Your guide to applying for university

It's that time of the year again where university open day adverts are being shoved down your throat and back to school emails with discount codes are flooding your inbox. Whether you're going into year 13, a student on a gap year or a mature student, applying for university can be stressful and there's not much information online to guide you through the entire process from start to finish.


The first thing you should ask yourself before applying to university is which subject do you have a passion for and can see yourself studying and enjoying for 3+ years? Forget what course is more employable or what your parents want you to study. 

In year 12, I wanted to do nursing or digital marketing and by the time it got round to applying for university in year 13, I realised that my passions lied in geography and it was something that I could genuinely see myself studying further and potentially having a career in so I applied for geography and environmental science.

As for where to study, here are 5 questions that you should ask yourself:

  1. Which universities offer your course?
  2. How much contact time are you hoping for? Does the course suit your needs?
  3. Would you prefer to live in a town or city?
  4. How far away from home do you want to study? Close to home and easy to commute to or as far away as possible so your parents don't pay you a surprise visit 
  5. Take a virtual tour of the student accommodation, can you see yourself living here?

Once you've figured out which universities you're interested in, go to open days or take virtual tours around each university. You have 5 choices, use them wisely!


A personal statement is basically a 4000 character essay attached to your UCAS application telling universities and colleges why you want to study a particular course or subject. This is your chance to "show off", why are you passionate about maths? when did your passions start? what would you like to achieve through studying sociology? How have your studies up until now got you here? Are you a well-rounded person? e.g. charity work, part-time work, volunteering, wider reading on your subject, your hobbies etc. What can you bring to the university?

A checklist for writing your personal statement:

- Have you mentioned the course you want to study and why?

- How are your other A level subjects or experiences going to aid your studies?

- What do you do outside of being a student? E.g. sports, part-time work

- How did you get to where you are today? E.g. did participating in NCS make you a more well-rounded person? Did a certain article, book or quote inspire you to continue studying?

-  Why are you suitable to study at this university? What are you bringing to the table? 

- Don't forget to round off e.g. I look forward to studying with other aspiring geographers

Here's a snippet from my 2017 personal statement:


Once you've picked your 5 choices, written your personal statement and your application has been received by UCAS, you'll be able to use the online system TRACK to check the progress of your application. You can also alter your application through track e.g. change your email address, add to your 5 choices or swap one of your 5 choices for another university or if you've changed your mind about going to university, cancel your whole application. 


If you're a British citizen, you've been living in the UK for 3 years before starting your course and/or have 'settled status' e.g. hold indefinite leave to remain visa, you're eligible for full tuition fees. At the moment, tuition fees are £9250 a year, this is loaned to you by the government for the duration of your degree and will only be paid back once you've graduated and you're earning over the threshold of £25,000.

Your maintenance loan is based on your household income and will depend on how much your parents earned in the previous tax year.

Find out how to apply for student finance here 


On results day, your UCAS will be updated to let you know whether or not you have got into your firm or insurance choice. But what happens if you get into neither but you still want to go to university? or if you're no longer interested in your firm or insurance and want to go elsewhere or do a different course? Clearing and adjustment. 

If you don't get into your firm or insurance, you're automatically put into clearing. The only other way you'll be put into clearing is if you contact your firm or insurance via email to release your application. Clearing is how universities fill courses with empty spaces. If at last minute you decide you want to go to university, you can apply through clearing. 

If you've done better than expected, you can use UCAS adjustment to find alternative courses at a different university. If you try adjustment but don't find anything, you keep the course you gained on results day.

Francisca Rockey

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