Guide to UCAS Application

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) is the college application system in place in the UK. Every year many Irish students choose this route for their college education.

How do I apply?

UCAS application is far more detailed than the relatively straightforward CAO system we have in place in Ireland. The process is quite time consuming so it is important to start your application well in advance of the deadline. UCAS application is made online. You should consult with your Guidance Counsellor to get advice on how to complete this application.

Register: Begin by registering with UCAS. This is done online. If your school is set up as a UCAS centre then you will require the school ‘buzzword’ to connect your application to your school. Your Guidance Counsellor will be able to provide you with this.

There are various sections on the application form that need to be completed: Personal Details, Education, Employment and your College Choices. These sections, although quite straightforward, do require time and concentration filling in as they are quite detailed.

Personal Statement: This is a very important part of your application. You really need to invest time and energy in writing this. Start with a draft and keep redrafting until you have produced a document that really sells you as an excellent candidate for your chosen course. There is a 4,000 character limit/47 lines limit (this equates to approx. 500 words) so it is essential that you keep all the information relevant. The personal statement allows you a platform to describe your interests and enthusiasm for your chosen course, your personal qualities and the relevant experience you have that make you an excellent student for this course. This really needs to be a carefully written statement that exudes the passion you have for your chosen field of study. Do not waste this opportunity to sell yourself. UCAS provide lots of videos and guidance on how to write your personal statement so check out their website.

Reference: You are required to provide a written reference in your application. You can ask one of your teachers or school principal to complete this. However if there is another person who is in a position relevant to the course you are applying for you may wish to ask them instead. For example if you want to study music than your choir or orchestra director may be in a much better position to expound your musical exploits and talents than one of your teachers. Make sure that whoever you ask to write the reference for you knows you well.

Again there is a character limit, 4,000 character limit/47 lines limit (this equates to approx. 500 words) so you will need to inform your nominated referee of this. Ask them well in advance so they have plenty of time to put a reference together. Writing a reference could be a pleasure for one person and quite an onerous task for another who may already be snowed under with work so don’t exacerbate the effort involved by putting them under a pressurised deadline.

Prepare a document for them with examples of your achievements. You cannot expect your referee to know everything about you or to remember the awards etc that you have received. Provide them with a detailed list of your achievements, experience and qualities to assist them in writing your reference.

Be grateful; as already stated writing a reference can be an unwanted extra task for some people and believe it or not it is not part of a teacher’s job. If someone agrees to write you a reference they are doing this out of their own good will. It can take people several hours to write a reference so be grateful for the time and effort they have put in to assist you in your college application. I always think that it is a nice gesture to write a thank you card to your referee to acknowledge your appreciation of their time.


Predicted grades: You are required to have a list of predicted grades for your Leaving Cert. Your teachers are asked to give their prediction on how well you will perform. They are not beholden to this prediction but they are expected to give an honest prediction of how well they think you could perform in the Leaving Cert exam on a good day if the paper went your way. Usually your Guidance Counsellor will collect these predictions and input these into your application.

Course Choices: In general you are allowed to apply for 5 college courses. If you wish to apply for Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary you can apply for a maximum of 4 courses in these fields. Making your course choices requires a lot of research as there are almost 400 colleges/universities in the UK offering approx. 50,000 undergraduate courses. Begin your search by identifying good locations; where do Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly into? If you intend on travelling home a few times a year you want to make the journey manageable (this might also entice a visitors to come again!.) You should also consider fees. The tuition fees are significantly different for colleges in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (more details on this below). Information on all the courses available can be found on the UCAS website Here you will find details of the course and the course requirements. A relatively small percentage of courses look for tariff points. You can convert your Leaving Cert grades into tariff points by checking out this link. Most courses will list specific course requirements in grades e.g. H1, H2 etc.

Deadlines: For most courses the deadline is 15th January. However there is an early deadline, 15th October for students who wish to apply for a course in the following fields: Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Studies. You must also apply by the early deadline if you wish to apply for a place in Oxford or Cambridge.

Interview: Most courses will require you to attend an interview. You will be invited for interview at the college in spring.  This is a big part of the selection process and requires plenty of preparation. Here is a link to UCAS Interview Tips


Oxford and Cambridge: if you are interested in studying in the most prestigious colleges in England, Oxford or Cambridge, you will need to be aware of a few conditions.

  • You can apply to either Oxford or Cambridge. You cannot make an application to both universities.
  • You can only apply for one course in Oxford or Cambridge.
  • There is an early deadline for application to Oxford and Cambridge. Applications must be submitted by 15th October.
  • The entry requirements for courses in Oxford and Cambridge are much more demanding than in colleges elsewhere in the UK. Many courses require a series of H1s. Competition for places in Oxford and Cambridge is fierce. Achieving the entry requirements is only the first obstacle. You may be also required  to sit an additional test, usually an aptitude test. So carefully read the entry requirements for your course and make sure you register for all elements of the application process.

Course Fees: Tuition fees for study in the UK is considerably higher than in Ireland. Add to this your living expenses and travel and it adds up to a hefty sum. However there are student loans that you can avail of to make the expenses more manageable.

Studying in England is by far the most expensive. Irish students will have to pay up to up to £9,250 sterling per year. Wales is less expensive  up to £4,046 sterling, studying in Northern Ireland is slightly lower again, up to £3,925 and the good news is that tuition fees are free in Scotland.

It is possible to get a student loan to help you to subsidize your college education.  This money is paid directly to the college and repayments start after you have graduated and are earning over a certain threshold. Maintenance grants are available too to help with the cost of living expenses. For more information on college fees and loans click here If you qualify for a SUSI grant you can still be in receipt of the grant if you enroll on a course in the UK. It must be an undergraduate course of at least 2 years duration and you are only eligible to receive the maintenance grant. More information available here.

Final word. . .

There is a lot to consider when making an application to a college outside of Ireland. Decisions need to be well thought out and planned. If you do decide to take this route to education there are a multitude of articles and information available on the UCAS website.  If in any doubt contact your Guidance Counsellor or make a call to the UCAS helpline.

Good luck!





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