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Last updated:
24 August 2017

Higher education

All you need to know if you are thinking of going on to higher education.

1 Overview

Choosing which higher education course to do, and where to study, is a big decision and you need to spend time considering all the options. You are not only choosing a course to study for the next few years but a new and exciting lifestyle.

This guide will take you through what you need to know, from the types of courses that are available, through the application process, to the support available if you have disabilities.  

2 Choose a type of course

There are many different types of course you can choose, but most students select an undergraduate degree which usually takes 3-4 years to complete. Most degrees are in one subject but you can do more than one if you want to.

There are also shorter, flexible courses that can lead to a full degree including:

  • Certificate of Higher Education - 1 year of a degree
  • Diploma of Higher Education - 2 years of a degree
  • Higher National Diploma - 2 years of a degree
  • Foundation degree - 2-year courses that combine studying with working.
Find out more on the UCAS website (external link)

3 Choose a subject to study

There are thousands of different courses to choose from, but there are a few things to bear in mind when making your decision.

  • If you don't have a particular career in mind, choose a subject you enjoy. This could be something that you are studying at A Level or an entirely new subject.
  • Have a look at job sites or graduate careers to help generate some ideas.
  • If you have a specific career in mind choose the appropriate course.
  • If you enjoy a subject at A Level think about other subjects that are similar. For example, if you enjoy English consider studying English literature, journalism or creative writing.
Find an undergraduate or foundation course (UCAS) (external link)

4 How to apply and key dates

Once you have made your choices about what and where to study, it is time to apply. This is done using the 'Apply and Track' system on the UCAS website.

Remember to prepare your personal statement well before you submit your application. It is your opportunity to show the universities you are applying to why you'd be a great student.

The deadline to submit your application for the majority of undergraduate courses is 15 January.

Application process and key dates (UCAS) (external link)

5 What happens after you apply

Once your application has been submitted you can sign in to the 'Apply and Track' system to check and manage its progress. 

Track your application (UCAS) (external link)

You will have to wait to hear if any of your university or college choices have made you an offer of an interview or a place on their course. Find out how to prepare if you need to attend an interview.

When you receive an offer you will have to reply online on the UCAS website. If your offer depends on your exam results you will need to wait until you receive them before confirming your offer. 

If you don't get the results you expect, don't panic. Universities and colleges that have vacancies on any of their courses will enter them into the clearing service

You might also like to consider alternatives to higher education

6 Support for students with disabilities

If you are a student with a disability you should ask all the usual questions when applying for higher education courses. However, you also need to do some careful research into any additional help available.

Before applying to any college or university, check to see if your individual needs will be met. Most have disability coordinators or advisers that you can talk to. Ask questions such as "Are the lecture halls and accommodation accessible?" and "Are the study materials in the format I need?".

In addition to the usual way that you would finance your studies, students with disabilities may also be eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs). This helps pay for any extra costs you may have on the course due to your disability.

Other sites that might be useful

7 Financing your studies

The UCAS website provides information on how much it costs to go to university. It provides guidance on:

  • how much it costs and how to apply for a student loan
  • where to apply for extra funding, such as scholarships, bursaries or financial support
  • how to repay your loan after your course.
Finance and support (UCAS) (external link)

If you are eligible, extra financial support may be available. Many universities also offer bursaries, scholarships and hardship funds to help pay for studies.

Other sites that might be useful

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