Friday 13 December 2019

UCAS applicants: It is never too early to start your preparations

Photo: Thinkstock. Picture posed
Photo: Thinkstock. Picture posed
Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

Last week this column looked at the October 15 deadline for UCAS - the centralised agency for processing applications for colleges in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is the deadline for applications for entry to most courses in medicine, veterinary, and dentistry, as well as Oxford and Cambridge.

The main UCAS deadline is January 15. In relation to art and design courses, applications for some must be submitted by January 15 and others have a March 24 deadline.

Although the January deadline may seem far away, it will approach quickly for a number of reasons. Firstly, most students who apply to UCAS will also be applying to the CAO and, secondly, the deadline for UCAS falls very close to the return from Christmas holidays.

Also, UCAS shares applications with universities as soon as they are received, therefore it is essential students complete their application at least before Christmas, but preferably early in December.

Students must complete their UCAS application form online. This form contains a number of different sections including, education, work experience and personal statements.

Students often worry they will make a mistake or feel they do not yet know exactly what they want to say.

However, the UCAS application form allows applicants to save their information as they go. Students may change any information they have entered at any stage, therefore reducing the fear of mistakes.

Completion of a personal statement is a key part of the process. This is a short essay written by the candidate about themselves and their suitability for, and interest in the course(s). It should be no more than 4,000 characters and it is a good idea to write the statement in a word document, or similar, before copying and pasting into the application.

The personal statement provides an opportunity for students to sell themselves to the university. It should give the institutions a clear idea of who they are as a student. Students should include why they are applying for the course(s), their academic interests and how the course(s) fits into their career ambitions. Students must also explain why they are suitable for the course, and give examples of any relevant experiences they have had. It may also be helpful to discuss what they have learned from these experiences.

Applicants can include extra-curricular activities and it will benefit the application if these activities can be clearly linked to their area of study.

Remember that the same personal statement is sent to all universities and courses for which the applicant is applying, so students should avoid mentioning universities or courses by name and ensure that the information provided will be relevant to each application.

It will take students a couple of drafts to get this right and showing it to others is essential. When completing the personal statement, applicants should look up the course website for pointers. There is information available on and

Students must take time to research courses properly. It is essential to gain an understanding of the ins and outs of courses as well as checking entry requirements in good time, as many courses require applicants to take entry exams.

Students should be clear on why they wish to apply to the UK and what they hope to achieve from studying abroad. There are great benefits for students who choose to study in the UK: they may avoid certain entry requirements that are required in the Irish system or they can take courses in areas that are simply not available in Ireland, not to mention the independence and life experiences students can achieve from studying in another system.

However, UK colleges do charge fees, often of around £9,000, and students and their parents will also have to fund living expenses.

Given the amount of effort and time that must go into the application process, interview and research, and the financial commitment, students should be sure of why they are applying and not thinking only that they would like to have another few options.

Important dates

September 30

l MidWest Career Exhibition IGC Midwest Limerick Racecourse

October 1

l Registration opens Ulster HPAT

October 2

l Open Day College of Amenity Horticulture Botanic Gardens

l Open Day Gurteen Agricultural College

Careers and Course Fair IGC Kilkenny, Ormond Hotel, Kilkenny

l Booking/rescheduling closes UKCAT Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent

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