Understanding the UCAS process

Being knowledgeable on the UCAS application process can help your pupils through what can be a very stressful time. Discover what you should know and how you can ace the reference.


The first step in the UCAS application process is getting pupils to look at what courses they would like to apply for and where. Your school’s careers adviser can help to assist pupils with this task.

The full application, including a personal statement, is due by 15 October 2020 if pupils are applying for medicine, veterinary medicine and dentistry courses, or 15 January 2021 for the majority of other courses.

A big part of the application is filling in personal details, any previous qualifications and course choices, but it will also give pupils the opportunity to talk about their hobbies, interests and skills through the personal statement.

Taking the time to explain to students what a personal statement is, why it is important and what should be included will give them time to think about what they would like to write or to start a first draft.

In just 4,000 words or 47 lines, pupils have the opportunity to sell themselves to their provider of choice. Make sure you check over pupils’ full applications before they are submitted to UCAS to ensure they are the best they can be.


A positive and forward-thinking approach is key to any pupil’s UCAS application and this includes their reference. It is likely that you will have to write multiple references for different pupils while making sure they are all unique and of the highest quality.

The first step to writing a good reference is having a conversation with each pupil about key criteria for their chosen course, any hobbies or activities you might not be aware of, and what is in their personal statement so this isn’t repeated.

Some pupils might have similar skills or extra curriculars, but taking a personal approach to each pupil’s reference will ensure they stand out to admissions staff.

Highlighting a specific piece of work that shows a pupil’s strengths is a great way to illustrate how they learn. Admissions staff want to see evidence of an applicant’s potential, it can help to think about things like: How they demonstrate critical thinking skills; how much enthusiasm they show for learning; how well they communicate; how well they work as an individual or with a group.

Like the personal statement, each reference can be up to 4,000 words or 47 lines of text.

Keeping updated

Once all of your pupils have pressed submit on their applications you can breathe a sigh of relief, you did it!

The hard work is over but it’s important for pupils to keep updated through the UCAS Track system once their applications are sent.

Whether pupils receive an unconditional offer, a conditional offer or a rejection, try to reassure them throughout the process. There are always other paths to their dream careers.

For further advice an information on how you can support pupils through the application process visit the UCAS website.

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