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What happens after my university application is sent off?

So you've finally hit 'send'...what happens now?

Once you’ve submitted your university application, the waiting game begins. When will they reply? Why haven't I heard anything? What's taking so long...?

It can get more than a little frustrating, so it might help to have an idea of what's going on behind the scenes.

Here, we take a look into how universities process your application and how long you should expect to be waiting for replies – along with what you’ll be needing to do next.

"What's happening with my application now?"

Once you've submitted your application on Hub, Ucas passes it on to your chosen universities.

Each university will read your application and then make a decision on whether to make you an offer. Once that decision is made, it gets added to your Ucas Hub.

You can find out more about how this part of the process works by reading our interview with Kevin Betts, head of undergraduate student recruitment at the University of Sussex, on how uni applications are processed.

"So when will these decisions come through?"

There's no definite answer to the question of how long you will be waiting for decisions to come through.

Different unis work at different speeds - and the timing will also depend on when your application went in. 

As a guide, here are the deadlines Ucas has given for universities to make their decisions. But remember, you could get a response well before these dates.

  • End of January 2024
    Oxford and Cambridge applicants will hear back by this time, following interviews in November or December
  • 16 May 2024
    If you sent your application by the 31 January 2024 deadline, you'll get your replies by this date
  • 17 July 2024
    If you sent your application by 30 June 2024, your replies will come through by this date

Need to know more about Ucas applications dates? Here’s the full list of Ucas deadlines and key application dates for 2024 university entry.

You can sign into your Hub at any time to check whether offers have come in. Ucas will also send you an email when your final decision has been submitted.

Oh - and be sure to keep all your contact details up to date in Hub, so you don’t miss any notifications or direct contact from the universities.

If you want to find out more about how long you might wait for decisions, read this article about how long it takes universities to reply to applications

"What kind of decisions might I get?"

Once the decisions start to arrive, there are a few different types of reply you might receive.

  • Invitation to interview
    Some universities include an interview as part of their application process. In this case, the university would decide whether or not to make you an offer after your interview.  
  • Conditional offer
    You've got your place, so long as you meet the conditions of the offer (usually your exam results)
  • Unconditional offer
    You definitely have a place if you want it; you don’t need to meet any further conditions.
  • Unsuccessful
    An unsuccessful application means the university decided not to offer you a place
  • Withdrawn
    The application has either been withdrawn by yourself or the university. The reason for the withdrawal will be shown – for example, it could be because you missed an interview.

You can read more about what the different university offers mean and what you should do next.

"What do I do once the decisions have come through?"

Once your offers have come through, your next job is to decide on your two favourites. You'll need to pick one as your firm choice and one as your insurance.

You can only choose one firm and one insurance, and once you’ve chosen one of each of these your other offers will automatically be declined.

Your firm choice is your first choice of university. As long as you meet the conditions of your offer you will definitely have a place.

Your insurance choice is your back-up choice, in case you don’t meet the conditions of your firm choice. This means that it makes sense to pick a university with lower grade requirements as your insurance.

If you don’t get the grades you need for your firm choice you will automatically be given your insurance (assuming you have met the conditions of that offer). So your insurance choice should be somewhere that you would actually want to go.

Insurance choices are optional, so you don’t have to put one down at all if you don’t want to.

This article has tips to help you choose your firm and insurance choice universities.

"What happens if I don’t get any offers?"

If you don’t get any offers (or any offers you want to accept) you've got a few options. 

  • Ucas Extra
    The Ucas Extra service, which runs from 28 February to 4 July for 2024 entry, lets you add extra university choices to your application. You can make multiple choices before Extra closes, but you can only make one choice at a time.
  • Clearing
    Once Extra closes, Clearing opens. In Clearing you can find and apply for courses that still have spaces. In 2024, you’ll be able to apply for a course through Clearing from 5 July.
  • Wait a year
    You could take a gap year and try applying again in the following year’s cycle.
  • Look into alternatives
    University isn't the only option after college. You might want to look into an apprenticeship, for instance.

This article guides you through what to do if you don’t get an offer from your first-choice university.

"What happens on results day?"

Many applicants will have conditional offers that are dependent on their exam results. That means that, on results day, you'll find out whether your application has been successful.

If you achieve the terms of the offer (ie get the grades that were requested) then you definitely have a place at that university.

If you miss the offer, but only narrowly, you may still get the place. Universities are often flexible where students have missed their offers by one or maybe two grades.

If you don't get the grades for your firm, but you do get the grades for your insurance you'll be guaranteed a place there instead.

If you miss both offers, you'll automatically be placed into Clearing. You can choose to find an alternative university place there - or consider alternatives such as applying next year.

Visit the applications forum on our sister site The Student Room to see what other students are saying about their university applications. 

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