If applying to the UK, remember it's more than just about exam results
With all the focus on CAO it is important not to forget about the upcoming deadline for UCAS, the centralised organisation that looks after applications to universities and other third-level institutions in the UK and Northern Ireland.
While the first deadline for UCAS passed on October 15, for the majority of courses the deadline is January 15 at 6pm.
Applications to professional courses in veterinary, medicine, and dentistry and to Oxford and Cambridge closed in October. For some art and design courses, the deadline is March 24 at 6pm.
If not already sent, at this stage students who are applying for UCAS should have their application as complete as possible.
It is important to remember that, unlike the CAO system, when applying through UCAS institutions base their judgments on more than exam results. Students are required to complete a personal statement and provide an academic reference, as well as information about work experience.
As well as the extra work involved in preparing the application, UCAS sends the completed application as soon as they receive it to each institution for their consideration.
Therefore, there is benefit to applying as early as possible.
All UCAS applications are made online through ucas.com. Students should also contact the institution to enquire about Irish Leaving Cert entry requirements, fees and any other requirements, such as aptitude testing. In a normal UCAS application, students may apply for up to five courses.
Personal statements should explain why the college should choose the applicant for the course.
While including any work experience or extra-curricular activities is very important, applicants must also give the college an idea of their academic interests and work style.
The reference should be from someone who can comment on the student's academic style and suitability for the course, often a teacher in a relevant subject.
Finally, the referee will be asked to submit predicted grades for each of your subjects. This makes sense in the UK, which has a system of continuous assessment, but is much more difficult for teachers in Ireland, as the curriculum is based on a terminal exam with external moderation.
Students should talk to a guidance counsellor about the system in place in their school for collecting predicted grades.
There is lots of information and advice on how to write references and personal statements at ucas.com.
If an application is not already in its final stages of preparation, a student might consider seeking assistance from a guidance counsellor.
Remember that teachers are busy at this time of year, so it is important to give them as much notice as possible so they can prepare a reference.
As with all college applications, students should familiarise themselves with the course content and application process.
Five tips for writing a personal statement
- Show your personal statement to as many people as possible. You just don't know where a helpful comment might come from. Whether it's a parent or friend who reminds you of something you have forgotten, a guidance counsellor or a teacher, the more opinions you seek the better.
- Your personal statement will go to each institution and the selection panel for each course for which you are applying. Be careful if you're applying to more than one subject area or institution. Remember you are writing only one statement, which may be distributed to several colleges/courses, so avoid naming particular institutions or talking about things that are not relevant to individual courses for which you are applying. For instance, don't write 'All my life I dreamed of going to Oxford', if you are also applying elsewhere.
- There are many resources, films and advice on UCAS.com giving advice on how best to complete this part of the application. Take time to explore them. Include why you are applying, what makes you suitable and which of your skills and experience are most relevant.
- Give a copy of your personal statement to your referee. It can be helpful for them to know what you are saying and match the reference to this.
- Try and make it stand out. Let your voice through and ensure that it is carefully proof read by someone you trust.