How to Select 5 UK Universities on UCAS

How to Select 5 UK Universities on UCAS

To study at UK universities, you must apply to only five colleges via a centralized platform called the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Namita MehtaUpdated: Monday, November 06, 2023, 08:05 PM IST
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To study at UK universities, you must apply to only five colleges via a centralized platform called the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). But with a roster of impressive names like Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics and others, how do you select five universities that are best for you? Here’s my advice:

Research! Research! Research

Before selecting universities on UCAS, research all universities thoroughly. Here are some of the factors to research:

Course (Major) Selection

Unlike in the US, you must apply to a course (or major) at a UK university. You typically study that subject for the duration of your degree, so it’s important to be sure of your choices. However, not all universities in the UK will offer your desired course. So, explore university websites for undergraduate programmes and evaluate them against your skills. This process is essential because UK universities also offer diverse programme choices and combinations. For instance, Durham University provides psychology students with the option to participate in various joint programmes like philosophy and psychology or economics and psychology. But University College London doesn't offer joint honors programmes for psychology. Hence, it's crucial to compare courses across different universities to determine the right fit for you.

Academic Requirements

Certain courses may have more demanding academic requirements, so you must assess your readiness. For instance, at the University College London, for a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, you require a total score of 18 points in higher-level chemistry, mathematics and biology, and your scores for each subject shouldn’t be less than five. You can choose between 'Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches' or 'Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation' at a higher level. You must meet these requirements if you want admission. If you can’t, select another course or university where the requirements are less rigorous.

Based on predicted grades, categorize your college choices into dream, target and safe universities. Dream universities are your aspirational choices, but make sure your entry requirements align with your predicted grades. Do not apply to any course where the minimum entry requirement is less than your predicted grade. Your target universities should include institutions with requirements slightly below your predicted grades. Safe universities should have low-risk options. Include at least one safe university in your five UCAS colleges as a backup.

Research Opportunities

UK universities differ in their research offerings. For instance, Imperial College London's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme for STEM students. So, if you want to explore social sciences and humanities, consider another institution. King's College London is known for its strong English department and is better for students interested in linguistics. As you narrow down your college choices, you'll discover the best-fit universities for your research interests.

Campus Location and Culture

Always take the location into account before selecting universities for your UCAS application. If you want to save on living costs and desire a university reminiscent of Hogwarts with expansive campuses, explore institutions in the countryside. But, if you want to live in a bustling city, consider urban universities. However, be prepared for higher expenses. To gain deeper insights, engage with current students on social media to learn about campus culture, social norms, events, and unwritten rules.

Placement Year

Many UK universities provide undergraduate students with the chance to incorporate a placement year into their degree programme, which is referred to as the ‘sandwich year’. For instance, the four-year BSc Mathematics degree at the University of Manchester enables students to strengthen their employability and develop skills with a placement year. Typically, you spend your first two years on your undergraduate degree, dedicate the third year to your placements, and then return to complete your degree in the fourth year. However, some students modify the sandwich year by splitting the placement year and adding six months to their first year and another six months to their last year. This modified version is called a ‘thin sandwich’.

Financial Considerations

When selecting universities, always consider tuition and living expenses. Some courses are more expensive than others. For example, while the annual fees for engineering courses range between £35,000-40,940 and medicine courses range between £50,000-60,000, humanities courses are around £25,000-£30,000 a year.

UK universities often provide on-campus housing. For instance, Keele University offers state-of-the-art residences surrounded by teaching buildings, restaurants, sports centers, and medical centers with rooms for different budgets. But if you can't secure on-campus accommodations, homestays and rented apartments are alternatives. Renting entails expenses like council tax and utilities (electricity, water, and Wi-Fi).

Firm or Insurance Choices: Make Smart Decisions

After narrowing your university list to the final five, you'll receive either a conditional offer or an unsuccessful application. Some may require interviews or assessments before you receive a conditional offer. Once you've heard back from all universities, select your firm and insurance universities. Your firm choice is the university you want to attend the most. To arrive at your firm choice, consider whether your predicted grades will meet the conditional offer. For example, if the conditional offer for a course is 35 points in the IB, and you’re sure of achieving 40 points with a good score in the higher-level subjects, this course can become your firm choice. If you meet the conditions for your firm choice, you must attend, even if you change your mind.

On the other hand, your insurance choice is your backup if you don't meet the firm choice's conditions. For your insurance choice, always choose a university with lower requirements than your expected predicted grades, or you risk not meeting any conditions. Finally, make these decisions carefully, as they're irreversible once declared through UCAS.

If you need help shortlisting your final five UK universities on UCAS or require guidance with the UK undergraduate application process, contact The Red Pen by visiting https://rebrand.ly/TRP-Book-an-Appointment

(The author is the President of The Red Pen, an independent education consultancy.)

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