Going Higher: How to fill in the UCAS form

Applicants should fill in their forms very carefully, or better still, apply electronically, writes Alex Watts
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Students apply for a place at university or college by filling in and sending off a four-page UCAS form, or by using the EAS system. For pounds 14 they can apply to up to six different universities or colleges. If you make only one choice, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service charges pounds 5.

UCAS is the UK's centralised service for admissions to full-time, first degree, Dip HE and HND courses, and is used by over 250 universities and colleges to recruit to those courses.

Every year it processes 2.5 million applications from 450,000 students from the UK and across the world. UCAS forms and Handbooks are sent out in June, and the closing date for applications is 15 December (see timetable on page III for exceptions). But UCAS advises people to get their forms in well before the deadline, especially if they want to study a popular course or go to a popular university or college.

At the same time UCAS staff urge applicants to think carefully about where and what they want to study before sending off their form.

With over 40,000 UK university or college courses on offer, this is no easy task. But students can see what choices are available from materials such as The Big Guide, the UCAS Handbook and the course search section of the UCAS website, www.ucas.ac.uk. These are available at schools and careers offices.

Before filling in their UCAS forms, students should read the accompanying instructions carefully to make sure they fully understand what is being asked of them.

UCAS also operates an Electronic Application System. The software is sent to schools and colleges on request. Students complete the form using the software and it is sent to UCAS on floppy disk or via the Internet.

The electronic form can take as little as three days to process, while paper applications can take up to three weeks.

Steve Roden, Admissions Manager for Liverpool John Moores University, said: "UCAS sends the forms reduced in size so keep to the rules. Presentation is crucial, spelling and grammar important. I like to think that applicants have spent more time completing their forms than the appearance of some would suggest."

UCAS Customer Support Manager Caroline Russell said: "Most of the questions are straightforward, but it is easy to make a mistake on the form. That's why it is much easier to apply electronically because errors can be rectified on the screen.

"Before starting, students should take a few photocopies of the form in case a mistake is made, and it should be filled in using black ink and a thin-point pen.

"Students should also write in capitals to make their details easier to read, and keep the instructions close to hand while filling in the form because there are codes that you have to put down."

Applicants are asked to give details of their name, age, address, contact numbers, ethnic origin, nationality, secondary education, employment to date, exams taken and qualifications pending.

They will also need to give details of any special needs they have including disabilities or medical conditions which might require special arrangements or facilities.

There is a separate section to give personal details including why you want to do the course, whether you have any experience in the field and what your hobbies and interests are.

UCAS Head of Operations Paul McClure said: "The personal statement is a crucial part of the application form. Many applicants are not interviewed these days and selectors are relying more and more on the information given here when deciding whether or not to make offers."

The last page is filled in by a referee, usually a school Head of Sixth Form or careers adviser, who will write a report on the student's abilities and character. The referee is asked if this reference is confidential, and, if it is it will not be referred to directly in any university interview the applicant is asked to attend.

Form-filling

Photocopy a form and fill it in first, then copy it on to the original.

If you can send in an electronic application, do so. It is far easier, there is less room for mistakes, and it is typed instead of written, making it easier to read. You can apply electronically using the Electronic Application System (EAS). Your school or college may be able to offer you this facility.

Use a thin-point black pen and write clearly in capitals.

Research all your university, college and course options before making your decision.

Be realistic about how well you are likely to do in your studies - check the entry requirements of your chosen course and decide if you're likely to meet them.

Deadlines - don't leave it too late to apply. When you have filled in your form get a tutor's reference and then UCAS has to process it - this all takes time.

The closing date for applications is 15 December. For Oxford and Cambridge Universities it is 15 October. For some Art and Design Courses it is 24 March.

Try and visit universities and colleges before applying. A tour round the campus will give you a good idea of what lies ahead. If this is not possible, many universities and colleges hold open days.

If you have a specialist interest, find out whether your university or college has facilities.

If you have special needs, it is best to contact the university or college directly.

Not all institutions can offer halls of residence accommodation to first-year students - if you want such accommodation choose your college carefully.

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