Every year, US students rely on The Common Apps to send their application to multiple universities at once. Likewise, UK students have UCAS to do the same thing. Although you can use commonapps.org for some international schools, only a handful of UK universities have joined the website so chances are, you’ll have to use UCAS to get the job done.

Before you panic, don’t.

UCAS is very similar to common apps. In my opinion, it’s actually much easier, you just have to understand their lingo. Let’s walk through it together, shall we?

Personal Details

This part is pretty standard. The website will ask you for your marital status, name, preferred name (i.e. Bob for Robert), gender, birth date, postal and home address, home phone number, mobile (cell phone) number, email, and the language you prefer to use when communicating with the universities. Next, enter in your passport details and answer yes to the question “Requires student visa?” – you will eventually need to apply for a Tier 4 UK student visa through the UKCISA.

Things start to get a bit more confusing further on. UCAS will ask you for the name of your nominee and your relationship to that person. I used my high school counselor and simply wrote “School Counselor“.

For fee payer select private finance unless an organization or employer has agreed to pay for your tuition and room & board.

If you were born in the US, the sections: country of birth, Nationality, and Area of permanent residence will be very easy. If you are a naturalized citizen or a permanent resident, just clarify your situation under those three sections (Nationality refers to the country you are a citizen of).

Your date of first entry to the UK can be in the future. If you have never traveled to the UK, just put in an estimate date of when you think you’ll arrive there to get ready for school.


You can choose up to 5 universities in this section. Unlike US applications, you don’t have to pay for each school individually. It costs £12 ($18.77) to send one application and £23 ($35.98) for multiple applications so you might as well choose 5 schools.

However, you should choose very carefully. If your choices are not realistic and you are rejected from all 5 choices, you may be able to apply to an additional university through UCAS Extra. However, if that option is unavailable or unsuccessful, you will have to go into something called Clearing. 

Clearing is when you apply again but cannot choose your courses/majors in your application because your only remaining option is to go to a university with an opening, whichever department that opening may be in. This will make studying abroad almost impossible and you may have to take a gap year if you do not have a backup college in the US. Clearing doesn’t start until August and by the time you confirm your stay at a school, you will not have enough time to obtain your student visa.

Confused yet? So was I. The UCAS website does a much better job at explaining all of this, I promise.


If you’re applying as a high school senior, under Establishment just select Secondary Education/FE/HE and enter the name of your high school. In this case, the Highest level of qualification expected will be Below honors degree level certifications.

The remainder of this section will be entering in your qualifications.  Unlike the common apps, UCAS does not allow you to freely type out any qualifications you may hold. Instead, you must choose an approved qualification from the drop-down list, which will limit your options but try your best to enter in as many qualifications as possible.

Examples of possible qualifications include: USA-High School Graduation Diploma (enter in future date if you are currently a high school senior), ACT (you must enter your scores from each section of the ACT separately), SAT (you must enter your scores from each section of the SAT separately), any AP tests you have taken in the past, and any AP tests you will take in the future (just keep the grade section blank and enter the date of the future exam). There isn’t a section for you to upload documents as proof of these exam results, I never actually sent in any documentation for my AP’s, SAT’s, or ACT’s through UCAS. I physically mailed my high school transcript to each of the University admissions offices but that was about it. If they want to see any proof they will request it later via email but they rarely do.


Your employer must be an organization, company, etc. that has been approved by the government. If you’re anything like me and the only jobs you’ve ever held are as a family babysitter, after-school tutor, or volunteer, you’ll just have to keep this section empty. Keeping this part of the application blank won’t hurt you in any way so don’t stress!


If you decide to apply through UCAS you’ll never have to worry about crazy essay prompts like these:

“Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.” – University of Chicago

“So where is Waldo, really?” – University of Chicago

“How do you feel about Wednesday?” – University of Chicago

Wow U of C, you okay? (In all honesty, I absolutely adore whoever is behind all of these insane questions)

All you have to do for UCAS is write about what makes you suitable for the course/major you have chosen. Simple. Because let’s be real, not everyone can be inspired by mustard, who knows what Waldo is up to these days, and Wednesday can refer to either hump day or Miss Addams and it would be embarrassing to write about the wrong Wednesday!


Finally, all you have left is to convince someone to write you a decent recommendation letter. I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with my counselor so that’s who I asked.

Choose someone who knows you well but make sure it’s someone the universities would actually listen to. If you personally know someone in the field you’ll be studying in, perfect. If not, going with a counselor or teacher is always a great choice.


If you choose to apply to Cambridge or Oxford (you can’t apply to both) your application will need to be turned in by mid October (for 2015 applicants the deadline was Oct. 15).

Other applications don’t need to be turned in until mid January (for 2015 applicants the deadline was Jan. 15).

Applications for Arts & Design courses are due by late March (for 2015 applicants the deadline was March 24).

And that’s the end. Review your application to make sure all of your information has been entered in correctly, pay, and send. You have a lot of waiting to do from this point on, enjoy your senior year and try not to worry. Good luck.