Applying to University
Applying to university is an exciting prospect but can also be daunting. This information has been put together as a guide in order to explain the process and timetable.
UCAS is the University and College Admissions Service that all students must apply through for admission to UK higher education. The sections below will help to explain the procedures involved in making an application.
Universities Outside the UK
Many of our students, both overseas and UK, wish to apply outside of the UK for Higher Education. There are many good reasons for this, not least of which are fees, particularly in Europe. Although most overseas universities require applications made directly to them, there are a number of helpful websites.
Level 3, 4 and 5 apprenticeships are an excellent way for students to transition to the world of work. The opportunity to earn good money whilst studying and training, obtaining qualifications equivalent to a degree and further, is a very good solution for those not wooed by 3 more years of studying after Sixth Form. The following websites have excellent advice:
Advice on choosing courses and universities
There is the option of choosing up to 5 university courses unless applying for Medicine or Dentistry or Veterinary Medicine / Veterinary Science when there are only 4 choices. It is not possible to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge.
Students are encouraged to seek the advice of their tutor, subject teachers, the Lead Teacher for Sixth Form and the Assistant Principal for Sixth Form. We have a lot of in-house expertise in this area. Students are also encouraged to contact university departments directly with questions. In fact, this sort of initiative is often praised by admissions tutors.
Each university department has its own website containing details of the application requirements for that course and other details such as the range of offers that they might give, the number of students on the course and how that department has been reviewed by inspectors. Good sources of information are:
- University websites
- University prospectuses
- www.ucas.com course search
- http://unistats.direct.gov.uk for course comparisons, average grade profiles etc.
- Heap – available from Lead Teacher for Sixth Form
- Teachers and friends or relatives with recent experience at university
- Admissions tutors and recent graduates who come and speak at Impington on HE conference days
- The IISF HE bulletin, published monthly
Some questions students might find useful to consider:
- Which subject or subjects really enthuse you? ‘Liking’ something is not enough to get you through the 3 or more years of commitment required for a degree.
- Does your enthusiasm come with the right level of ability?
- Do you really know what is involved in undergraduate courses in your subject? Perhaps this is especially important when the subject is new to you for example, Medicine, Law or Anthropology.
- Is there something that you need to study in order to fulfil a longer term career aim?
- How close to home/relatives would you like to be?
- Do you want to experience life in London? This is a very different university experience simply because of the size of the city.
- Do you want to go to a collegiate university? Or a campus?
- Are you considering Oxford or Cambridge Universities? Whilst these are not the best choices for all subjects, they offer a unique undergraduate experience.
- Is the cost of living a consideration?
- What are the fees?
- What is the bursary / scholarship support package?
- Is there a particular physical environment that would be good for your leisure interests?
UCAS application deadlines
15th January: all other courses
Music Colleges have their own application system. It is important to check with the Colleges themselves for their deadlines and requirements. The CUKAS system administers applications to the music conservatoires - http://www.cukas.ac.uk/
Many Art Colleges use their own system as well, although some use UCAS. They have their own deadlines. They also require very different types of personal statement and reference. Be aware, preparation for these applications takes a lot of time and work especially with regard to portfolios.
Impington deadlines for 2019 entry or for 2018 deferred entry
The deadlines are here to enable us to complete student references and check applications are the best they can be. We advise all students to complete their application as early as possible.
February Conference Day: HE preparation begins
10th July: HE Preparation Day, personal statement writing
(TBC) September: Mock interview day – subject specialist group interviews, mostly given by external people and supported by our own staff.
Before the end of the summer term: Get advice from subject teachers and tutor on university courses, attend a few key Open Days (http://opendays.com). If applying to Oxbridge, obtain suitable reading lists and tasks to do from the relevant faculties and confirm choice of a college.
Summer Holidays: Review decisions so far and fill in the gaps in the personal statement. Complete the personal statement as much as possible ready for first day of term. If wishing to make an early application this should be to final draft stage.
