Applying for courses

Ready to apply? Competition for college and uni places can be fierce, but we can help. Find out how and when to apply, then use our tips and make your application stand out from the crowd.

Applying to college

Students sitting on a bench in the sunshine

Each college has its own dates for applications. You’ll apply through each individual college.

You need to check with the college, or colleges, you're applying to and find out what their process is.

Five important things to find out:

  1. How to apply – is it an online form? 
  2. Will you need to attend an interview, or provide a portfolio or any other additional information? (Use our advice on college interviews to prepare if you do!)
  3. Can you apply for more than one course? Is there a limit to how many courses you can apply for?
  4. What are the closing dates?
  5. What happens once you've submitted your application? How, and when, can you expect to find out if you've been offered a place?

Did you know?

Some colleges offer support for people as they're completing their application forms. If that's something that would help you, ask the college if they offer it.

When to apply

Colleges usually have options for starting in August/September.

Contact the colleges to find out the deadline for the course you’re interested in. But, be aware that some college courses work on a first come, first served basis. So if you’re keen, you need to get your application in fast before a course fills up.

Some colleges also run short-term, evening and part-time courses. These start at various points throughout the year. And some offer courses starting from January, too. Make sure you know what's available.

Applying to university (UCAS)

A small silver alarm clock

For university courses, you’ll apply through UCAS. You fill in a form through their online system, Apply. The UCAS website has a step-by-step guide on what to do. The tips below will help you think about what you want to say, too.

Key dates to remember:

  • 15 October the year before entry for professional courses in medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine/science, or Oxford or Cambridge
  • 15 January for the majority of courses
  • 24 March for some art and design courses

The UCAS website has more information on key dates.

Tracking your application

Once you’ve sent in your application, you can see how it’s progressing through the UCAS Track system. This lets you see whether universities have offered you a place, and what kind of offer they’ve made.

Applying to medicine, dentistry and law

UKCAT

If you're applying to study medicine or dentistry, you need to complete the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) before you put in your UCAS form. The deadline for this is 5 October.

The test helps universities decide between applicants to the programme. You can find out more on the UKCAT website.

LNAT

If you're applying to Law, you'll need to sit the LNAT - the National Admissions Test for Law. It helps universities decide if you have the right skills to study law. You need to sit this test within the same UCAS year that you apply to university, and the deadline is normally around the same time as the UCAS deadline. Find out more, and register, on the LNAT website.

Applying to conservatoires

A dancer leaping across the stage

To apply to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, or one of the other UK conservatoires, you need to go through UCAS Conservatoires

Deadlines vary depending on what course you’re applying for:

  • For dance, drama and production and screen programmes, the deadline is 15 January
  • For music applications, the deadline is 1 October

You’ll also need to know about auditions and interviews. Visit the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland website for details.

Five things you need to double-check on your application form

You want to make the best impression you can through your college or uni application. Before you hit submit, check:

Your personal statement

See careers adviser Vikki Gemmell’s tips on making yours stand out.

Spelling and grammar

Get someone else to read your application and look for errors.

Your referee

Speak to the person writing your reference. Make sure they know if there’s anything in particular you want to be mentioned.

Your details

Make sure everything you’ve entered is correct, from your exam results to your address.

Course choices

If it’s a UCAS application, check that each of your course codes is correct. If you’re applying to college, make sure you’ve selected the correct courses.

How to write your personal statement

Want to impress the admissions officer? Check out careers expert Vikki Gemmell’s guide to writing a dazzling UCAS personal statement or college supporting statement.

The big mistakes to avoid

The biggest mistakes applicants make are using cliches, or ‘borrowing’ from someone else’s application form. Your form is all about you – so why use someone else’s words?

For one, it’s not even worth it. UCAS use a system called Copycatch on every application to find plagarism. Colleges also look for it. But even if you don’t intentionally copy someone else, using a cliché might work against you.

According to the UCAS Guide to Getting into University and College, the most over-used phrases (so, the ones to avoid) are:

  • 'From a young age/an early age/for as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in…
  • 'Nursing is a very challenging and demanding career ...'
  • 'Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only.' (This is a quote from Coco Chanel – it was original when she said it.)
  • 'Academically, I have always been a very determined and ...'

Need to know more before you decide where to study? Attending an event like an HE Exhibition or open day helps you figure out where's best for you.

If you want to study, but don't know where, we'll help you weigh up the options. Find out what you need to consider when picking a course, and how to do your research.

Applying to university through Clearing

Clearing is a UCAS service to help people who haven’t been accepted by a university to find a place on another course. 

It runs from August to September, and most people use it around exam results time if they haven’t got the grades they needed to get on to their chosen course. Scottish Clearing vacancies go live just before exam results are released.

You should be able to access Clearing through Track. Find out more about Clearing on the UCAS site.

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