Career Guidance Counsellor Rory White’s column series continues with invaluable advice and insights on navigating the world of career planning for students.
In this installment, we will be discussing the UCAS system and key points to note when making an application from Ireland.
What is UCAS?
UCAS is the Universities and Colleges Application Service for higher education courses in England, Scotland, Wales and more importantly for Donegal students – Northern Ireland. It is the equivalent of the CAO system here. The website is www.ucas.com
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. Ulster University has a UCAS Tariff points system for many of its courses.
Perhaps the most important element of the UCAS application is the Personal Statement stating their reasons for choosing their courses and why they feel they are suitable. Predicted grades for their upcoming Leaving Certificate and an academic reference (usually submitted by the candidate’s school) are also needed as part of the application. The application deadlines and offer process are also different to the CAO.
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 and this is what your aim should be when putting it together.
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. You should try to make the personal statement relevant to what you are applying for.
Give yourself plenty of time to put a decent personal statement together and don’t be leaving it until the last minute. By rushing it you run the risk of mistakes and leaving important information out.
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.
What about the costs of studying in the UK and can I still apply for a SUSI grant?
The application for UCAS costs £27.50. Students can apply up to a maximum of FIVE choices.
Currently fees for courses in Northern Ireland are typically £4,710stg and up to £9,250stg in England, Scotland and Wales. These costs are significantly higher than those in the CAO system, however there is a very popular Student Loan system available to students applying to UCAS courses that there isn’t in the CAO system.
The student loan system covers the entire cost of the fees and can be paid back after completion of your degree and when the student is in full-time employment with earnings over £22k approximately. For those students applying to colleges in Northern Ireland, more information on these loans can be found at https://www.studentfinanceni.co.uk
Other similar websites cater for students applying to England, Scotland and Wales.
An enticing option for students interested in healthcare courses are the ‘Allied Health’ courses which do not currently have any fees. The courses that qualify are Radiography, Dietetics, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Podiatry, Paramedic Science, Radiotherapy and Speech & Language. Nursing degrees in the UK, as well as having no fees, also include a bursary. (www.ulster.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/full-time-fees/funded-courses)
Students eligible for the SUSI grant can also still avail of the maintenance element of the SUSI grant, but SUSI will NOT pay for course fees.
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 colleges applied to (an applicant may receive up to 5 offers), the applicant will be given a date by which to respond to these 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. Most of the offers that are made will be conditional and entry will be based on meeting the conditions of the offer (i.e. getting the required grades in the Leaving Certificate)
Rory White is a Ballybofey-based Guidance Counsellor currently working with CareersPortal.ie, Ireland’s National Career Guidance Website. He works with Donegal ETB in Finn Valley College, Stranorlar and is a member of the Donegal Branch of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. For more than ten years he has been helping Leaving Cert and PLC students as well as adults choose a college course or decide to change their career journey to start something new. Rory’s columns on Donegal Daily share advice on making informed career and education decisions.
– Rory White BA/H.Dip in Guidance & Counselling