The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is the body which manages applications to, as it says, universities and colleges in the UK. Its abbreviation, pronounced 'YOU-cass', has become a noun. 'Have you done your UCAS yet?' translates as 'have you completed the on-line application process through UCAS?'
At the moment it feels as if we're living with UCAS, and have been since last year when our daughter's school started preparing students and parents for the rigours of the application process. If she had been applying for entry in September/October 2012 to medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, veterinary science, Oxford or Cambridge, the on-line application would have been completed by 15 October 2011. These courses are under extremely high pressure from applicants, often involve additional entrance tests, and most have interviews as part of the selection process.
Since our daughter is firmly on the humanities side, the deadline in her case was 15 January 2012. However there is 'strong encouragement' at her school to have applications in well before the deadline, so since November it's been a case of watching email and the UCAS on-line tracking system for replies from her 5 choices. That's the maximum number of places you can apply to in your initial application. There's the possibility to go into an extra round of application if the initial one is unsuccessful, and finally a Clearing process when the summer exam results come out that matches applicants with no places with universities which still have vacancies. Within that there are further restrictions, such as only one of Oxford or Cambridge in any one year, and only four choices for medicine, vet, dentistry or vet science in any one year. So far 3 of daughter's choices have made her an offer: 2 unconditional offers from Scottish universities, where she doesn't have to get any further qualifications, and a conditional offer from an English university. Still awaited - decisions from an English and a Scottish university.The difference in the offers in a nutshell is because Scottish university degrees are normally 4 years long, and English ones 3 years. Scottish degrees also, in the main, have a broader base in the first and sometimes second year, where students take other subjects alongside their intended final specialisation. Scottish applicants can gain the entry requirements to Scottish universities on the basis of the Highers exams they take at the end of their 5th year at school. The rest of the UK takes A levels at the end of their 6th and last year at school. This is a very small nutshell - the whole issue of parity of entrance qualifications would take me several posts to work through.
As well as different entry grades, there's now the issue of different costs to be considered. Tuition is free for Scottish students attending a Scottish university. If they go to England, they will pay £9,000 a year for tuition (a few places charge slightly less), which is what English students studying in England pay. If an English student comes to university in Scotland they will pay fees - the £9,000 or whatever it is the university is charging. Keeping up? However, if a student from the European Union comes to a Scottish university they will pay no fees, as that is held to be discriminatory by the EU.
If you want to find out more about the wonderful world of UCAS (and it is an impressive set-up), have a look at their website at www.ucas.com. Meanwhile keep your fingers crossed for us!