Friday, 29 June 2012

Making sure you don't miss the 30 June application deadline!

Every year there will be some last-minute issues which unfortunately prevent people from getting their application in by the deadline. Here are some tips to help you make sure you don't have the same problems!

Know your login details for Apply
Make sure you know your login details, as you'll need to log in to Apply to send your application. Use the login reminder service on the Apply page if you're not sure. You can also find guidance on login problems for Apply here

Send it earlier if you can
The deadline is midnight on 30 June (23:59 UK time) but try to send it sooner in case you experience any problems, eg internet connection issues, payment problems.

Be prepared for any payment issues
You must pay for your application before it can be sent to UCAS. If you enter invalid payment details five times, you will be locked out from making any more payment attempts - if this happens, you'll need to call us so send your application early just in case. You can get some guidance on payment problems here

If you're applying through a school or college, they'll need time to review your application
Your tutor needs time to complete the reference section and check and approve your application before they send it to UCAS. If they spot any errors, they'll send your application back to you to amend. If this happens, you need to change it and send it back to them, so that they can send it to us. It may not happen, but it's good to allow time for this just in case. Simply sending it to your school or college before the deadline won't count as sending it on time; it has to be received by UCAS.

You need a reference before you can send your application to us
However you request a reference (whether you're applying independently or through a school or college), you still need to have a reference attached to your application before it can be sent to UCAS.

If you're applying independently, allow enough time for your referee to read the instructions, write and attach the reference, and confirm that it has been completed. A red tick will appear next to the 'reference' link in Apply once it's complete. This means you can complete the rest of the application and send it to us.

If you're applying through a school or college, send your application to them early to allow them time to do write the reference and carry out the other checks before the deadline.

If you've agreed with the universities that a reference is not required - check the information on the reference page to see what to do.

Friday, 22 June 2012

UKCISA answer your questions!

A few weeks ago I sent out some messages across our social media channels asking international applicants if they had any questions or concerns about coming to study in the UK which you wanted us to put to UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs).

There was a fantastic response with issues surrounding finance, student fees and student visas being recurring themes. I selected the 12 questions which I felt were most representative of your concerns and put them to Andrew Humphrey from the Advice and Training Team at UKCISA.

Is it true that a student visa is not allowed to be converted into a working visa?

No, that's not true.  The immigration rules allow someone with a Tier 4 (General) visa to switch into Tier 2 (General) for sponsored skilled work in a graduate occupation, or into Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) if their university is part of that scheme.  Some other work schemes require you to apply in your home country.  For full details, see UKCISA’s guide Working in the UK after your studies

Is there financial help for international students to cover the living costs?

Funding from within the UK is largely limited to university scholarships, plus some competitive national scholarships offered through the British Council in your home country.  In all cases you should apply well in advance of coming to the UK.  You should ensure that you will have enough money to pay all your tuition fees and living costs for your whole course.    

Between applying for UCAS admission, scholarship and visa which one should be done first?

Normally, it will be in the order stated in the question. Scholarship applications may be judged well in advance, perhaps even before you have final confirmation from UCAS of your place on the course.  Check the deadlines directly with the scholarship provider. Applying for a visa will normally be the last part of the process.  This is because when you apply for a Tier 4 General visa, you must show that you have an unconditional offer and money to pay your fees and living costs.  If you apply for your visa without firm evidence of a scholarship, you will need to show that you have the relevant amount of money held you in your own name, or in a parent’s name.

I have a European passport, but I haven't lived in any country in Europe and my parents don’t work anywhere in Europe/UK either. Which fee would I be eligible for, the International fee or the Home/EU fee?

Holding EU nationality does not in itself make you eligible to pay the home/EU fee:  you also need to satisfy a residence requirement, normally three years.  From the situation you describe, you would almost certainly pay the international fee, but it is possible that there may be other aspects of your situation that make you eligible to pay the home fee.  For example, in England only there is an exception for some family members of EU nationals, where the EU national themselves satisfies the residence requirement, but the student does not.  For details of all categories of people who pay the home fee, see UKCISA’s guide Fees, Funding and Student Support 

When I go to apply for my visa is it all done online or do I need to visit anywhere to do it? (I'm in Canada)

You will need to attend in person to give your biometric data.  For details, see UKCISA’s guide Making a Tier 4 (General) application.

I have to pay the expensive overseas student fees. Is there any way I can change to paying the UK student fees after I’ve started my course?

Yes, this can be is possible if:
• You become a refugee, or your asylum application is refused but you are granted another specified form of leave, or this happens to a relevant member of your family and you met the relevant 'family condition' on the date of their asylum application.
• You already met the relevant three-year residence requirement on the first day of the first academic year of your course, and you become one of the following: 
o an EU national, or the family member of an EU national
o an EEA or Swiss migrant worker, or the family member of such a person
o the child of a Swiss national
o the child of a Turkish worker in the UK

Other changes during your course, such as gaining Indefinite Leave to Remain, or other changes to your immigration status, or acquiring three years' residence in the UK, do not necessarily affect your fee status.

I have a British passport but I moved with my parents to Hong Kong four years ago when I was 14. Will I have to pay international student fees?

Yes, if the family has emigrated to Hong Kong.  However, if you can show that your family now lives between both countries to some extent, or you are based in Hong Kong for a parent’s temporary work contract and the family will return when it is completed, you may be treated as being “ordinarily resident” in the UK and Islands, and therefore eligible to pay the home fee.  For details, see UKCISA’s guide to Ordinary Residence.

