Skip to Content

Large Image

Application through UCAS

Today in our Dear Headteacher series, we share the timetable and guidance followed by staff and pupils at Sherborne School when navigating their way through the university application process.

Many of you will have similar, well-established schedules to work to, while others may work more closely to the timetable laid out by UCAS. Sherborne’s programme is designed to give applicants opportunities to consider and discuss their choices early and thoroughly, to make administration easier for all involved and allow staff the time they need to provide good-quality advice and guidance, and to ensure nothing is left to the last minute.

Not everybody has the resources to provide all the hours of one-to-one counselling, mock interviews and university visits that Sherborne gives its pupils – but good planning and management can make a big difference.


The Universities’ and Colleges’ Admissions Service (UCAS) is based in Cheltenham and acts as an intermediary between applicants and Higher Education institutions.

Applicants apply on-line using UCAS Apply and Track. They are then given an application number, which applicants should store safely, and they can at any stage check the progress of decisions made by their chosen universities.

A suggested timetable of events

Year 12


  • Students complete Centigrade questionnaire on Higher Education.
  • Students and parents are given an outline of 6th Form Careers Department programme.
  • Students are encouraged to visit universities at half term to get sense of university atmosphere and meet students during term time (uni terms are shorter!).


  • Students have an individual 30-minute interview to discuss Higher Education plans in the context of their Centigrade results, and agree further research.


  • Taster course for prospective Medicine applicants (for example, Medlink).


  • Visits to Oxford


  • Lecture on UCAS system and HE choice.
  • Students are offered an individual interview: Tutors monitor research and encourage them to match their “aspirations” (grades required for courses under consideration) with their “perspirations” (current academic achievement).
  • Students are encouraged to visit universities at half term.


  • Year 12 Careers Convention: an opportunity to test evolving HE ideas against career areas before deciding on HE courses.


  • Higher Education Forum: an opportunity for parents and students to meet admissions tutors, alumni currently at university, school staff recently at uni and Careers Department staff. Includes introduction to UCAS process.


  • Students are encouraged to visit universities at half term.


  • Visit of whole of Year 12 to a university open day.
  • Students complete personal information sections of UCAS Apply and have at least one individual 20-minute interview.
  • Students begin drafting their UCAS Personal Statement.


  • Students undertake taster courses (eg Headstart for Engineering), work shadowing, reading and other activities to improve their UCAS application.
  • Medicine applicants sit UKCAT Clinical Aptitude Test.


  • Members of the Careers Department work much of the week following A/AS Level examination results. Their focus is on helping U6 leavers with university entrance issues, but they might discuss evolving HE plans in the light of AS results.

Year 13


  • Students are interviewed individually to discuss their HE plans in the light of AS examination results.
  • Students complete their final research and fill in a UCAS form as soon as possible. We often hear Admissions Tutors saying that an early application is likely to get a better response.

Late September deadline

  • The school sets a date in September by which all Oxford, Cambridge, Dentistry, Medicine, Veterinary applicants must complete a UCAS form. Other applicants for courses at highly selective universities should also complete a UCAS form by this date.

Mid-October deadline

  • All other applicants should aim to complete a UCAS form by this deadline set by the school. Submission in November runs the risk of losing offers and reference compilers not having an opportunity at the busy end of term to compile a reference.


  • BMAT (Medicine, etc) and Oxford and Cambridge exams for some subjects are sat by applicants at school. LNAT (Law) exams are sat throughout the application period.
  • Students who have not yet submitted a UCAS form meet with Careers Department by a date in mid-November. Those who have still not submitted finalise their forms with tutors a few days later.


  • School-set final date for students to submit UCAS form


  • Practice Interview Evening with other local schools for Oxford, Cambridge, Dentistry, Medicine and Veterinary applicants.
  • NB: Practice interviews can be arranged (with reasonable notice) for all applicants offered a university interview.

15 January deadline

  • The official deadline for many UCAS applicants. However, many universities have been making offers from October, and there are correspondingly fewer offers to be made by this stage. DO NOT TREAT THIS AS YOUR DEADLINE!


UK applicants complete a student finance application at


  • Students are interviewed individually about their evolving HE plans in the light of offers/rejections received from unis, in particular about which unis they plan to make first (Firm) and second (Insurance) choice, when they reduce their offers to two.


  • Final Decision of Firm and Insurance choices MUST be sent to UCAS by the specified date, or UCAS will conclude that all offers have been declined.


  • Check that the address which UCAS has for you is up to date. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.


  • It is highly desirable that applicants are available (preferably in this country) at the time A level results come out in mid-August, in case the Careers Department needs to be contacted and universities need to be visited, if the results are unexpected. It is sometimes necessary to act quickly.
  • The procedure when results are published:
    • If required grades for firm choice university have been achieved, simply wait for confirmation of place and sign acceptance form.
    • If required grades for firm choice university are not achieved, consult UCAS Track. If firm choice does not accept you with reduced grades, your application is automatically passed to insurance choice.
    • If required grades for insurance choice university are achieved, simply wait for confirmation of place and sign acceptance form.
    • If required grades for insurance choice university are not achieved, consult UCAS Track and the university directly. If insurance choice does not accept you with reduced grades, your application automatically enters Clearing, and you might try to gain a place on a course where there are still spaces.
  • It is important that you engage in this process before many places are taken by other applicants in Clearing, but it is also important to visit any university which you are now considering and not jump into somewhere (perhaps in a state of shock from disappointing results).
  • The Careers Department is available for most of the week after the results are published to offer advice.


