4 min read

This is what happens when you apply to university

This is what happens when you apply to university

by Caroline Hardaker

How do you apply to university, and what exactly happens along the way?

From writing your personal statement to when to start packing your suitcase, discover the ins and outs of the university application process with our handy 10-step guide to university. 

You might have talked to parents, teachers, or friends who’ve been to university, but as applications change over the years, it’s not always easy to know what actually happens when you apply to university.

We’ve put together this university application timeline so you can plot and plan your way from researching how to choose the university course that's right for you to packing your bags ready for your first day on campus.



  1. Research

  2. Your application

  3. Waiting

  4. Hearing back

  5. Applying for finance

  6. Responding

  7. Choosing accommodation

  8. Exam time

  9. Results Day

  10. Packing


1. Research

How do I research universities?

This is the time for talking to staff and students at UCAS fairs, experiencing virtual and on-campus Open Days, and generally researching how to choose the university course that's right for you.

Picking the right university will depend on a lot of factors, from the course you want to study to city life, so make a note of how each part of the university experience measures up. Browse university websites, request a prospectus or university guide, and sign up for email newsletters to find out more about university life.


2. Your application

How do I apply to university?

To apply to university you need to register with UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) where you'll be guided to create your own UCAS Hub – your personal space to prepare and submit your application. The Hub is also where you'll track your university application and any offers you receive.

If you’re at school or college, you’ll need to add your buzzword when you register (ask your teacher for this). Polish up your application and scrub up that personal statement – this is the moment when you show a university what you’re made of.

For medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or a veterinary science degree, the application deadline is in October of the year before you start your course. For the majority of other undergraduate degrees, the application deadline is in the January of the year you're planning to go to university.

You can choose up to five courses but only four can be for medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine/science.




3. Waiting

How long does it take for universities to reply?

It can feel like a while until you hear back from your university choices (we have a reputation for sending out responses quite quickly) so use this time to do a bit more research.

Most universities offer Post Application Visit Days. Visiting campus and getting a ‘feel’ for life in the city or town can really help you decide which of your choices might be the one for you.

As you're continuing your own research, university admissions tutors are reviewing your personal statement, reference, aptitude, skill set, and any special circumstances that affect your application.


4. Hearing back

What are conditional and unconditional offers? 

Hearing back from universities is a nerve-wracking time.

When the university admissions tutors have made their decision, they’ll let you know by adding the decision to UCAS. This can happen quite quickly, from a couple of weeks after the admissions deadline to the following May.

There are three possible outcomes:

  • a conditional offer means you’ve been offered a place but still need to meet university requirements, such as the required entrance grades.
  • an unconditional offer means you’ve been offered a place regardless of grades.
  • an unsuccessful application means the university hasn’t offered you a place on your chosen course.




5. Applying for finance

How and when do I apply for student finance?

It’s at this point, usually from early March, when you can start applying for student finance to cover tuition costs and living costs. You won't need to start paying back this loan until you've finished university and are earning over a certain amount.

Soon-to-be-students from England can find out how to apply here, and students from Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland can apply through their own government funding bodies.

Some universities offer bursaries and scholarships for future undergraduates, too. Delve deep into their websites to find out what they offer and what you might be eligible for. For more information on student finance, read our guide on how to apply for student finance.


6. Responding

How do I reply to a university offer?

You can only start responding to offers once you’ve received decisions from all of your chosen universities. 

You need to choose one university as your first or 'firm' choice and one as your second or ‘insurance’ choice. Most often, the insurance choice will require lower entrance grades, so if you miss the grades needed for your first choice you might still be able to attend your insurance choice.

If you’ve used all five choices and you’re not holding any offers by the end of this period, you could still find a place through UCAS Extra.



7. Choosing accommodation

How do I apply for university accommodation?

You might have already been on one or two in-person or online accommodation tours perhaps during an Open Day, or Post Application Visit Day. If you couldn’t make these events, some universities have virtual tours hosted all year round and you can read all about your options on their websites.

Every university’s process will be different, but at Newcastle, when you’re offered a place we also send an email inviting you to apply for accommodation. Our residences range from traditional halls to modern city-centre apartments, so there are lots of options to choose from.

Single students choose three residences, and we get back in touch with you once everyone has submitted their choices and we’ve allocated places. As long as you apply by the deadline in your email invite, you can take your time choosing which one is right for you. We'll make every effort to offer you a place in your chosen accommodation, but we can't guarantee it.


8. Exam time

How do I make sure I get into university?

Now all you need are the grades!

Use our guide on how to revise for exams. Plan out your revision timetable with our free downloadable template, give yourself plenty of breaks, and practise self-care.

You can do this. Good luck!




9. Results Day

What do I have to do on Results Day?

It's Results Day:

  • If you got the required grades you were hoping for, then congratulations!
  • If your results weren’t what you’d hoped, then don’t panic. At this point, you can apply for alternative courses or universities through Clearing.

For more information on Results Day, we encourage you to read our blog on what to do on Results Day.


10. Packing

When and what should I pack for university?

You’ve secured your place at university – and you’re all ready to go!

You’ve gone from wondering how to apply to university (doesn’t it seem so long ago?) to deciding which duvet cover to buy. To find out what you should pack for university, read our blog collated by current Newcastle University students on the packing essentials!

You’ve come a long way since you set out on the university application process, and now your journey is really about to begin…


Download: How to write YOUR personal statement