Changes to UCAS Applications

Below is a summary of the important changes, which UCAS announced recently, to the application process for higher education.

If you are worried about your UCAS application or would like extra support, please see my One-to-One tuition page to see how I can help.

What is the Academic Reference?

The academic reference is the text section of the application which the applicant’s referee (usually a form tutor, head of sixth form or career’s adviser) would fill in and provide extra information which would help admissions tutors make a more informed decision about the candidate. 


What was the issue with this?

A lack of uniformity throughout applicants references had been observed which makes it challenging to meaningfully compare applicant’s references. Many references would compare a student to others in their own sixth form college as opposed to the entire applicant pool, which offers little insight in the greater picture.


UCAS’s solution:

They will be replacing the free text approach to three structured questions for all undergraduate applications starting with the 2024 entry cycle (i.e applying later this year in 2023).

These three sections will be:

  • Enter a general statement about your school/college. (This is mandatory for applications sent via a registered centre).
  • Enter any information about extenuating circumstances which may affect this applicant’s performance in examinations or other assessments. (This is optional).
  • Use this section to outline any other circumstances specific to the applicant that you think universities/colleges should be aware of. (This is optional).


The benefits of this:

  • The advisers (i.e form tutors, head of sixth forms and career advisers) have more clarity and confidence that they are providing information that is useful.
  • Students have more insight into what information is shared about them to universities/colleges.
  • Universities/Colleges can easily find information to make selection decisions and target support.





Universities/Colleges have access to a historic entry grades tool which shares course-level information on the grades students held when entering higher education. 

But later this year, it will be available on UCAS’s website for students to view and use. It will provide visibility over a range of grade profiles accepted for entry, to courses over a five-year period.

User testing has shown it sparks curiosity amongst students, encouraging them to delve deeper into entry requirements and re-evaluate courses that they may have previously felt out of reach. As often, students are accepted into universities with lower grades than the typical course offer.

What is the issue with the current format of the personal statement?

Although the personal statement is an opportunity for students to promote themselves to the universities/colleges they are applying to, there is the fear that students who don’t have access to high quality advice and guidance will not be able to use the personal statement to shine in the same way their more advantages peers can. 

Additionally, there are concerns that students don’t full understand how the universities/colleges use the personal statement in the decision-making process and so fail to present the key things providers want to see in their statement.

Additionally, UCAS carried out a 2022 applicant survey and although 72% of the respondents felt positive about the personal statement, 83% reported that they found writing it stressful and 79% agreeing that it is difficult to write without support.

What are UCAS doing about this?

As opposed to having a free text section, they have found that the idea of structured questions would provide more clarity and focus for the student, as well as supporting comparability for universities/colleges. 

They are currently establishing and refining the focus of the questions and so far, six key areas have been identified by universities/colleges with regard to what they want to see.

These are:

  • Motivation for the course – Why do you want to study these courses?
  • Preparedness for the course – How has your learning so far helped you to be ready to succeed on your courses?
  • Extenuating circumstances – Is there anything the universities and colleges need to know about, to help them put your achievements and experiences so far into context?
  • Preparedness for study – What have you done to prepare yourself for student life?
  • Preferred learning styles – Which learning and assessment styles best suit you – how do your course choices match that?

They are continuing to refine these areas to ensure they capture the information that universities/colleges really need from applicants.