A Guide to UCAS Points

Deciding what you want to do when you leave secondary school can be an exciting, yet also daunting, prospect. You might decide that you’re ready to enter the world of work and start earning money straight away. You may wish to take a gap year to travel overseas before continuing with your studies. Or, you could be one of the 729,000 university applicants trying to wrap their heads around UCAS Tariff points and tuition fees, because you can’t wait to take the next step in student life.

Whether you dream of having a high-flying career in law or politics or you see yourself as the director of a successful marketing company in a few years’ time, studying the right course at a good university is the best way to make it happen. But where you study and what course you do often comes down to how many UCAS points you have.

Understanding Tariff points isn’t easy and there are many things you need to be aware of when it comes to applying to university. That’s why we’ve written this guide, which aims to provide you with all the necessary information you need to ensure you have the correct number of UCAS Tariff points to be accepted onto the course you’ve got your heart set on.

How do UCAS points work?

In 2001, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) established the UCAS Tariff to allocate points to Level 3 (also known as post-16) qualifications, so that universities and colleges can compare applicants more easily.

The grades students achieve in qualifications like A-levels, Scottish Highers, Welsh and Internationals Baccalaureates and BTEC Level 3 National Diplomas are converted into points, which also allows for more flexibility over grade combinations. With a grade-based offer, students have to acquire a certain combination of grades, but with a UCAS points offer, they can use any combination of grades to meet the required number of points.

Read on to find out more about the UCAS Tariff, and work out how many UCAS points you’ve got and how you can boost them. We’ll also cover what your options are if you don’t have enough points for your desired course.

Do all universities use UCAS Tariff points?

Despite the UCAS points system making it easier to compare candidates, not all universities and colleges use the tariff, preferring to make offers based on grades instead.

Of those that do use UCAS points, some will limit the number of qualifications they’ll accept tariff points from, so it’s possible that not all your points will count.

You should also be aware that some qualifications won’t be counted by a university or college at all, meaning any tariff points you have for those qualifications could be excluded.

Plus, if content is duplicated across two or more qualifications – for example, a Diploma in childcare and a certificate in childcare – it’s likely you’ll only receive points for the highest level achieved. This applies to the grade scoring system, too.

It’s important to understand that UCAS points aren’t given to all qualifications – especially international qualifications – however that doesn’t mean universities and colleges using the UCAS Tariff points system won’t consider them.

How to work out how many UCAS points you have

UCAS Tariff points are allocated to Level 3 qualifications in England and Level 6 qualifications in Scotland. They don’t apply to qualifications like GCSEs.

The points are worked out by giving each qualification a size band value from one to four, depending on how many hours the course takes to complete, and multiplying it by a number between three and 14, which is used to represent the grade awarded.

UCAS points calculator

To find out how many points you have, you can use the UCAS Tariff calculator. Alternatively, the tables below show you how to convert some of the most common qualifications into UCAS points.

UCAS points for A-levels

AS-levels

Grade UCAS points
A 20
B 16
C 12
D 10
E 6

A2-levels

Grade UCAS points
A* 56
A 48
B 40
C 32
D 24
E 16

(Note: To calculate your total number of A-level points, you don’t combine your AS and A2 scores; you only count your final grade at A2-level.)

UCAS points for Scottish Highers

Scottish Highers

Grade UCAS points
A 33
B 27
C 21
D 15

Advanced Highers

Grade UCAS points
A 56
B 48
C 40
D 32

(Note: Again, you don’t combine your Highers and Advanced Highers scores; you only count your final grade at Advanced Highers level.)

UCAS points for Welsh Baccalaureate
Grade UCAS points
A* 56
A 48
B 40
C 32
D 24
E 16
UCAS points for Internationals Baccalaureate
Grade UCAS points
H7 56
H6 48
H5 32
H4 24
H3 12
H2 0
H1 0
UCAS points for BTEC Level 3 National Diploma
Grade UCAS points
D*D* 112
D*D 104
DD 96
DM 80
MM 64
MP 48
PP 32

How has the UCAS Tariff system changed in recent years?

In 2017, a new UCAS Tariff was introduced to clarify how points are allocated and to include BTECs, due to an increase in the number of students taking vocational qualifications.

The tariff points under the new system are now much lower. For example, where an A-level grade A* was worth 140 UCAS points, it’s now worth just 56 points.

It isn’t any harder or easier to get into your chosen university or college under the new UCAS points system, it’s just that the entry requirements have been scaled down to use lower numbers.

