University Applications

Applications to UK universities are based on a Tariff system of UCAS points, a personal statement, and, in some cases, entrance tests and interviews. UCAS points translate your A Level (or equivalent) qualifications and grades into a numerical value. Many qualifications (but not all – GCSEs are not included in the UCAS points system) have a UCAS points value, which depends on the grade you achieved. Universities use your UCAS point total to assess your eligibility for undergraduate courses.

Although GCSEs are part of your university applications, it is important to note that they do not contribute to your UCAS points total. UCAS points are calculated based on post-16 qualifications, such as A-levels, Scottish Highers, AS-levels, the IB Diploma Programme, or BTECs. Even though GCSEs do not contribute to your UCAS points, strong GCSE grades are valuable, because they are often prerequisites for further study and they lay the foundations for success at Key Stage 5.

For A Levels, UCAS awards 56 points for an A*, 48 points for an A, 40 points for a B, and 32 points for a C grade. You can calculate your UCAS points score here. In addition to A Levels, there are several ways to boost your UCAS points score:

Extended Project Qualification (EPQ)

The EPQ gives students the freedom to pursue their intellectual and creative passions beyond the curriculum. It offers an exciting opportunity to study a subject in great depth and develop independent study and research skills. EPQs are widely valued by universities and employers alike. An EPQ is equivalent to half an A Level (graded A* to E) and up to 28 UCAS points.

EPQs take many forms, from academic essays, scientific investigations, and musical performances to art portfolios and engineering commissions. Through researching, developing, and evaluating a project, EPQ students acquire skills that enable them to flourish at university and beyond. They gain insight into degree-level study and become confident, independent learners. EPQ topics include:

  • How has Brexit shaped our national identity?
  • To what extent has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted global health policy?
  • How much did the Chernobyl disaster contribute to the collapse of the Soviet Union?
  • The impact of socio-economic status on newborn brain development, observed using MRI scans.
  • To what extent does physical activity enhance human memory and reduce the risk of developing dementia?

Take an Extra a-level or as-level

Taking an additional A-level or AS-level can significantly boost UCAS points, with up to 140 extra points for an A* grade. Consult with teachers to see which subjects complement your current subjects and would fit into your timetable.

Study for a Level 3 Diploma, Certificate, or Award in Your Spare Time

These qualifications can be earned through distance learning or evening classes and can provide significant UCAS points, such as the NCFE Level 3 Certificate in Photography (60 points) or the full diploma (120 points).

Gain a Cambridge Pre-u Qualification

Cambridge Pre-U qualifications can replace A-levels or be taken alongside them. Principal Subjects provide up to 145 UCAS points, while Short Courses offer up to 60 points.

If You’re a Mathematician, Enter for the Advanced Extension Award (AEA)

AEA qualifications were originally introduced to challenge the top 10% of candidates and help differentiate between the most able candidates. After the new A* grade was introduced in 2010, there was no longer a need for the Advanced Extension Award, and the qualification was withdrawn for all subjects except Mathematics.

There is no additional teaching content for Edexcel AEA Mathematics, only an additional exam on the A Level Mathematics content you have already learned. If you’re studying A Level Mathematics, you may want to consider taking the AEA as a way of boosting your UCAS score. A distinction is worth 40 UCAS points and a merit is worth 20 points.

If You Have a Musical Talent, Get Accredited

Performance or theory, UCAS points are awarded to students who achieve music qualifications at grade 6, 7, and 8. A distinction at Grade 8 is equivalent to 30 UCAS points, equivalent to an extra A Level! University admissions teams will also look favorably on students with advanced music qualifications, as they demonstrate motivation, self-discipline, and good organization skills.

Enter for Dance, Drama or Singing Exams

If theatrical performance is your passion, take exams to reflect this. Like music qualifications, LAMDA exams in speech and drama can earn UCAS points from Grade 6 upwards, with a maximum of 65 points for a Grade 8 distinction.

Learn British Sign Language

Not only is this a rewarding hobby, but a Level 3 Certificate in British Sign Language is awarded 16 UCAS points. If you are choosing a skill for Duke of Edinburgh or looking for a new challenge throughout your secondary school career, British Sign Language could be for you!

Hobbies Including Horse Riding

British Horse Society qualifications, such as Stage 3 in Riding or Horse Knowledge and Care, offer 35 UCAS points each.

Master English With the Cambridge Esol Examinations

The Certificate of Proficiency in English offers up to 140 UCAS points, and the Certificate in Advanced English provides 70 points for an A grade.

Contrary to popular belief, the Duke of Edinburgh award does not equate to UCAS points. However, it does develop a range of non-academic skills such as teamwork, leadership, and resilience, which will help your university application.

In addition to UCAS points, university applications are assessed on several factors:

  • Your personal statement
  • A reference from your school
  • Your performance in university entrance exams and at the interview (applicable to Oxbridge, Medicine, Dentistry, and Veterinary Science)

We recommend students in Year 10 and 11 start exploring options for university early and take a ‘little and often’ approach to their applications. This means creating a log of extracurricular and voluntary activities and making decisions to maximise their UCAS points. Participated in a half marathon? Volunteered at an animal sanctuary? Encourage your child to make a record of the date, organization, and their responsibilities. A little forward planning makes personal statement writing much easier in Year 12!