FILLING IN YOUR UCAS FORM

APPLYING TO COLLEGE
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You've done all the research and reached the crunch point. Filling in your UCAS application. Form-filling doesn't come high on most people's lists of pleasures, but this one could decide the direction of the rest of your life. So resist the temptation to put it off until the deadline is imminent and then rush it. Each form comes with a set of blow-by-blow instructions about how to fill it in. They are very detailed and take you through the form section by section. UCAS and university staff say that most of the common howlers, omissions and problems could be avoided if you pay particular attention to:

Filling in the form in black ink - the UCAS machine that processes them is allergic to all other colours. Using BLOCK capitals on Page 1, and maybe on the rest of your form if people often can't read your writing. Being as neat as you can - particularly avoid crossing things out; it gives a lousy impression. Always practise on a photocopy of the form and if the gremlins strike when you are filling in the real thing start again.

The following sections tend to be the accident spots.

Section 1: Title/Name/Address

Use the name on your birth certificate - using a shorter form makes it more likely you will be confused with someone else. Be sure to put in your post code: it is used by UCAS to code and process your application.

Section 2: Further Details

Check that you calculate your age next September correctly. It's easy to get it wrong and if you do it gives bad signals about your intellect.

Section 3: Applications

Be sure to get the course codes right. One slip of the pen could be the difference between applying for Business Studies (N1OO) and Engineering (H1OO).

Remember to fill in the institution details; most course codes are not unique to one university or college.

Preclinical courses: the Deans of the Medical Schools have recommended that applicants for medicine and dentistry should not use more than five of their six choices for either medical or dental courses, the idea being that if you have been rejected by a number of schools you are pretty unlikely to get in to others. A situation in which you need some kind of Plan B.

Section 7A: Qualifications Taken

Many applicants miss out important details such as the name of the awarding body for their qualifications or the level achieved. This may be because each has an impossible abbreviation to remember. But don't despair: all the common ones are given in the instructions (para 58).

Section 10: Personal Statement

For many people, this is the scariest part of the form. However, it's your big chance to impress and the section likeliest to be the starting point for conversations at any interviews you get.

You may find it helps to use the following headings to identify things that you could include:

Your hobbies/interests; particularly if they have some connection to what you are applying to do. Avoid one-liners such as "in my spare time I read''. Give specific examples, but remember an interviewer may ask you about them.

Positions of responsibility you may have held; such as a committee member of a club, leadership of teams, etc.

Work experience/previous jobs; as for hobbies and interests, do your best to find ways in which these experiences have prepared you for study at degree level. So don't just say "at weekends I work in a supermarket'' - when you could be saying it gives you the opportunity to meet people, handle money or learn something about marketing.

Special skills you have and how you have used them: such as computing, acting or organising something.

Why you wish to pursue a particular subject.

Any ideas you may have about a career. You are not expected to be very specific at this stage, it's accepted that you are likely to make up your mind later.

After going through this list you may find that you have too much to fit on the form. Select the most relevant bits and put them in a logical order. Very few people come up with perfect prose off the tops of their heads. Allow yourself a few days to come up with a final version of the statement, being particularly careful to check both spelling and grammar. When you, and somebody whose opinion you value, think it's OK, copy or, if it's word-processed, print it out on to the form.

Finally, the reference

If you are at school or college, your headteacher or tutor will usually write this reference. However, if you have to find someone yourself, be sure that they can comment on your academic potential, not just your sporting skills or community service. Applicants who are trying to beat the deadline sometimes send in the form without the reference. This doesn't help because the form won't go anywhere until it has a reference on it.

Deadlines

Your form must be in by 15 December for you to be certain of being considered by the universities and colleges you are applying to (15 October if you are applying to Oxbridge). Many people leave it until then, with the result that nearly half of the total applications are received in the first two weeks of December. Admissions officers are then buried in forms and may not have much time to look at yours. It's likely that they will have more time if you get in early, and also external factors such as funding may change for the worse during the admissions season. So if you want to have the best chance, send in the form as soon as you can.

TIPS for filling in your UCAS form

Practise on a photocopy

Be careful to avoid spelling mistakes

Double-check the institution and course codes

Make sure your personal statement makes you sound interesting and lively

Get someone else to check your form

Put yourself at the front of the queue - get the form in as early as possible

Make use of all six choices; it keeps your options open

What Happens When?

For entry the following September

1 Sept - 15 Dec: Apply to UCAS.

November - March: Institutions make decisions on applications, sometimes after interviewing a selection of applicants, sometimes on the basis of the written information only. Applicants notified of offers and rejections through UCAS. Applicants accept two offers, one firmly and one asking for lower grades as insurance.

May - June: A-levels take place.

Mid-August: A-level results published. Successful students have six weeks to confirm their travel, accommodation, banking and grant arrangements.

Late August - late September: Clearing.

CORE SKILLS AWARDS

Doing A-levels? Do you know about core skills? More than 80 institutions now acknowledge the added value of core skills developed through the Youth Award Scheme, for entry purposes. Many are also recognising GNVQs. You'll see reference to the Youth Award Scheme and GNVQs in the current UCAS Autumn 96 entry guidance to applicants, which suggests that you give details of core skill attainment in your personal statement.

More and more schools, sixth forms and further education colleges are running the Youth Award Scheme alongside GNVQs. These programmes of learning will give you core skill assessment. The Youth Award Scheme, for example, provides a focus on developing self-assessment and study skills that universities and colleges increasingly want to see in applicants. Check with your school to see if it offers either of these schemes, which can give you further national certification to bolt on to your A-levels.

STUDY LINK UK

Study Link UK is a multimedia CD-Rom that provides applicants with assistance in selecting their shortlist of institutions. It includes information on every course in the UCAS University and College Entrance Guide. It is being produced by EMME Ltd, in association with UCAS, CVCP and SCOP and the British Council. A postgraduate version is being produced for distribution in early 1996.

Sixty UCAS institutions have chosen to include multimedia presentations about their environments, facilities and life as a student. A search process allows users to narrow down the courses to a shortlist in minimal time by answering questions on their subject interests, preferred locations, subjects they are studying at school and type of award preferred. You can then access basic factual information about your shortlist of courses such as length, entry requirements and entry statistics. Details available from your school or college.

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