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UCAS

From Academic Kids

This page is about the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. UCAS is also an abbreviation for Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics.

UCAS logo
UCAS logo

UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admissions Service, pronounced u-CAH-s or ICK-as) is a clearing house for applications for virtually all undergraduate degree programmes at British universities or colleges.

Contents

Applications process

As nearly all British higher education institutions are members of UCAS, nearly all those wishing to study for first degrees in the UK have to apply through UCAS. This applies to all categories of applicants - UK residents, residents of the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, European Union citizens and international applicants. Applicants submit a single application via UCAS's website (or, until the 2005 entry only, either via the website or on paper) with a list of up to six courses for which they are applying (in no order of preference). All 6 choices are confidential during the application process so other unversities and colleges cannot see any of the candidate's other choices. There is also a maximum limit of up to 4 choices for medicine, dentistry and verterinary science course choices and a candidate can only apply to either Oxford or Cambridge within one application cycle but not both.

They also include their current qualifications, employment history, a personal statement and a reference (which generally includes predicted grades if the applicant is still in education). The application is then forwarded by UCAS the institutions applied to, who decide whether to make an offer of a place.

If one's application is submitted by the deadline, one would expect to hear from all 6 choices by the 28th of March. If candidates find themselves without any offers or have declined all of their offers, they may apply for an additional course that still has sufficient places through the process of UCAS Extra in April. Otherwise, they would go through the UCAS Clearing process.

Offers are either conditional, i.e. dependent on future examination performance, or unconditional. Once the applicant has received responses from all the institutions applied to, they must respond by accepting up to 2 available, one Firm Acceptance (F) and one Insurance Acceptance (F) whereas the remainder are Declined (D). There are only 4 possible offer combinations:

  1. UF (Unconditional Firm, no Insurance offer)
  2. CF (Conditional Firm, no Insurance offer)
  3. CF + UI (Conditional Firm + Unconditional Insurance)
  4. CF + CI (Conditional Firm + Conditional Insurance)

If the applicant has accepted conditional offers then he/she will automatically have a place at that institution once the requirements have been met by the 1st of September on the year of application, even those for defered entry. (eg. those that applied for 2005 or 2006 entry in the 2005 cycle must meet the conditions by 1st of September 2005.)

In addition many institutions still consider accepting students that narrowly missed their conditional offer provided there are sufficient places for admissions. Otherwise, if the candidates have achieved the conditions for the Insurance offer, they will be admitted in the Insurance course.

Final place confirmations are generally made in mid-August, when the results of the A-level and Higher Grade examinations become available.

If candidates miss the conditions on both the Firm and Insurance offers and there were not sufficient places for admissions on either course, a UCAS Clearing system offers candidates to apply for ANY course that has places at that time.

UCAS imposes a uniform and fairly rigid timetable on the undergraduate applications process, the deadline is normally January 15th. However, applications to Oxbridge and for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science have an earlier deadline, usually October 15th. Additionally, both Oxford and Cambridge require their own application form to be filled in and returned directly to them. Those applying for art and design 'Route B' courses normally have until March 15th to apply.

The system is sophisticated and allows for many different routes. Its advantages for both applicants and institutions are that it eliminates duplication of effort, and provides a fair and consistent framework within which both applicants and institutions can compete.

UCAS personal Statement

The UCAS personal statement is submitted as part of a UCAS application. It is one of the most important parts of the application as it gives the candidate a chance to write freely about themselves and their interest in their chosen subject, as opposed to the rest of the application which consists mainly of 'objective' information.

UCAS tariff

UCAS has a tariff system (more commonly known as UCAS points), which allows qualifications to be converted into points (an A at A Level, for example, is worth 120 points) and then added together to give a total that is can be used as a requirement to get into a course (a course may require 260 points, for example). The UCAS Tariff covers all UK qualifications and some foreign qualifications.

There are a wide variety of qualifications that can be awarded tariff points:

For the 2006 entry season the Leaving Certificate issued in the Republic of Ireland will be admitted to the UCAS Tariff so that it can be placed on direct parity with other awards. This is in response to the high number of Leaving Certificate students who read subjects at universities in the UCAS system, especially at those in Northern Ireland. It will allow students who undertake the Leaving Certificate to follow a simpler and more consistent access to British universities, as currently each university in the UK decides the merit of the award in accordance with its own criteria.

Qualifications are being added to the tariff system frequently, as long as they conform to the National Qualifications Framework and are being used as entry routes in to higher education.

The tariff system is not a universal measure. It is a maximum amount. Frequently courses are advertised which demand a certain number of tariff points from different subjects. The requirements will vary by course. Academic courses will generally want academic qualifications while vocational courses will want vocational qualifications. Different universities and different courses have different demands. Some students are angry with the way that their schools have demanded participation in certain subjects, only to find that they have no worth when it comes to applying for university acceptance (the Key Skills Qualification came under fire for this very reason, since a large number of the universities discounted it from tariff calculation).

Clearing

The major exception to the rule of application through UCAS comes at the very end of the admissions season, when courses are about to begin. After the announcement of A-level results, UCAS runs a process called clearing to match applicants without places at their chosen institutions with courses elsewhere that still have places available. However once UCAS's clearing operation is complete, institutions with available places do advertise publicly, and some students find places by direct application at that stage.

UCAS data

The statistics on numbers of applications provided by the UCAS process provide a sensitive indicator of the relative popularity of institutions and academic disciplines, and on national and regional patterns of supply and demand for higher education. They are studied in depth by university managers and those concerned with higher education policy.

UCAS subsidiaries

UCAS has never operated within the field of postgraduate education, where application procedures are much less uniform. However, UCAS does operate a postgraduate clearing house, the GTTR (Graduate Teacher Training Registry) for PGCE courses (which provide initial teacher training for graduates).

As no British conservatoires are members of UCAS, it also operates CUKAS (Conservatoires UK Admissions Service) in conjunction with Conservatoires UK. CUKAS acts as a clearing house for both undergraduate and postgraduate music degrees at most (but not all) conservatoires. Those conservatoires that are not members of CUKAS handle their own admissions.

UCAS also operates NMAS (Nursing and Midwifery Admissions Service) for non-degree nursing and midwifery courses.

History

UCAS was formed in 1993 by the merger of UCCA (Universities Central Council on Admissions), PCAS (Polytechnics Central Admissions System) and SCUE (Standing Conference on University Entrance). The organisation is based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

In recent years UCAS has been involved in a number of scandals. In 2001 UCAS accidentally made publicly downloadable from their website a database of applicants' personal details. In 2002 it incorrectly interpreted results data it has been given by the Scottish Qualifications Authority which led to UCAS informing universities and students that the students had obtained higher marks then they actually had.

In 2004 UCAS announced they were scrapping paper applications in favour of online applications for the 2006 entry onwards (previously applicants could choose between the two options).

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