Higher Education and UCAS

It probably seems a long way off for some of you but Universities will check all the way back to how well you made progress and achieved at school as well as Sixth Form College. Here is a guide to UCAS (University & College Applications System).

The first thing you probably want to do is have a look at the UCAS Website.

There are also some helpful videos provided by UCAS available at UCAS TV  on things such as Open Days, Freshers Week, Writing a Personal Statement and Choosing Courses.

You can also try the following websites:

complete uni guide image  - leauge tables and rankings
Russell Group image

 - represents the 20 leading universities

oxbridge applications image

 - how to apply


Choosing a University - some things to think about.

How to choose a course?

There are several websites to help you, and you can take the computerised Centigrade test (there is a £15 charge) to check out the suitability and availability of subject choices you have made in the area you wish to study.


Best Course 4 me                                                     

Independant and free guide which shows the link between what you study, what you earn and jobs you can get.


 Centigrade (costs £15)

In association with UCAS, Centigrade matches your strongest interests and abilities with the most likely courses available. These courses are then listed in a professionally produced report which: 

  • highlights the courses where you seem to be well matched
  • includes both single and relevant combined course options
  • challenges your choices where they may not be soundly based
  • makes you more aware of your wider potential


Look at the course details - can you study what interests you? There are lots of degrees with the same name, but they dont all teach the same things. Degrees are broken down into different modules. Some Univerisities allow you to pick and choose which modules you take to make your degree up; others are more ridgid. Take time to research the content of the degrees that interest you.

Teaching Methods

How many contact hours will you receive?

This will depend on the type of degree you take. Degrees in the medical field tend to be full time, but in other areas, you may find you are only required ot be in University in lectures for 6 hours a week! Dont assume this is a good thing though; look at how you are expected to use the rest of your time. Private study/research is a critical part of almost all degrees.

Will you be taught via lectures/seminars or turotials?

A lecture is usually delivered in a huge lecture theatre and can be pretty impersonal - the lecturer can be talking to hundreds of students simultaneously and there is little or no interaction.  You are expected to listen and take notes.  A seminar is more like a lesson at school; it's interactive and in smaller groups.  You may also be expected to take part in 1:1 or small group sessions.  If the course you are looking at offers tutorials or seminars, ask if they are run by academic staff or post graduate students.  If the latter, be aware as these are just slightly older students who will not be experienced teacher or academics.  They could be very interesting to work with, but if they run all the face to face sessions you will have no direct at all with academic staff.


Check out assessment methods.  These can range from all final exams to continuous assessment.  Some courses require you to produce long assignments as assessment pieces, some require group presentations.  Some courses allow you to take some exams at the end of the modules.  Think about what suits you best and factor this into your decision making.

Joint or single honours?

A joint degree is usually taken in two different departments.  You need to check out the deal carefully - they can end up being more work, and you can be the one making the links between the subject matter as the departments may not work together.  It is possible that each department require you to take core modules so that you have less choice in what you study.  However the advantage of a joint honours is that you can maintain focus on two areas of interest simultaneously and linkage between them can give you valuable insights and skills.

Some degrees allow you to choose difference courses/modules outside the main degree focus or offer hybrid degrees.  Check out how flexible/varied the courses actually are and what bias they have in terms of how subjects are approached.

Grades not high enough?

Sometimes combined or joint degrees might be offered at lower grades and might be worth exploring.  They can make it possible for you to study at a university or in a subject that would otherwise be beyond your reach, but beware of signing up to something just for the sake of attending a particular university - you may be stuck with a course that doesn't suit you.  It's better to study something you enjoy in a 2nd choice location that to be stuck with a course you don't enjoy for the sake of being at the university you want most.

Some universitys are more 'fashionable' than others - check out some of the less trendy/popular ones and you might find that they offer you a better deal.

Location: Town/city or campus?

Check out exactly where the university is and check that it suits you.  You really should visit before making it one of your UCAS choices.  Be aware that some departments can be in unexpected locations, e.g. some of Brighton university is actually based in Eastbourne and Hastings. Think about transport costs to and from home. You really should take the chance to attend the Open Days of the Universities you are interested in to get a feel for the 'whole package'.


Most university guarantee halls of residence to first years - check out if catering/non catering is best for you.  The cost of halls and quality/availability of student housing and local rents can vary considerably and is a factor in the overall cost. Do your sums carefully! 


