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Higher Education

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Thanks to Sara Kernohan for compiling this page; please add your own links and tips.

UCAS is the organisation that processes applications to study full-time courses at universities and colleges in the UK.  They also aim to help students make informed choices by guiding them through the entire higher education application process.   Find out more on the UCAS website.

Most home - educated young people who want to continue studying to go a college or sixth form school at 16+. However, a few study at home and apply to university direct from home - ed. That is the focus of this page.

If you are aiming for university, you will need to be studying for level 3 qualifications or courses. These will most commonly be A-levels, but some home - educated students take Open University courses or study for American SATs. There are many vocational qualifications such as Btecs and NVQs which are available at college, but you cannot normally study for these from home education because they are based on continuous assessment. There are a few exceptions in IT but, while it is fairly easy to find companies keen to sell courses, we have not yet heard from anyone who has successfully completed this route.

If you are over 18 then you have the option of Access Courses too. You may find the following pages on this wiki helpful :

American SATs for UK University Entry

Adult education - options at 18+ including Access courses.

[1] from home education.

Filling out the UCAS form Edit

Key dates for applications and clearing can be found on the UCAS site.

Sign up for the UCAS Parents Newsletter here.

The UCAS form can be complicated, but there is plenty of help available via the HE Exams networks and the UCAS helplines:

"We had a UCAS rep at the Learn Free Conference in May. She was absolutely lovely, and so pleased to be made aware of the challenges home educators face when navigating the UCASapplication forms and requirements. She said that they are really there to facilitate each applicant, and have help lines you can call for queries like this."

The UCAS online form requires you to enter your previous qualifications and the school/college you were attending when you took them.

Q: My son was home ed for all his IGCSEs, then went to college. The exam centre we used "doesn't come up on the list", presumably because it was not a school. Can anyone advise on how he can correctly indicate that he was home educated for IGCSE? A: There is an option something like, 'my school is not listed' or 'other' select this and type in 'Home Education' in the box. There will be a warning which says 'Centre number has not been entered. If the search facility does not have a centre number you can leave it blank. The warning message will remain.' You can just ignore this and fill in the exams he took when home educated, you don't put in the centre where he sat the exams.

Advice for Home Educated Applicants from Unis Edit

A few UK universities have specific guidance for home-educated applicants on their websites. Please do leave a comment if you know of any others.

Manchester University - advice for home-educated applicants

Non-standard educational routes eg home-schooled students
If you have followed a non-standard educational route, eg you have been educated at home, your application will be considered against the standard entry criteria of the course for which you are applying. You will be required to demonstrate that you meet the specified academic entry requirements of the course. We will also require a reference from somebody who knows you well enough, in an official capacity, to write about you and your suitability for higher education.

Oxford University: Home Educated Applicants

Does Oxford accept home schooled applicants?
Oxford University welcomes applications from students from any background, including those who have been home educated. However, you will still need to meet our entrance requirements for your application to be considered. We ask for A*A*A to AAA at A-level depending on the course. We also accept a wide range of other qualifications, including the International Baccalaureate and US SATs and APs.
It goes on to explain how to register for entrance tests if you are not in a school, and has some guidance on UCAS references.

King's College, Cambridge - Home Educated Applicants. Home-educated applicants have to meet the same entrance requirements as everyone else, but this page talks you through the applications process and provides additional information. If you have not taken 6 GCSEs in the 3 years before applying, you will need to submit a transcript. If you are considering spacing out A-levels, you will need to show that you can handle the workload of three full A-levels in one year.

UCAS RefereesEdit

Your UCAS referee cannot be a relative, but they do not have to be a teacher, either. Home educated applicants have had referees including:

  • Tutors
  • Distance learning tutor
  • Local Authority Home Education officer
  • Part-time employer

UCAS advice on choosing referees:

UCAS says:

If possible, [the referee] should be someone who knows you academically and can talk about your work ethic, interaction with other students and your suitability for higher education or a future career.

  • In a current or recent school or college, ask your tutor, teacher, principal or head teacher.
  • If you left education years ago, ask an employer, volunteering supervisor or trainer.
  • Don’t ask family, friends, partners or ex-partners though – if you do your application may be cancelled.

Applying as an individual?

