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UCAS: Tips and Advice For Applying From Ireland

UCAS: Tips and Advice For Applying From Ireland

Sorcha Kennedy

Living and attending school in Ireland can mean that we are lead to believe that the CAO is the be-all and end-all, that’s it, the only way you’ll ever go to college, the end. But that’s not true!

There are many different options available to Irish students when it comes to routes to college, one of them is UCAS, the pathway to colleges in the U.K.

Maybe your school did mention the option of applying to UCAS from Ireland, but in our experience it’s more a brief mention, and then straight back to the obsession with the CAO and the points race. So, we’re going to chat about everything that you need to know about making a UCAS application from Ireland…

What is UCAS?

Well, UCAS is the application process to 3rd level education in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland (basically the UK’s version of the CAO). It is a pretty straightforward process, once you know what you’re doing, and for Irish nationals it’s even easier because we qualify as “home” applicants.

What are the benefits of applying to UCAS?

  1. The choice of courses: There are almost 30,000 courses to choose from across the UK, including a large selection of creative courses. Most people relate studying abroad with courses like medicine and nursing, but if you’re interested in fashion, art, design, writing, etc. it is definitely worth looking into it.
  2. Backup option for the CAO: If we have seen anything in the last two years it is the unreliability of the CAO and the points system, so it’s great to have a backup plan (even if you don’t plan on using it).
  3. Admissions is not based solely on grades: UCAS considers your health, passion for a subject, family circumstances, disabilities, etc. not just your academic ability, meaning you have a better chance of being accepted onto your dream course!
  4. You get to move somewhere new: I mean, how cool would it be to live in Edinburgh, or London, or Belfast?
  5. Clearing: UCAS has a unique process called “clearing” which allows you to apply to additional colleges if you get rejected from your initial choices, giving you another backup option for your backup option!

What is the application process?

Step 1: Check Your Deadlines

The first step is to check your deadline dates for the courses you’re interested in because they differ from subject to subject and from university to university. The applications open of the 7th of September and the deadline for “equal consideration” (aka your best chance to be accepted) for the majority of courses is the 26th of January. The UCAS information site state states “may universities and colleges will continue to accept applications from international students until later in the year, nearer the beginning of the course.” So don’t worry if you’re a little bit late, and check with UCAS or your university of choice to see if there is any delay to the deadline above.

However, if you plan on applying for Oxford or Cambridge, or a course in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine/science you have to apply by the 15th of October.

Step 2: Basic Application

When applying for UCAS you can apply for up to five courses (check out my article on selecting courses coming soon) and you can add courses to your application up until the deadline.

If you miss the deadlines you can still apply by contacting the university directly.

When filling out the application you’ll have to answer the usual simple questions which include your address, nationality, your parents’ education status, any funding you may require, if you have a disability, etc. that help the university understand your circumstances (so don’t worry these answers won’t negatively affect your chances of being admitted).

Step 3: Education History and Predicted Grades

Then you add your education history. If you are in 6th year when applying, like I was, your school must submit predicted grades with your application. It is important to talk to your guidance/careers counsellor, a principal or vice principal about this as soon as possible. They’ve probably had at least one person apply before so it shouldn’t be new to them. Each of your teachers will predict what grade they believe you will get when you sit the exam. The university will use these grades to assess your academic ability and to base your offer on.

Unlike here, in the UCAS system, each applicant can receive a different grade that they must reach to gain access to the same course. You may receive a lower offer if you have unusual circumstances that have affected your academic performance, have extensive experience in the course area, or have a proven passion for the subject. It is then up to you to make sure you reach these grades when you sit your exams in June.

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Step 4: Personal Statement and References

A big difference between UCAS and the CAO is that UCAS is not just based on grades. Through your personal statement, you can prove that you have a passion for the course you’re applying for. This may be through talks you’ve attended, books you’ve read, courses you’ve attended, volunteer work, or work experience. As well as that you can also show them your interests and passions outside of academics and show why you would make a good addition to their university community. For example, I applied for Fashion Communication courses so I talked about my work writing fashion content for But, I also included my passion for literature, performing, and music. 

You will also need a reference from a teacher or principal who knows you academically.

Step 5: And Now You Wait…

After this is all submitted, some universities may require you to submit a portfolio of work, complete an assessment, or attend an interview. Each individual university will notify you of your outcome before the end of May. If they accept you they will give you an offer, which can be conditional (you have to get certain grades in your leaving cert) or unconditional (you will be accepted regardless of what you get in the exams). You will then accept one as a “firm” offer which is your top choice and another as an “insurance” offer which is your backup option if you don’t reach the grades. This means that you’ll know what grades you need to get before the exams, unlike the uncertainty of the CAO.

My tips:

  1. Start your search for courses early: You need to allow yourself a decent amount of time to research courses and make your final decision. I began my search in October and was fine, but I suggest starting whenever you can!
  2. Spend time on your personal statement: For UCAS your personal statement can often be more important than your grades so it should display all your best qualities, interests and achievements. Get your English teacher and guidance counsellor to read over it and give you suggestions, feedback is really important!
  3. Check the grades and requirements: Each course and university will have different minimum grade requirements and subjects that you must take to be admitted to a course. Others, especially art and design courses, require a portfolio of work. Make sure that you can fulfil these requirements before applying.
  4. Look at the rankings of universities: It is always a good idea to check out the ranking of the university, especially where it ranks in your desired subject, to make sure your move will be worth it.

And that’s is when it comes to making a UCAS application from Ireland! It’s pretty straight forward and more than worth your consideration when it comes to looking at colleges.

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