The UCAS Process Explained

Understanding the UCAS process can be a daunting task. We have compiled this guide to help you navigate through the process; what to expect and what to do if you don't get any offers.

Once you have completed your UCAS application and your referee has done their bit they will transfer it to UCAS. Within a day or two of receiving your application, UCAS will send you an acknowledgement which you should check carefully – let them know if there are any problems. This acknowledgement will contain your PersonalID/Application Number. This will allow you to follow the progress of your application using the online 'Track' system available on

At this stage, your application is made available for institutions to view online, however, they cannot view the other choices you have made. The institutions then make a decision on your application and whether or not they invite you to attend an interview. They have three choices:

  1. They can make an unconditional offer (i.e. they will give you a place irrespective of any future exam results)
  2. They can make a conditional offer (i.e. tell you what grades you need to achieve in your exams to be given a place).
  3. They can reject your application.

Offers are made via UCAS and you reply via UCAS. If you accept an unconditional offer, then that is it. You are committed to that institution and you cannot hold alternative offers. Otherwise, you can accept up to two conditional offers, normally the offer you most want and an 'insurance' offer (one that requires lower exam grades). You need to decline any other offers apart from these. Remember that you are committing yourself to take up the insurance offer should you miss out on making your preferred place. If you really do not want to go to a place other than your firm choice, then it is best not to hold an insurance offer.

In due course, your exam results are published and the institutions either confirm your place or reject your application. If you achieve the grades stipulated by your 'firm' choice place (or they accept you on a near-miss) then that is where you'll be going. Otherwise it is down to whether or not you made your insurance offer. If you didn't make this either, and many don't, do not despair as there are still options available to you.

If you receive no offers in the first place you still have these options.

UCAS Extra
This system allows you to apply for further courses before Clearing if you have no outstanding applications and hold no offers. Universities will be able to place courses into the Extra system to which you can apply, but not all courses will be included. Your application should be considered quickly (within 10 days) and an offer or rejection sent to you by the University. If you accept the offer you can not make any further Extra applications. The system runs from 25th February to early July after which the normal Clearing system comes into play. [More details from UCAS]

Once the exam results are published and most people have worked out where they are going, Clearing starts. This is where universities who haven't filled all their courses try to link up with suitable applicants who have not received a place. The chances are that the more popular courses will be filled already and will not be placed in the Clearing system.

UCAS organises Clearing and publishes details in the Spring. This will specify how vacancies will be advertised, and normally will include the UCAS Website, nominated daily and weekend national newspapers, BBC Radio and Television.

Direct Application
Some Universities and Colleges accept direct applications and may well have places available, especially in the less popular subject areas. Do a bit of research and if there is a course that takes your fancy and the university or college accepts direct application, give them a call.

Even if you have no offers – Don't panic. Don't be tempted to take the first course that comes along in your rush to have somewhere to go. Consider the options carefully and make sure you end up on the right sort of course for you.

Once you receive your offers, if you find you have achieved better grades than anticipated, you may be able to apply for another course through Adjustment.

When you receive your results, if you have met and exceeded your firm offer conditions, you can have five days from the time your place was confirmed to research places that match your actual performance. You have to opt in yourself, via Track, and then research alternatives. You can then consider any new offers alongside your existing confirmed place. Examples of eligible achievement include an offer of AAB and an achievement of AAA; an offer of CCD (C in chemistry) and an actual of ACD (A in chemistry). Visit UCAS website for more information.