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Each of the different Higher Education options has a different route of how to apply. This page provides an overview of how each of the different application processes work for University, Apprenticeships and School Leaver Programmes. This content has been prepared for those who are helping supporting someone applying to Higher Education.


Where to Start? Investigate

Within the UK and abroad there is a wide range of courses, universities and pathways to consider. Currently there are 164 higher education institutions in the UK and over 50,000 different courses. This may seem daunting however here are a few ideas of things to consider to form a list of universities and courses to apply to.

The first thing to think of is what would the person you are supporting like to study. If they have an idea of what to study, then start looking at university entry requirements to see if it is possible for these to be met . University entry requirements can be checked at or specific university websites. If they are not sure what they would like to study, it is worth thinking of any career aspirations and does this require a particular degree? For example, should they be considering being a paramedic a degree would be required and it would be best to research the entry requirements for this. The other option is to think of what they enjoy where they are currently studying and see if there is a similar course to that. There is such a wide range of courses available, some you may not have heard of include:

  • Puppetry Design and Performance | Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
  • Contemporary circus and physical theatre | Bath Spa University
  • Surf science and technology | Cornwall College
  • Adventure filmmaking | University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Once they have selected a course they can start to think where might be a suitable place to study. For some courses there might be a wide range of options where of where to study and for others the options might be more restricted. Either way there are several things to consider.

  • Would a campus university, city-based university or online be most suitable?
    • Each university will have different facilities available for students. Some universities are campus based which means there is a small village with a mixture of academic facilities and living facilities exclusively available for students. A city-based university will have the universities facilities not centrally located and will be spread throughout a city. At some universities there is also the option of studying remotely and having the content delivered online.
  • How far away does the person applying want to be?
    • It is worth them considering if they want to stay close to where they are currently living or would they like to explore somewhere new. Considerations may be around how often they will need to visit and how easy would the journey need to be.
  • Are there any facilities specifically required?
    • Every university has different facilities available and it is worth looking into these to see what is available. Accommodation is often an important part for students so it is worth looking into the different accommodation option. There are also some specialist facilities such as sports or subject specific you may wish to research.
  • What social opportunities are available?
    • Most universities will have a students union who will run a number of clubs called societies and there will be a number of sports clubs available too.

By thinking about all of these things hopefully a picture will start to form of what the person you are supporting may wish to study and where they might like to go. It is worth keeping a list of any possible options at this stage and we will go through how to reduce this down over the next few pages.

Deciding On Which Universities

Now that there has been an investigation into what is available to study and where they might be interested in you now need to be thinking how to reduce the list down to a manageable selection.

Each application can have up to five courses. It is worth noting there are some courses which will have an earlier deadline and have restrictions on applications. The courses that have different requirements are medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or veterinary science or should they be looking at studying at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge.

To be able to research into specific universities and find out more information there are a few ways to find out more information.

  • Look at the university’s website.
    • Each university will have a website which will have details of the facilities on offer and the specifics of each course. It is important to investigate what makes each course different and what specialisms the university prioritises.
  • Order the university’s literature
    • Most universities will have the option to order some literature about the university and the course you are interested in. This may be a prospectus or a mini guide.
  • Visit the university’s Open Days
    • Each university will hold Open Days to show the facilities on offer and enable the prospective student to gain a feel what it would be like to be a student at that institution. It is recommended to visit the preferred universities so they are able to compare what each is able to offer. To find out when Open Days are taking place there is information here and here.

Pros and Cons – The Top 5

Having looked at what is on offer at each of the universities a section of the five universities to apply to needs to be made. It is possible to apply for more than one course at one university or another option is to apply for five of the same course at different universities. The options are very much down to the individual applying.

To help with this it may be useful to write a pros and cons list of each provider. Things to consider are all the different parts from the course to where they may be living.

Assess Individual Support

To ensure that the university experience is tailored for the individuals needs it is worth researching how each university can support any additional requirements. There is a wide range of support services which are on offer for students from extra time in exams to specialist accommodation. If this is something that applies to the student looking to apply the earlier, they let the universities know the more support they may be able to offer.


