Applying to UK Universities


Notes on how to choose the right course for university and how to make a strong application. 


Sarah Charters


Choosing courses and making an application

The basics

UCAS is the central application system. This is where students register their details, their qualifications and upload their personal statement, as well as sending the application.

For most courses, the deadline is mid-January. 

In the UK, applications are submitted before results are received. This means that students are judged on factors other than their academic performance. 

On average, there are 10-15 applicants per place. 


A timeline

Spring Term of Lower Sixth- students should start researching subject choices, reading around areas of interest, speaking with teachers, parents and organising relevant work experience.

Summer- Visit universities on open days, have a good idea of which 5 universities will be applying to, write a draft personal statement and register with UCAS.

Autumn Term-  Finish personal statement, submit UCAS application and prepare for interviews and written tests where appropriate. 

Autumn/Winter/Spring- Offers and rejections received, decide which offers to accept/make firm

Summer- A Level exams and results, confirmation of place or clearing.


Choosing the subject

These are pointers that can help decide: 

Look at what they would like to do as a career. Schools might use Centigrade or Prevue. This is an aptitude questionnaire to decide which careers could be suited to a students abilities and interests. Please note, the results of Centigrade do not need to dictate university choice but are a useful guide. 

An A-Level that they love and want to continue. For some subjects at A-Level, there will be a topic within a subject that they might like to study further.

An area of enjoyment/interest such as History of Art or Anthropology. 

Look at the course content at individual universities. Some institutions will have more emphasis on essays/exams than others. Also research the department of the university that they want to apply to. 


Researching the subject:

Open days; look up the open days of universities that are of interest to you and sit in on the course talks.

Look at a relevant professional organisation such as the institute of Directors/Engineers. These can offer excellent information. 

Look at TED lectures and related magazines/journals.

The news

Short online courses or courses throughout summer.

Read around the subject.


Institution Choice:

Course content (mentioned above)

Graduate destinations

Accommodation and facilities


Where to find information:

University websites and prospectuses

UCAS website 

School careers library

HEAP university guide

The Trotman Getting into.. series

Which?university guide


A Successful Application- The Right Ingredients

The right subjects, right results and predictions, a very good personal statement, good reference, entrance tests/interviews, conditional or unconditional offer (with conditions e.g. put me as your first choice), results. All universities will have information about their entry requirements on their admissions website.

GCSEs matter. Due to the reforms, schools no longer have AS grades to help predict students A2 grades. All academic performance matters as predicted grades will affect the universities that students apply to.


The Right Subjects


Keep the subjects broad at GCSE

Make sure that 2/3 of your subjects are ‘facilitating subjects’. More information about these can be found here.

On all subject pages on university admissions will be advice on which degrees need specific subjects.

If your child has any questions about subject requirements make sure they contact the university themselves. 

If your child’s school offers EPQ (extended project qualification) then advise they do this on a subject they could go onto study at university.


The Personal Statement

This is important but your child will probably try and put this off. The hardest part is starting. Here are some pointers as to how you can break the daunting task into something digestible. 

Your personal statement will be read by all 5 universities that you apply to. Do not state a preference for one university over another. 

The personal statement is 4000 characters long (including spaces). 

There is a similarity detection service.

Allow twice as much time as you think you need.


To get started:

Write lists with words describing; why this subject? What first got you interested in it? Did you meet someone who studies it? Did you meet someone who works in the field? What gets you excited about it? What are the skills you have that you can see the course requires?

Use positive, galvanising words.

Using your list of words find evidence to back up what has been written down. E.g. Work experience, volunteering etc.

Then go through this list and choose the most important bits to put in. They should all answer the above questions. 


Part 1: Why you want to study this course

Part 2: Which aspect of it particularly interests the student/what did you see, what did you learn?

Part 3: What you have done to engage in the subject? This is the reading, lectures, courses etc that you have done in your free time and what you gained from it. 

Part 4: The transferrable skills that you have gained from sports, hobbies that could be applied to the course.

Part 5: A positive ending e.g. ‘I look forward to the next stage of my academic career, furthering my understanding of this incredible subject.’



Bonas MacFarlane has a long history of success helping students secure admission to the UK’s top universities. Our specialism is managing the challenging application process to leading institutions.

For UK applicants we provide:

Assistance and guidance with the UCAS application and personal statement writing

Private university campus tours and one-to-one consultancy to help identify and select the most appropriate higher education pathway for a student

Interview and exam preparation to ensure our students present themselves and achieve the grades that will gain admission to the most prestigious institutions

One-to-one teaching is the best way to boost confidence at the crucial time before interviews and before the start of the exam period.


If you are interested in finding out more please contact the office on:

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