The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service set up the UCAS point system to help universities and colleges set course entry requirements and make conditional offers to students based on predicted grades supplied by schools prior to the exams. In theory, the grade tariff system is straightforward and students need only compare the points for the grades they have with the course requirements. However, it is not always simple, as some universities make additional stipulations.
Choose a subject first and then research the universities offering courses in the subject. There are numerous online and print guides to university courses that rate them according to teaching quality and student experience. It is important you do this as early on as possible so that you know the points required and the grades needed. AS level grades provide students and teachers with a guide to final A level grades and whether or not the student will meet the admissions criteria.
Select up to five universities, then check the university admissions procedure and the specific entry requirements for the subject. Some universities state the number of UCAS points required but add requirements, such as an A grade in English literature. Talk to your subject teacher or school careers advisor for help with course and university choice, and with the UCAS application form.
Check the UCAS application deadlines. Medicine, veterinary and dentistry courses, plus all Oxford and Cambridge courses have an October deadline in the year before admission. Applications for other subjects have until January, and if you haven't heard anything from the university by February, you can make additional application between then and the end of June to courses with vacancies. Some courses, particularly art and design, have a March deadline. Reply to any offers promptly.
Work out your UCAS points based on actual grades or predicted grades. AS level points start at 20 for an E grade and rise to 60 for an A grade. Ten points separates each grade. A levels start at 40 points for grade E and progress up to 120 for an A grade and 140 for an A_. In this case, 20 points separates each grade. So, if you have an A_, A and B at A level, you have 360 UCAS points. Add in any AS level grades. For example, English Language is only offered at AS level by some exam boards.
Calculate the points for other qualifications, such as BTEC certificates and diplomas. The International Baccalaureate also has a different points system to A levels, as do Scottish Highers. For example, 45 IB diploma points is equivalent to 720 UCAS points. The UCAS tariff tables detail the points awarded for a diverse range of qualifications, including many specialist ones such as those awarded for music and speech and drama exams.
Use an online UCAS points calculator to speed things up.