Securing your place

The process of going to UK universities and colleges is straightforward and well-supported. By Wendy Berliner
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The Independent Online

Securing your place in a university or higher education college in the UK is very straightforward because of the centralised admissions system operated here. It really does not matter that you might currently be living half a world away, the system you will use is the same used by UK-based students so you are at no disadvantage.

Securing your place in a university or higher education college in the UK is very straightforward because of the centralised admissions system operated here. It really does not matter that you might currently be living half a world away, the system you will use is the same used by UK-based students so you are at no disadvantage.

Confirming your place

If you get the grades you need for your place, then UCAS will write to you and all you have to do is to confirm in writing to the university or college that you are accepting the place. If you don't, you risk losing the place because the university or college might think you no longer want it, withdraw it and offer it to someone else. So make sure you reply in good time. You can also use the "track" service on the UCAS website to see if your place has been confirmed - you'll need your "track" password from your UCAS acknowledgement letter.

Clearing

If you don't meet your grades, or if you are not made any offers, or if you turned down your offers, you will be entitled to use Clearing. This is a system which operates in the UK mainly during August and September to market vacant places on courses to students who have yet to find a place for that autumn. Thousands of course places will be on offer UK-wide. You will also be entitled to use Clearing if your application came too late to use the main UCAS system. This year the deadline was 30 June .

If you qualify for Clearing, you will be automatically sent a Clearing Entry Form (CEF) which will have full instructions on how to take part, so make sure you notify UCAS of any change of address.

Clearing is a simple idea. The vacancy lists will be online on the UCAS website ( www.ucas.com) and in certain British newspapers such as The Independent. The idea is to look for vacancies that appeal to you so that you can make a list of universities or colleges to contact.

Remember you can check out details of the courses and the institutions online. The UCAS website lets you access all universities and higher education colleges using the UCAS system. Then you contact the university or college you are interested in direct and talk to an admissions tutor. Telephone numbers and email details for all UK universities and colleges using the UCAS system are available via the UCAS website.

It is important to act quickly because competition for places will be intense, particularly in the days after the publication of A-level results for school leavers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - this year on 19 August.

When you contact a university or college you are interested in, you will need your CEF number, your exam results and your UCAS number. You will probably be asked questions about why you have picked this course and university so be prepared for a mini-interview. Staff working on these telephone services are trained to be helpful and to make it easy for you.

If the university or college offers you a place, you will be asked to send in your Clearing Entry Form (CEF). Only send it if you are sure this is the place you want because you can only send the original CEF to confirm a place. If you change your mind, you will have lost valuable time, because you can't apply to any other institution until you have been released from the course you have accepted and had your CEF returned to you.

Remember

If you call a university or college to discuss a possible place, have a copy of your UCAS application form in front of you - you may be asked questions about it; something you have written in your personal statement, for example.

Also, consider applying for a slightly different course if you can't find the right vacancy in the subject you originally applied for. The more flexible you are, the more likely you are to find a suitable place.

If you are offered a place over the phone in Clearing but you are not sure it is right for you, don't feel obliged to accept. Just decline politely and move on to the next institution on your list.

Re-application

If, for whatever reason, you need to make a fresh application for a place next year, remember that UCAS allows you to apply to up to six courses at once on a single Web-based application form through a service called "internationapply", which will be taking applications from September. Further details from the UCAS website.

Accommodation

Accommodation is usually in university-run halls of residence or student flats; sometimes the rent will include the cost of all your meals. There are also always lots of privately rented flats and houses in areas where there is a university or large college of higher education. Universities that take a lot of postgraduate students usually offer accommodation suitable for families.

Most new students will be offered a place in accommodation owned or managed by the university or college. In later years of your course you may have to rent private accommodation.

If you met the grades needed for your offer or had an unconditional place, accommodation will have been organised for you. Many universities and colleges also keep back accommodation for people who get their places during Clearing.

Once you have confirmed your place, you will be sent a pack of starting information which will include details of what accommodation is on offer. Do ensure accommodation is reserved for you by your university or college. If it isn't, act quickly to organise it. The international office of the university or college where you have been placed will be able to put you in touch with the accommodation service. For details on accommodation costs, see page 15.

Fees

Universities and colleges vary in when they expect you to pay your tuition fee. Some will let you pay a proportion each term, others will expect a whole year's fees up front. You may well be expected to send a deposit in advance using a credit card or bankers' draft. For details on fee and living costs, see page 15.

Scholarships

There is finance available through awards and scholarships for international students. The British Council has its own scholarships available or can put you in touch with organisations that offer them. The 9/11 Scholarship Fund supporting students directly affected by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.

Documents

Be sure you have:

Valid visa

Entry Clearance Certificate available in some countries to speed immigration

Bank statement as proof that you have enough money to live here for a year

Letter of acceptance from your university or college

Cash and travellers' cheques so that you have enough money for immediate costs before you can get to a bank

Birth certificate to prove identity should you need to

Driving licence if you intend to drive while here

Passport-sized pictures of yourself. Not essential, but very useful in your first days at university or college for applying for passes such ID or for the library.

If you come from the EU, just go through the EU passport gate on arrival at the airport or port. If you are from outside the EU, make sure you have met the immigration rules in advance of your arrival.

IMPORTANT CONTACTS

UCAS: www.ucas.com

British Council: www.britishcouncil.org

Visa information: www.ukvisas.gov.uk

General advice: www.ukcosa.org.uk/pages/advice.htm

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