How many UCAS points do I need to study my chosen course?

How many UCAS points you need depends on which university or college you’re applying to, what subject you want to study and the course you want to enrol in.

Each course has its own specific requirements, which could include the following:

  • A specific number of UCAS points or specific grades in certain post-16 qualifications, such as A-levels, AS-levels, Scottish Highers, Advanced Highers, Baccalaureates and Diplomas
  • Pre-16 qualifications in subjects like GCSE maths and English
  • An admissions test, taken up to a year in advance
  • An interview to check whether you’re a good fit for the course
  • Additional checks to do with finance and health or checks like Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

Sometimes, universities and colleges will give additional consideration to students who have faced hurdles or challenges, and if you’ve been out of education for a few years, you could receive credit for your training, work or self-study through the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) programme.

If you’re unsure about what you need to achieve to be accepted, you can check the entry requirements for your chosen institute here.

How can I get more UCAS points?

If you find you haven’t got enough UCAS Tariff points to study your chosen course, there are lots of ways in which you can boost your score. You can gain UCAS points by doing one or more of the following:

  • Additional AS-levels and A-levels: Although most offers are based on three A-levels, some students choose to take four, or even five. Each extra A* A-level adds 56 points to your UCAS score.
  • An online qualification: If you can manage the extra work, a Level 3 Diploma, Certificate or Award can give you at least 30 more Tariff points. If you think doing an entire Diploma will be too much, a Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (CoPE) will earn you 16 extra UCAS points, while an Award gives you an additional eight.
  • An online course: There are plenty of online courses available to help you to achieve better A-level grades – which would mean more tariff points.
  • A Cambridge Pre-U qualification: You can earn up to 56 UCAS Tariff points if you take a full course in a “Principle Subject”, but even shorter courses will give you up to 22 extra points. Another reason for taking one of these courses alongside your A-level studies is that they are recognised internationally – even by American Ivy League universities.
  • A Free-standing Mathematics Qualification: This is ideal for students who are not studying maths at A-level but want to demonstrate their skills in the subject. You’ll gain 20 extra UCAS points if you achieve a Grade A.
  • A Certificate in English: International students can get extra points for mastering English. The Certificate of Proficiency in English can boost your UCAS Tariff score by 32 points, while the Certificate in Advanced English can give you up to 42 extra UCAS points.
  • Volunteer work: Community-based courses from an organisation like ASDAN (Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network) can earn you up to 50 extra Tariff points.
  • Utilise your skills as a musician: If you already play a musical instrument well, you can get graded on your skills and turn your talent into UCAS Tariff points.
  • Utilise your skills as a dancer: There are several accredited organisations, including the Royal Academy of Dance and the British Theatre Dance Association, which offer graded qualifications that can earn you up to 20 UCAS Tariff points.
  • Utilise your drama skills: A distinction at Grade 8 will earn you up to 30 UCAS points, with the LAMDA Level 3 Certificate in Speech and Drama: Performance Studies giving you an extra 24.
  • Utilise your horse riding skills: The British Horse Society offers qualifications that can see your UCAS Tariff points boosted by 32 for the EQL Level 3 Diploma in BHS Riding Horses, 24 for the EQL Level 3 Diploma in BHS Horse Knowledge and Care, and 16 for the EQL Level 3 Certificate in BHS Preliminary Teaching of Horse Riding. You’ll get an additional eight UCAS Tariff points for subjects like Horse Knowledge or Horse Care and Riding.

What are my options if I don’t have enough UCAS points?

There are some things you can do if you still don’t have enough UCAS points to get into your chosen university – so don’t give up just yet.

Here are some of the things you can do if you find yourself in this position:

  • Contact your university as soon as you find out your grades. If you weren’t far off getting the required grades, there’s a chance your university will honour your conditional offer.
  • Failing that, you can choose your insurance offer. You’re allowed a back-up choice, if your first offer is a conditional one.
  • You can also go through the clearing system. This is where applicants with no offers are matched to universities that have extra spaces. Clearing spaces are taken and rejected quickly, so remember to ring round your chosen universities regularly. Be prepared to make a quick decision, as you could be offered a space immediately.
  • Consider resitting your exams. You’ll have to defer your offer for a year while you do your resits, but this can give you life experience through work or travel before you take the next step with your education.
  • Taking a gap year also gives you the opportunity to gain more UCAS points. Depending on how many more you earn, you could even get an offer from a better university than the one you originally hoped for.

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