Even the staunchest supporter of higher education would agree that filling in UCAS applications isn’t very much fun. It’s a long and sometimes bewildering process but you have to get through it to unlock the excitement of undergraduate life.
With so many options available to you and so little time in which to explore them thorougly, this is easier said than done. I can’t do your application for you but I can tell you the things that I wish I’d been told when I was doing mine.
1) Know What You Want
There are over 100 universities in the UK and all of them will be telling you the same thing: that you should pay to study with them. From these dozens of potential destinations, you have to pick five to apply for and then one to go to. It’s difficult to make your choice based on a samey prospectus and an open day that in no way represents the university experience.
The solution is to know what you want, as much as you can at least. How keen are you to go to a Russell Group institution? How far away from home do you want to live? Do you like old buildings? New buildings? Green spaces? Do you want to live in a big city? If so, how big? Do you have any unique interests or hobbies that you’d like to develop as part of a society? Make a list of what matters to you (our Pick a Degree Quiz can provide a few suggestions) and try to find a university that fits those criteria.
2) …But Be Fearless As Well
It can be easy to be hesitant when it comes to choosing universities. Sometimes it’s hard to shake the feeling that your happiness for the next three years is riding on you making the correct choice. It’s certainly not a decision to take lightly, but try not to be paralysed by its importance. The great thing about higher education is that you get far more freedom over how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Wherever you end up, you’ll almost certainly find like-minded people and a range of new opportunities and experiences to try. You can never be sure exactly how you’ll take to living in such a different environment but there’s no way to find out without trying it. Having a life plan is great, but not necessarily essential at this stage.
3) Remember, It’s Your Application
It’s natural to want to talk about your application with other people or to look for advice online. This can be a great way of checking for flaws and generating new ideas. However it’s important not to let other people influence something as important and personal as your future course or university. Don’t allow friends and family to dictate your choices and don’t assume that every piece of advice that you read online will be viable. If in doubt, get information from official UCAS resources or from someone in your school or college who is familiar with the system.
4) Personal Statements Should be Personal
Personal statements are a uniquely tricky part of the UCAS process. They require you to stand out from the competition and convince applications officers that you’re right for a course which you may not be 100% sold on yourself. This pressure means that it’s tempting to show off, to use your word count on flowery polysyllables and Ghandi quotes.
This could work but there’s a risk that what you think makes you look assured actually comes across as patronising, tedious or just weird. Universities don’t want an elaborate prose poem. Nor do they want a boring list of information available elsewhere in your application. Instead put your time and effort into improving the body of your statement. Set out clearly and efficiently why you want to do the course that you’re applying for. Keep your writing professional (no emojis) but personal enough that they can get a flavour for who you are.
5) If Nothing Else, Get it in on Time
Okay, you’ve probably been told this a lot already but it bears repeating. This is really a broader point about making sure all of the details are right. Small errors and spelling mistakes in your application send out the wrong signals and are an unnecessary risk. There’s nothing worse than having your hard work rendered pointless by disorganisation before the deadline. It’s tedious, but putting extra hours into rereading your application and getting it in on time will benefit you. University might be the best three years of your life. It would be a shame to risk missing out on that experience because of avoidable mistakes.