Make sure that your sources are up to date and reliable.  There are various comparison charts - The Guardian and The Times being the most commonly used, but their rankings don't always guarantee that the course will suit you.  Some universities that are not in the top rankings are actually better at teaching students (check value added ratings).  The Student Room is a student led forum that might be a useful cross reference, but be aware that this is an unofficial and possibly/biased/inaccurate view.  You need to gather information from a number of sources before deciding that a university is right for you.

League Tables and Student Ratings for Universities:


Gap year or not?

This is very much a personal choice, but a well planned gap year can build your confidence, employability skills and bank balance. You could even spend part of the time working on a 16-19 apprenticeship route or Art Foundation for example, and get some qualifications in the bag before HE study.  Check out the notgoingtouni website for ideas.

There are some great, but very competitive,opportunities to build your work-based skills before as well as during your degree.  Look at Year in Industry, Head Start, Deloittes.


 Not Going To Uni

 Information on alternatives to going to university.




Sponsored degrees/in house degree level training

You need to do your research here.  As the cost of university rises, the number of companies trying to secure graduates via sponsorship/training packages will increase so if you are smart and do your homework you might find someone else to pay the fees. You need to weigh up the cost to you in terms of how restrictive or limiting the deal might end up being.  If an accountancy/finance consulatncy such as KMPG or PWC have taken you on then you are guaranteed high level training and almost guaranteed work afterwards in the areas they cover, but your options to follow other employment accessible from a less specialised HE course, not to mention your own intellectual development, may be limited.

Find out more

You need to research this carefully. Check out:

Directionslogo Henleylogo theguardian Experian


For examples of opportunities in financial service and check out this article to make you think about the risks involved.


Degrees with less debt

degrees with less debt


£12.99 by Lifetime Publishing





Vocational study or transferable skills?

Studying something that interests you to a high level may give you skills and knowledge directly relevant to future work, or can teach you transferable research/study and presentational skills. Some people would argue that becoming too vocationally focused at first degree level makes you more vulnerable to labour market shifts and ultimately less flexible.  There are no guarantees that gaining graduate status will lead to a job, but developing to a high level your creativity, intellectual and independant learning capacity are core skills which can best be acquired if you are thoroughly engaged in what you are studying.

Vocational Degree Courses

Law: You can choose to study a law degree or do a low conversion degree after your first degree.  Alternative routes are also available - check out Ilex Careers and this article for a proactive view on law degrees.

Medicine: You must prove that you have aptitude and people skills as well as academic capability.  You need to organise relevant work experience (hospital volunteering, work wih elderly/vulnerable, Activenture) over a period of time in order to improve your chance of being selected for training. Check out Medlink.

Vet: There are far more qualified applicants than training places, so you must have a plan B! (look at Zoology/Animal Behaviour, Equine Studies at Plumpton) To maximise your chances of being selected you need to have undertaken work experience over a period of time - try to find opportunities at a farm/animal rescue centre/local vet.

Foundation degree/Cert HE: These are 1 or 2 year courses which can bridge the gap between training and a degree course.  They can be routes into a full degree course, or free standing qualifications.  Increasingly they are available locally - Sussex Downs College and Plumpton (validated by Brighton Uni) offer them as well as directly at local universities. Application is via UCAS, but entry requirements are lower than full degree courses.

Higher Level Apprenticeships/traineeships: If you learn  best 'on the job' then this may be the route for you.  There are some very highly regarded and sought after traineeships with national organisations available post level 3 study, and you need to be well organised and focussed if you want to get onto one of them.

You need to start researching at the end of Year 12 and identify the ones that are of interest to you then make sure that you are aware of application deadlines.  Do your research well and try to build a convincing CV - work experience is as important here as qualifications and 'employability' needs to be evident in your application.

Apprenticeships can be found in many different employment sectors - check out the national website and set up alerts for opportunities locally.  There are also a number of local providers with signing up with well before your 19th birthday which is the cut off point for free training. 

Home or Away?

There are many advantages to choosing a university away from home, a good chance to become self sufficient and independant and to experience living in a different part of the country or even abroad.

However increasing numbers of students are considering staying at home in order to reduce costs.  If you want to do this, there are a range of degrees available at Brighton and Sussex Universities, and some foundation degrees are run from Sussex Downs College and Plumpton.

An alternative is to consider doing a degree part time and combining it with work, or even doing an Open University degree over a number of years whilst working.  This involves studying independently supported by online tutorial support, a comprehensive range of teaching materials and summer school meet ups.

openuni plumpton sussexdowns
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