UCAS Points: What are they?

Thinking about applying to a UK university in the future? Learn all about UCAS points and how they work.

Katie Broadbent - 16 February, 2021 · 11 min read

Starting to think about your future university applications for the UK?

Choosing your next steps can be hugely exciting, especially as you begin to explore all the different courses and locations where you could end up studying. But for many, it can also be very daunting, especially if you’re applying overseas and need to familiarise yourself with a whole new way of applying to university.

In the UK, applications for university are made via an online system known as UCAS (Universities and College Admissions Service). This system is fairly straightforward to understand, but does have some important features that all students should become familiar with: with one of these being UCAS points. 

You’ve probably seen or heard a lot about UCAS points and how they are needed to help you get into university. But unless you know someone who has applied and been to a university in the UK, it’s unlikely that you’ve needed to understand exactly what they are and how they can affect your university applications.

If you’re new to the UCAS points system and want to find out more about them, then take a look at our helpful guide below. We’ll cover everything including what UCAS points are, how the UCAS points system works, and what impact they have on your university options. 

Don’t forget, we also offer an online Guidance course, which can provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the UK university admissions system, how to apply effectively, as well as help you develop a foundation of skills needed to help you once you arrive on your course.

Firstly, what are UCAS Points?

When you look at the entry requirements on different university course pages, you’ve probably seen that some list a certain number of UCAS points which need to be achieved for you to gain a place on the course. 

Although they may seem daunting when listed on course pages, UCAS points are actually fairly straightforward, and can help students from all different backgrounds understand what grades they need to get into university. 

For most people in the UK, they tend to apply to university with their A-Levels or BTEC qualifications. But, there are actually lots of different qualifications being studied across the world which are at the same level, including the International Baccalaureate (IB), higher diplomas, and more. 

With all these different qualifications having different and sometimes complex grading systems, the UK educational system looked to find a universal grading system for these hundreds of different qualifications. This meant that when students applied to universities, they would be able to quickly understand what grades they need to achieve to secure a place on the course. 

And so, UCAS points were created. 

According to the UK’s official Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)

‘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 dependent on the qualification size, and the grade you achieved.’

Essentially, the UCAS points system allows for students of all different educational backgrounds to apply to university based on one single entry requirement - which can typically be made from a combination of different qualifications.

Why do you need UCAS points?

As already mentioned, UCAS points are often listed as a requirement for many university, college or conservatoire courses. You will need to achieve the minimum number of UCAS points listed in their entry requirements in order for you to be eligible to study on that course. 

However, it is important to note that not all universities are the same in how they list their entry requirements. The UCAS points system is not a compulsory grading system, and universities can list whatever entry requirements they want. 

Because of this, some universities may accept or reject certain qualifications which aren’t counted under the UCAS points system. For example, many universities in the UK will say “240 UCAS points, excluding General Studies.’ 

Furthermore, some of the top universities in the world such as Oxford and Cambridge do not accept UCAS points as part of their entry requirements - they only accept students with a set number of qualifications, such as three A-Levels.  Therefore, you always need to check course entry requirements thoroughly before making any applications. 

If UCAS points aren’t accepted by all universities, why are they used?

For some students, UCAS point offers from universities can be really helpful, as they offer a more flexible way of gaining admission to a university. 

Not all students will follow a linear path to university straight from school or college. Many students don’t quite make the grades they achieve, or may start working straight from school and decide to study later on in life. In fact, this is extremely common, as in the UK there were over 230,000 ‘mature’ undergraduate entrants to universities in the academic year 2018/19. In this case, UCAS points can be really helpful for students who want to use a combination of qualifications to apply to university - perhaps using all these qualifications they have earned in their life to help them gain admission. 

But UCAS point offers can also be beneficial for students taking a linear approach to university, such as studying for A-Levels at school, or earning a BTEC qualification at college. UCAS point offers can act as a safety net; they give you more wiggle room in your grades, meaning you can still get accepted into university if you struggle in one subject but excel in another - as the overall points you achieve is what ultimately matters. 

How do you get UCAS points?

The most obvious way to earn UCAS points is by gaining Level 3 academic qualifications through school or college, such as A-Levels, BTECs or the IB.

You can also earn additional UCAS points by completing extracurricular activities or qualifications such as dance, music, or by volunteering. These qualifications need to be recognised officially by UCAS, so be sure to always check their tariff tables to see which qualifications can earn your UCAS points.

Can you get UCAS points from GCSE qualifications?

No, you cannot earn GCSE points through your GCSE qualifications. 

UCAS points are earned through level 3 qualifications, such as A-Levels, Scottish Highers, the IB, and a number of other related qualifications - so you probably won’t begin to earn any until you start your post-sixteen study. 

How do I know how many UCAS points I have?

It’s very easy to calculate how many UCAS points you have. In fact, the UCAS website has its very own UCAS points calculator, where you can enter your current qualifications and grades (or predicted grades) to see how many points you have, or could potentially have once you have completed your qualifications. 

