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Whether you’re looking at University, Apprenticeships or School Leaver Programmes, each option for Higher Education boasts its own benefits and opportunities, and their own routes to apply. Take a look below for an overview of the different options, things to consider with each one, as well as how to apply!

Meet our current students

This page has been prepared by our Student Ambassador James. James is studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Surrey and his course includes a placement year. We asked James some questions:

What was your pathway to getting to university?
I completed my GCSEs and A-Levels at the same school, an all-boys grammar school with an incorporated sixth form, before heading straight to the University of Surrey. In terms of A-Levels I did Maths, Physics and Art (and an artefact-based EPQ in Acoustic Levitation.)
What is your favourite part of your degree?
The hands-on laboratory experiments that bring the lecture content to life!

university information


Looking at University and studying at one of the UK’s Higher Education institutions? We’ve developed this 10 step guide to support you through the different stages!
If you click on each image below more information will be provided on the different steps.

Where to Start? Time to Investigate

First of all, it’s important to take a moment to think about university and what it can offer you. Both in the UK and abroad, there is a wide range of courses, universities and pathways for you to consider. Currently, there are 164 higher education institutions in the UK and over 50,000 different courses, encompassing every possible area of study you can imagine – now that’s a long list to look at, so you may be thinking where to start. Here are our top ideas of things you may want to consider to shorten that list…

Naturally, it’s a good idea to think about what you would like to study. If you already have an idea, that’s great! Start looking at university entry requirements to see if you meet them (or will meet them at the end of your current course of study e.g. will your A-Level results match the university’s requirements?). You can check entry requirements at UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service; the organisation who is responsible for most of the higher education applications to courses in the UK) or on specific university websites. If you’re still unsure what you would like to study, that’s also ok! Perhaps think of your dream career or aspiration, and whether that requires a particular degree to achieve? For example, if you wanted to be a paramedic you would require a degree to get there, whereas to become a tree surgeon other routes may work better. The other option is to think of what you enjoy studying or learning now and see if there’s a similar course available to that. And we don’t just mean what you’re studying within classes, it could be a hobby or interest! There is such a wide range of courses available, many of which you may not have heard of, for example:

  • 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

Ok, so you’ve selected a course or area of study; what now? It’s probably time to think about where you might want to study. In some cases, there could be many institutions which offer the course you want, whereas for others the options might be more restricted. Either way, there are several things you should consider:

  • Do you want to study at a campus university, city-based university or online?
    • Some universities are campus based which means there is one (or more) sites with a mixture of academic facilities, social facilities and accommodation exclusively for students (e.g. the University of Surrey). A city-based university will have their facilities spread throughout a city, intertwining your studies with the city lifestyle (e.g. the University of Leeds). At some universities, there is also the option of studying remotely/online with the content delivered online (a very popular choice for mature students)
  • How far away from where you currently live do you want to be?
    • For some students, the idea of their closest family and friends being able to drop in on them at a moment’s notice is not the exact definition of fun, and so studying at a university further away from home and exploring somewhere new is preferable. However, you’ve also got to consider how often you’ll want to travel home and how easy that’ll be – if you’re one to want to travel home regularly, studying more than a few hours away or even abroad may not be your best option!
  • Are there any facilities you specifically want/require?
    • With every university comes different facilities available, and so it’s worth looking into them and seeing what each institution can offer you. This could include accommodation, specialist sport facilities or even subject specific facilities like laboratories – for example, if you wanted to study a course in sustainable energy and wind farms, a university with wind tunnels may be a more preferable choice.
  • What social opportunities are available?
    • Most universities will have a students’ union who will run/support the running of sports clubs and societies for their student body. There’s usually a huge range of clubs and societies to get involved with, so do take a look at what each university offers and what you would be interested in having a go at!

By working through these points, you will start to get an understanding of what you want to study and where you’ll want to go. If you haven’t already, it’s worth keeping a list or notes of any possible options at this stage – watch how the options reduce down after reading the next few pages!

Your Top Universities

Now that you’ve started investigating what is available to study and where you can study them, it’s now time to think about reducing that list down to a more manageable selection.

In your UCAS application, you will be able to apply for up to five courses during your application. But be warned!! There are some courses which will have an earlier deadline or restrictions on applications; these courses are medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or veterinary science, or if you’re looking at studying at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge.

When it comes to doing further research into specific universities, there are many ways to find out more:

  • Look at the university’s website
    • Each university will have a website which will have the details of their facilities on offer, and the specifics of each course. Even if two courses at different universities have the same name, their content/focus could be very different and so investigating their specialisms is always a good step to take
  • Order the university’s literature (i.e. prospectus, guides)
    • Most universities will offer some sort of literature about the university itself and even the course you’re interested in. This may come in the form of a prospectus or a mini guide, or even a social media page!
  • Is the degree type you wish to apply for available?
    • Often something overlooked by many students is checking that the type of degree they wish to study is even available! There are a range of degree courses available including BA (Bachelor of Arts), BSc (Bachelor of Science), LLB (Bachelor of Laws) and MEng (Undergraduate Masters in Engineering); make sure the type you want is offered at the universities you’re looking at!
  • Visit the university’s Open Days
    • Every year, each university will open its doors and hold Open Days to show off its facilities on offer and enable you to gain a feel of what it would be like to become a student there. We recommend that you visit your preferred universities so you get a full picture of what they offer, and many students find it easier to compare institutions after they’ve visited. To find out when Open Days are taking place, there is information available here on UCAS and here on

Pros and Cons – The Top 5

After having looked at what is on offer at a each of the universities you are interested in, you now need to decide on the 5 top choices (course and university) you will be applying for. You can apply for more than one course at one university, or you could apply for five of the same course at different universities – it’s entirely down to you!

