UCAS Hacks: Little known tips & tricks

The UCAS application process to UK universities is a very straightforward one and most schools manage it very effectively. However, there are some extra processes that some schools and students are unaware of which can make a big difference:

You don’t have to apply to all five choices at once

Students often agonise about completing their five choices, and sometimes worry about all the possible permutations that can result from their A Level, Pre U or IB exams and make sure that these are all covered. However, much like the Early Action process in the US, it’s possible to hold back on submitting all your applications until you’ve already had some responses.

This means that you can apply slightly ambitiously to two or three courses early in the process and wait to see what replies you get. Depending on how this goes, students can then fill up the remaining choices in the light of knowledge of what’s already on the table. Added to this, by January the student and their teachers are likely to have a better idea of the likelihood of achieving the predicted grades, again allowing for more informed choices.

To explain how this works in practice might be important. Here are two examples:

  • A student is predicted AAA, but feels that with some hard work and the chance to prove himself, he can get at least one of those to an A*. Feeling under pressure to get his UCAS application in, he applies to two courses at AAA and holds off on the remaining three. Having received two replies by Christmas, one at AAA and one at AAB, both from universities he likes, he now feels safe to add three choices at A*AA and ‘spin the wheel’ knowing that he has some excellent options already secured and can be more ambitious.

  • A student predicted 36 IB points with 666 might apply to three courses, two of which she has the grades for but one which is asking for slightly more. With her application submitted in October, she is fortunate enough to have heard back from all three by mid-December. She has three offers, including one at 38 with 776, but knows that she has found her first term of her Upper Sixth year tougher than she thought, and now feels that 34 with 665 might be her limit. To ensure she has all her options covered, she now adds two choices at 34 and 32, knowing that she is more likely to end up in this range in the summer.

If you do better than predicted, you can still search for places

On odd occasions, students undersell themselves with their applications, and don’t apply for courses at the grades that they eventually go on to get. For students who find themselves in this situation, there’s UCAS Adjustment, a process which allows students to hold an offer (most likely now an Unconditional Firm) and shop around to see if other universities asking for higher grades might take you.

The alternative offer

Sometimes a student really wants to apply to one university and is interested in a couple of courses at that university, perhaps closely related courses. Sometimes a university can’t offer a student for the course that they’ve applied for, but thinks that they’ll be a good fit for another course. In these situations, the ‘alternative offer’ comes in: when you are made an offer for a course other than the one that was applied for.

Students in the first scenario can communicate their interest directly to the university after application: perhaps through an applicant portal or through a well-written email. This can be helpful for the university which, after all, is trying to fill all its programmes with students of the right calibre and knows that not all programmes are as popular as some.

The alternative personal statement

A major issue some students find is writing one personal statement that might have to serve for an application for more than one course, without wishing to weaken any single applications. In these circumstances, knowing which universities will accept a substitute or supplemental statement can be very helpful. Publicly, only Durham and Exeter will acknowledge that they do, but I’ve had students ask particular programmes at other universities (such as Planning and Real Estate at UCL) who have been able to do so.

Please get in touch if you have any more tips and tricks!

UKDavid Hawkins