Universities & Colleges Admissions Service

UCAS logo as of 2009
Abbreviation UCAS
Motto At the heart of connecting people to higher education
Formation 1994
Legal status Non-profit organisation (it is not a government body)
Purpose/focus Applications to higher education
Location Prestbury, Cheltenham, GL52 3LZ
Region served UK
Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook
Main organ UCAS Board
Budget £27m (2008)
Website UCAS

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is the British admission service for students applying to university and college. UCAS is primarily funded by students who pay a fee when they apply and a capitation fee from universities for each student they accept.[1].



UCAS is based[2] near Marle Hill in Cheltenham at the junction of the B4075 (New Barn Lane) and the A435 (Evesham Road), near Cheltenham Racecourse and a park and ride. It is situated just inside the parish of Prestbury, Gloucestershire.[3]



UCAS was formed in 1993 by the merger of UCCA (Universities Central Council on Admissions), PCAS (Polytechnics Central Admissions Service) and SCUE (Standing Conference on University Entrance). The organisation is based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

UCAS data

UCAS has a rich resource of data and statistics, ranging from the number of applicants to the most popular courses. A range of data tables can be accessed at the UCAS website. These tables provide data on applications, applicants and accepted applicants over a number of years and is broken down into a number of sub-categories, for example, gender or age group.

UCAS statistics are very well respected within the sector and are regularly quoted by the media. A recent example of the use of the data is the new UCAS publication[4]

Exclusive applications via online process

In 2004 UCAS announced they were scrapping paper applications in favour of online applications for the 2006 entry onwards (previously applicants could choose between the two options).

Applications process

As nearly all British higher education institutions are members of UCAS, all those wishing to study for undergraduate degrees in the UK must apply through UCAS. This applies to all categories of applicants - regardless of whether qualifying as a home student (generally British and EU students) or as an overseas student. Applicants submit a single application via UCAS's website with a list of up to five courses for which they are applying. Choices are not listed in preference order. All five choices are confidential during the application process so universities and colleges considering an application cannot see any of the candidate's other choices. Applications must be completed by the middle of the January of the year that the student wishes to start university.

Medical courses

Those applying for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science courses can only make up to four choices (although the other choice can be used to apply for different courses). The deadline for these courses is October 15th in the year before starting.

Art and design courses

The Route B system, where applicants applied for up to three art and design choices in preference order, was scrapped in 2009, with all prospective students now using the standard admissions procedure. Some art and design courses, however, have a later application deadline in March to apply to allow them time to complete their portfolios.


Applications to the highly selective universities of Oxford and Cambridge have an earlier deadline of October 15th, in the year before the student wishes to start university (The same also applies to Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science applicants for all British universities). An additional restriction on applications to Oxbridge is that it is not possible to apply to both the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the same admissions cycle, unless you already have a degree or will have completed a degree before you start a course at either university.[5]

Costs and personal data required

For 2012 applications, the cost is £11 to apply to one course or £22 per student to apply to two or more courses.[6] This is normally paid by the student.

The application also includes current qualifications, employment and criminal history, a personal statement and a reference (which generally includes predicted grades if the applicant is still in education). The application is then forwarded by UCAS to the institutions applied to, who decide whether to make an offer of a place.

Timetable for offers

Students, whose applications are submitted by the January deadline, would usually expect to receive either offers or rejections from all five choices by mid-May, although UCAS advises universities and colleges to send their decisions by the end of March. If candidates applied to five choices and find themselves without any offers or have declined all of their offers, they may apply for an additional course that still has sufficient places through the process of UCAS Extra. Extra runs from mid-February until the end of June. Otherwise, they would go through the UCAS Clearing process.

Type of offers

Offers are either conditional, i.e. dependent on future examination performance, or unconditional. Once the applicant has received responses from all the institutions applied to, they must respond by accepting up to two choices, one Firm Acceptance and one Insurance Acceptance, whereas the remainder are Declined. There are only 4 possible offer combinations:

  1. UF (Unconditional Firm, no Insurance offer)
  2. CF (Conditional Firm, no Insurance offer)
  3. CF + UI (Conditional Firm + Unconditional Insurance)
  4. CF + CI (Conditional Firm + Conditional Insurance)

In addition, many institutions still consider accepting students that narrowly missed their conditional offer provided there are sufficient places for admissions. Otherwise, if the candidates have achieved the conditions for the Insurance offer (or if this offer is unconditional), they will be admitted in the Insurance course.

Confirmation of places

Final place confirmations are generally during the month of August, when the results of the A-level and Higher examinations become available.

If candidates miss the conditions on both the Firm and Insurance offers and there were not sufficient places for admissions on either course, UCAS Clearing allows candidates to apply for any course that has places at that time.

The system is sophisticated and allows for many different routes. Its advantages for both applicants and institutions are that it eliminates duplication of effort, and provides a fair and consistent framework within which both applicants and institutions can compete.

Personal statement

The personal statement is a very important part of the application. It gives candidates a chance to write freely about themselves and their interest in the subject, as opposed to the rest of the application which consists mainly of 'objective' information. The statement can form the basis of an interview discussion. A personal statement can be up to 4,000 characters (including spaces) or 47 lines, whichever comes first.[7] It can be compared with the admissions essay in the United States.


