UCAS Points Explained  – How to earn enough to get into uni

UCAS Points Explained – How to earn enough to get into uni

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If you want to live out your dreams and enter into the career you’ve always wanted, you need to go to the right university. Understanding the UCAS (The University and Colleges Admissions Service) system will ensure that you earn the correct number of points for the degree and uni of your choice.

UCAS points are assigned to different grades earned in post-16 qualifications, such as A-levels and AS-levels, and Scottish Highers.[i] They are also allocated to a variety of certificates, diplomas, and awards.

Do you have enough UCAS points to get into uni? Read ahead to find out more about how the points system works, and how you can earn more points for your application.

How do UCAS points work?

Each different qualification awarded in the UK (A-levels and Scottish Highers, for example) are granted a size band value that ranges from 1 to 4 based on how many learning hours the course takes. They are also assigned a grade band point, from 3 to 14.[ii]

To find out how many UCAS points you will be awarded for your qualification, multiply the two together. Size band value x Grande band point = tariff points.

It’s important to note that the tariff points have changed since 2017, and they are now much lower. An A-level grade A* was once worth 140 points but is now worth 56 points. Universities value your A-level studies just as much as they did in the past, but their entry requirements are now scaled down to use lower numbers.

This table will help you understand the points awarded for A-level qualifications. Head to the UCAS website for a complete list of the tariffs.[iii]

Grade A’ Levels AS Levels
A* 56
A 48 20
B 40 16
C 32 12
D 24 10
E 16 6

Source: UCAS Tariff Calculator

A few things to consider when it comes to UCAS points:

  • Just because a qualification doesn’t gain you any UCAS tariff points that doesn’t mean a university won’t look favourably upon it and still consider it a vital part of your application.
  • While your desired uni or course may not use tariff points to determine its offers (using grades instead), they do keep a tally of the numbers and report them for government data and league table purposes.
  • You can’t combine the points gained from an AS score and A2 score in the same subject. You’ll only gain the points from the highest level of qualification.

If you don’t understand the entry requirements for the course and uni you want to attend, get in touch with the registrar’s office as soon as possible.

How many UCAS points do I need?

Simply put, the number of UCAS points you need depends on the specific university, subject, and course in which you want to enrol. Every different course has different requirements that usually include exam grades, subjects taken, and qualifications earned.[iv]

Entry requirements usually include the following:

  • Post-16 Qualifications – A-levels, AS-levels, Advanced Highers, Certificates, Diplomas and Awards are all converted into UCAS points.
  • Pre-16 Qualifications – Most courses also require that you have certain pre-16 qualifications, including GCSE Maths and English.
  • Your subjects – Uni courses often have pre-requisite subjects that you needed to have taken in your A-levels.
  • Exam Results – Your offer will usually be conditional on your grades.
  • An admissions test – In rare cases, some courses require you to sit an entrance test, sometimes a year in advance.
  • An interview – Some courses want to interview students to ensure that they are a good fit for the programme.
  • Additional checks – Some courses require financial and health checks, or Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) checks.

In some cases, universities and colleges will try to make the admissions process fairer by offering contextual admissions. In these cases, they will consider the hurdles and challenges that you might face and give you additional consideration.

If you have been away from education for more than a few years, you may receive accreditation for life or work experience through the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) programme.[v] You’ll receive credit for your training, work, and/or self-directed study.

What if I don’t have enough UCAS points?

Every student’s nightmare – you didn’t accumulate the minimum UCAS points included on your offer. What should you do?

