How to apply

Full-time undergraduate applicants in the UK use UCAS, but part-time applicants apply directly to each university or college.

  • Admissions criteria can vary between courses; some are more prepared to consider nontraditional qualifications than others.
  • Before you apply, speak to individual course leaders and admissions staff at each institution for more info.

Ged Bretherton

'I wanted to prove something to myself' – Ged's experience working for his union prompted him to get back into education. Hear his story in this video, or read his case study in the Related case studies below.

Admissions criteria and how they vary

When applying for university or college, you'll need to provide evidence of your ability (and experience) to study at an appropriate level. There are no standard entry requirements for mature applicants – these will vary between course providers.

  • Although a lot of mature students will have A and AS levels, BTEC Nationals, Scottish Highers or other SQA qualifications, some universities don't insist on traditional qualifications.
  • Some will consider Open University credits, access course credits and professional qualifications.
  • You can find out specific course requirements using our search tool.

Access courses

If you've been out of formal education for some time, or you left school with few qualifications, an access course could help prepare you for your return to study – or help you achieve the entry qualifications for your chosen course.

Visit the Access to HE website for further information.

I thought I'd missed my chances, but was given a second chance through the trade union learning opportunities. Since then, I’ve embraced learning. I wanted to prove something to myself. I wanted a degree for my self-worth, self-confidence, and to prove I could succeed."

Ged Bretherton, Open University

Accreditation of prior learning

Accreditation of prior learning (APL) is used in further and higher education for the purpose of:

  • entry onto a course or programme
  • advanced standing on a course or programme
  • credit against some of the outcomes of a course or programme that will count towards an award

Essentially it's credit awarded for wider learning – such as self-directed study, work experience or other forms of training. Arrangements for APL will vary between unis, colleges and courses.

Accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) is an extension of APL and includes assessed learning gained from life and work experience. While it can gain you entry to your chosen course, it can be difficult to provide evidence.

Contact your chosen universities and colleges first to discuss whether APL or APEL is acceptable and what evidence they will need.

Personal statement

When you come to make your application you'll have to include:

  • personal information
  • qualifications achieved and pending
  • past and current employment
  • references (an academic reference is preferable but work-related references are acceptable too)
  • a personal or supporting statement.

The personal statement is your chance to shine, so it's important to demonstrate a clear interest in your chosen subject and provide evidence where possible.

if you're applying with ‘nontraditional’ qualifications, do give an explanation of the route you've followed, demonstrating the relevant skills and experience you've acquired along the way. This might include things like time management, organisation, communication and so on.

Also talk about why you'll benefit from higher education, and reference any voluntary work you've done – if it supports your application.

Your UCAS personal statement

Entry requirements

When applying for university or college, you'll need to provide evidence of your ability (and experience) to study at an appropriate level.

There are no standard entry requirements for mature applicants – these will vary between course providers.

Other requirements

Check with the unis and colleges you're interested in about both academic and additional requirements.

For example, some courses may require you to have a criminal records check through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) – but most unis and colleges will make you aware of this well in advance (in general course information and in any offers made). 

Get in touch

It's always worth making direct contact with the admissions tutors for the courses you're interested in before making a formal application.

While work history will work in your favour as a mature applicant, qualifications taken several years ago will still be taken into account – including CSEs and O levels. 

If you have lost your certificates

If you cant find your exam certificates, contact the school where you took the exams. If the school doesn't exist anymore, try the local authority (contact details can be found on

If all else fails, contact the universities you're applying to and discuss your options.

Outreach activities

Providers that charge higher fees are required to consider access from less well-represented groups.

As a result, more are offering outreach activities targeting mature students. These can be a good opportunity to find out more, both about higher study and about the unis and colleges you're interested in.

Open days

You may find it useful to attend university or college open days. They'll give you an opportunity to look at the academic facilities, the accommodation and the students’ union, and to ask questions. It also gives you a chance to meet and chat to current students. 

Applying without having set foot on campus is not a good idea, so take every opportunity to visit places that interest you.

More on open days