UCAS undergraduate application

How to complete the best UCAS application

Stephen Spriggs
March 13th 2020

Applying to go to university is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life – and understandably, this can be overwhelming.

Competition for places is fierce – especially at the esteemed Russell Group universities – and a clutch of top A Levels isn’t enough to guarantee you an offer. 

As the UK has some of the best universities in the world (including the likes of Oxford and Cambridge), it attracts top students from all over the globe. It’s a crowded process, and in order to stand out, you need to prepare an excellent UCAS undergraduate application.

You only get one UCAS application in the UK however, and this covers a multitude of options – so it’s fair to say that, overall, the pressure is immense. 

This is why our expert UCAS advisers here at William Clarence have created the following guide on how to complete the perfect UCAS application! Read on to discover their top tips and advice and, ultimately, make your application a success:

6 steps to completing the perfect UCAS form:

1. Make an early start

One of the best things you can do is start thinking about your application early, which means Year 11 if possible – particularly if you are thinking of applying to Oxford or Cambridge, or for a specialist course like Medicine or Veterinary Science

Think of the application as a long-term strategy. This gives you the time to acquire the background knowledge and practical experience that you can reference in your application. 

Here’s a breakdown of how to do it: 

Decide what you want to study

Applying for a course in which you have genuine interest makes preparing your UCAS undergraduate application so much easier. This is where your greatest research efforts will come in; the more you research, the more likely you are to find an area of interest that you want to study further. 

This can help streamline your subject choice. For example, if you’ve always enjoyed History, you might discover with additional research and study that you’d like to specialise in Russian History.

This early legwork can also help you cross certain subjects off your list. University is a world away from A Levels, and what might pique your interest at school might not hold it for three or four years. 

Ultimately, preparing an excellent UCAS application starts with choosing the right course for you. Admissions registrars will be able to detect a half-baked application with lukewarm interest in a course and will send it straight to the "no" pile.

Research the universities that offer your course choice, and attend open days

Once you have decided what you think you want to study, it’s time to start exploring the different universities that offer your chosen course. The UCAS website has a fantastic course search tool which you can use to do exactly that – this is also something our UCAS experts at William Clarence can help with. 

With a list of different universities in front of you, you can start to narrow your options down. It's important to be realistic about your choices; for example, one university might offer the perfect course for you, but If it’s unlikely you’re going to get the grades the university shortlist demands, you may find yourself faced with a rejection.

Talk to your teacher about your predicted grades and if you feel you might be falling short, include options on your shortlist with a less demanding selection criteria. 

The next step is to attend Open Days at the universities on your shortlist. A university might look great in its brochures, but it’s important to go there and get a feel of the campus and surrounding area to be sure that it’s the right place for you. 

These will also give you the chance to attend faculty talks, meet current students and admissions staff and find out more about the course and the university. Look at accommodation options as well as any other extracurricular interests you may have. 

A lot of universities now offer virtual open days, so if you’re limited by travel or time restrictions – or you simply want to have a look at a larger number of universities – you can still get some great insights into what your options can offer you. 

Complete extracurricular reading and research

Once you know which subject you’re planning to study and the universities you want to apply to, have a look at their preparatory reading lists and start working through them. 

For example, if you’ve got your heart set on a degree in literature, start reading widely. Try new authors that aren’t on your school curriculum. This will give you some excellent topics of discussion for your personal statement.

Visiting places and attractions related to your chosen course is also a great way to enrich your UCAS application; for instance, if you’re interested in art, visit galleries and exhibitions. If you’re considering a business-related degree, can you shadow a family friend at work for a few days or even do some voluntary work. 

If you’re still unsure about what you want to study, talk to A-Level teachers, tutors and parents about your interests and ask them to suggest topics to research further via books, podcasts or visits to places of culture. 

By carrying out all the above activities, you’ll have all the resources you need to know how to complete the perfect UCAS application!