7th-11th September: Draft personal statements for Oxford and Cambridge, Vets, Medics and Dentists (those having to be early applicants and any others wishing to be) to be with tutors.
21st September: UCAS applications for all early applicants to be complete including full application details, entry of examinations, pending examination and personal statement. References are then finalised and the whole application is checked by the Lead Teacher of Sixth Form and Head of Sixth Form. All early applications sent to UCAS w/b 5th October.
End of October: Students are strongly advised to complete their application by the end of October at the latest, particularly if considering a high-demand course. The Lead Teacher of Sixth Form will advise on this; on the whole, high demand courses are those which relate to Politics, Economics, Law, History and English Literature and also courses which give the opportunity to spend a year in industry or abroad. There may be others which are high demand.
Early December: Any last applications to be complete
Please note: Applications completed in January do not give us enough time to assist and check. A late application will additionally put the student at a disadvantage as universities will have already made a lot of offers by this point.
Universities will make their offers in their own time schedule. Some will only offer after 15th January 2016. Many will start offering straight away. Some applicants will have all their responses in within 6 weeks of submitting the form, for others it will take much longer, until March or even June of 2016.
Applications to the most competitive courses
On paper, it is very difficult to identify the top applicants – there are a lot of people with the very best grades, fabulous work experience, etc. Consider the following:
- To make yourself really stand out, identify an area of your subject in which you have a particular interest and explore this aspect in literature, debates, the internet, lectures to discover whether you are truly interested by the subject matter and, more importantly, to be able to prove your willingness and enthusiasm.
- Find out what additional requirements are needed for your subject and university eg. entrance tests. Some university colleges require work to be submitted. Get help and advice from your subject teachers and tutor. Go to a subject specific open day at a college or to a department open day if you can (http://opendays.com)
- Contact the university; explore their website thoroughly.
- Be realistic. Apply to a range of universities. With four or five choices you should make sure you include a location and course that is likely to give offers more easily.
- If there is an interview (and many now do interview) - expect to be challenged and expect to deal with questions you cannot, directly, prepare for. Adopt a risk-taking mentality. You must show you are able to push the boundaries of your learning.
- In your application and in interview, demonstrate that you are an independent learner. Extended Essay is a must to discuss.
- The best advice is to work hard and secure great results. Do not allow extracurricular activities (even CAS) stand in the way of securing the best results you possibly can.
- Be resilient. You may give it your all but not get a place. Learn from the process. With 5 choices, you will get a good university place, even if not your top one.
Additional application forms and exams
Some courses require an additional application form to be completed. These forms are sent or made available to the applicant online once their application has been received and processed past its first stage. It is important to check to see if this is likely to be required as, typically, very little turnaround time is given for the return of such forms.
In order to discriminate between applicants with very similar or identical results, university courses are increasingly opting for their own tests which are done in advance of any interview and may be used as part of a de-selection process. Information about each can be found via the websites below.
Please note: This is an area of significant change and all applicants are advised to check the requirements of their chosen course at the time that they apply. At the moment, we expect more of these tests to be required.
These are current, accurate websites:
- BMAT – BioMedical Admissions Test
- UKCAT – UK Clinical Aptitude Test
- LNAT – Natural Admissions Test for Law
- MML – Cambridge University, Modern and Medieval Languages
- STEP – Cambridge University, Sixth Term Examination Papers – normally part of the conditional offers from the Mathematics Department
- TSA – Thinking Skills Assessment
- ELAT – Oxford University, English Literature Admissions Test
- HAT – Oxford University, History Aptitude Test
- Physics Aptitude Test – Oxford University, Physics
There are admissions tests for Mathematics, Joint Degrees and Computer Science at Oxford University. It has also introduced further admissions tests for Classics, Modern Languages and Oriental Languages. The number of tests is growing all the time – please check and consult http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/tests for up to date details.
The College will use high quality Internal Assessment marks, progress test scores, and internal end of Year 12 examinations as well as teacher experience and judgement, as evidence to base predictions on. Our predictions will be a level for each subject and then a total points’ score.