  • Ring your university ASAP – Depending on your grades, you may not reach your conditional offer. However, if the UCAS website is still showing it as active, you should get on the phone immediately. Ring your university and ask to speak to someone in charge of your programme. If you missed your grades by a narrow margin, your university may still be willing to honour the offer. This grace varies from university to university, so get in touch as soon as possible.
  • Choose your insurance offer – You are permitted to have a second offer on the UCAS system if your first offer is a conditional one. This is termed your ‘Insurance’ offer.[vi] If you don’t reach the number of UCAS points and/or grades required for your offer, you can confirm your insurance offer on the UCAS system.
  • Assess your options through Clearing – Clearing is a system that matches applicants with no offers to universities that have extra spaces.[vii] If you miss your firm offer, you can go through Clearing to collect offers. Remember to ring them regularly, as Clearing spaces go back into the pool when another student rejects it. Even if you don’t see any spaces at the beginning of the day, within an hour they could have spaces. It can be an exhausting process, but getting a space at a good university is well worth your time.
  • You might have to make a snap decision – When you’re calling around to universities, you might be offered a space right there and then. You’ll only have a few minutes to make up your mind, so make sure you only call around to universities that you really want to attend.
  • Find out when you can re-sit your exams – Most universities will allow you to defer your offer for a year while you re-sit your exams and hopefully achieve a higher grade. While you used to have to wait a full year to re-sit the exams, now you can take them in the summer while the information is still fresh in your head.[viii] You might feel disappointed that you have to wait a year to join your friends at uni, but it can be a true learning experience.
  • Take a gap year while you gain more UCAS points – Taking a gap year allows you to earn money, travel, and assess your life goals. Most importantly, it gives you the time to earn more UCAS points by earning a certification, diploma, or award. With a big boost in UCAS points, you might even get an offer from a better university than you originally hoped to attend.


Where can you get UCAS points from?

There are plenty of different ways that you can get UCAS points, and nearly all of them involve taking on extra academic work.[ix] While these academic credentials boost your profile with the Uni Admissions Department, especially if you choose from the list of facilitating subjects.

That said, you can also have a lot of fun earning valuable vocational qualifications– they’ll benefit your career and earn you additional points. In addition to helping you gain entry to your uni of choice, they’ll help boost your CV and prepare you for your career.

You can also transform your hobbies into extra UCAS points – you’ll need to have them assessed by a tutor or body, but this is a good way to gain points without taking too much time away from your academic work.

Take additional A-levels and AS levels

The most obvious place to get UCAS points is from A-levels and AS-levels, which is why some students consider taking more than the standard three.  It’s not uncommon for the most promising students to take four or even five A-levels, with an extra AS-level on top.

That said, don’t feel too intimidated if you are only taking three A-levels – most offers are based on this amount (with the top universities sometimes giving an offer that includes four A-levels providing the student is enrolled in four).

An extra A-level will give you a leg up, as it adds 56 points to your UCAS tally if you earn an A* grade. Speak with your teachers to find out what they recommend, and to get their advice for planning your timetable so that you can make your extra studies fit into your schedule.

Earn a Level 3 Diploma, Certificate or Award

Try getting an online qualification in your spare time.  If you can handle the extra work on top of your A-level studies, it can really pay off.

In addition to helping you gain UCAS points for your University application, a Level 3 Diploma, Certificate or Award can get you started with your career. It can equip you with valuable skills and experience in accounting, photography, and even “Personal Effectiveness” (a certificate in which will earn you 16 points). We’re the first to admit that doing an entire Diploma (which gives you at least 30 points) might be too much to handle, a certificate could be doable. The NCFE Level 3 Certificate in Photography is worth 24 points.

If both of these options sound like too much additional work, you could try for an Award.[x] They provide you with 8 points in recognition of your accomplishments in different areas, projects and leadership roles. Imagine earning points for your blog or YouTube channel! It’s possible. A Trinity College Gold Arts Award offers 16 points, so it is worth finding out if you are eligible.[xi]

Boost your Maths Knowledge with a Free-standing Mathematics Qualification

You might not be taking an A-level in Mathematics, but you can still show your potential uni that you are proficient in the subject matter by taking a Free-standing Mathematics Qualification. The qualification difficulty is between a GCSE and AS-level Maths exam, and if you reach the Advanced Level, it shows that you have the equivalent of an A-level. This is ideal if you are doing all humanities A-levels and want to demonstrate your maths skills. Choose between Using and Applying Statistics, Additional Maths, Working with Algebraic and Graphical Techniques, and Modelling with Calculus, for which you’ll gain 20 points for an A grade.

Work on a Cambridge Pre-U Qualification

Cambridge International Examinations offers their unique Cambridge Pre-U programme that allows you to replace your A-levels with a diploma. You can also take a shorter course across the span of a year (which you take alongside your A-level studies) – choose from Classical Heritage, Comparative Government and Politics, and Economics. You can also take one of the Modern Languages short courses – choose from French, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and German. Admissions departments now acknowledge these courses as the invaluable resources they are, and even Ivy League Universities in America will recognise them. You’ll receive up to 56 UCAS points for the full courses in the ‘Principal Subjects,’ and up to 22 points for the short courses.

