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UCAS Annual Teachers & Advisors Conference 2023 - Take Aways

We were lucky to attend the UCAS Annual Teachers and Advisors Conference in March this year.  We always find the two days hectic and busy but so useful in keeping in touch with what universities are looking for in their successful applicants, the changing landscape of applications and networking and meeting up with our colleagues and friends in the industry.

There's always so much to learn, even for someone who has been in 'the industry' for 30 years.  Below are a few insights and key things we have taken away from the conference.

UCAS deadlines and key dates for 2018-19

UCAS - Journey to a million

UCAS has projections which suggest that by 2030 there will be 1 million applications to higher education each year. This is great news however it has its consequences. The significant increase in applications will not be matched by a similar increase in the number of places available.  As a result, competition will become even more fierce for a number of courses and institutions.  Applicants will have to think carefully about their selection, carry out research and factor in considerations such as the exact course title and where they want to study in order to ensure that as part of their five choices they have some security in their choices.  Applicants will also need to ensure they are fully prepared for university academically, providing universities with a much clearer picture of their potential, skills and knowledge, as well as determination to succeed and passion for the subject.


UCAS is currently in the process of making significant changes to two elements of the application.  Firstly and now underway is the change to references. 

Your referee will now have clearer opportunities to show the university the type of school/college/institution you attend and the impact this will have both positive and negative. Many schools/colleges and institutions have been doing this for many years from limited information or a secure link to a document which gives much greater detail. This contextual information is really useful to universities as it gives a stronger idea of background, challenges that may have been faced, teaching opportunities available and your performance in context to those you are studying with. This will no doubt give universities that have more applicants than places a much better understanding of you in order to make their decisions.  

The second section is a specific place for schools to add information regarding extenuating circumstances.  This is great as it ensures that this information does not encroach into the main body of your reference but has its own clear and identifiable place in order for universities to understand you.

Thirdly there will be a place for referees to include information about you, your potential, performance and suitability for a course.  This is perhaps the most familiar section of the reference in comparison to the old system and is intended to be a demonstration of your academic potential and engagement with the subject outside of the curriculum.

As an applicant never be afraid to ask your referee if it is possible to include information in your section 3.  This may be a wonderful super curricular opportunity that you have undertaken but didn't suit the flow and theme of your personal statement.  As with your personal statement, this is not an opportunity to list everything you've done but select the next most important from those not referred to in your personal statement or those which indicate a particular area of interest, your dedication to a particular subject etc.

The second phase of reform will be the personal statement. There has been lots of media coverage about this, from 'the personal statement is being ditched' to 'everyone will be interviewed'. This is not the case, on both fronts. The personal statement is changing but will remain in some form, perhaps with more direct questions or requests for information in order to get a better understanding and for all students to have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their potential.  As for interviews, it seems clear that they will remain for those courses where character and personal traits are key such as all health-based courses and Oxbridge applicants.

Whilst final decisions on the format of the personal statement are not yet clear UCAS provided some insight. Applicants will need to demonstrate motivation for the course, preparedness for the course and for this level of study and preparation through other experiences. Undertaking a programme of super curricular activities will ensure that you have the evidence to demonstrate this key evidence. It is clear that reflections and evidence of independent super curricular activities, demonstrating your intellectual curiosity, developed knowledge and understanding and work beyond the curriculum or that which is offered in class will be key to showing those ultra-competitive courses and institutions that you have what they need: the potential to succeed.

If you haven't already started, now is the time to start exploring the super curricular opportunities that await you.