uk university admission
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Dubai: If you aspire to study in the United Kingdom (UK), remember that the January 31, 2024, application deadline for most of the undergraduate courses is coming up. It is time to initiate the application process.

Visiting the University and Colleges Admission Services, or UCAS, website is the first step in the UK’s application process. Here is all that you need to know to fill those application forms and make your UK education plans a reality.

Navigating the UCAS application process

University and Colleges Admission Services, or UCAS, is the service through which one can apply to UK institutions from anywhere in the world. This has made the UK application process streamlined and user-friendly. The UCAS has excellent ‘how to’ guides, which are short films that talk you through each of the steps in the admission process. Apart from this, there are information boxes that provide clarification on each aspect of the application. You can apply to up to five universities or colleges through this service, four if applying for medicine, dentistry or veterinary science/medicine.

Entrance requirements

These depend on the level of the course and vary from institution to institution. They will be listed in the prospectuses and on individual institutional websites. One test that is necessary for all international students for whom the first language is not English would be IELTS.

What is IELTS?
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) assesses the English language proficiency of people who want to study or work where English is used as the language of communication. IELTS tests four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking. The interactive speaking segment is a face-to-face interview with a certified examiner. Although the test has two formats, academic and general, you will need the academic one. IELTS Academic measures the English language proficiency needed for an academic, higher education environment. If a student is opting for a pathway or foundation programme, he or she would need the IELTS UKVI.
IELTS general training measures English language proficiency in a practical, everyday context. This version of the test is often a visa requirement for those planning to migrate to English-speaking countries like Australia, the UK and New Zealand. For most institutions, you would need to have an overall band of 5.5 or more. Some institutions need to see a 5.5 to 6 on each of the sections. If English is not your first language and you need to improve on it, you could opt for a language course before applying to a bachelor’s programme.

Applying with UCAS

UCAS ‘apply’ is the online application system that enables students to apply directly through the UCAS website. The system has been designed for independent users, schools and colleges registered with UCAS. If one is applying through the school, they would need to use the Buzzword assigned to the school. The ‘Buzzword’ is a unique alphanumeric code provided by UCAS to identify a school or organisation. Some universities also have their representatives in the UAE and one can apply through them.

Demystifying UCAS: Learn how this streamlined platform simplifies your application process.
Entrance requirements: Understand what universities expect, including IELTS scores for non-native English speakers.
Crafting your application: Tips for writing a compelling personal statement and securing strong references.
Meeting deadlines: Find out when to apply for different courses and programmes.
Securing your offer: Navigate the conditional offer process and choose your firm and insurance choices.
Beyond the application: Get insights on visas, finances, and preparing for your new life in the UK.


The criteria that students need to fit in order to use UCAS apply include:

• Live outside the UK.
• Can submit only one application in the current cycle.
• Would be able to provide an ‘academic reference’ in electronic format.
• Make the application fee payment by debit/credit card.

Register to use ‘apply’

To register, you’d need to add your personal details, get a user name, create a password and set your security questions. If your school has been assigned a buzzword, you would need to input the same. If you are applying as an independent candidate, you’d need to answer a few questions.

Some schools do not have a buzzword because they may not have the adequate number of students applying to the UK so you need not hesitate to apply as an independent candidate.

When to apply?

It is best to apply as early as possible so that you have adequate time to organise visas, travel arrangements and accommodation. One need not wait for the final results to apply. The applications can be sent with current grades and predicted grades. This means that teachers will predict the final outcomes and the universities or college will make conditional offers based on the information submitted.

Securing your references

The reference should be a teacher or tutor who knows you well and can talk about your academic capability, career aspirations and personal attributes. If, for some reason, you are no longer in school but have taken the exams as a private candidate, request your tutor, former teacher, employer or supervisor to be your referee. Family or friends cannot provide this reference letter, however well they may know you. If they do, your application could be cancelled.

What goes into this reference letter?

As an international student, it is difficult for each of you to be interviewed by the universities. It is, therefore, through your personal statement, academic profile and your referee’s recommendation that the universities get a peek at you and your capabilities. I always ask students to submit a resume or profile to the referee so that he or she gets to know all that you have undertaken both within and outside school.

The referee should give a descriptive account of his or her impression of you, your academic record, learning style, career aspirations, supporting work experience, any academic honours or any challenges that might have affected your academic profile. (Ill health, loss of a family member, or any such extenuating circumstances).

Should you have any health issues, you would need to grant the referee permission to mention them in the reference so that your chosen universities are aware of them.

