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The application process

The undergraduate application process can seem complicated. Here, we break it down into simple stages with key dates and outline how you can provide support through the various stages of the application process.

Applying to university is an exciting time in a young person's life, but it can be quite stressful. Before they make a start on the application process, it's important to research universities properly. As a parent or supporter, you can help with the research stage. Take a look at our top tips here

Most people applying for a full-time undergraduate degree at a UK university will apply via the Universities Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

The application process is the same for all UK universities, and follows a 7-step process.

1. Making choices

This stage can seem daunting to a young person – there are a huge amount of courses and universities to research. Your patience and organisational skills can help here, particularly in getting started and breaking down choices into a shortlist.


— Use the course search at UCAS.com to find universities and courses, or search online for courses and broad topics of interest such as 'business degrees' or 'fine art higher education courses'.

— Choose some possible universities from this research, then request their prospectuses and/or look at their websites. Many universities now offer a downloadable prospectus.

— Create a shortlist of universities and visit their Open Days. We have a special friends and family zone at our Open Days where you can relax with refreshments or join in with any of the talks, tours and activities. 

2. Applying

Applicants can choose up to five universities when they apply. This gives a lot of flexibility and we would always advise them to choose options that will be available if they meet their predicted grades, but also at least one fallback choice in case they don't. Don't worry though, there are always other options available after an application has been submitted, such as Clearing

Applications can be made at any time from the September of Year 13 (or the second year of FE college) until mid to late January. For medicine courses the deadline is mid October. Don't forget to read our 'How to write the perfect personal statement' article before offering your services as a proofreader! 

 Student reading book

3. Offers

When UCAS receives an application form, it will pass it on to the applicant's chosen universities.

UCAS will send the applicant a UCAS ID number, which they can use to track the progress of their application on the UCAS website. This number is vitally important – encourage them to keep the details safe and easily accessible.   

Applicants should start receiving responses from universities between November and May.

Universities can make three types of response:

Unconditional offer: the university will accept them regardless of final grades

Conditional offer: the university will accept them on the condition that they achieve a minimum tariff point

Unsuccessful application: the university has decided not to offer them a place

The applicant or the university also has the option to withdraw the application during the process.


— See our jargon buster for more information on university and UCAS terms.

— In February UCAS Extra opens – this is an extra chance for a student to secure a place at university if they are not holding an offer from their five choices or if they haven’t already applied to university via UCAS.

— It’s wise to start looking early at student finance options and the financial support available from the universities applicants have applied to. UK students, Irish nationals and those with EU settled/pre-setted status, should apply to their Student Finance office from February/March.

4. Making a decision

If an applicant receives one or more offers, they can make a decision on where to accept.

They can make one firm acceptance, which is their preferred choice, and one insurance choice. The insurance choice typically has a lower tariff point requirement. If they accept an unconditional offer, they must decline all other offers.

The deadline for making a decision will depend on the date they received the last offer.

This is an important part of the process which you can support by reviewing the research done in step 1, thinking about pros and cons and encouraging an informed decision! 


— If an applicant has accepted an offer (conditional or unconditional), they’ll need to think about what type of accommodation to apply for. Applications for our accommodation opens in February and an applicant doesn’t need to wait until they receive their exam results.

Student smiling at laptop

5. Results day

Exam results are published in August. Once a student has confirmed their results and therefore, their tariff points, they will be able to check on UCAS Track to see if they have been accepted by their chosen university. Many universities will also send an email or text message confirming acceptance. 

6. Clearing

If a student did not meet the conditions of their offers, or didn't receive any offers, they could still find a place through Clearing.

7. Going to university

From late August / early September, universities will send out information about enrolling, accommodation and what to expect from the first few weeks.

Then all that's left is to help pack and get them ready for a life-changing experience!

UCAS have a number of videos and resources specifically for parents and supporters, including guides to support students with their applications.

More information

Please contact our Student Helpline for more information on the application process:

Email: student.helpline@sunderland.ac.uk
Tel: 0191 515 3000