The dangers of over-prediction are very clear. If we over-predict, we could do harm to a student’s application which will, perhaps, be seen as unrealistic. The reputation of the College will also be jeopardised. In addition, it could be that some universities will respond by making higher offers than they might have done otherwise in order to require the student to meet these high predictions. So, please do not seek to pressurise us to raise a prediction without providing us with the evidence.
All applicants must refer to the websites and to the prospectuses with great care. The offer is likely to be a total points score, say 38 including the core points, and also have a condition of achieving a certain minimum point score in the higher level subjects for example, ‘17’ or ‘6,6,5’. A student’s predicted grades should match the university’s standard offer.
Personal statements are a significant part of the university application. They are often the deciding factor in obtaining an offer or an interview and this is especially the case for the most competitive courses. It can be helpful to consider personal statements from the point of view of the university admissions tutor. It is likely to be their one opportunity to ‘meet’ you, to understand a little about how you think and, indeed, whether you have thought about the course to which you are applying. Particularly in the case of subjects which are new to the applicant such as management, medicine, anthropology, law, architecture, geology etc. it is important to be able to demonstrate that you have taken an active interest in the subject that has involved doing more than reading a couple of websites and a book. Similarly, if the course requirement for a subject such as economics is a good level of mathematics and if chemistry is essential for the study of medicine then it makes sense that your statement must include reference to what you have done in these particular disciplines to make yourself a better applicant.
The statement must be completely honest and the applicant’s own work. The biggest problem with personal statements is often that they are not personal enough. They may tell the admissions tutor more about the subject than about the applicant. This is something to avoid. It is perfectly acceptable to write about how interest and enjoyment of a subject have evolved. However, there is no point in explaining how the minimum wage works or how a favourite author interprets the Spanish Civil War or how the ear is connected to the nasal passages, for example! For the same reason, it is usually inadvisable to include quotes within the statement. The key to success is being able to provide evidence to prove your engagement with the subject to which you are applying and to prove that you have thought, personally, about your application.
Each personal statement should have a coherent structure. Statements which may cause you more problems relate to applications for more than one university course. For example, you may be applying for Classical Civilisation in one place but for Egyptology in another or for Physics in one place but for Physical Sciences in another. As each institution only sees their application (a blind selection process) you will need to be very careful about what you write. Some degree courses are ‘Joint Honours’ and therefore a combination of two subjects, for example, History and English or French and Law. Your Personal Statement must reflect the combined nature of your choice.
Look closely at the details of the courses to which you are applying. If you are looking at studying economics and one of the courses is strongly international in its flavour then you will need to consider how you are going to reflect this issue in what you write. Similarly, it would not be very wise to apply for an English Literature course with a significant 20th century authors and criticism component if you do not refer to such books or literary methods in your statement. As a rule of thumb, avoid making great play about how influenced you have been by the texts and authors that are integral to your A Level or IB study. You should be pushing boundaries beyond that in your chosen subject.
Avoid things which have become widely read and often quoted in personal statements. Scientists writing a statement about Dawkins’ 'God Delusion' or Geographers writing about Collier’s 'The Bottom Billion' are great texts to read but they will not make you distinctive all on their own! You must consider where your reading of these texts has taken you, academically. No one expects you to read the first year law texts on Tort or the entire content of the last 2 years of New Scientist! They want to know about your natural interest and what you have done. There is no simple formula to write the statement and there is no perfect statement so please avoid showing your version to multiple people as you will receive a multiplicity of advice. The statement must fit into the 47 lines on the UCAS online form and be a maximum of 4,000 characters including spaces. You do not need paragraph indents or line breaks between paragraphs.
Consider the following:
Does taking part in the Young Enterprise competition make you a better economics undergraduate?
- Does subscribing to the New Scientist make you a better Biochemist?
- Does participating in Model United Nations make you a better lawyer?
