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University application advice for parents and supporters

We know that university is a milestone for you as well as your student. As a parent or supporter, you’ll be proud and want to help them navigate the application process as much as possible. Which is why we’ve put together this handy guide packed with everything you need to know to support your student with their higher education choices.

We’ll cover how you can support their research, deadlines and entry requirements, the UCAS application itself, and, most importantly, the personal statement, which students typically find most daunting. But with our advice, it doesn’t need to be. Read on to find out how you can help them to achieve their goals.

Support their research

Once your student has decided university is the right path for them, the next step is choosing what and where to study. Students should begin their research early, around 18 months before they want to start their course. The following websites are a great place to compare what’s on offer:

Aside from their subject and entry requirements your student should also consider:

  1. What type of degree they want to study – is a foundation, vocational or STEM-based degree best for them? Do they have a specific career in mind?
  2. How are modules assessed? – do they prefer exams, coursework, presentations, or a combination of all three?
  3. Does the course carry accreditation with a professional body?
  4. How is the course structured? – are there any optional or compulsory modules, for example?
  5. Do they want to study at a campus or city-based university? – is a vibrant nightlife and shopping scene important to them, or do they prefer the great outdoors?
  6. Do they want to stay near home or move further away? – would they prefer to live in halls of residence, accommodation off campus, or somewhere they can commute to?

Your student can apply for up to five choices, so we recommend visiting as many universities as possible to help your student define their shortlist and confirm their future. Nothing beats seeing an institution in person, either at open days or on a campus tour. Most universities offer parent-specific activities too that cover the practicalities of transitioning to higher education and how student finance works.

Know the deadlines and entry requirements

Knowing when key deadlines are will help you keep your student on track before and after they apply. UCAS application deadlines can vary depending on the university or course. For example, if your student has their heart set on a career in music, drama or dance, they could apply to a conservatoire (specialist institution), which have different deadlines to most UCAS undergraduate programmes. Applications tend to close in October. As do most medicine courses, like those available at Edge Hill, as well.

Key dates to be aware of include:

Another thing to check is entry requirements. Universities set their own entry requirements which can  vary depending on the subject. Entry requirements are often converted into UCAS Tariff points, essentially assigning a numerical value to your student’s grades. Tariff points are in place to ensure your student has the right skills and knowledge required to meet the demands of the course. Use the Tariff point calculator on the UCAS website to find out what your student’s grades equate to and make sure they understand the entry requirements they need to make an informed decision.

Understanding UCAS

They’ve done the research, made a shortlist and checked their eligibility. Now it’s time for the main event – the application itself. All university applications are made through the University and College Admissions Services (in short, “UCAS”). Students can apply to a maximum of five choices. This can be the same course at different universities, or multiple courses at one university. If your student is interested in the same course at different universities, make sure they have the institution codes to hand (the Institution code for Edge Hill is E42).

First, they’ll need to register via UCAS Hub. If your student is applying through their school or college, they should get given a ‘buzzword’ to link their application to their school. If they’re applying independently there will be a few extra questions they’ll need to answer. There are six main sections to the application which we’ll talk you through step-by-step.

  1. Personal details – this includes basic details like your student’s name, contact information and where they live.
  2. Choices – this is where your student adds their shortlist in order of preference. Only UCAS will be able to see the order in which they have listed their choices, so there’s no need for them to worry about being treated differently for not listing a university as their First Choice.
  3. Education – here they should jot down details of schools they’ve attended, exam results gained throughout school and other courses and predicted grades.
  4. Employment – they should add their current or any previous employment, especially if it’s relevant to the course they’re applying for. They can also include details about any extra-curricular activities they’ve participated in.
  5. Personal statement – this is the most important part of the application and the part your student will need to spend the most time on. Its their chance to sell themselves. To explain why they should be accepted onto the course. We’ll go into detail about this below.
  6. Reference – this should be a letter of recommendation written by a teacher, tutor, employer or careers advisor. Your student should request this in advance allowing enough time for their contact to put this together ready to submit with their application.

The application can be edited at any time, saving their progress as they go until they’re happy it’s complete. It’s best to cast your eye over your student’s application before they hit ‘submit’ as UCAS and Universities are unable to discuss the application with parents and supporters unless they have nominated access.

Personal statement advice for parents and supporters

The personal statement is the part of the application which your student may find the hardest to get right. But they’re not alone. At 4,000 characters (roughly a side of A4 paper) it can seem quite daunting. Like most things though, the hardest part is getting started, so chances are that when they do they’ll have more than enough to say.

