Applying for university

Navigating the higher education maze can be difficult - here's how to help your child get through the process. 

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Choosing a university

If your child has decided that university is a serious option, don't be afraid to attend university open days a year earlier at age 16 to get a feel for which course and which establishment they might want to attend.  Encourage them to visit different institutions, research courses and chat to other people about what they studied and different career options. Remember that further education isn't all about academics - there are numerous practical, physical or creative courses as well.

If they decide on continuing education, then they'll need to consider the next steps. As the parent of a budding undergrad, there are things you should know about the application process.

What is UCAS?

UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) handles all undergraduate applications on behalf of UK universities and higher education colleges. This means your son or daughter will need to make their application via UCAS, rather than directly to universities or colleges.

The UCAS website is an excellent resource for finding out more about higher education. It provides:



Making an application

Firstly, be patient: the process can take up to a year from registration through to starting a course.

The online application form itself is straightforward enough, but there are certain elements that need care and attention – in particular, your teen will need to write a personal statement; an account of up to 4,000 characters (or 47 lines) of why they're applying to the courses they have chosen. Plus, they'll need to secure a referee - usually a school teacher, college tutor or trusted adviser.

But before they put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) it's important that they do their research – and have an idea of their preferred type of study and which subjects they're interested in.

The UCAS search tool lists every available undergraduate course at each UK university and higher education college. Within each listing, users can find out more about the places offering their course, as well as each course's entry requirements – the grades needed to secure a place, plus any additional conditions.

If your son or daughter is considering studying music, dance, or drama, take a look at the Performing arts section of the UCAS website to find out more about CUKAS – a dedicated conservatoire application service.

For more information, take a look at UCAS's advice page on when to apply.

It's worth remembering that UCAS doesn't hold any sway on the selection process, nor does it handle student loan applications - see its student finance advice to find out what to do for this.

Awaiting a decision

Once your child's decided where they want to go (they can apply to up to five institutions if they wish), and submitted their application, they'll have to wait for their chosen universities to respond. They can keep an eye on their application's progress using UCAS Track and will be notified when their chosen unis respond with a decision.

Where to get more info

For a clearer picture of everything you need to know about higher education applications, check out the parents and guardians section on, and the downloadable Parent Guide. You might also like to sign up for the UCAS parent email newsletters for further information and advice through the application cycle.

Other useful resources

  • Finance

MoneySavingExpert guide to student finance

National Association of Student Money Advisers

  • International students

Student visas 

UK Council for International Student Affairs

More useful info...

Starting university: advice for parents and students

Guide to student loans and finance

What you need to know about university clearing 

Last updated: about 2 months ago