- Does being the lead violinist in the orchestra or the hockey captain make me a stronger study of geography?
The answer to all the above is “no!” It is likely that the best students will be doing all of this but it is what they can show they make from these opportunities that is the key.
Personal statements should have 2 sections:
Academic (three quarters): A discussion of the subject you have chosen; your motivations and your strengths as they relate to the subject. University admissions tutors are used to reading statements where the student claims involvement in a range of activities. It can be very difficult for them to work out what you have actually done. In your Personal Statement you must, therefore, try to provide suitable evidence for what you are saying. For example, the much used but still useful phrase, “I enjoy reading” should not only indicate what exactly you enjoy reading but perhaps how your reading has shaped the ways in which you think.
Personal (one quarter - absolute maximum): Your wider interests, particularly where they involve leadership or organisation or self-discipline. For example, a long term commitment to a charity or to a sports team or an orchestra indicates something about you as an individual. Universities want to take students with commitment and are increasingly cautious to ensure that they do not accept undergraduates who might drop out during their course.
As a conclusion, do not simply repeat an earlier comment or end with something bland. End, just as you began, with something of impact, something of interest.
- Be honest
- Be clear
- Provide evidence
- Be between 3,500 and 4,000 characters in length (including spaces)
- Avoid clichés
- Avoid hyperboles
- Avoid quotes – unless very skilfully used
- Avoid summaries of the subject – it is about you not about the subject!
- Avoid seeking the opinions of too many people (your teachers and others) on your statement – it is personal, you will therefore get different but equally correct advice from different people
Make it interesting! Remember it needs to stand out, for positive reasons!
Alternatively, students can apply during a Gap Year. If this is the chosen route, any student must stay in close contact with us and to meet all the same deadlines that the Year 13 will be required to meet.
Many universities expect a deferred entry applicant to be planning a ‘relevant’ Gap Year. This particularly relates to the most competitive courses or ones with a certain vocational focus. Any student pursuing a scientific or medical course must ensure plans for a strongly scientific Gap Year as the universities would often be concerned that vital technical skills would be forgotten otherwise. The same would apply for Modern Languages degrees. Other courses such as Politics might also apply such criteria. It has to be remembered that many such courses have the luxury and challenge of selecting perhaps 1 out of every 15 or more applicants to receive an offer. Unless the deferred applicant can show commitment to their chosen subject, they may be easily discounted.
There is no doubting the reputations and the uniqueness of the university experience at a place such as Oxford or Cambridge. However, not everyone thrives at Oxbridge and there are many other excellent universities with highly rated courses.
Oxbridge terms are shorter than elsewhere at only 8 weeks and, in consequence, are significantly more intense. For essay based subjects, students are usually asked to produce one or two essays each week, sometimes, although rarely, three. Each is discussed in a small group tutorial (Oxford) or supervision (Cambridge) with an expert in that particular field. These may even be one-to-one discussion but are more commonly two or three students with the tutor / supervisor. In other subjects expectations are equally high with a combination of classes to attend, practicals to complete and problems to solve, again with the support of the tutor / supervisor. All this is on top of a weekly programme of lectures and seminars. The number of lectures or seminars that students are expected to attend varies widely from subject to subject. There may be only a few, perhaps 3 a week, or there may be many more, perhaps even three times that number including labs.
Any students applying to Oxbridge should make sure that they are capable of withstanding, or better, thriving, in an atmosphere of intensive pressure and competition.
Do you stand a reasonable chance?
As an approximate rule, any student who has 6 or more A* grades at GCSE (or equivalent) and is on track for at least 40 points, with at least 7, 6, 6 at Higher or 4 grade As at AS Level and A*AAA (preferably A*A*AA) at A Level may be a realistic applicant. Please be aware that applications from students without potential for these points will not be supported.
Oxford and Cambridge welcome the IB Diploma. Offers vary – Oxford usually offers 39 or 40 points with 776 HL, Cambridge will offer 41-43 points with 776 or 777 HL.
