UCAS stands for the Universities and College Admissions Services. Despite popular belief, it is not a government agency but a limited company and a registered charity which is responsible for processing the vast majority of student applications for places on degree or HND courses at universities or colleges.

Last year it handled 450,000 applicants of which 336,000 were found places in higher education.

Its funding is provided by fees charged for processing application forms, currently 14 per form for application to six universities, or 5 for a single application, and from a fee paid by the universities for every student placed with them by UCAS.

In addition, the service organises The NextStep Network of higher education conventions to which prospective students and their parents are invited to find out more about universities, colleges, what courses are on offer and what the entry requirements are.

It also organises conferences for higher education specialists and admissions officers and conducts research for universities on students' ages, backgrounds, expectations and mobility, and on course popularity to help universities ensure they are providing the right service for the future.

As part of its service UCAS sends a handbook to every applicant at every school and sixth form college, to every careers office and reference library in the country listing all the courses offered by higher education institutions and the relevant entry requirements and closing dates for applications.

Ross Hayman, media relations officer for UCAS said one of its better known roles is as manager of the Clearing system, whereby students who fail to get a place on their chosen course at their chosen university are matched to vacant places on similar courses at other universities or colleges.

"When people fail to get the required entry grades, or for some other reason are not accepted into a university, there is a back up system know as Clearing which tries to find them an alternative elsewhere", he said.

"At the moment UCAS has found places for over 47,000 people through clearing. Last year the total was 54,000."

It is worth noting that the closing date for applications to Oxbridge for 1999 is 15 October, and 15 December for the others.

UCAS can provide prospective students with a range of publications giving advice about applying to higher education. They also produce a multimedia CD-rom, StudyLink Undergraduate, and also parent's and mature students guides.

Information can also be gleaned from the Internet. UCAS has a complete list of the courses available for 1999 and at which university at its web site at www.ucas.ac.uk.

Just tap in the name of the subject you are interested in and the area of the country you wish to study in and the subject details will come up.

UCAS can be contacted on 01242 227788.

Resources

University and College Entrance: The Official Guide, 1999;

UCAS Handbook;

A Student's Guide to Entry to Law;

A Student's Guide to Entry to Medicine;

A Student's Guide to Entry to Media Studies;

COSHEP/UCAS Entrance Guide to Higher Education in Scotland;

How to complete Your UCAS form - 1999 Entry;

What Do Graduates Do?;

The Mature Student's Guide to Higher Education;

A Guide to Art and Design Courses: On Course for 1999;

A Guide to Art and Design Courses: On Course for 1999:

Business Studies 1999;

Engineering Courses 1999;

A guide to Getting into Financial Services;

A guide to Getting into Mathematics;

A guide to Getting into Paramedical Sciences;

A guide to Getting into Sport and Leisure;

A guide to Getting into Teaching;

A Parent's Guide to Higher Education.

All these are available through your school. Please ask your Careers Adviser or head of Sixth Form for details

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