How and when to apply to university

Applying to university may seem a daunting prospect, but it is fairly simple process.

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“[Completing the UCAS application] can be boring, but getting it done early will help you avoid last-minute stress. Apply for student finance and provide the correct supporting information and bank details.”

Most students will apply through UCAS, which stands for Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. If you are an EU or international student who is applying through an agent, please contact your agent for advice.

UCAS application

The UCAS online application form enables you to apply to up to five different courses. You can apply to less than five if you want to. Each course can be at a different university or you might be applying for 2 or 3 courses at the same university. The application form is sent to all the universities you apply to but they can only see which courses you’ve applied to at their institution.

The application form covers: personal information, course choices, education/qualifications, personal statement, references. 

The references are usually written by your teachers. If it’s some time since you studied, the references will need to be written by someone who knows you well.

If you’re currently at school or college, your teachers or careers advisers will help you with the UCAS application process. If you are applying to Goldsmiths and you are care experienced, estranged from your family, or a mature student, we can also help you with the application process.

Once a university receives your application, they may make you an offer just based on the application form or they may invite you for interview. Some creative courses (art, design, media, music, theatre) may ask you to prepare a portfolio or audition.

Offers and decision making

A university will make one of the following decisions:

  • Conditional offer: a place is available to you if you meet the conditions outlined in the offer. The conditions usually relate to your current studies, for example getting BBB from your A-levels.
  • Unconditional offer: a place is available to you with no conditions attached. If you accept this offer, usually the university has to be your first and only choice.
  • Unsuccessful: the university has not made you an offer. Ask for feedback so you know why you were unsuccessful.
  • September: UCAS application form available for the following academic year. For example, from September 2020 you can apply for a course starting in September 2021.
  • 15 October: UCAS application deadline if you are applying to any course at Oxford or Cambridge universities, and for most medicine, veterinary science and dentistry courses. Note: your school or college will set an earlier application deadline so they have time to write your reference
  • 15 January: UCAS application deadline for all other courses. If you apply after this date, your application will only be considered if there are still places available on the course. Note: your school or college will set an earlier application deadline so they have time to write your reference.
  • January to April: attend interviews (if part of the application process for your course); visit universities that have made you an offer.
  • May: if you have received a decision from all the universities you have applied to by 31 March, you must select which courses will be your Firm and Insurance choice by the beginning of May.
  • Clearing: if you have not yet applied, or you have changed your mind about your choices, or your grades are too low for your chosen universities, you can apply through Clearing. Although Clearing opens at the start of July, it is busiest on A-level results day in August.

Find out about applying to university