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Applying To University: The Ultimate Guide for Sixth Form Students

Everything you’ve heard about applying to university might just be right. From choosing the right course and editing the 12th draft of your personal statement to navigating the world of UCAS, it’s a stressful time for applicants.

And, with an application deadline of 15th January approaching for most undergraduate courses the process will seem a little more real every day. It has a way of looming, doesn’t it?

However, it’s vital you don’t get bogged down by the prospect. Instead, if you start the application early enough, and do it step-by-step, you’ll be far less stressed.

With that in mind, we’ve written a comprehensive guide that you can refer to at every stage of the process. Consider this your go-to resource; if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or uncertain about anything in particular – our ultimate guide is all you need.

Choosing The Right University For You

Before starting the official application process, it’s time to find the right university for you. The operative word here is you – okay, your results will dictate which university you’ll end up going to but at this stage you need to find a university that suits your needs.

Will it be a lush, countryside campus or a bustling city-centre location? Go to as many open days as you can, and ask as many questions as possible.

This stage of the application process is arguably the most important – you could have the best cover letter in the world but if the university ends up a bad fit then you may have to switch later on.

It’s worth having a look at the official league tables for universities in the UK – based on student satisfaction, graduate prospects and more, it will give you a better chance of choosing a certifiably great university.

What course do you want to do?

What are your passions? Where do you excel? It’s important to play to your strengths, and at the same time study something you know you’ll enjoy.

This will either be an easy, natural choice or something you deliberate over all summer long. Either way, try not to rush into it.

It’s useful to think of it in three stages.

You’ll need to check the entry requirements for your desired course. If you’re currently on track to hit the requirements, then that’s great – well done! If not, there’s no need to panic. You have so many options available to you that you’re sure to find the course for you.

When you’re looking at courses you’re interested in, keep in mind that you’ll be studying for three full years (four if you have a year in industry or do a postgrad). You’ll know if a course will stimulate you or not, so choose carefully!

If you have the slightest inkling that a course may wane in interest after a short while, you should carry on looking. You’ll find the right one eventually!

One last thing – be sure to check how you’ll be assessed on a certain course. You might prefer exams over written assignments, or perhaps you enjoy nothing more than writing a large body of work like a dissertation.

What Time Is It? It’s UCAS Time…

UCAS: the bane of many students’ lives.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Like we said earlier, a little preparation makes the whole process go a lot more smoothly. It’s simple, really.

The first thing you need to do is register to apply. Once you’ve filled in some personal details and chosen a password, you can choose the courses you want to apply to.

You have five courses to choose, but you don’t have to choose them all at once. At this stage, you don’t even need to have a preferred course and your chosen universities won’t know where else you’ve applied.

Next, you’ll be asked to enter all your qualifications from secondary school as well as your employment history. The details matter, so try not to leave anything out. That little two-month stint at your local shop might seem unimportant, but if it shows off your work ethic, it’s best to include it!

Writing your personal statement

Your personal statement is your chance to capture a university’s attention – it should reflect your ambition, drive and experience in the clearest way possible. It doesn’t have to be a piece worthy of Tolstoy, and, in fact, it’s better to be concise.

Show why you’d be a great student and tailor it to the courses you’re applying to. If, for example, the courses are research-heavy then your statement should show how you relish independent work and aren’t afraid of putting in some hard graft.

Think about the following:

Why are you applying? What interests you about the course and why do you think higher education is for you?

What makes you a great candidate for the course? What relevant skills and experience do you bring with you? Think about skills in the working world, and not just academically.

The structure of your statement is vital, so make sure that it flows logically and has a solid beginning, middle and end. The information should be structured to show the qualities the university value the most.

In terms of writing style, enthusiasm is key. Show your statement to every man, woman and child and, if your enthusiasm comes over then you’re well on your way. By ‘man, woman and child we mean your teachers mostly, and a few friends or family. Having your teachers proofread the document will ensure any glaring errors are taken out – you want a typo-free statement that reads like a dream.

We’d also advise to steer clear of being too funny or conversational. You never know if the admissions tutor reading your statement will have the same quirky sense of humour as you…

Once you get your reference sorted – this is a recommendation to the university written by someone who knows you in the academic space, and who has seen what you’re good at – it’s time to submit your application.

After it’s been sent, you can track your application and see what stage the application is at.

Wait for the offers to roll…

The next stage will see your conditional offers start to come in. If you’re an exceptional candidate, you might get unconditional offers too! This is when your place at a certain university is secured regardless of your A-level results.

Here are the kinds of replies you can make:

Firm acceptance

This is your top choice of uni, and you’ll work to meet the requirements stated on the course. Fingers crossed you will do brilliantly and smash your exams and coursework. Of course, that doesn’t always happen.

If you don’t get the grades you need, there’s always your insurance choice to fall back on.

Insurance acceptance

Your insurance choice should be one with lower requirements – as long as you’d be happy studying there, your insurance is a safe bet as long as they don’t require the same results as you need for your firm choice.


If you know you don’t want to accept any of the other courses, you can straight decline them and add more in UCAS’ extras section. Simple!

Also, don’t worry too much if you don’t get the results you need for your favourite university because there is still clearing. Similar courses will still be available at various universities across the country, so all you have to do is log into UCAS’ Track system and apply through clearing.


Once you’ve been accepted at your dream university, it’s time to organise your accommodation. This is one of the last hurdles, so see it through to the end – your accommodation is a vital part of university life and the spaces in which you live and study will influence you for better or worse.

Here are the main areas you should think about when organising accommodation.


Budgeting is part and parcel of university life, and it begins with your accommodation. Be clear on what you can afford, what your expenses are and the things you can afford to cut down on. This won’t be forever, and you can always get a part-time job while studying.

Costs for accommodation can vary, and some landlords include bills in the overall cost while others might leave them out – in this case, keep an eye out for small print. You don’t to sign your life away to a seemingly affordable flat only to have mysterious expenses sent your way after the fact.


Location, location, location – this is the name of the game. You want your accommodation to be near to as many amenities as possible. Being close to your library, for example, will make those all-nighters that bit easier if your bed is just a short walk away.

We’ve talked about this at length already, but we’ll say it again: a good living situation is vital for success. Having somewhere you’re comfortable living and studying will set you in brilliant stead.


Sharing one shower between 15 students isn’t for everyone, so look for facilities that suit you. Are there designated laundry services? Is a gym a must-have facility?

Have a think about what you need from your university – good facilities make for a much better experience all around, and will make the transition a little easier.

So, there’s a lot to cover but with this guide, you’ll be much more informed. Once the application process is over the hardest part is out of the way and you’ll be well on your way to going to your chosen university. Congratulations in advance!

If you’d like to learn more about university life, you can find plenty over on our blog. Best of luck!