All you need to know when applying to college in England, N Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Careers Column

Students who intend studying in the UK, with a view to later working in the ROI should ensure the degree you are thinking about will be recognised to work for the relevant governing body in the ROI

So what is UCAS?

UCAS is the Universities and Colleges Application Service for higher education courses in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the equivalent of the CAO system here. The website is 

Is the application process the same as the CAO? 

No, it is quite different. Students can choose up to five courses and will be required to achieve specific grades rather than CAO points. Applicants must supply predicted grades for their Leaving Certificate and also an academic reference. However, perhaps the most important element of the UCAS application is the personal statement.

Why is the personal statement important and what should I consider when putting it together?

The personal statement is very important indeed and worth paying time and attention to.  Its purpose is to make the most suitable candidates stand out.

It should be engaging and personal and highlight the experiences and interest you have shown in the particular career area you are applying for.  Any work experience or volunteer work you have done should be included as should any information sessions you have attended - this all demonstrates that you are serious about pursuing a career in the area.

Writing a vague personal statement, for instance if a student is interested in a couple of career areas, might hinder your application. 

Finally, get someone to look over and proof-read your statement before submitting. There are several good videos on the UCAS website that offer good tips. 

Should I be concerned about Brexit or studying outside of the Republic of Ireland?

The dreaded ‘B-word’!  The terms for studying in the UK have been protected for 2020 entry in that Irish students will still be treated the same as UK students (and vice-versa for UK students wanting to study in the ROI) and there is a memorandum of understanding that this should continue post Brexit.  (

Students who intend studying in the UK, with a view to later working in the ROI should ensure the degree you are thinking about will be recognised to work for the relevant governing body in the ROI - for example a student studying an Arts or Humanities degree with a view to teaching in ROI must get their degree recognised by the Teaching Council which can prove problematic at times, so it is worth looking into. 

What about costs and can I still apply for a SUSI grant?

The application for UCAS costs £20 if choosing one course and £25 for more than one (up to a maximum of 5).

Currently fees for courses in Northern Ireland are typically £4,275stg and up to £9,250stg in England and Wales.  Irish students opting to study in Scotland are still considered as ‘Home’ students and will not be required to pay fees. (

Students eligible for the SUSI grant can still avail of the maintenance element of the grant, but SUSI will not pay for course fees.  For the fees, many students avail of a student loan which can be paid back after completion of your degree and when earnings are over £18,935. 

An enticing option for students interested in healthcare courses is that the ‘Allied Health’ courses in Radiography, Dietetics, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Podiatry, Radiotherapy and Speech & Language Therapy have no fees (These all, with the exception of Podiatry, require HPAT-Ulster) while Nursing degrees, as well as having no fees, also include a bursary. (

How and when will I know if I have been offered a place?

This is not an exact science as each college and course can be different, it is best to keep checking into the track facility for correspondence. 

When responses have been received from all choices made, the applicant will be given a date by which to respond to the offers. The applicant can then choose one course they have been offered as their ‘firm’ choice and one as their ‘insurance’ choice. All other offers must then be declined. Offers made will be conditional and entry will be based on meeting the conditions of the offer.

Rory White is a Guidance Counsellor in Finn Valley College, Stranorlar and a member of the Donegal branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. For over 10 years he has been helping Leaving Certificate and PLC students as well as adults choose a college course or change career path.  His series of articles will offer advice to help make more informed choices in relation to these important decisions


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