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Don’t leave UCAS applications to the last minute

Oh blimey, 2016 is upon us. Which means the UCAS deadline is around the corner. For most undergraduate degree courses it’s 6pm on 15 January.

But it’s not a good idea to think you can leave it until the 15th and fire up your laptop at 5.45pm.

UCAS says: “If your completed application – including all your personal details and your academic reference – is submitted by the deadline, it is guaranteed to be considered.” But there can be advantages to getting your applications in sooner – perhaps much, much sooner.

Get it done

Certainly, if you haven’t done it yet, then it’s time to knuckle down to it. If nothing else, why not start the New Year by getting into the habit of getting important things done? There could be many things holding you back, if at application hasn’t been submitted yet. You might be paralysed by a fear of failure, or of making mistakes. Or maybe you’ve always been a high-achiever and you think it’s going to be a breeze to finish it all off at the last minute.

Either way, putting it off isn’t going to help – quite the opposite. Mistakes creep in when you rush things. Admissions tutors have seen thousands of applications, and they can read in your statement whether you have done a rushed job, or have taken the time to write something considered.

Student advice organisation Target Careers, for example, says: “Don’t leave submitting your UCAS form till [sic] the very last minute. It’s important to give yourself plenty of time, and remember, the form isn’t finished until your referee has put in the reference. It’s not unknown for eleventh-hour applicants to miss key deadlines because of problems such as temporarily losing internet access.”

Those things you can’t foresee, like losing internet access? They really do happen – just ask the folks whose homes were left half underwater by the floods brought by the Christmas storms. You may need time to chase down your reference, proof-read your personal statement or sort out payment.  Yes, you do need someone with a good eye to read through your personal statement for you, to spot errors and make suggestions. This is not a time to be precious or nervous about your writing. Some constructive criticism is absolutely the best thing for you; even the best writers in the world have editors, and value them highly.

So procrastination will only make things worse. Take a look at the Done Manifesto for a bit of inspiration for getting the task completed with a sense of urgency. (I would take issue with rule #3 – “There is no editing stage”. This rule is about seeing past the things that might stop you from finishing, but in this case you should definitely allow yourself some editing time. Ditto rule #8 – “Laugh at perfection” – because in your application, little things like spelling and punctuation become very important.) Another way of getting yourself to bite the bullet is to think of it not as something “to do”, but something you really, really want “to have done”.

What’s the advantage to getting my UCAS application done early?

It depends who you ask.

According to consumer group Which?, “submitting your application early may increase your chances of being offered a place”. They say: “some universities will start making offers as soon as they receive applications through – meaning you’ll be competing for fewer places if you’re a later applicant.”

TheStudentRoom, on the other hand, stresses: “Unis are expected to give equal weighting – or consideration – to every application that lands in their inbox before the January deadline. No matter whether you send in your application at the start of September or on 15 January, your application will be given just as much priority.”

However, offers are not the same as places. TSR’s Apply 2016 FAQ thread has a sticky at the top that explains: “The number of offers a uni makes for a specific course is not the same as the number of places they actually have. Unis know, through long experience, what proportion of the offers they make will convert into ‘bums on seats’ in September/October. So, even Oxford and Cambridge make more offers than they have places…  Other unis, where a fair proportion of offers that are made don’t get accepted in the first place, whether as a firm or insurance choice, will need to make far more offers to make sure that they fill the course. So, if they receive applications in October that tick all their boxes, they aren’t going to hang around until January before making offers. If an application is obviously above their particular ‘line’ an offer will be made whether the application was received in October or at 17.59 on 15 January.”

So it may be to your advantage to get your application in early, when some universities will be giving each one plenty of consideration because they want to fill up their courses, as opposed to later, when those same unis could be starting to worry about over-filling their courses.

Other universities don’t even start looking at applications until after the 15 January deadline, so they can consider the whole cohort at once. If you want to find out which system your choice of unis uses, you could always try calling their admissions office. But maybe it’s better just to get the application in early.

Importantly, getting it done early allows you to focus on your studies without the added worry. You may hear back a bit sooner from your uni choices with offers – possibly giving you a couple of weeks or more of knowing what you’re expected to achieve (and being able to take remedial action). You may also get a better choice of interview dates.

Lastly, it’s widely regarded as a myth that applying in October will disadvantage you with some universities who assume you are applying to Oxbridge. As theStudentRoom says: “Unis do not see where else you have applied until all your decisions have been made. All those myths about how Durham will reject you automatically because they think you have applied to Oxbridge are just that: myths. It is possible for someone to be accepted by a top ten uni and rejected by others – the reason for this is that unis look for different things in their applicants. No uni is going to turn away a good applicant just because they might have applied to a competitor university!”

But are there benefits to applying later?

For a student who isn’t quite sure in October what they would like to study at university, it may be better to wait a while. The most important thing is to pick the right course for you at the right uni, so don’t rush to get in early if it means you’re not fully considering what to study and where.

October to December is a long time. You will be much further into your A level subjects by December, and might have a better idea of what you like and the direction you want to go in. You also get more time to visit open days or do other research to help make up your mind, if you’re still uncertain.

What happens if you’re late applying?

Missing the 15 January deadline isn’t the end of the world. At this stage, you’ve still got until the end of June to get an application in, though your choices will be more limited and the “equal consideration” guarantee no longer applies to your application. Many courses will have filled up, but outside the ultra-competitive ones there will still be courses with places you can apply for.

Perversely, if you miss 15 January you should not now rush to apply. You still need to avoid making those silly mistakes, after all, but there could be no point anyway, as TheStudentRoom explains: “As unis will be processing the applications received before the deadline, they may not know for a few weeks afterwards whether they can consider any more. So, if you hold out until mid-to-late February, unis will be notifying UCAS whether they will be in UCAS

Extra and if so for which courses. That gives you a better idea of what’s still out there.”
You can use the UCAS website course finder without having to register, then you should call the uni to ask whether they would consider you. This page at TheStudentRoom talks about the late application process in more detail.

Good luck, and happy New Year!

Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Thu, 9 Feb 2017

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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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