2. Give yourself plenty of time to complete the form.

As a young person, it’s understandable that you will be extremely busy; not only with your studies and exam preparation, but also perhaps with taking on part-time work, socialising, and extracurricular activities. 

Unfortunately, this can sometimes result in young people submitting poorly researched UCAS applications at the eleventh hour. This can not only end with rejected applications, but also enrolling on a course or at a university that is not right for you. 

If you’ve started early as suggested above, however, you should have enough time to complete the form thoroughly and carefully. 

The UCAS form has deadlines in the summer between school and university, and applications for Oxford and Cambridge must be completed by October, almost a year before the course starts and slap bang in the middle of A Levels. 

We’d therefore recommend that, once you have completed all the tasks outlined in part one of this blog, you make a start on your application right away. Our UCAS advisers here at William Clarence can take the pressure off by guiding you through the process in a timely manner and doing much of the legwork for you.

3. Write a brilliant UCAS personal statement

The most daunting aspect of the application is the personal statement – but it is also your chance to shine!

With only 500 words at your disposal, this is a brief summary of your interests and ambitions. Use this to demonstrate and reflect upon your enthusiasm and passion for your chosen subject and draw on evidence to prove any points you make – statements like ‘I love Drama’ or ‘I’m fascinated by Geography’ won't be enough!

Universities want the best students, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the ones with the best qualifications. Show them how you’ll become an essential part of the fabric – your grades might not be remarkable, but that doesn’t mean you’re not!

An interest in extracurricular activities, from sport to music, activism to theatre shows you’re a well-rounded character. Have you held down a part-time job or volunteer post? All of these tell the admissions tutor something about you as a person.

If you’re struggling for inspiration, you can search the internet for examples of good personal statements. However, do not copy them – admissions tutors read hundreds of personal statements every year, and are experts in spotting plagiarism. This is a sure-fire way to end up in the “no” pile. 

Ensure your personal statement is well written and check for typing errors. You can accept help from parents and teachers, but remember that it is your words, your thoughts and your personality that have to shine through. 

The most important thing when writing your personal statement is to be yourself, and be honest. Don’t be scared to show some individuality – leave the admissions registrar wanting to learn more about you as it’s more likely to lead to an interview or even a firm offer! 

For more guidance on how to write an exceptional personal statement, be sure to read our blog “5 Steps to a Stand Out Personal Statement” here.

4. Be as honest and accurate as you can

As well as the personal statement, there will be other sections of the form you’ll need to complete, including your personal details, additional information, employment and so on (you can learn more about these sections in this blog).

Omitting information from your application can result in it not being taken any further for the academic year you apply, so ensure that you are as detailed, honest and accurate as you can be here. 

5. Get a good referee

If you’ve chosen a teacher as your referee, it’s good to know they’re on your side. Don’t choose one who wouldn’t pick you out of a line up, or someone you’ve shown little respect to over the years.

If your application is borderline, the decision could sit with your referee, so if you’re constantly late or can’t meet a deadline, it’s worth changing your behaviour. If you do, they’ll know you’re serious about university. 

And if your referee is predicting your grades and they’re falling short, you might need to work harder.

6. Enlist the support of a UCAS expert

As we’ve highlighted throughout this blog, preparation is key for submitting a strong UCAS undergraduate application. The best are written by those who are interested in their subject, have read wider than their A Levels require, are self-motivated and have given serious thought to their future study. 

They might have exactly the same exam grades as their competitors, but their application stands out, and they’re the ones who will be offered a place.

This is where the support of a UCAS expert becomes particularly helpful. For example, our UCAS advisors at William Clarence know which courses highly competitive, and which places have excellent courses and fewer applicants. 

They can also read between the lines of a university prospectus and see behind the well-rehearsed open days to give you a genuine idea of what to expect.

Perhaps most importantly, however, they can provide you unparalleled advice when it comes to your UCAS application form and personal statement. 

If you would like to know more about how to complete the perfect UCAS application to win you a place at your dream university, get in touch with our education experts and UCAS advisers here at William Clarence today.

UCAS undergraduate application