Get Graded on your Speech and Drama Skills

You can gain points by demonstrating your prowess in speech and drama, from Grade 6 and up. You’ll earn up to 30 points for a distinction at a Grade 8 level. If you want to really push yourself, you can enrol in the LAMDA Level 3 Certificate in Speech & Drama: Performance Studies. In this programme, you’ll hone your dramatic acting skills and work on oration, which will help you in many different careers. You don’t have to be an aspiring actor – you can simply be someone who enjoys getting up on the stage. If you successfully complete the PCertLAM, you’ll gain 24 points.

Demonstrate your mastery of English with the Cambridge ESOL Examinations

If you think you have an extremely high level of English language knowledge, the Certificate of Proficiency in English will earn you 32 UCAS points. The test will assess your reading, writing, listening and speaking abilities. In addition to gaining extra tariff points, preparing for the test will equip you with vital skills that will improve your performance at uni, and help with your oral presentations and essay writing through to the PhD level. You can also take the Certificate in Advanced English, which will give you 42 points if you earn an A-grade.


How to earn extra UCAS points quickly

Are you looking to quickly earn some additional UCAS points to bolster your chances of getting into the uni of your choice? Try the following strategies.[xii]

Online qualifications – These days, there are tons of online courses that can help you boost your knowledge and achieve better marks on your A-levels. To be able to complete your course, all you need is a computer and access to the internet. The qualification is the same – the only difference is the format of study.

Take a community-based course and get points for volunteer work –
Educational charity ASDAN has a few different community-based courses on offer that can help you gain extra UCAS points for volunteer work.[xiii] Look into the CoPE (Certificate of Personal Effectiveness), which allows you to record and develop a number of personal attributes. Completing this course will give you 16 UCAS points over the course of 150 hours (compared to 360 hours for an A-Level). You can also gain a total of 18 points (6 points each) from their three different Wider Skills courses – Improving Your Own Learning and Performance, Working with Others, and Problem Solving.

Have your musical talents assessed – While you might not be able to learn a musical instrument from scratch in a few months, you can get graded on your existing talents! If you have yet to be examined and are above a grade 6, you could earn precious UCAS points that will improve your university chances. It’s a lot to arrange on short notice, but private music tutors can grade you within just a few weeks.

Gain equestrian credit – If you are an avid horseback rider, you can gain credits by taking qualifications offered by the British Horse Society. While they initially designed these qualifications for people who plan on a career in the equestrian world, they are an excellent way for horse lovers to earn extra UCAS points. The BHS offers 32 points for the EQL Level 3 Diploma in BHS Riding Horses, 24 points for the EQL Level 3 Diploma in BHS Horse Knowledge and Care, and 16 points for EQL Level 3 Certificate in BHS Preliminary Teaching of Horse Riding. You can also earn 8 points each for Horse Knowledge and Care, Horse Knowledge, Care and Riding, and BHS Level 3 Preliminary Teacher’s Certificate (Equine Coach).

Earn extra points by dancing! – Did you know that being ‘light on your toes’ can actually help you to earn some extra UCAS points? It’s true – several accredited organisations, including the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, the British Ballet Organisation, the British Theatre Dance Association, and the Royal Academy of Dance, all offer graded dance qualifications. You can earn up to a maximum a total of 20 points for a Distinction at the Grade 8 level.

UCAS points in Conclusion

Now that you understand how UCAS points work, it’s time to start thinking about how you can ensure that you earn enough of them to meet your offer condition. Remember, if your preferred offer is conditional, you should seek to add an insurance offer to your UCAS profile.

It’s also important to note that the UCAS point system was fully restructured in 2017. That means that a lot of the information out there is outdated and includes the older point tariffs. Make sure you’re looking at the right point tariffs before you start planning your strategy to earn the total that you need.

It’s always a good idea to plan to earn more UCAS points than you think you will need. That way, if you do not achieve the grades you are hoping for, you will still have enough tariff points to accept any conditional offers.

Good luck, and happy studying!

Extended reading resource:-

Reference list

Arts Award (2020a). Gold Arts Award – Arts Award. [online] www.artsaward.org.uk. Available at: https://www.artsaward.org.uk/site/?id=67#:~:text=Gold%20Arts%20Award%20is%20a [Accessed 18 Aug. 2020].

Arts Award (2020b). Gold Arts Award UCAS FAQ – Arts Award. [online] www.artsaward.org.uk. Available at: https://www.artsaward.org.uk/site/?id=2129 [Accessed 18 Aug. 2020]

BBC Bitesize (2020). What is Clearing? [online] BBC Bitesize. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/z4rncqt#:~:text=Clearing%20is%20a%20system%20that [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].

