A quick guide to the UCAS application

Jun 2024

7 Minute Read

Tagged as: Applying to Elite Universities, US vs UK, How to Apply

Gives an overview of the basics of the UCAS system and application parts


The UCAS is the application portal for nearly all universities in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This application is very streamlined, simple to use, and provides users with many ways to stay current on news and updates related to UK universities.

If you are considering applying for a program in the UK, this post will guide you through the UCAS application and what you need to know before you apply.

If you are planning on applying to schools in the US, Occam's Vitae.Me app can help (download here on iOS and Android). Vitae.Me allows you to find the right schools to apply to, track all your application tasks and stay on top of deadlines.

UCAS Basics

Unlike the US, where students can apply to as many schools (and thus, programs) as they wish, the UCAS limits applicants to five courses. This means that candidates can apply to one course each at five different schools, or five courses at one school if they wish. Applicants may also only submit one UCAS application per cycle. This condition also prevents people from applying to more than five courses.

Those considering Oxford and Cambridge should note that you may only apply to one school or the other: not both.

For most courses, the application deadline is January 15. However, if the applicant is considering the following courses or schools, they must be ready to submit your application three months earlier (October 15):

  • Medicine
  • Dentistry
  • Veterinary medicine
  • Veterinary science
  • Any course at Oxford OR Cambridge

Those who want to enter one of the four courses listed above may only apply to four courses in that subject, rather than five. For example, if you apply to four courses in medicine, you may not add a fifth. However, you could apply to four medicine courses and one dentistry course, if you so choose.

Completing the application

Filling out the UCAS online is relatively simple. Students outside the UK and the EU need to complete the following steps:

  • Basic personal information: Aside from basics, the UCAS also asks you to provide funding sources, your UK residential status, and any special needs or disabilities.
  • Your course and school choices
  • Full education history: In addition to listing all schools you have attended and lectures you have taken, you must list other qualifications such as exam scores. For some international students, the application slots might not match what you have. However, this is not a problem—you have the option of marking "other" and mailing in your exam results or grade reports, depending on what the university asks for.
  • Exam scores: Any applicable exams, such as A-levels, IB assessments, and AP exams, go here. You must list all the exams that you have taken or will soon take, even if you don't yet have your score report. If this scenario applies to you, make sure and have the official scores sent to all schools to which you are applying.
  • Employment history: For those applicants who have had paid jobs, this information goes in this section. Volunteer work or unpaid internships do not get listed here.
  • Personal essay: All applicants must write a 4,000-character personal statement. This essay will be seen by all schools that you apply to, so the UCAS advises applicants not to mention specific universities. If you have a volunteer experience or internship you are proud of, this is the place to do it.
  • Add a recommender (reference): At this point, the applicant will add a teacher, professional, or mentor who knows the applicant academically. This person will then write the student a letter of reference.
  • Pay the application fee: The UCAS application fee is £13 if you only apply to one course, and £24 for 2-5 courses.

This article is a good starting point for understanding the requirements of the UCAS application. Like most university applications, it is complex and has a lot of tasks to take care of. The US college system is very similar in that way, which is why Occam created Wend (download here on iOS), the app that will help you navigate the college application process effectively and efficiently!

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