Monday 16 December 2019

How to apply to UK and EU colleges

The University of Ulster in Belfast Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University
The University of Ulster in Belfast Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University
Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

The main closing date for applications to UCAS, the centralised agency for admissions to college in Britain and Northern Ireland, is Sunday, January 15. That is the closing date for the vast majority of courses.

At this stage, students should have their applications as complete as possible, if not already sent.

Unlike the CAO, in the UK system institutions judge you based on more than just your exam results. The application entails students completing a personal statement and providing an academic reference and information about work experience.

As well as the extra work involved in preparing an application, bear in mind that UCAS will send the completed application to each institution for their consideration as soon as they receive it. So, it is beneficial to apply as early as possible.

After the Brexit vote, there was some uncertainty about the future status of EU students in UK colleges, but the UK government has confirmed that EU citizens who enter a UK course in 2017 will be entitled to the same fees, supports and benefits as UK students for the duration of their studies. This offers some security for Irish students considering applying for UCAS this year.

All UCAS applications are made online through Students should first use this site to search for courses and institutions they may be interested in. Then they should browse for information on Irish Leaving Cert entry requirements (including a tariff calculator), fees and any other requirements, such as aptitude testing. Students may apply for up to five courses in a normal UCAS application. A major difference between UCAS applications and CAO applications is the personal statement. This is an essential element of the process and Irish students often underestimate its importance.

A personal statement is the applicant's chance to 'sell' themselves and it needs to explain why the college should choose the applicant. While including any work experience or extra-curricular activities relevant to the course is important, applicants must also give 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 subject teacher. See for advice on how to write references and personal statements.

Other EU options

Universities across Europe offer courses through English, even in countries where English is not the main language. Many of these courses have lower entry requirements than Irish courses, as well as low fees. All EU citizens can benefit from access to any college in the EU, in addition to any supports available to students within those countries.

For those who may be considering such an option, now is the time to fully explore these possibilities and to apply. EUNICAS is an applications service that will assist students in applying for courses in Europe. For more information, visit and

Irish Independent

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