Welcome to the first joint UCAS and Independent magazine for sixth- formers. We have combined the Independent's skill in photography and design with all the inside information available to UCAS to produce a magazine we hope will prove useful to anyone thinking of applying to university or college this year, or indeed, next.

The co-operation between UCAS and the Independent means that around 80 per cent of applicants to higher education in schools and colleges should receive a copy.

This term will be one of the busiest and most worrying in students' school careers. At the same time as working very hard in preparation for exams, you have to cope with the business of deciding which university or college you want to attend and filling in your UCAS form in a way that ensures you have the best possible chance of getting in. But it is not wise to skimp on the time spent on researching universities and courses.

Some people regret their choice of university or college for the rest of their lives. Others drop out altogether and many more decide to change courses once they arrive. Most universities and colleges are very flexible about this but it is bound to involve time and effort which you would rather spend doing other things. It is also an additional drama that most students would prefer to be spared during the upheaval of leaving home and settling in at college.

The universities and colleges in UCAS are more varied than they have ever been and the array of courses new and old is more daunting than ever. Even teaching methods now vary considerably from institution to institution, with some teaching and assessing courses in "modules", allowing students to put together a package of different options, rather than the traditional single or joint honours programmes.

Many of you will receive very good advice from teachers and careers officers about the steps involved in applying to university or college. We hope, however, that you will find it helpful to have the details in the guide. We have tried to include checklists with most topics so that you can make sure you have done everything at each stage of the process.

Some of the articles include straightforward consumer advice about the application process. Others look forward to the time when you actually arrive at college. In some, students give their views about what university was like for them.

All the advice, of course, is general and you alone can decide how to match a university or college and a course to your talents and personality.

You should not choose a university or college just because a friend or neighbour enjoyed it or because your parents would like you to go there. Universities and colleges have changed dramatically in the last 25 years, with the proportion of students going on to higher education more than doubling. Financial pressures on students have increased and you can study subjects that were not invented in your parents' day.

There will be two more UCAS and Independent magazines on university and college entrance in this academic year: one in January and one in April. Let us know if there are any topics about which you would like to know more and write to us if you have any thoughts or experiences to share with your fellow applicants.

At UCAS we try to be more than just an effective and dynamic administrative machine. We try to show a real human face and to help and guide people through the admissions maze.

We are proud of the fact that we make relatively few mistakes in what is an enormous and highly complex organisational task, but we also understand that a small error on UCAS's part might mean disaster for a particular individual. So we work hard to try to provide the correct environment for all our customers who are both applicants and the institutions at which they are seeking places. That is why we are putting considerable time and effort into relaunching UCAN as a magazine with a circulation of 250,000 copies and we are very grateful to the Independent for making this happen.

Tony Higgins, Chief Executive, UCAS