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The overwhelming majority of our Sixth Form students wish, on completion of their A levels, to take part in undergraduate level study at university, before they graduate after three (or in some cases more) years with a degree in their chosen subject. Students apply through UCAS for admission to a university course. They will apply for up to five university courses and hope to obtain ‘conditional offers’ that require them to gain certain grades, or an A level ‘points total’, as a condition for entry. Some universities also require students to take additional tests, too.
Many of our students will be the first from their families to go to university. Other parents/carers will have experience of the UCAS process, either because they have made applications themselves, or because older daughters/sons have gone through ‘the system.’ The following sets out – in brief - the stages, support and checking mechanisms that are in place for students as they complete their UCAS applications. Full information will be given during a UCAS Information Evening, to which all will be invited at the appropriate time.
Q: What is UCAS?
A: The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is an organisation that essentially acts as a ‘middle-man’; applicants complete information for UCAS and it is then sent on to the universities the individual has applied to. The universities update UCAS about the status of each application, and UCAS passes this information back to the individual.
Q: How are students introduced to the UCAS process?
A: Students are introduced to: http://www.ucas.ac.uk/students/apply during Life Skills lessons in Key Stage 4 & 5. A vast amount of information is available, ranging from course and university information to a Parent Guide and UCAS TV. After their AS level examinations, Year 12 students are given at least one day off timetable to access our ‘What Next?’ conference. The programme involves dedicated workshops that guide students through the Application process, how to write the all-important Personal Statement and How to choose the ‘right’ university and course. Parents/Carers are informed of this event and invited to the workshops. Students are given time to start to complete their applications and are offered advice and guidance during some of their Life Skills/Enrichment lessons that follow the conference.
Q: What about university finance?
A: An evening event is normally planned to give information about applying for HE loans and grants. There is much anxiety about the repayment of loans and fees; a student entering work after graduation and earning the average salary would expect to pay, per month, about the same amount of money as they would spend on a mobile ‘phone contract. Getting a degree is, for most, a sound investment. For many, it is an essential passport without which access to the profession of their choice will be denied.
Q: What about Open Days?
A: Advice on attending Open Days is given and students are encouraged to visit those universities to which they are considering submitting an application before the end of Year 12 – and, where possible, outside of school time so as to minimise the number of lessons that they miss. Students will not normally be given approval for Open Day-related absence during Year 13.
Q: What about students who need to make an early application through UCAS?
A: Students applying for courses – including those at Oxford or Cambridge - that require an early application are informed of this, as are students who will be required to take other entry exams e.g BMAT, UKCAT. Information is available regarding useful websites and publications. Support is offered.
Q: What happens immediately after the AS results are published in the summer of Year 12?
A: Predicted grades are decided upon and these are included in the reference; they are based on AS level results unless there are extenuating circumstances. Members of staff meet to consider both suggested re-sits and UCAS grade predictions on the first Staff Development Day in September. Where a Subject Leader thinks there is an exceptional circumstance that would justify a UCAS grade prediction being raised above the actual AS grade that has been achieved, then this recommendation will be made to the Headteacher. If a student, or parent/carer is aware of any ‘exceptional circumstance’ that they think would justify such an upward revision, they must write to the Headteacher making these reasons known and ensure that the letter is received by the school no later than 31st August. This will allow the relevant Subject Leader to examine all relevant information before setting the prediction.
Q: What happens once students join Year 13 come September of their final year?
A: Once students return to school for their final year in September they are encouraged to complete their applications. Those applying for Vet Medicine, Medicine, Dentistry, Oxbridge and Conservatoires receive additional support from subject specialist staff. Deadlines for these entries are earlier than the rest of the courses. All students are encouraged to complete their applications as early in the term as possible, but at the very latest by December 15th.
Once the grade predictions are set, and subject teachers have discussed the advisability of any re-sits, we shall write to each student setting out both their UCAS predicted grades and any re-sit suggestions. We will make every effort to ensure that this information is sent to students before the end of the second week of Term One.
Q: What about references?
A: The school provides a reference which is sent with the UCAS form. Universities want honest references that are clear about what it is that a student can do in each subject studied at A level, and what it is the student is still working towards. References are compiled by Form Tutors, based on subject information; they contain information about the student’s wider interests and contributions to school life as these things are important to the universities. We will be as supportive as we can in what we write, but we must write honestly if we are to retain a reputation for objectivity. As soon as we lose that, our references will cease to be accorded much weight. Students are allowed to see their references before the UCAS form is sent, but – correction of factual errors aside – the school will not alter its judgements in response to pressure from students or their parents.
Q: What happens when a UCAS application is sent off?
A: Students will be working on their applications while the above process is being completed. When it is completed, the student will sign a statement that indicates their permission for the school to send the application. The entire application will be checked by a senior member of staff – usually the Headteacher - and can be returned to the students, or indeed staff, for amendments before payment and submission to UCAS.
Q: When can a student expect to receive conditional offers?
A: The earlier a student applies the better; some universities consider applications as soon as they receive them and make offers very swiftly. Others wait until the UCAS deadline and then go through all of the applications that they have received. Universities are all autonomous institutions and each does things differently; most do not publish information about the timescales within which they turn around applications and these can change from year to year. So it is best to send the application as soon as possible. Students almost always find the receipt of an offer – especially an early one - highly motivating and reassuring.
Q: What about students who find that they need to attend interviews?
A: Once submitted to UCAS the applications are tracked; interview preparation is provided for individual students and as part of the Life Skills/Enrichment programme generally.
The Sixth Form Administrator will contact individual universities as and when necessary to provide additional information.
Q: What happens when all the universities have applied and students are holding offers?
A: Students will be provided with information so that they can track their applications electronically. Once all offers have been received a student must make a decision about their Firm and Insurance offer.
Offers are usually made subject to certain criteria, normally grades or points at A level. A student who is rejected from a university may be able to use UCAS Extra in the spring. This process allows a student to add choices to their application.
Replies to universities should be made by the deadline date as stated by UCAS; again support and advice will be given on an individual student basis. Failure to reply to the University by the stated date will result in the student loosing that offer.
Q: When will a student know if they have their firm or insurance offer confirmed?
A: Students may be notified before results day in August, if they have successfully gained a place. This is because the universities are sent the results shortly before the students receive them! On Results Day, staff will contact students early in the day, if they are concerned that individual may not have met the criteria for entry to their firm or insurance university course. Students will be advised of a course of action and invited into school to consult with staff. Parents/Carers are more than welcome to accompany their daughter/son.
Q: What is ‘clearing’ and when does it start?
A: On Results Day, the UCAS website changes to give clearing information (details of all courses still available). Universities should be contacted by the student, at this stage, to discuss eligibility, exam grades etc. Again support and advice is available from experienced staff.
Additionally, if a student has achieved higher grades than expected and wishes to apply for alternative course, this option is available. Again support and advice will be given. Students who have done far better than predicted may withdraw from the UCAS process and re-apply the following year – giving their actual, as opposed to predicted, grades this time!
Q: Can the school give me advice after Results Day?
A: After Results Day, senior members of staff are available, either in person or by e-mail, if further advice and guidance is required.