Get degree ideas using our A level explorer tool

The basics of applying to university: glossary of terms

Starting to think about your uni application? Get clued up on what all the jargon means with our A-Z of applying to university.

When you first start researching universities and courses, you’re likely to encounter at least a few confusing or unfamiliar terms – especially when it comes to making your application.  

We’ve put together a glossary of some of these key terms, with a brief explanation of what they mean alongside links to more detailed descriptions.

It’s in alphabetical order, so if you’re looking for a particular definition you can just scroll through until you find what you need.

And if you still have questions, the applications forum on our sister site The Student Room is a great place to talk directly to other students and university representatives.

Admissions team
: A university’s admissions team will usually handle everything to do with your application, as well as being there to answer any questions you might have about the university or course and organise events such as open days.

Buzzword: A Ucas buzzword is like a special password for your particular school or college. Your teacher will let you know what your buzzword is, and you’ll be asked to enter it on your university application. 

Once you’ve submitted the buzzword, your school or college will be linked to your Ucas application and they’ll be able to upload your reference.

Campus university
: A campus university is like a self-contained student village, where everything you need for living, socialising and studying is in one place. Campus universities tend to have more of a community feel, as you’ll be surrounded by other students.   

A city university is the alternative to a campus university.

City university
: At a city university, everything from accommodation to lecture halls and student facilities will be spread out over a much wider area than at a self-contained campus university.

: If results day rolls around and you don’t make the grades for any of your university offers, you can use Clearing to help you find a place on a different course.

When Clearing opens – usually on A-level results day – universities publish all the places they still have available. There are always plenty of courses up for grabs in Clearing, with lots at highly ranked universities.

You’ll be able to search these places on the Ucas website and call the universities directly to find out if they’ll offer you a place.

Conditional offer
: After you’ve sent off your application and the universities have had time to read it through, they’ll start getting back to you on Ucas Hub to let you know whether they’re going to offer you a place.

There are two types of offer: conditional and unconditional. A conditional offer means you do have a place on your chosen course – as long as you meet certain conditions. This usually means you’ll need to get certain minimum grades in the A-levels, Btecs or other qualifications you’re currently taking to secure your place.

Entry requirements
: Entry requirements are criteria that you need to meet to be considered for a place on a specific course. Entry requirements are set by each university, so similar courses may have different entry requirements depending on which uni you’re applying to.

The types of entry requirements that universities might ask for include: particular subject qualifications; certain grades or Ucas points; or an interview.

You can search for a course on The Uni Guide and read the course profile to see what qualifications, grades and extra requirements it asks for. 

Firm choice
: Once you've had your offers back, you'll need to pick one university to be your firm choice and one to to be your insurance choice. Your firm is your first choice of university. If you meet the conditions of this choice, then you definitely have a place there. 

Gap year
: students can choose to take a gap year before they start university. This is a year out of education, when you may choose to travel, work or volunteer. 

Halls of residence
: A halls of residence – also just known as halls – is a large block of flats where you’d be living exclusively with other students.

They’re a particularly popular accommodation choice for first years as living in halls means you can easily meet loads of other students and you won’t have to bother with trying to find your own housemates.

There are two types of halls: university halls are owned by the university, and they’ll only house students from that university. Private halls are owned by separate companies and are very similar to university halls, except the students who live there will be from a mix of all the nearby universities.

Insurance choice
: Once you've had your offers back from the universties you've applied to, you'll need to pick one as your firm choice and once as your insurance choice. Your insurance university is your second choice or back-up choice. It's purpose is for you to be able to fall back on it if you don't make the conditions of your first choice. 

: The Law National Aptitude Test is an admissions test you might have to sit if you apply to study law at certain universities.

Open day
: An open day is a day for prospective students to go look around a university and get a feel for what it’s actually like to go there – they run throughout the year. 

: Oxbridge is a shortened way of referring to both Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Personal statement
: Your personal statement is a really important part of your university application. It’s basically a short essay to explain why you want to take your chosen course and what makes you a great applicant.

: Your reference is part of your Ucas application. Whoever you ask to be your referee – probably a teacher – will upload a statement describing your academic abilities and suitability for a course.

Russell Group universities
: The Russell Group is a collection of 24 UK universities with a shared focus on research and a reputation for being academically high achieving. This reputation means that their entry requirements are often higher than other universities. 

Students' union
: Most univerities will have a students' union. They put together sports, social events and societies across a range of different interests. 

Ucas: Ucas stands for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services. It handles the applications process for UK universities and almost all applicants will go through Ucas.

You’ll create a profile on the Ucas website where you’ll enter all your application information, hear back from the universities with their decisions and accept or reject their offers. 

Ucas exhibition/fair: A Ucas exhibition or fair is an event hosted by Ucas for university applicants. At one of these events, you can expect to meet representatives from universities, go to application clinics and personal statement workshops and attend Q&As with current students.

Ucas fairs tours around the UK all through the year – the Ucas website has details of when and where they're going to be taking place.

Ucas Extra
: Ucas Extra gives you another chance to get a university place if you don’t receive any university offers, or you’ve declined any offers you do receive. It usually runs from the end of February until early July.

Ucas Hub
: When you sign up to Ucas, you’ll create a Hub account. This is where you’ll be able to create your application and also save and access other information related to your application, such as a Ucas Tariff points calculator.

Once you’ve hit submit on your application, you’ll use Hub to track your offers and accept or decline places.

Ucas Tariff points
: Ucas points are another way of expressing a course’s grade requirements.

Each grade you get in each qualification earns you a certain amount of Ucas points, which you add up to calculate your total Ucas points. For example, a course could ask for AAB in A-levels, or it could ask for the equivalent 136 Ucas points.

: The University Clinical Aptitude Test – or Ucat – is a test that you might have to take if you’re applying to certain medical or dental courses at some universities.

You can see what other students are saying about the Ucat on our sister site The Student Room’s medicine forum.  

Unconditional offer
:  After you’ve sent off your application and the universities have had time to read it through, they’ll start getting back to you on Ucas Hub to let you know whether they’re going to offer you a place.

There are two types of offer: conditional and unconditional. An unconditional offer means that you definitely have a place at the university no matter what your grades are. 

: An undergraduate is a student who is taking their first degree. 

Search The Uni Guide

Find further advice or search for information on a course or university