Many university courses don’t invite applicants for an interview, so the personal statement is often your students only chance to impress their chosen universities and showcase what sets them apart from other applications to secure an offer. A well written and structured statement will make their application shine, so don’t be afraid to offer your help:

  1. Encourage them to think reflectively – suggest making a list of any work experience or extracurricular activities which they could use as evidence to show what makes them a great student. What skills did they gain from their experiences which they could use on their course? Such as time management or communication, for example.
  2. Look at sentence and paragraph structure – check whether it flows nicely by reading it out loud. It should have a punchy opening paragraph which shows their passion and understanding for the course, followed by their evidence to support this (refer back to the list they’ve made). Next, they should write about themselves. This includes their achievements, their interests and any attributes that make them interesting. End with a concise line that leaves the reader knowing exactly what makes them a good fit for the course.
  3. Check it’s relevant – it’s not uncommon for applicants to go off-piste or use language that doesn’t make sense. Make sure their statement is focused, remains on topic and is written clearly in plain English.
  4. Make sure it’s original – a personal statement needs to be exactly that. Personal. It should be an honest piece that reflects who they are and their passion for the subject, not just what they think universities want to hear. UCAS use software to check for plagiarism too so it’s best they avoid any clichés.
  5. Help with proofreading – having a fresh pair of eyes read over something is invaluable as you’ll be able to pick up on simple mistakes they may have missed. The best personal statements have usually been redrafted multiple times to make sure it’s right. Check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and any editing down so it’s concise.

Remember that just being there for them if they need you could be all the support your student needs to produce a successful personal statement.

Receiving offers

UCAS will begin processing your student’s application as soon as they’ve received it and will start alerting universities that an application has been made. Your student will typically receive a confirmation email within 48 hours with their Personal ID outlining how they can track the progress of their application via UCAS Hub. Your student will also receive an email notifying them to check their application as soon as universities start making decisions. They will receive one of the following:

  • Unconditional offer – this means they meet the entry requirements, and the place is theirs if they want it.
  • Conditional offer – this means they have a place on the course providing they meet certain conditions, like exam results.
  • Unsuccessful – this means that they have not been offered a place on the course. 
  • Withdrawn – this means the choice has been withdrawn by the university or your student. If done by the university, they will get in touch to explain why.

Once all offers have been received it’s down to your student to reply to them by the deadlines provided. They may also be invited to attend an interview as part of the selection process for some courses. Offers can be accepted as their firm or insurance choice.

  • Firm Choice – this will be their first choice university which they want to go to.
  • Insurance Choice – this is essentially their back up option in case your student doesn’t meet the conditions of their firm choice. The insurance choice may have less demanding conditions than their firm choice.

Try to keep your student engaged with the application process once it’s been submitted. Make sure they are prepared for all outcomes and they know that you are there for them whatever they may be.

Prepare a Plan B

Life doesn’t always go to plan. And it doesn’t hurt to feel prepared just in case. University places are competitive meaning some students might not get the offers they’d hoped for. Or alternatively your student may have changed their mind about what or where they want to study, and are no longer interested in the offers they have received. So what happens then? Here are a few options they could consider:

  • UCAS Extra – opening on 23 February 2023 until 4 July, Extra is another chance for your student to gain a university place without waiting for Clearing. If they are not holding any offers, or have declined the offers they have received, they will be able to add another choice for free.
  • Clearing – opening on 5 July, Clearing offers students a second chance to secure a place at university. Your student may find themselves in Clearing if they’ve changed their mind about their choices, entering themselves into Clearing, or if they didn’t receive the grades they expected to match the conditions of their offer. Read our Clearing advice for parents and supporters to find out how Clearing works and how you can help your student in this situation.
  • Take a gap year – a year out from studying will give your student the opportunity to reflect on what kind of education and career they want to pursue. A chance to discover themselves, grow their confidence, gain new skills and focus on their future. They could complete an internship, volunteer, work, or travel. All will give them exciting new experiences and a fresh perspective.
  • Alternatives to university – your student may decide that university isn’t right for them. A good alternative is completing an apprenticeship if they know what type of career they want to pursue. Apprenticeships combine working in industry, training, and study without any fees and are a way to ‘earn while they learn’.

Whatever happens, it’s important you remain calm and take a positive approach. Whichever path they take is a step towards achieving their career goals and you’ll be able to watch them embark on an exciting new chapter of their life.

We hope you find our application advice useful as your student takes their next step. Make sure you view our guide for once your student has applied to find out how you can help them to prepare for university, including applying for student finance and choosing their accommodation. If your student is interested in studying with us, get them to share their details to receive exclusive content and useful information about all things Edge Hill.

November 30, 2022

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