How to apply for a higher education course

How and when you apply for higher education depends on what type of course you’re applying for and, in some cases, which universities or colleges you’re applying to. Whichever route you use, it’s worth starting your preparations early.

Full-time courses

For the vast majority of full-time undergraduate courses, you’ll need to apply online through the UCAS website.

There are six steps to follow when applying for a university or college place through UCAS.

Step one: applying for a place

You usually apply in the academic year before you plan to go to college. The  earliest you can send in a finished application is the September before you want to start your course (unless you are applying to postpone your place until the following year.)

If you haven't done your exams by this stage, your application will be based on the grades your teachers or lecturers predict you will achieve.

To find out how to apply and about the deadlines you'll need to meet, follow the link below:

Applying late for courses

If you miss the 15 January UCAS deadline, you can still apply up to 30 June, but popular courses may already be full.

If you’re applying to the University of Oxford

If you’re applying to the University of Oxford, you’ll also need to complete a second application form (called the ‘Oxford application form’).

If you’re applying to a music conservatoire

Admissions to all UK music conservatoires, except The Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Academy of Music, are dealt with by the Conservatoires UK Admissions Service (CUKAS).

Initial Teacher Training and other postgraduate courses

The application procedures are different for postgraduate Initial Teacher Training courses and for other postgraduate courses.

Step two: interviews

Once you’ve applied to UCAS, your application gets passed to the institutions you've chosen.

Each university or college has its own application procedure. Some may ask you to come for interview and you may also be asked to take a test. Others may offer you a place based on the information on your application.

Step three: applying for financial help

Once you've made your UCAS application, you can apply for financial help as soon as student finance applications open. You don't need to wait for an offer. Find out how much you could get and how to apply online for student finance.

Step four: getting an offer

If you send in your UCAS application by the relevant deadline, you will usually receive offers from your universities by the end of March , or for popular courses, you may not hear until May.

If you get an offer from a place you haven’t visited, an open day could help you decide whether you want to study there.

If you don't get an offer

If you don’t get an offer from the universities or colleges on your list, or you turn down or cancel your choices, the UCAS Extra service could give you a second chance to secure a place.

If you don't get an offer through Extra, you can go through the Clearing system, where universities and colleges advertise and fill late course vacancies.

Step five: accepting an offer

Offers will either be conditional (dependent on getting certain grades on your current course) or unconditional (if you already have the qualifications required).

If you haven’t done your exams yet, you can accept one offer firmly and another as an ‘insurance’ back-up.

Step six: getting your results

If you get the grades you need for a conditional offer, your university or college will confirm your place. UCAS will send you a formal letter of confirmation.

If your results are better than expected

If you're holding a conditional offer as your 'firm' choice and you get better grades than you need' you can use 'Adjustment’ to look at other options. Adjustment is a new service that lets you search for other courses for a short time while holding on to your original confirmed place.

You register for Adjustment using the Track Service on the UCAS website

If you don't get the grades you need

If you don't get the grades you need for a conditional offer, your university or college may not be able to confirm your offer. If this happens, your insurance choice may accept you. If not, then you have another chance to get a place through the Clearing system. For more information contact your nearest careers office.


Most Clearing activity takes place after A level results come out in August and goes on until mid-September. Universities and colleges advertise remaining course vacancies in the national press and on the UCAS website. UCAS will let you know if you are eligible for Clearing.

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