UCAS has a tariff system (more commonly known as UCAS points), which allows qualifications to be converted into points (e.g. an A at A Level is worth 120 points) and then added together to give a total that can be used as a requirement to get into a course (a course may require 260 points, for example). The UCAS Tariff now attempts to cover all UK qualifications and some foreign qualifications.[8] Currently the only qualification that is offered in the UK that was not covered earlier by the UCAS tariff is the International Baccalaureate Diploma.

There are a wide variety of qualifications that can be awarded tariff points:

For the 2006 entry season the Leaving Certificate issued in the Republic of Ireland will be admitted to the UCAS Tariff so that it can be placed on direct parity with other awards. This is in response to the high number of Leaving Certificate students who read subjects at universities in the UCAS system, especially at those in Northern Ireland. It will allow students who take the Leaving Certificate to follow a simpler and more consistent access to British universities, as currently each university in the UK decides the merit of the award in accordance with its own criteria.

Qualifications are being added to the tariff system frequently, as long as they conform to the National Qualifications Framework or the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework and are being used as entry routes in to higher education.

The tariff system is not a universal measure. It is a maximum amount. Frequently courses are advertised which demand a certain number of tariff points from different subjects. The requirements will vary by course. Academic courses will generally want academic qualifications while vocational courses will want vocational qualifications. Different universities and different courses have different demands. Some teachers and students have been angered when made aware of the claimed existence of widely suspected, but undisclosed, sets of subjects which may be either discounted, or preclude altogether a candidate from admission to certain universities, such as Russell Group universities.[9] The Key Skills Qualifications and A-level General Studies have also come under fire for this reason, since they are compulsory at some schools but a large number of universities discount them from their tariff calculation.[10][11]


UCAS Clearing is the exception to the rule of application through UCAS, which comes at the very end of the admissions season, when courses are about to begin. From July until late September, the Clearing process helps applicants without places to find institutions with courses that still have places available. However once UCAS's clearing operation is complete, institutions with available places do advertise publicly, and some students find places by direct application at that stage.


Adjustment is available to applicants who meet and exceed the conditions of their conditional firm offer. They can search for a place at another institution for five consecutive calendar days while still holding their place on their original course. The five days start from the day that their original offer is confirmed, or from the third Thursday in August (A level results day). Adjustment finishes on 31 August, meaning some applicants may have fewer than five days if their original offer is confirmed late in August. Applicants will have to contact institutions themselves, in a similar manner to the Clearing process, to ask about places that may be available on a course of their choice.

Once a place has been accepted through Adjustment, the original place is lost. Registration expires after the five calendar days, and applicants who have not found another place will retain their original offer.

Extra applications

For applicants who fail to obtain any offers, or elect to decline any offers they have received, UCAS offers the candidate an "extra" chance to apply to a sixth institution, in addition to the five the applicant initially applied to. This is an automatic process, which is advertised only to eligible candidates. Extra is a chance for applicants to take another chance at applying to their chosen course, or if plans have changed, the applicant can choose to apply to a different course.

UCAS data

The statistics on numbers of applications provided by the UCAS process provide a sensitive indicator of the relative popularity of institutions and academic disciplines, and on national and regional patterns of supply and demand for higher education. They are studied in depth by university managers and those concerned with higher education policy.

UCAS subsidiaries

UCAS operates two postgraduate application services: the first is UKPASS (UK Postgraduate Application and Statistical Service) [12] which was introduced in 2007 and has a number of universities and colleges lining to join up to the service.

The second is the GTTR (Graduate Teacher Training Registry) for PGCE and PGDE courses (which provide initial teacher training for graduates).

As no British conservatoires are members of UCAS, it also operates CUKAS (Conservatoires UK Admissions Service) in conjunction with Conservatoires UK. CUKAS manages applications for both undergraduate and postgraduate music degrees at most (but not all) conservatoires. Those conservatoires that are not members of CUKAS handle their own admissions.

UCAS also operated NMAS (Nursing and Midwifery Admissions Service) for non-degree nursing and midwifery courses until September 2007, when these courses were incorporated into the UCAS scheme.


  1. ^ "Go Higher: The funds that finance UCAS". The Independent. 18 October 1998. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/go-higher-the-funds-that-finance-ucas-1178919.html. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  2. ^ "SO9524 : UCAS, New Barn Lane". Geograph.org.uk. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/881170. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  3. ^ Geograph.org.uk
  4. ^ Provisional end of cycle report
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ UCAS website: price listings.
  7. ^ "Your personal statement". UCAS.com. http://www.ucas.com/students/applying/howtoapply/personalstatement. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  8. ^ Until 2002, (when the first students studying "Curriculum 2000" finished A levels and applied to university) a simpler system was used which covered only A and AS levels, assigning them up to 10 and up to 5 points, respectively.
  9. ^ Shepherd, Jessica (2010-08-20). "A-level results: Top universities secretly list 'banned' subjects – teachers". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/aug/20/a-level-subjects-blacklist-claim. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  10. ^ "Advanced level general studies". http://www.burford.oxon.sch.uk/bnew/sixthform/curriculum/subjects/generalstudies/default.htm. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  11. ^ "General Studies A Level". BHASVIC. http://www.bhasvic.ac.uk/courses/general_studies.htm. Retrieved 16 September 2010. [dead link]
  12. ^ "Make the most of ukpass.ac.uk". http://www.ukpass.ac.uk/. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 

External links

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