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An Introduction to UCAS Points: What They Are and How They Work

When you begin to research UK universities and the types of courses you might want to study, you will likely come across the term ‘UCAS points.’ However, you might not be familiar with the term unless you know someone who has recently applied or gone to university.

As you start thinking about choosing your A-Levels, or even begin putting together your application and personal statement for university, you will need to familiarize yourself with UCAS points: what they are, why they are important, and what impact they could have on your future study options.

Take a look at our introduction to UCAS points, which answers the most commonly asked questions so you have everything you need to know before you start making plans for the future.

What are UCAS Points?

In response to the growing numbers and types of post-sixteen qualifications (also known as Level 3 qualifications) offered to students worldwide, the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) created the UCAS Tariff Points system.

This system established a universal grading method for universities to base applicants on, ensuring that students of all educational backgrounds and qualifications are compared more fairly during the application process. According to the official UCAS webpage:

‘UCAS Tariff points translate your qualifications and grades into a numerical value. Many qualifications (but not all) have a UCAS Tariff value, which will vary depending on the qualification size and the grade you have achieved. This numerical value is used by HE course providers to assess whether you meet their entry requirements for a particular course.’

Instead of trying to compare students with different grades, the UCAS Points system converts all types of qualifications and grades into a single-point score. This allows universities to give out offers more fairly and enables students to use a wider combination of grades and qualifications to reach the required number of points to be considered for a course.

How Do UCAS Points Work?

Many universities, colleges, and conservatoires display a set number of UCAS points in their entry requirements, which you will need to achieve or be expected to achieve to be eligible to study there.

How you achieve these UCAS Points is usually determined by yourself, though they are typically earned through a combination of academic qualifications achieved at school and sometimes, extracurricular activities such as grading in music, dance, and horse riding.

However, it is important to check individual university course requirements ahead of time. Not all universities display their entry requirements universally. Some may ask for additional qualifications or specific grades in particular subjects.

According to UCAS, almost two-thirds of universities do not use UCAS points to advertise course requirements, instead opting for more traditional grade offers (e.g., ABB). It is imperative to read entry requirements carefully to ensure you know what qualifications are needed to secure a place on a particular degree program.

Why Are UCAS Points Important?

Because there are so many types of qualifications now available to study in the UK, UCAS points were created to provide a universal way of grading all qualifications. This allows students from varied academic backgrounds to access higher education in ways they may not have been able to in the past.

Instead of asking for specific grades, universities will ask for a collective number of points, which can be made up of different qualifications and grades. For example, if one university offers a grade-based offer of ABB, a student must achieve a certain combination of grades. In contrast, universities that offer a course based on UCAS points (e.g., 120 points) allow a student to use a combination of grades and qualifications to meet the threshold, making the course more accessible to students with different educational backgrounds.

How Do You Get UCAS Points?

Students can earn UCAS points by doing AS-Level, A-Level exams, and IB diplomas, as well as through a few smaller independent qualifications. This typically begins when you turn 16 and start studying for higher-level qualifications.

For every grade you achieve, the UCAS Tariff assigns a numerical score to that grade. The higher the grade you achieve, the higher the number of points you will earn.

If you have any doubts about whether you can earn UCAS points with a particular qualification you are studying, you should always check with your course provider or teacher.

Can You Get UCAS Points from GCSE?

No, UCAS points cannot be earned from GCSEs, and the majority of students don’t begin to earn UCAS points until they start their post-sixteen study.

If You Cannot Earn UCAS Points from GCSEs, Why Are They Important?

Your GCSE grades will set the benchmark for where to begin searching for university courses. They will help to predict what grades you’re likely to achieve during your A-Levels, and so can be helpful in knowing what universities you could consider applying to in the near future, and for which courses.

In addition, your GCSEs will also be important in determining which post-sixteen courses you will be studying and where. Some sixth-form colleges have certain GCSE grade requirements, and most A-Level and IB subjects require a minimum GCSE grade in order for you to pursue them in sixth form.

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UCAS points are a grading system used by UK universities to compare qualifications. It converts grades into a score, aiding fair offers and flexibility. A-Levels, IB diplomas, and GCSEs contribute to points. Use the UCAS Points calculator to assess your score.

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