You can also enter your email address to have your UCAS points sent to you directly, so you can look up yours now and then save them for a later date when you come to apply.

Calculating UCAS Points myself

If you prefer to break down your qualifications and understand what each of them are worth, you can take a look at the official tariff tables for some of the most popular qualifications in the UK below.

A-Level and AS qualifications

A* = 56 UCAS points

A  = 48 UCAS points

B  = 40 UCAS points

C  = 32 UCAS points

D  = 24 UCAS points

E  = 16 UCAS points

 

BTEC qualifications (known as Nationals)

D*D*D* = 168 UCAS points

D*D*D = 160 UCAS points

D*DD = 152 UCAS points

DDD = 144 UCAS points

DDM = 128 UCAS points

DMM = 112 UCAS points

MMM = 96 UCAS points

MMP = 80 UCAS points

MPP = 64 UCAS points

PPP = 48 UCAS points

 

International Baccalaureate Qualifications in Higher Level

H7 = 56 UCAS points

H6  = 48 UCAS points

H5  = 32 UCAS points

H4  = 24 UCAS points

H3  = 12 UCAS points

H2  = 0 UCAS points

H1 = 0 UCAS points

 

International Baccalaureate Qualifications in Standard Level

S7 = 28 UCAS points

S6  = 24 UCAS points

S5  = 16 UCAS points

S4  = 12 UCAS points

S3  = 6 UCAS points

S2  = 0 UCAS points

S1 = 0 UCAS points

USA: Advanced Placement (AP) Courses

For students in the USA, taking part in an Advanced Placement course can earn you UCAS points which can be used towards applying to universities here in the UK.

What are Advanced Placement Courses?

In the USA, students can take Advanced Placement courses (APs) in high school which can earn you college credit and/or qualify you to enter more advanced classes when you begin college. 

AP classes were established in the 1950s, with the intention of helping students bridge the gap between secondary school and college (university) education. Today, around 2.8 million students take these classes, with 38 subjects currently available for you to choose from.

Why are Advanced Placement Courses helpful?

Advanced Placement courses allow you to experience an introductory-level college class whilst you’re still in high school, which can really help with preparing you for the level of study you will experience when you go to college.

Prospective colleges and universities will see your participation in these courses as a strong indicator of your passion for the subject and commitment to studying hard, which can help with securing a place at a high-quality college.

Also, at the end of each Advanced Placement course, you will be required to sit an examination to test your knowledge. If you pass the exam, you can earn college credits which can earn you discounted tuition fees and/or allow you to enter higher-level classes when you begin college education.

Grading for AP exams

Like A-Levels, at the end of your Advanced Placement course, you will be required to sit an exam. The grades for AP exams are out of 5 and reported as:

5 = Extremely well qualified*

4 = Well qualified*

3 = Qualified*

2 = Possibly qualified**

1 = No recommendation**

 Note: * Qualified to receive college credit or advanced placement in college classes

** No recommendation to receive college credit or advanced placement in college classes.

Can Advanced Placement courses earn you UCAS points?

Yes, UCAS does recognise Advanced Placement courses and offers UCAS Points dependent on your final grade. These are:

5 = 28 UCAS points

4 = 24 UCAS points

3 = 20 UCAS points

2 = 16 UCAS points

1 = 12 UCAS points

A note on using AP courses for UK university applications

It’s important to remember that UK universities are not permitted to follow a set criteria of entry requirements, and so there may be some differences between UK universities about what US qualifications they require students to have. 

Universities can make offers based on a range of factors, including GPA, AP results, and even ACT/SAT scores. Most universities in the UK also require a high school diploma in addition to any AP exam grades.

Therefore, you should also take care to look at the individual entry requirements for each university you are considering applying to, so you can ensure you have the qualifications needed to gain admission there. If you are in any doubt about whether your qualifications are accepted by a university, reach out to their admissions team and ask them to confirm whether they would consider your application based on the qualifications you currently have. 

For more information and guidance on Advanced Placement courses and using them to apply to a UK university, please visit the UCAS Advanced Placement guidance page

 

Check the UCAS Points you can earn with other qualifications

Although we have listed some of the most common qualifications which students in the UK and overseas study for, there are of course hundreds of different qualifications which you can earn UCAS points.

To find out how many UCAS points you have or can earn with your qualifications, take a look at the official UCAS points table.

What if my qualification isn’t listed on the UCAS points tables?

Just because a qualification isn’t listed on the UCAS points tables doesn’t mean that universities won’t accept it. 

If you have a qualification that isn’t listed on UCAS but has earned you academic credit, it’s worth contacting the universities you’re interested in studying at directly to see if they would be willing to accept your qualification.

 

Get help with university applications

If you’re looking for further guidance on how the UK university application process works, as well as how to create the best possible application, take a look at the online Guidance programme we offer.

Carefully tailored around your individual wants and needs, you’ll work with an experienced tutor to explore your university options and make sure you’re prepared for the entire application process. 

Alternatively, you can contact us directly to speak with a member of our admissions team and find out more about our Guidance course.

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