Ellett, P. (2018). Ucas Tariff: everything you need to know about Ucas points – The Uni Guide. [online] www.theuniguide.co.uk. Available at: https://www.theuniguide.co.uk/advice/ucas-application/new-ucas-tariff-everything-you-need-to-know [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].

Oliver, C. (2019). UCAS points. [online] www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk. Available at: https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/student-advice/applying-to-uni/ucas-points [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].

Maples, B. (2012). Retaking A Levels. [online] Universitycompare.com. Available at: https://universitycompare.com/advice/a-levels/retaking-a-levels/#:~:text=When%20can%20I%20retake%20my [Accessed 20 Aug. 2020].

Oxford Royale Academy (2017). 10 Brilliant Ways to Get More UCAS Points. [online] Oxford Royale Academy. Available at: https://www.oxford-royale.com/articles/10-ways-more-ucas-points/#aId=8d0c3a3f-960e-44dc-b49c-06178eada86b [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].

Poltawski, L. (2002). Accreditation of Prior Learning. University of Gloucestershire. [online] 88(7), p.448. Available at: https://www.glos.ac.uk/docs/download/Apply/how-to-apply-for-apl.pdf [Accessed 20 Aug. 2020].

Success at School (2020). How to get extra UCAS points through volunteering. [online] successatschool.org. Available at: https://successatschool.org/advicedetails/153/How-to-get-extra-UCAS-points-through-volunteering [Accessed 18 Aug. 2020].

Target Careers (2019). Results day tales: getting into university if you didn’t get the grades | TARGETcareers. [online] targetcareers.co.uk. Available at: https://targetcareers.co.uk/uni/applying-for-uni/313865-results-day-tales-getting-into-university-if-you-didnt-get-the-grades [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].

Tutorful (2020). UCAS: Deadlines and 3 Genius Ways to Get Extra UCAS Points: A Complete University Application Guide: More Offers, Less Stress. [online] tutorful.co.uk. Available at: https://tutorful.co.uk/guides/a-complete-university-application-guide-more-offers-no-more-stress/ucas-deadlines-tariff-points-and-3-genius-ways-to-get-additional-ucas-points [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].

UCAS (2020). Latest from the blogs. [online] UCAS. Available at: https://www.ucas.com/connect/blogs/replying-offers-%E2%80%93-your-questions-answered#:~:text=Insurance%3A%20this%20is%20the%20choice [Accessed 20 Aug. 2020].

UCAS (2018). UCAS. [online] UCAS. Available at: https://www.ucas.com/ucas/tariff-calculator [Accessed 20 Aug. 2020].

UCAS (2014). UCAS Undergraduate entry requirements. [online] UCAS. Available at: https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/what-and-where-study/ucas-undergraduate-entry-requirements [Accessed 14 Aug. 2020].


[i] https://www.theuniguide.co.uk/advice/ucas-application/new-ucas-tariff-everything-you-need-to-know

[ii] https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/student-advice/applying-to-uni/ucas-points

[iii] https://www.ucas.com/ucas/tariff-calculator

[iv] https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/what-and-where-study/ucas-undergraduate-entry-requirements

[v] https://www.glos.ac.uk/docs/download/Apply/how-to-apply-for-apl.pdf

[vi] https://www.ucas.com/connect/blogs/replying-offers-%E2%80%93-your-questions-answered


[viii] https://universitycompare.com/advice/a-levels/retaking-a-levels/#:~:text=When%20can%20I%20retake%20my

[ix] https://www.oxford-royale.com/articles/10-ways-more-ucas-points/#aId=8d0c3a3f-960e-44dc-b49c-06178eada86b

[x] https://www.artsaward.org.uk/site/?id=67#:~:text=Gold%20Arts%20Award%20is%20a,points%20on%20the%20UCAS%20tariff.

[xi] https://www.artsaward.org.uk/site/?id=2129

[xii] https://tutorful.co.uk/guides/a-complete-university-application-guide-more-offers-no-more-stress/ucas-deadlines-tariff-points-and-3-genius-ways-to-get-additional-ucas-points#three-genius-ways-to-get-extra-ucas-points

[xiii] https://successatschool.org/advicedetails/153/How-to-get-extra-UCAS-points-through-volunteering

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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