Your application form will be complete only after your reference letter has been submitted, so please ensure that your referee has received a request email. You will not be able to access your reference letter; it goes directly to UCAS once the referee has uploaded the document.


For certain subjects like medicine and teacher education programmes, the applicants are required to attend an interview. This may be in the UK or occasionally in the student’s home country. Policies regarding this vary with each institution. Applicants to Oxford and Cambridge too will be interviewed if shortlisted. A word of caution though: An interview call does not mean you are automatically selected.

What happens next?

UCAS will process all applications and send copies to the chosen institutions. The institutions then consider the application and inform UCAS whether they wish to offer you a place. If you have already attained the entrance qualification required for the chosen course, the offer may be unconditional but if you are currently pursuing the course and need to pass the qualifying examinations, the offer may be conditional on passing those exams at specified grades. You can track your applications through the UCAS site. Once all the decisions have come in from the chosen colleges/universities, you have to decide on two offers, the first choice (firm acceptance) and a second choice (held as an insurance or back-up). If the offer from the firm choice is unconditional and you accept this, then you will not be able to make an insurance choice.

Accepting offers

Once you get your final grades, a copy of the results should be sent to the university/college which are holding the conditional offers. For students pursuing the British curriculum, UCAS will receive the results directly from the examination board. If you have been able to meet the condition set by the institution, the institution will make the offer unconditional. If the firm choice is confirmed, the insurance offer stands cancelled.

UCAS ‘extra’

If you do not have any offers from your chosen institutions between February 25 and July 3, you can make use of the service called ‘extra’. This is useful for those students from the CBSE or ICSE system who may have gotten their results and now want to look at the UK as an option. Here, you can search for courses with extra availability. If you opt for UCAS media mailings, you will be able to get emails from universities and colleges with information on vacancies. Through extra, you can also consider a related programme or alternative subjects.

Once you get your final grades, a copy of the results should be sent to the university/college which are holding the conditional offers. For students pursuing the British curriculum, UCAS will receive the results directly from the examination board. If you have been able to meet the condition set by the institution, the institution will make the offer unconditional. If the firm choice is confirmed, the insurance offer stands cancelled.

- Rema Menon

‘Clearing’ – the final phase of the UCAS cycle

The final phase of the UCAS cycle is for those students who have not got any offers because they have not been able to meet the conditions stipulated in their offer. UCAS sends a clearing entry form to all eligible applicants and then they negotiate directly with those universities or colleges that have advertised vacancies. This process takes place after the UK results are out in July/August. UCAS has a complete list of vacancies updated daily so students who have not managed to secure a place can use this route for entry.

I have had students who took this option that are now happy and doing well in their chosen subjects. People have a mistaken notion that institutions of repute will not offer places through clearing. Every year, many students who have secured conditional offers fail to do well in the board exams and are not accepted. These places then become available in the clearing process.

Throughout the application process, UCAS makes updated information available. It is up to you to do the research and make judicious choices in keeping with your career goals.

Financial matters

Once accepted, you will get a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). When you apply for the visa, you would need the CAS, proof of English proficiency and funds enough to cover tuition, living and other incidental expenses during your period of study. This money should be held in the account of the applicant or parent/s for a period of one month.

So if United Kingdom is your preferred study destination, apply as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. All the very best!

- The writer is the Director of Counselling Point, a Dubai-based training and development centre

I submitted my UCAS application on December 8, securing early offers that motivated me to excel in my studies. The head start allowed me to focus on meeting conditional requirements, boosting my determination. Plus, knowing my offers early helped plan applications to universities in the US and Canada, giving me more liberty as I already have UK offers to fall back on.

- Harishankar Sherith Kottayi, 17 years old

I have submitted my applications to five UK universities through early admissions on UCAS, out of which I have already been given a conditional offer to three universities. The UK application experience has definitely been an eye-opener to what the universities are looking for in an applicant, as well as how I can improve on my CV and help create a well-rounded application based on the research interests of the university.

- Nitin Koithra, 18 years old

I am currently beginning my application process for Masters in Psychology in UK. It has been an enlightening experience for sure, learning about the various career paths available in my field and the qualifications I need to achieve in the UK to pursue the same. However, as I am applying directly via each university's website, I have faced issues regarding a lack of clarity about application requirements, deadlines and even semester start dates, and communicating these issues with the universities are often time-consuming. Nevertheless, the UK does provide some interesting opportunities for both learning and practice, especially in the clinical field, which I am very excited to pursue.

- Lakshmipriya Nair, 20 years old