To help you decide, many students find it useful to write a list of pros and cons and/or rank their current choices. To do this you’ll need to think through all different factors you’ve considered so far; these could include what facilities does the university have? Is it far away from home? What’s the accommodation like? What’s in the nearby area? What’s the top reason I’m interested in this university/course?

Assess Individual Support

It’s important that you get the most out of your university experience, and sometimes that means tailoring your time there to your specific needs. Therefore it’s worth looking back through the universities and researching their support services on offer for students such as extra time in exams, mental health support, or specialist accommodation. If there is specific support that you would like to/must have at university, the earlier you let the universities know the more support they may be able to offer!


So you’ve worked through all the options and decided on which courses you would like to apply to? Great! Now you will need to use UCAS, the Universities and College Admissions Service, to apply.

For the majority of courses, the main UCAS deadline is 15th January at 18:00 (GMT). There are, however, a few exceptions 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) (i.e. the October before the main UCAS deadline in January). It is important to remember these deadlines as you will need to get your references in before this, which will most likely come from your previous place of study.

When it comes to filling in the application form, there are a series of sections that you’ll need to go through and answer – UCAS has a very useful explanation of all the sections here. Please also note that there is a charge to apply through UCAS and details of this can be found here on the UCAS site.

One key part of your application is the Personal Statement – it is your opportunity to “sell yourself”, showcasing both your academic achievements and ambitions as well as your personal interests to the admission staff of the universities you’re applying to. Universities use the personal statements to compare students’ applications, especially when their academic grades are very similar, so it’s important to know what they’re looking for. The statement can be up to 4000 characters, or approximately 500 words or 47 lines of standard sized text. You can also only write one personal statement that will be sent to all your UCAS choices, so it’s best to not make it university-specific.

There is plenty of advice available online, from universities providing specific advice on how best to write a personal statement to tools to help you write the statement itself. Two of these tools include the following:

UCAS – How to write your personal statement

Which – 10 things for your personal statement 

It’s a good idea to do your research before starting, but be careful not to copy anything! UCAS runs each statement through a plagiarism checker to ensure nothing has been copied from any previous statements or online – should they find anything, the universities you’ve applied to will be notified and it will come back badly on you! Once you’ve checked your application and are happy with it’s content, it’s time to submit!

Wait to Hear Decisions

Once you have submitted your application UCAS will send your application to the relevant universities. Each of the Universities will not be able to see if you have applied anywhere else.

You 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 to you by and a deadline for you to respond. You will not be able to respond to any offers until you have received a response from all the institutions you have applied to.

The different options that you could be offered are:

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

Further details of this can be found on UCAS.

Before your offer is made you may be invited 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 you attend either an Interviews, Applicant Days, Tests or Auditions. For some courses these may not be required however, if you are required to attend you will hear from the university directly or UCAS track. Most universities offer advice on what to expect for each type of event so it is worth researching what is available. You are also able to contact the university if you have any questions about what you have been invited to.

Interviews – These will normally be specific to your 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 you to display 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 at

Interview Information

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

Tests – Some courses require you to complete an admissions test. Each will have a different requirement and you will need 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 at

Admissions Tests Information

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.

Auditions Information

Make a Firm and Insurance Choice

Once you have received all your decisions from all the institutions you have applied to you will receive notification from UCAS. You will have a deadline viewable on track and you will have between one and five weeks to respond.

You will need to make a firm acceptance and an insurance acceptance. The firm acceptance is your first choice and will be your place if you meet the conditions of the offer. If you have an unconditional offer and you accept the firm choice this is where you will be going to university. If you have a conditional offer this is where you will be going to university as long as you meet the conditions of your offer.

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

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

There is the option to decline an offer. If you decline all of your 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 you have found a university you are happy to attend there are 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 you are a student who meets the nationality or residency status requirements and you have not studied at University before you 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 government student finance site

Accommodation – If you have chosen to move away for university you 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 you don’t miss on out on the chance of being able to apply. It is best to look at your 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 on UCAS

It All Begins!

Once you have applied for your university place and any additional requirements you can wait until results day. You will most likely hear from the universities you have applied to with information up to results day.

You may need to start thinking how to prepare for university. Is there anything that you will need to purchase before you go? Will you need a student bank account? What are the travel arrangements where you are going?

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

If you 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 you will be able to look through these to see what is available.

If you’ve exceeded the conditions for your 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. We wish you the best of luck.


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.