If I want to stay in the UK to do a postgrad course after my degree, can I extend my student visa? If so when do I have to do it?

Yes, you can extend your student visa if you meet all the requirements, including the requirement that your new course starts no more than 28 days after your current visa expires.  Your extension application for a Masters course must not result in you spending more than 5 years in the UK on a Tier 4 visa.  (or 6 years if your degree was a 4-year course). For full details, see UKCISA’s guide Making a Tier 4 (General) application

When am I supposed to get my CAS? Who sends it UCAS or my university?

Your university will send you the CAS details by email, usually no more than 3 months before the start of your course.

If I need to get a job when I’m studying, will my student visa allow that?  

Yes, usually.  See UKCISA’s guide, Working in the UK during your studies.

Will my student visa allow me to study at any college or uni in the UK?

You must study at the institution that has sponsored your Tier 4 visa.  You can also do additional studies at other institutions.  If you wish to change your Tier 4 sponsor institution, you will need to make a new Tier 4 application. See UKCISA’s guide Protecting your Tier 4 immigration status 

I’m deferring my application until 2013 now. Will my CAS be valid until next year?

No. A CAS is only valid for 6 months. The expiry date may be included in your CAS statement that your university sends by email, or you can contact them direct to ask.

Andrew Humphrey is on the Advice and Training Team at UKCISA, the UK Council for International Student Affairs.  UKCISA is the UK’s national advisory body serving the interests of international students and those who work with them.  Andrew has also worked at several universities in London, advising students on immigration, funding and other welfare matters.

Friday, 15 June 2012

UCAS points - what you need to know!

You will have only been in Year 13/S6 for a day or two at most and already your schools will be impressing upon you the importance of getting a start on your UCAS applications. For many, this will be pretty much the same theme your previous year ended with. Your initial thoughts will most likely be along the lines of "Nooooo! This is all happening too soon!"

Once that initial shock has subsided though, you start focussing on the job in hand and one of the first things that you'll start looking at is UCAS points - how many you have already, how many you need for your uni, what qualifications get points and so on. And it's here that you often see the most confusion and misunderstandings and it can sometimes be hard to know where to begin. So, I've set out a few things to consider that will hopefully help you in making the right choices on your application.

What are UCAS points?
UCAS points, or more precisely the UCAS Tariff, was designed by an expert panel to help universities when deciding on entry requirements and making offers to applicants. It allows universities to quickly compare qualifications to each other and to be able to assess applicants for their courses in a particular year. For example, a triple Distinction for a BTEC National Diploma will get 360 points as will achieving three A grades at A Level. So a university may say that you need 360 UCAS points to get on their course and they may get some people applying who took A Levels and some who took BTEC National Diplomas.

So, it's all just a case of accumulating enough points - don't grades or particular qualifications matter?
It's actually not often the case that you'll be made an offer simply asking for a set amount of points. There will normally be some stipulations which relate the relevance of a qualification to the course you are applying to. Here are three examples of how offers could be made:
  • "This offer is subject to you achieving 220 UCAS Tariff points from the BTEC National Diploma qualification"
  • “This offer is subject to you obtaining a minimum of 260 UCAS Tariff points from a  maximum of 3 A Levels to include A Level Physics"
  • “This offer is subject to you obtaining 240 Tariff points from at least two A Levels excluding General Studies"
So you can see that although points are being asked for, there are additional requirements that universities are stating. This means that achieving certain grades from particular qualifications or subjects can be very important.

Why do universities even have to ask for UCAS points? Can't they just ask for grades?
In short, yes they can. Not many people realise that it's completely up to the university as to whether they use the Tariff. Some universities might not use it at all and may simply refer to specific qualifications and grades in their requirements. We know that there is a variety of practice in terms of how offers are made with some universities making Tariff only offers, some making Tariff and qualification offers and some just making qualification based offers.

An A* at A Level gets you 140 points. Can you honestly say that getting an A* in Film Studies is as hard as getting an A* in Physics?
The qualification regulators (Ofqual in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, CCEA for general qualifications in Northern Ireland and SQA in Scotland)  are responsible for accrediting and validating qualifications. They regulate qualifications, examinations and assessments and it’s their job to ensure that grades achieved across the individual subjects within a qualification are of the same standard.  UCAS can’t make that call.

Bear in mind though that universities will assess applications on their individual merits and relevance to the specific courses you've applied for. If you're applying for a medicine degree, for example, the fact you're studying a Physics A Level is going to carry a lot more weight than if you're taking Film Studies because it’s more relevant to the content of that degree and demonstrates your interest in a related area of study.  Also, as you can see from the previous question, universities can make UCAS points offers in combination with asking for a specific grade and/or qualification. 

How do I know if my qualifications get UCAS points?
You can check our Tariff tables to see if they're on there and how many points individual grades might get.

What happens if my qualifications aren't on the Tariff? Can I still get into uni?
There are many qualifications which don’t appear on the Tariff. This will normally be because the awarding body hasn’t asked UCAS to consider it for the Tariff or because the qualification is structured in such a way that it isn't possible to award it UCAS points. Therefore, if a qualification doesn’t receive UCAS points, this is no reflection on the quality of the qualification or its reputability.

If you’re applying for courses that only mention UCAS points in their Entry Requirements, you should speak to the university directly to discuss your qualifications.  Any qualification mentioned in your application will receive due consideration.