  • PLEASE NOTE! Anyone applying through the school after leaving school is expected to apply before the deadlines set for our current students. Neither we nor referees are in a position to drop everything to help a former student who submits an application last moment.

The UCAS Tariff

The most selective universities make offers in terms of 3 A level grades. Some subjects at some of these universities also require a fourth subject at AS level. These universities give IB offers in IB diploma points.

Many other universities, however, use a points system based on the following UCAS Tariff:

UCAS tarriff

Thus an offer of 120 points might specify “from 3 A levels” (ie BBB, ABC, AAD, etc) or might allow applicants to include their stand-alone” AS level result, as well as their 3 A levels (eg BBC at full A level, plus the extra 10 points from a grade D at AS level).

Even if a points offer is confined to only 3 A levels, it is more flexible than an offer of specific grades. For example, if an applicant achieves ABC, s/he has failed to make an offer of BBB, but has made an offer of 120 points.

Application in Year 13 versus application after leaving school

We strongly advise all students to submit a UCAS application in Year 13, even those who are strongly committed to a gap year and those who are unsure about choice of subject.

There are two strong arguments in favour of applying during Year 13:

  • As is clear from the timetable above, there is quite a complex system to learn and negotiate. It is far easier to learn the system while a student has the Careers Deptartment available to help directly on a daily basis. Students who have not applied in Year 13 usually experience far greater difficulties than they have anticipated in getting to grips with the system.
  • Having offers to aim for acts as an incentive to greater academic achievement in Year 13.

Remember that applicants are not committing themselves to going anywhere or to studying any subject, until after they have received their A level results. It is only at this stage that the applicants are required to sign their side of the contract. If they wish to withdraw and reapply, this is fine: it is most unlikely that a previous application to the same department of a university will count against them. If applicants are unsure about choice of subject(s) in their Year 13 application, they should regard this as a trial run for a post-A level application.

Those who postpone an uncomfortable decision by insisting that they will apply “next year” are advised to consider that they will be reapplying just a couple of months after they leave school.

Those applying after leaving school and contemplating distant travel during a gap year need to bear in mind when universities might need to interview them or when they might need to sit entrance tests (eg early November for BMAT and some subjects at Oxford).

The applicants who apply after leaving school will, of course, have A level grades to show to universities, so they will receive an unconditional offer based on their performance, unless they have chosen to resit modules during their gap year, in which case they will be given a conditional offer in terms of grades or points required, as for a Year 13 applicant.

Gap Year tactics

Taking a gap year is a personal choice and can be of immense benefit in a variety of ways. If a student is considering a gap year, we urge that it is structured: ie that it includes periods of time dedicated to productive projects and that it does not consist of drifting from job to job to raise funds for drifting from beach to beach. Those students who drop out of university are, so far as we can tell, often of the drifting variety, who, after a year of drifting, find the self-discipline required in a university environment too difficult.

In terms of university application, it is important that applicants check the view about gap years with the departments to which they are applying. Some departments have strong views; most welcome students with or without a gap year.

Some institutions, especially music and drama colleges, do not accept applications for deferred entry.

  1. It is possible to indicate a gap year from the outset, by applying for the following year’s entry rather than current year. However, it is not possible to change a deferred entry application later in the current application cycle, (that is, you could not apply for 2018 admission then change it back to 2017 later.)
  2. However, many but not all universities are prepared to let applicants defer their entry to the following year during the application cycle. This has the advantage of allowing applicants more time to decide about a gap year. However, it is vital that the applicants CHECK BEFORE THEY APPLY whether the departments to which they are applying are happy to grant a deferral later in the current application cycle.

While (2) might seem preferable to many as a tactic, there are some applicants every year who do not check a department’s attitude to deferral and end up facing a dilemma between losing their offer or losing their gap year!

Take care!

The prospectuses and university websites require careful reading. Bear in mind that these documents are not likely to be entirely objective or written by disinterested observers.

In the Careers Deptartment we are available to offer advice and support. By asking students for the evidence on which they are basing their conclusions, we are helping them to make informed decisions.

Experience suggests that too many applicants do not discuss their choices soon enough or widely enough. As indicated above, we offer a structured programme, but much rightly depends on the initiative of individuals in charting their future as independent learners in Higher Education.

Dear Headteacher

Posted by Dear Headteacher on Fri, 10 Feb 2017

comments powered by Disqus

UniBox's 'Dear Headteacher' series brings together a complete set of guidance articles created by the Director of Higher Education and Careers at Sherborne School, Philip Rogerson, based on his 20 years' experience of helping pupils get the university places they deserve. 'Dear Headteacher' is part call to arms, part hard-headed advice and all good practice. We hope that schools across the UK get some hugely valuable insights out of this 2-week series, especially in terms of supportive advice.

View Profile