To apply the student applying will need to use the application process provided by UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

The main UCAS deadline is January 15th at 18:00 (GMT) for the majority of courses. There are a few exceptions to this including medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or veterinary science or if you are looking at studying at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge. The deadline for these is 15th October at 18:00 (BST). It is important to remember this deadline is when the application needs to reach UCAS so time needs to be factored in for references which will most likely be from the previous place of study.

The application form is made up of a series of sections which you will need to go through and answer. There is a useful explanation of all the sections on the UCAS site here. It is worth noting there is a charge to apply through UCAS and details of this are listed on the UCAS site.

One key part of the application form is the Personal Statement. It is the opportunity to showcase both the students academic ambitions and personal interests to admissions staff where they are applying. Universities use the personal statement to enable a comparison between students, so it is important to know what they are looking for. It is only possible to write one personal statement for all the UCAS choices, so it is best to not name any specific university in the statement. There is lots of advice available online however it is important not to copy anything, UCAS runs each statement through a checker to make sure nothing has been copied from any previous statements or online.

The statement can be up to 4000 characters which is roughly 500 words or 47 lines of text. Some universities may offer specific advice on how best to write a personal statements but to help here are find some tools to help support writing the statement.



Once the application has been checked and the student is happy with content it is time to submit.

Wait to Hear Decisions

Once the UCAS application has been submitted UCAS will send your application to the relevant universities. Each of the Universities will not be able to see any of the other options on the application form.

Universities respond at different times so the student may hear back from some universities before others so it is important to understand what they are offering and what conditions they have asked for. There is also a deadline they need to respond by and a deadline for a response for the student. It is not possible to respond to any offers until you have received a response from all the institutions that have applied to.

The different options that you could be offered are:

  • Conditional offers – Means there will be conditions on what the student will need to meet to be accepted into that university.
  • Unconditional offers – Means the student has a place, there may however be a few things that need to be arranged
  • An unsuccessful or withdrawn choice removes that option, but potentially could add more.

Further details of this can be found here.

Before the offer is made there may be an invitation to Interviews, Applicant Days, Tests or Auditions. Further details on this can be found in the next page.

Attend Any Interviews, Applicant Days, Tests or Auditions

Each university has the option of requesting attendance either for Interviews, Applicant Days, Tests or Auditions. For some courses these may not be required however, if they are required to attend the information will be provided from the university directly or on UCAS track. Most universities offer advice on what to expect for each type of event so it is worth researching what is available. It is also possible to contact the university if should there be any questions about what you have been invited to.

Interviews – These will normally be specific to the course and will help the admissions teams at the university in deciding on who to accept onto each course. It is important to be prepared and know all the details of the interview. They will be looking for a display of enthusiasm about the course whilst being able to study independently and enjoy a varied academic life along with other interests. It may be beneficial to have a mock interview with a teacher or adviser. It is also worth thinking of some questions for the interviewer as they will probably ask if you have any.  More information about interviews can be found here.

Applicant Days – Applicant Days or Offer Holder days give the opportunity to visit the universities applied for. They will often have more of a focus on the department applied for than an Open Day will. The department applied to will normally shape part of the day and there will be the opportunity to meet academics and current students.

Tests – Some courses require completion of an admissions test. Each will have a different requirement and it is down to the student to research the specific content for the test. If there is a test required the deadline for you to complete this may be earlier. An overview of all admissions tests is provided here.

Auditions – For a selection of arts courses an audition will be required. Some may require multiple auditions. There will be a cost associated with the audition. Information about these are available here.

Make a Firm and Insurance Choice

Once all the decisions from all the institutions that have applied to a notification will be received from UCAS. There will be a deadline viewable on track and there will have between one and five weeks to respond.

Most applications will need to make a firm acceptance and an insurance acceptance. The firm acceptance is the first choice and will be the place of study if the student is to meet the conditions of the offer. If they have an unconditional offer and the student accepts the firm choice this is where they will be going to university. If they have a conditional offer this is where they will be going to university as long as they meet the conditions of the offer.

If there has been a conditional offer made it is best to make a back-up choice which is know as the insurance choice. It is best if the insurance choice has a lower offer condition than the firm choice. It needs to be an institution they are happy to attend as if they meet the conditions they have outlined this is where the student will be accepted at university.

