Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Open days: how to plan valuable visits

A survey published this weekend suggests that a quarter of students don’t attend open days before applying to university. We found this quite surprising, as open days are so helpful when it comes to painting a picture of university life and choosing courses. Yet our own research also suggests that a similar percentage of students still choose not to make these important visits before applying.

Keith Carter, Professional Development Officer at UCAS, explains more about the value of open days, where to find key information and how to make the most of visits.

Keith Carter, Professional Development Officer, UCAS.
I think it’s essential to visit a university or college before committing to at least three years of study. It’s another way of making sure your choice is right for you. Open days are an important part of researching courses and can make all the difference when it comes to making informed course choices.

By just setting foot on a campus you'll immediately get a feel for the place; perhaps you'll be able to picture yourself going there almost every day for the next few years, or the opposite - 10 minutes might be all you need to know that a particular university definitely isn’t for you!

Open days are often on weekends as well as weekdays and take place throughout the year. To help you plan your visits, we’ve made finding out about open days as easy as possible with our new open days search tool. All you have to do is choose the university or college you’re interested in visiting from the list, hit ‘Select’ and away you go! You’ll see upcoming open day dates, contact details and links through to the unis' own websites for more info.

Going on a visit will help you understand what university life is like, as you’ll be shown around lecture theatres, labs, catering facilities, bars and halls of residence. You’ll get some idea of the geography of the area and how close you’ll be to key services like train stations and supermarkets.

Open days are also prime opportunities to ask questions - not just to the staff, but perhaps more importantly, the students already studying there. You can ask almost anything and it can be far more revealing than reading a prospectus.

By making an effort to include open days in your research, you can avoid the disappointment of starting a course and finding it isn’t what you expected.

The new open days search tool is a great place to start this chapter of your journey to university. Once you've got the dates in your diary, have a read of our open days hints and tips to help you make the most of your visits.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Accepting an unconditional offer

You might have heard stories about unconditional offers, and how a friend-of-a-friend’s next-door
neighbour’s cousin received one before they got their exam results. In the past this would probably have been an urban myth or at most, not the whole story. However, a few universities are now making unconditional offers to exceptional applicants who don’t have their results yet.

Sarah Jardine, Professional Development Officer at UCAS, explains what you need to consider if you’re thinking about accepting one of these offers, which remain relatively rare.

Sarah Jardine, Professional
Development Officer, UCAS

Having an unconditional offer from your favourite university at an early stage of your application can be very reassuring. It means that if you select them as your firm choice, you will definitely be accepted on to the course, regardless of what grades you get in the summer.

But there can be a bit of confusion about accepting unconditional offers, so before you select one as your firm choice, make sure you know the facts.

If you accept an unconditional offer as your firm choice:
  1. you cannot have an insurance choice. Because ‘unconditional’ means you’ll definitely get a place on the course, you don’t need the option of another choice. If instead you accept a conditional offer as your firm choice then it’s OK to accept an unconditional offer as your insurance choice. That said, a university may stipulate that their offer is only unconditional if you make them your firm choice, so be sure to check any terms attached to their offer before you reply.
  2. you can’t just go into Clearing to accept a different university if you decide on results day that you no longer want the place. By accepting the offer you’re entering into a commitment with the university, so it’s really important to make sure you pick your favourite choice to be your firm choice. If your insurance choice is unconditional, you also need to be prepared to be accepted by that university if you are unsuccessful with your conditional firm choice.
  3. your exam results won’t affect whether or not you get accepted but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. When you apply for work placements and jobs, you will be asked about your qualifications. Often there are requirements from pre-university qualifications, so don’t feel that because you don’t need certain grades to get into uni that you can take your foot off the gas as you prepare for your exams.
If you need help deciding which offer to accept as your firm choice, speak to your tutors and careers advisers. Family and friends can also offer alternative perspectives you might not have considered, and reading blogs from current students already at your university choices can provide a valuable insight into what it’s like to be part of their student community.         

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Three things to do while you wait for uni decisions

Katie Collins, Social
Media Exec at UCAS
So you’ve sent your application – great! Now it’s just a case of waiting for decisions, right? One after the other they’ll pop up on Track and you’ll get those notification emails. Right... BUT don’t expect it to happen straight away. You could find that it’s several months before you hear from a university, or for the lucky few it could happen straight away. The truth is every university and college will take a different amount of time to get back to you. It’s undoubtedly an anxious time and it can seem to last forever, but I assure you it won’t. Although you don’t know exactly when you’ll get all those heart-stopping Track notification emails, you can be certain that it will either be by 8 May (if you applied before 15 January) or by 17 July (if you applied after 15 January and before 30 June).

To pass the time as you wait for decisions, you – like many others – might find yourself compelled to log in to Track day and night to check for updates. Other than causing a repetitive strain-type injury, this isn’t likely to have any impact on how you feel. So if you want to use your time more wisely, here’s what I recommend you do between now and your last uni decision:

  1. Figure out the next steps. When you’ve had all your uni decisions it’ll be time to reply to your offers. You’ll want to get this right, so have a read of our advice and watch our how-to guide to find out what you’ll need to do. It’s also a good idea to prepare for the unexpected: no offers. If you end up in this situation you could use Extra to apply for another choice, so make time to find out about this option.
  2. Get to know the universities a bit better. Most of them are eager to meet you on social media, so what are you waiting for? Make the most of the opportunity to ask them your questions and stay up-to-date with what’s going on around their campuses. It could help you when it comes to choosing which offers to accept, plus you’ll get a feel for what it’s like to be part of their student community.
  3. Suss out student blogs. Who else can tell you what it’s really like to go to uni other than real life students? A frank and honest account of student life is the closest you can get before embarking on it for yourself. Many unis feature student bloggers on their websites and there are lots of other students out there who blog independently.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Lunar New Year 2014: the year of the horse

More than 60,000 students from outside the UK were accepted at UK universities and colleges in 2013 alone. With such a multicultural student population, you can expect not only be able to do things ‘the UK way’ but also see, taste and celebrate cultures and traditions from all over the world.

