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!


  1. That is nuts...When I applied to University, I knew I wanted to stay in Montreal. We have four universities in the city, two French and two English. I knew I wanted to study in English, so that narrowed the field down to McGill and Concordia. I knew that I wanted to study art history and McGill had a far more diverse program. I looked at their entrance requirements, made sure I exceeded them, applied and bingo! That was it. Piece of cake compared to your system...

  2. wow! what a lot to keep track of. I hope things work out for your daughter and that she gets in where she wants to.

  3. informative
    I hope your daughter gets to go to the school of her choice.
    here in Belgium we are faced with the opposite problem, anyone can start university provided they have a high school degree.
    It is not ideal either, the auditoria are overpopulated, many students are more tourists than students.., people who can not get in in France, Germany or the Netherlands come to Belgium...
    the thing that is great about is, is that every one gets a chance ..but at what cost?

  4. I can just imagine the anxiety that is attached to your daughters waiting for that final information.

    Your system is just so different than ours. Our grandson wants to be a doctor so badly and medical schools are so hard to get into here. You have to apply to each school individually. It also takes a college degree to get into medical school, preferably with a strong leaning to sciences. Todd applied to several medical schools and then he just waited. He had a straight A average so I was sure he would get in. He got on the wait list to two and our hopes did go up, after being rejected by all the other ones he applied to. Funny thing, he got accepted to both of them on the same day!

    We are all so relieved that he got accepted to his first choice. He says his first year has been incredibly hard, but he is so happy with his life now.

    Good luck to your daughter. I, for one, hope she gets into one where she will ultimately end up a doctor! (That's what I always wanted to be and I had a full scholarship to Standford University, but I got married a week after my 18th birthday instead. Big mistake, as it turned out, since the marriage untimately failed after 25 years)

  5. Free tuition? Wow. How much of Scotland's government budget goes to higher education? In California, what used to be an affordable university system, is now costing local students $18,000 a year, not including housing, books, and special fees.

  6. I used to be a lecturer in a University in the Northwest of England and was involved in interviewing prospective students. The objective of the interviews was less to select students than to charm them into choosing us. This from a historic red brick University...

    I wish your daughter the best of luck!

  7. Good luck to your daughter. My son is dealing with the American university system as he's off to college this autumn.

  8. I hope your daughter gets into the program of her choice. How interesting that students from the England must pay but those from the EU don't. Sounds like a crazy system to me!

  9. A topical post indeed! My daughter had a telephone interview for 6th form college in London last night, in an attempt to circum-navigate a system which currently seems to condemn her to staying in Scotland, as her state secondary school in Scotland does not put much resource into Advanced Highers, expecting Highers to be all that a pupil requires for University. It is very rare at her school for a pupil to sit more than one or two Advanced Highers and the English Unis seem to want three. Lucky for her she has a dad living in London, but it is a big decision to have to leave "home" at 16 because the Scottish state system is not geared up to sending kids south of the border.
    Good luck to your daughter!

  10. Oh, that is crazy! My husband just did a MLitt here in Aberdeen, so I had a bit of an idea about the application process in the UK, but not much. It does seem very strange that English students pay more than my French husband had to (since masters programmes are not free). Though from the French perspective, studying in Scotland is still much more expensive than studying in France so we weren't about to volunteer to pay extra fees either. It is always interesting to see how different countries organize these things.

  11. Oh, and wishing you guys very good luck!!!

  12. Am tired of UCAS.... more Scotland, please! 8-)

  13. Hi, and visiting as I promised to see your process for application to universities in the UK. Amazing differences from our process in the USA, although tuition-free sounds excellent. I'm sure that you're paying for it somewhere. I am glad that your daughter has gotten 3 acceptances; are they her top choices? We'll start on our process this summer as our oldest wraps up her 3rd of 4 years in high school.



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