The journey to higher education can be an exciting yet bewildering one, as it often comes with a maze of unfamiliar terms and concepts. Whether you’re a student making the transition from school to university, or a parent seeking to support your child’s aspirations, having a clear understanding of how UCAS points work is essential when navigating the university admissions process.
Our guide will provide you with all the information you need to know about the UCAS tariff system, from explaining what UCAS points are and how they’re calculated to understanding how they impact your university applications.
What are UCAS points?
Universities employ the UCAS points system to measure the value or level of achievement of specific qualifications. By doing this, they can assess the suitability of candidates for the university courses they are applying for.
Typically, a numerical value is assigned to qualifications based on the type of qualification and the grade achieved by a student. Universities establish a minimum threshold of UCAS points that applicants must attain to be considered for enrolment on a particular course. Applicants can then work to accrue UCAS points by achieving higher grades in their respective qualification e.g. A Levels.
How UCAS points are converted
To give you an idea of how grades are translated into UCAS points, the tables below outline the number of points you can acquire for some of the UK’s most well-known qualifications.
A Level UCAS points
BTEC UCAS points
T Level UCAS points
UCAS points International Baccalaureate
How to get UCAS points
The way in which you build up your UCAS points will vary depending on the qualification you are pursuing, but for the sake of this example, let’s consider A Levels.
Referring to the table above, suppose a university course requires 128 UCAS points to be eligible for enrolment. In such a case, a student would need to achieve the grades ABB across three A Level subjects to meet the eligibility criteria.
In the initial application process, universities will assess a student’s predicted grades before extending an offer. These are used to gauge the likelihood of a student achieving the necessary UCAS points.
However, it’s important to recognise that UCAS applications aren’t exclusively determined by the number of points you attain. Often, universities will require grades in subjects that are relevant to your chosen course. For example, if you’re applying to do a medicine degree, it’s unlikely that A grades in media studies, food technology and French will suffice.
Furthermore, if you’re applying for an English course, a university might ask for a certain share of your UCAS points to be attained from A Level English.
What is UCAS clearing?
The UCAS clearing process enables students who didn’t manage to secure a place at their chosen universities to explore available courses at other institutions. The process typically takes places between July and September, following the announcement of A Level results.
Clearing is used by students who:
- Did not receive any offers on their initial UCAS application.
- Did not meet the conditions of their offers.
- Decided to apply for university after the deadline.
- Changed their mind about initial course choices.
Students can use the UCAS clearing system to search for available courses and make direct applications to the universities offering them. It is advised to act promptly as there is still a lot of competition for clearing placements.
How to get UCAS points without A Levels
In the pursuit of higher education, it’s important to remember that A Levels are not the only gateway to achieving UCAS points. While A Levels are a traditionally and widely recognised route, there is a diverse array of alternative, more vocational qualifications that might align more effectively with your preferred learning style and career aspirations.
Some examples of alternative qualifications that earn UCAS points include:
Access to Higher Education Diplomas
- Access to Higher Education Diploma in Health – up to 144 points
- Access to Higher Education Diploma in Public Services – up to 144 points
- AAT Level 3 Certificate in Bookkeeping – up to 28 points
- AAT Level 3 Diploma in Accounting – up to 56 points
- ABE Level 3 Certificate in Business Start Up – up to 36 points
- NCFE CACHE Level 3 Award in Childcare and Education – up to 28 points
- NCFE CACHE Level 3 Award in Health and Social Care – up to 28 points
- NCFE CACHE Level 3 Certificate in Preparing to Work in Adult Social Care – 16 points.
- NCFE CACHE Level 3 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning – 16 points
- NCFE CACHE Level 3 Certificate in Health and Social Care – up to 84 points
- NCFE CACHE Level 3 Certificate in Understanding Mental Health – 16 points
- NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Workforce (Early Years Educator) – 32 points
- NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma in Counselling Skills – 24 points
- NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma in Supporting Teaching and Learning – 32 points
- CIM Level 3 Foundation Certificate in Professional Digital Marketing – up to 24 points
- CIM Level 3 Foundation Certificate in Professional Marketing – up to 24 points
- CMI Level 3 Award In Coaching and Mentoring – 8 points
- CMI Level 3 Award in Principles of Management and Leadership – 8 points
- CMI Level 3 Certificate In Coaching and Mentoring – 8 points
- CMI Level 3 Certificate in Principles of Management and Leadership – 8 points
- CMI Level 3 Diploma In Coaching and Mentoring – 16 points
- CMI Level 3 Diploma in Principles of Management and Leadership – 16 points