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Applying to University for the first time

Deadlines and decisions - Applying to University for the first time

If you’re thinking about starting university in September 2018 then you may already be familiar with the timescales involved, the deadlines you need to stick to and the decisions you’ll need to make.  If not, then never fear; it’s not too late to start and you’ve still got the time to complete an application that’s going to get you noticed by the universities of your choice.

At this point, you’re going to usually be in one of two situations; a) in college and being supported through the process or b) not in college, and going it alone.  This advice is going to be useful for whichever of these groups you fall into, but just remember that if you’re in school or college then they’re probably going to have their own deadlines that you need to follow so make sure to keep to these too!

The first step – registering on UCAS

When? Anytime from September

The first thing to do is to get yourself set up on UCAS.  You’ll need you full name, address, telephone number and probably most important of all, an email address.  The email address is usually how the universities you apply to will contact you, so try to avoid using your beloved account and instead create another that’s dedicated to your UCAS application and only used for that purpose.  That way, you’ll know everything you receive to that account is going to be about your university application.

When you register, UCAS will give you a login (keep this safe!) and a UCAS Personal ID (keep this safe too!).  You’ll need your login to access your UCAS application, and your Personal ID if you need to contact your university choices.

Choosing your universities and your course

When? October/November

The key questions you’re going to need to answer here are ‘what do I want to study?’ and ‘where do I want to study it?’

If you’ve already got a course in mind then head to and put it into their search tool.  This will tell you who offers it.  If you don’t know what you want to do then think about what you’ve previously studied and enjoyed, what you’ve previously studied and NOT enjoyed (best to avoid this subject area…) and what you want to do after university.  A particular career path may require a particular degree, so bear this in mind when narrowing your search.

Once you have a subject, you need to pick up to 5 universities that offer it.  Are you looking for a big city experience or would you prefer a smaller, quieter environment?  Narrow down your choices accordingly.  One thing we’d definitely recommend when choosing a university is compiling a ‘wish-list’ of the things you’re looking for from your choices.   If something is a deal-breaker for you, make sure it’s down on your wish-list and discount universities that don’t have this facility.

Choosing a referee

When? October

If you’re applying through a school or college then this bit will very likely be done for you and your reference will be written by your teachers.  If you’re applying independently then you’ll need to find someone who is willing to provide a reference for you.  This should be someone who has known you for a least a year in a professional or educational setting and who can comment on your suitability to study at university level.

You’ll need your referee’s contact details, specifically their email address, because UCAS will use these details to contact them directly.  The referee will then provide a reference to UCAS, and UCAS in turn will update your application to indicate a reference has been provided.  You won’t see the reference once it’s been submitted. 

Do this bit as early as possible to give your chosen referee plenty of time to write lovely things about you.

Writing your Personal Statement

When? To be finished by end of November

This is very likely to be the most time-consuming bit of your application.  Handily, we’ve already written a blog about the perfect personal statement, which you can check out here.

Again, if you’re applying through a college they’ll give you a date by which you need to have your personal statement finished by so they can help you check it.  If you’re applying individually, aim to have it done and dusted by November, mid-December at the latest; you’ll find it much easier to pick out this year’s Christmas jumper if you’re not worrying about what skills and experiences you have that make you ideal for a BSc in Psychology.

The finishing touches

When? January, before the 15th.

Schools and Colleges will definitely have their own dates for this, so the below is only going to apply to you if you’re applying on your own.

Aim to have all the above steps done before the Christmas break, then give everything an initial check, including making sure you’ve put the correct qualifications down on your application, with the correct grades.  Once you’ve done this, step away from the application for a little while.

Go re-learn the words to Jingle Bells, enjoy the festive break with your family and friends and come back to your UCAS application in early January.  You won’t be in any better position if you submit your application in December than you would be if you applied in January, (universities must give all applications received before Jan 15th ‘equal consideration’) so using a bit of time to concentrate on other things will mean you can look at the application with a fresh pair of eyes in January. 

Give everything a check, make sure you’re happy and you’re good to go.  Just make sure you submit it before January 15th!

If you want to find out a bit more about the University application process then you can visit our How to Apply page which also includes a handy step-by-step video!

About the author

Andy Phillips

Andy Phillips

Andy graduated with a Masters degree in politics and international relations before going on to teach in further education for several years.  He joined the admissions team at Wrexham Glynd┼Ár University in 2008 and is currently the Admissions and Enquiry manager. 

To get in touch with Andy or the admissions team please email