It is worth noting it is only possible to attend the insurance choice if they do not meet the conditions of the firm choice, but they do meet the conditions of the insurance choice. It is not an option to  choose between the firm and insurance when you get your results, so they need to be happy to attend either depending on the result.

There is the option to decline an offer. If the student declines all of the offers you will have the option to add another option in the Extra service or during clearing. Further information can be found here.

Apply for Student Finance, Accommodation and Visas

Once a decision on a university has been made there may be several things you may need to apply for.

Student finance – Most students apply for a student finance loan to support them through university. Every student will have their application assessed on household income and depending on the circumstances. If the student meets the nationality or residency status requirements and has not studied at University before they will be entitled to a loan for the tuition fees and may be eligible for a maintenance loan.

Full details can be found on the Student Finance site.

Accommodation – If the student has chosen to move away for university they will need to find accommodation. Most universities offer some accommodation options or can offer advice. It is important to find out if there are any important deadlines to apply for so they don’t miss on out on the chance of being able to apply. It is best to look at the universities website to find out further information.

Visas – If you are an international student you may need to apply for specific visas to be able to apply to study at a university within the UK.

Further information can be found here.

It All Begins!

Once the application for the university place is complete and any additional requirements there is a few things to consider before results day.

If the person you are supporting is thinking of moving away they may need to buy additional items. They may wish to consider setting up a student bank account and to investigate any travel arrangements to the university they have chose.

On results day it is important to be prepared for all eventualities. Hopefully all will have gone well and they will be accepted into your first choice of university. There are however options if anything has changed on results day.

If they had conditional offers but did not meet those conditions (e.g. achieve the required grades):

Clearing is the process of finding courses which still have places remaining. The course list will be available the day before results day so they will be able to look through these to see what is available.

If the student has exceeded the conditions for the choices:

Adjustment is the process of finding alternate courses to reflect your results.

Whatever happens it is important to not give up and there will be something


Applying for an apprenticeship has a similar process to applying for a job. There are several factors to consider when looking at apprenticeships and below are some factors to think about during applying.

There are different levels of apprenticeship so it is important for you to be aware of what level you are applying for. There are fours types of apprenticeships available including:

  • Intermediate Apprenticeship (GCSE Level equivalent – Level 2)
  • Advanced Apprenticeship (A-Level equivalent – Level 3)
  • Higher Apprenticeship (First year degree equivalent – Level 4 and above)
  • Degree Apprenticeship (Degree equivalent – Level 5-7)

Each type is different set at a different level which means the entry requirements will be different for each type of apprenticeship. There are over seventy universities and around two hundred colleges which are approved to deliver higher and degree apprenticeships. Apprenticeships offer the opportunity to have a job whilst being provided with training.

As applying for an apprenticeship does not have an organisation responsible for the application process there are not set deadlines and vacancy applications may appear at any stage. If you wish to keep your options open you are able to apply for an apprenticeship and to university during the same academic year.

There are a number of places you are able to find where apprenticeships are advertised and you are able to apply. Use the links below to find apprenticeships. It is important to research each opportunity thoroughly to make sure you are happy with its responsibilities. It also is important to tailor your application to the job you are applying for.

Our top application tips are:

  • Research the role thoroughly to ensure you are prepared to answer the questions on the application and at interview
  • Use your hobbies, experiences and interests to help support your application
  • Make sure you get someone to check the application for any issues with spelling or grammar.
  • Link experiences to the skills they are asking for during the application. For example if you had a responsibility at school write about the skills you had to use.
  • Be prepared to write about yourself. Every application needs to showcase what you have on offer to the employer.


School leaver programmes are another option you may wish to consider once you have finished school. They are similar to apprenticeships as they offer a direct route into the work place whilst offering training. There is however, not as much structure as these programmes vary company to company. To apply you will need to research opportunities and apply like you would for a job.


The Outreach Hub is here to answer any question you might have regarding Higher Education. We will work hard to answer question you might have and signpost you to the most useful information. You can either use the form below or the details on our contact page.