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.


Please e-mail me with a response @ said...

I am finishing year 11 and am already being told to research and look into UCAS points, in completing this task I've had some confusion about how to earn UCAS points non academically, can you recommend or explain the best ways to earn UCAS points other than with qualifications? i.e. Does DofE earn you anything? what grade do I have to be in guitar to earn points? Is LAMDA worth looking into?

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