If a student decides to go ahead with an Oxbridge application they will need to undertake some additional work over the summer holidays and meet regularly with the Lead Teacher for Sixth Form who is best placed to offer guidance.
Choosing a College at Oxford or Cambridge
Oxford and Cambridge universities are collegiate so applicants will need to choose a College to which to apply. By being a member of a College, one becomes a member of the University. It is possible to make an ‘open’ application and Oxford or Cambridge will allocate a College, probably simply based on knowledge that some Colleges have received fewer applications than others.
- Remember that the university course is more important than the College choice. Try not to set your dream on one particular College at the potential expense of getting the offer from the university.
- It is not possible to study every subject at every College. Some of the undergraduate teaching will take place in your College, some of it will be in other Colleges where specialists happen to be based, some will be in the department or faculty, for example, the lectures.
- Some Colleges at Cambridge do not have their own Director of Studies (DoS) for a subject. They have an ‘external DoS’ from another College. There would probably be only a small number of undergraduates in any such College studying that subject and students would be linked up with another College for some teaching. At Oxford, similarly, some Colleges ‘pair up’ to deliver their tutorial teaching.
- Check to see what your course (and College) requires in terms of submitted work, tests at interview etc.
- One College may seem particularly attractive because one of the Professors in particular specialism is based there but don’t be misled on this – find out who might actually be teaching the undergraduates.
- If you can, try to find out if any of the teaching fellows are due to go on sabbatical in the following year – this may cause a College to reduce the number of intake for a particular subject.
- Try to avoid being overly impressed by a particular form of architecture. This is not a good way to decide – try to find out whether you might be happy there by visiting on an open day or by looking out for any student information.
- Ultimately, you need to seek the advice of your tutor, your subject teachers, the Head of Sixth Form and the Lead Teacher for Sixth Form.
- Cambridge has an additional application form that has to be completed online with password access given only to the applicant by the university.
- At present, the links are as below but please refer to the university websites as these links could well change:
How to apply
Impington gives access to its students by issuing a “buzzword” during June of Year 12. The buzzword for 2016 applications is: Jackie.
Full instructions are given to students via their tutors. The application can take several days to complete and applicants will need to be ready to give contact details, qualifications, make university and course choices, and provide a personal statement. Time will be dedicated to this in tutor time and students are expected to complete and check in their own time.
Please note: All personal statements are checked by UCAS for plagiarism as part of their standard process and students are responsible for making sure that their application is error-free.
It is possible to make changes to the application at any stage before the form is submitted to UCAS. We check the qualifications as entered on the form, and write the reference including predicted grades. Students can make between one and five choices (four for medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine). If fewer than the maximum number of choices is made when the form is submitted, the student can add further choices up to the maximum at a later date, before the UCAS deadline.
The College sends the application to UCAS who will confirm that they have received it in an email to the student within a couple of days.
Each university will consider the application and then communicate with the student directly. This could be to give an offer conditional upon results or to give an invitation to attend an interview or to reject. Sometimes they will ask for GCSE or AS examination certificates or evidence of other qualifications that have been declared in the application. This is simply part of their checking procedure and no concern should be felt. Increasingly universities can issue an unconditional offer if the student accepts them as their first choice. This is an interesting situation and students are strongly advised to discuss it with the Lead Teacher for Sixth Form.
The UCAS website (www.ucas.com) provides excellent information to students and parents about the whole process including how and when to respond to the offers and what to do on the results day in the summer. Do read the sections carefully on services such as Confirmation, Clearing and Adjustment.
One of the important issues to realise is that students will not have to pay ‘up-front’ for the tuition fees. However, most higher education institutions have opted for the highest charges.
In addition, Student Loans exist to help students pay for living costs (rent, food, books etc.)
More information can be found below:
Key contacts for advice:
- The student’s tutor
- The Lead Teacher for Sixth Form
- Assistant Principal for Post 16 and IB Co-ordinator: Jo Sale