Lunar New Year is one of the highlights on the social calendars of campuses up and down the UK. We’re showcasing what universities do to mark this vibrant festival through Pinterest, but you might be wondering what the meanings behind the traditions are. The festival is celebrated by a number of cultures, but here OKHIWI explain what this exciting time of year means to the Chinese.

What is the Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year 2013 at the University of Sussex
Lunar New Year is also known as the Spring Festival. The celebrations run from the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, to the ‘Lantern Festival’ on the 15th day of the first month, making the festival the longest in the Chinese calendar. Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, the Chinese New Year is often referred to as the ‘Lunar New Year’. But it’s not just a Chinese festival. From late January to mid-February, celebrations take place in other countries including Vietnam and Malaysia. In fact it’s celebrated around the world, wherever people from these countries have settled. 

There are many regional customs and traditions related to the celebration of the Lunar New Year. In China, just like the Western New Year’s Eve, the day before Lunar New Year's Day is an occasion for families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. It is also traditional for every family to have a serious ‘spring-clean’ to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good luck in the coming year. Windows and doors are decorated with red coloured paper and paper chains reflecting themes of good fortune, happiness, wealth, and longevity. This is apart from the usual lighting of firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes.

The Year of the Horse – what will it mean?

In the past, the horse provided quick and reliable transport for people long before the car was invented. With a horse you could get from A to B very easily, so it is not only a symbol of travelling, but also a sign of speedy success.

The Year of the Wooden Horse – 31 January 2014 through to 18 February 2015, is expansive and exciting! It rewards honest opinions and disciplined thinking.

Social networks will be buzzing and people will be more forgiving and cooperative. It's a great year for travel, parties, and community events. 

In Wood years, teamwork brings out the best in everyone. You'll find it easier to get agreement and have fun in the process. In the first half of the year families will work together and gain exciting opportunities. Later in the year there will be more time to follow your heart.

Love is in the air! A Horse year is really lucky for romantic relationships. Marriages made this year hold the promise of long lasting happiness and stability. 

What year were you born in and what does it mean?

If you were born in Tiger, Horse, or Dog years, you will enjoy a boost of cheerfulness that makes you quite popular. You'll have more fun with friends old and new. Positive feedback enhances self-confidence. Share your thoughts! Social networking will allow you to spread your influence.

Celebrations at the University of Bedfordshire
For those of you born in Rat, Dragon, and Monkey years, you'll be willing to take more risks to get what you want. Your intuition is strong and your creative juices are flowing! Even though you like to take the lead, it will be even easier to be a team player. 

Being born in Ox, Snake, and Rooster years will help you use patience and determination to support a foundation for success. What you sense about people and environments will be very accurate. People are drawn to you. It's an ideal year for developing your skills in any area of interest. 

Those born in Rabbit, Sheep, or Pig years will be well respected for their kindness. You'll play a quiet but vital role in any group or family activity. Step out of your comfort zone and embrace life to the fullest. Anything that brings you joy is where to focus more time and attention.

Find out which animal from the Chinese zodiac relates to the year you were born:

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

What you need to do before the deadline

15 January is the deadline for most undergraduate courses. If we receive your application by 18:00 (UK time) on this date, its guaranteed consideration by your chosen universities and colleges. There are some exceptions where a different deadline might apply – use our search tool to check when you need to apply for your course.

Has this deadline crept up on you? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you’re probably less prepared than you might have hoped. It’s never a good idea to wait until the very last minute when it comes to something as important as your university application, so if you haven’t already hit send, aim to do so as soon as you can. Here are some of the reasons why you need to set aside plenty of time...

You’ll need to pay for your application
If you’re applying independently you’ll have to pay for your application before you can send it. If you’re applying with your school then this is true for you too, unless your school has agreed to let us bill them instead (you’ll know if this is the case because you won’t be asked to make a payment before you send your application to your referee).

So, the majority of you who will need to pay with a credit or debit card – make sure you know which card you’re going to use, and check there’s enough money in the account. You’ll need to pay either £12 (for one course) or £23 (for multiple courses).

A word of warning – if you enter invalid payment details five times you’ll be locked out from making any more attempts, and for security reasons you’d need to call us to unlock your account.

Your school needs to review your application 
(This bit is only for those of you applying through a school or college, so independent applicants can skip ahead.)

Simply sending it to your school or college before the deadline won't count as sending it on time; it has to be received at UCAS by the deadline. Your tutor will read through your application and make sure you’ve entered everything correctly. If they spot a mistake, they might send it back to you to make changes.

Even if your application is completely error free, your school still needs more than a few minutes to get your application sent off. It’s unlikely that yours is the only application they need to approve and send, plus it’s possible they’ll only be looking to see which applications are ready during school hours. If you think you’re going to be sending your application to them close to the deadline, speak to your tutor about this in advance.

You must have a reference
However you request a reference (whether you're applying independently or through a school or college), it must be included in your application before it can be sent to UCAS.

If you're applying independently and you’ve agreed with the universities that a reference is not required – read the information in the reference section of your application to see what to do. Only do this if you have spoken to the universities you’re applying to and had definite confirmation they don’t need a reference for you.

Find information about payments, references and sending your application on our website.

Do you know your login details? 
Our final piece of advice is about login details... If you are going to be sending your application close to the deadline, make sure you know your username and password. If you have problems logging in, read our blog post 'The five reasons why you can't log into your application (and how to overcome them)'.