate courses, you may be able to apply to universities directly.
In the UK, you can only apply for five courses in a given year. These could be at five separate universities, or you can apply to multiple courses at the same university.
The purpose of this limit is to prevent students from applying speculatively to courses where they have a low chance of being successful. This ensures that universities are not overwhelmed by applications.
At SLT, out university course shortlist service provides expert advice on which courses or universities to apply to. Our shortlists take into account students’ interests and ambitions, as well as application strategy, to optimise their chances of acceptance on the best course possible.
Entry requirements vary between different universities and courses. Some will require specific grades (e.g. A*AA at A Level, or international equivalent), some will require a certain number of Tariff points, and some will accept either.
Students are required to submit their GCSE (or equivalent) grades as part of their application. Typically, universities will include certain GCSE grades in their entry requirements, though this varies between different universities and courses.
Yes. Although entry requirements will vary from one course or university to another, all universities base their decision-making process on the UCAS application. Some may focus more on students’ grades, others on their personal statement, and others on admissions tests or interviews, but whatever their focus, it is the content of the UCAS application which will determine whether or not the student is offered a place.
If you are working on your application, our UK university placement service offers expert guidance at every stage. Please get in touch with our friendly team to find out more about how we can help you optimise your admission chances.