  1. In ‘Options’ on the reference page you could ‘ask a registered school, college or centre to write a reference’ – contact them first, and if they’re happy to provide a reference, add their details and buzzword here.
  2. Alternatively, if a tutor, trainer or employer is happy to provide a reference, add their email and phone number to the reference page of your application, then click ‘Ask referee to complete reference.’ We’ll email them a link and password to the reference page, and we’ll ask them to confirm their identity before writing it – so it’s important your referee provides a direct email address (not a generic auto-response address), and that they understand the reference must be done online and not emailed or on paper.
  3. Please give your referee plenty of time to complete your reference, and if they need any advice there are instructions in the reference request email, there’s help text on the reference page and there’s guidance on how to write references below.
  4. Keep in touch with your referee to make sure the reference is completed in time, and then you’ll be able to pay your application fee and send your application to us.

UCAS : How to write a reference - advice for your referee.

Oxford uni advises home-educated applicants:

The key issue which home-schooled candidates find most problematic is the UCAS reference. We require a referee to comment impartially on your academic ability and potential to thrive at Oxford, so it can’t be a member of your family. You should think carefully about who would be qualified and suitable for this.
Oxford University: Writing a teacher's reference could be useful if your referees have not done this task before.

Referees: comments from some home educators Edit

"We called UCAS. They said they would accept an academic reference, a work reference or a reference from a professional who knows her well."

"We used the school which gave some tutoring for GCSEs. They confirmed predicted grades and that was about it. Worked as he received offers from all 5 unis."

"Are you known to your LA? Our EHE officer wrote a fantastic reference for the UCAS application."

Family A:

"On my children's, the referee stated that she believed them to have the capabilities to complete the course, be an asset to the university and to future employers, that they are conscientious and hard working, are aware of the level work that is required of them for university, they submit work on time, and that being home educated has the advantage of them having already developed research skills and to be self motivated. "

Family D:

"We only used distance learning for Chemistry and Physics practicals (Pembrokeshire college). They wouldn’t have been much use if we had been relying on them alone for the reference, and they definitely said that they wouldn’t predict grades for subjects which she wasn’t doing with them (maths and further maths).

For the reference, my daughter was working 1 day per week at a local engineering company, so we asked her boss to write it. I collected together all the things which I thought should contribute to it, to give her boss a well rounded picture of her and to make the task as easy as possible for him. I included a paragraph provided by the physics tutor who had done the practicals at Pembrokeshire college. I also supplied copies of her IGCSE and AS level certificates to date and my estimation of what grades she would achieve. (She had got all A*s at IGCSE and almost all A*s in her AS modules up until then, so it was realistic to predict A* grades.) Her boss included something in his reference along the lines of... “given her outstanding academic achievements to date, I predict....”

"Her boss gave her a draft copy of the reference for her approval before it was sent off."

Family H:

"She applied to university, but a problem arose – the only person who could write an academic reference was me (as her only GCSE and A level teacher), but of course the UCAS rules prevented me, as a relative, from doing so.  We asked the universities what to do and they didn’t know, so referred us to UCAS.  We asked UCAS what to do, and they didn’t know, so referred us to the universities.  Finally we wrote directly to Mary Curnock Cook, the CEO of UCAS, and she was very helpful (you can see why she is the CEO!)"

"At her suggestion we asked her Duke of Edinburgh award leader to write the UCAS reference (this was of course not an academic reference), but to explain that I was her only teacher, so I would be submitting a second reference direct to each university, which they could accept of ignore as they wished.  All 5 accepted it."

Family K:

"We used references from Wolsey Hall who were very helpful and tried to use NEC who were not so helpful. To be fair, part of this was our fault as we were fast tracking A levels and so the tutor did not have enough written work to go on. Wolsey Hall tutors spoke to each other to share information about performance and create a reference. They couldn't have been more helpful. They also provided information about predicted grades that UCAS required."

Personal StatementsEdit

You can Google writing a personal statement but here are a few links to get you started.

Help on writing a personal statement can also be found on the UCAS website here:

UCAS: Writing your personal statement

CIFE: How to write a good UCAS personal statement

Which: 10 things to put in your personal statement

Are my GCSEs good enough for university? Edit

Often, home-educated children will take fewer GCSEs/IGCSEs than school children, and may spread them out over several years. This is not usually a problem for university applications as they are more interested in your A-level grades or predictions. It is important that your university application makes clear that your GCSEs were taken from home education, even if you attended college for A-levels. In many ways, taking exams from home education is more of a challenge than it would be at school, because most people don't have access to specialist teachers. The fact that you were home educated at this point is 'contextual information' about your GCSE grades which the university may wish to consider.

Cambridge University now requires UK students to submit a transcript if you have not taken 6 (I)GCSEs in the 3 years before applying:

For 2018 entry Colleges will normally require transcripts only for applicants who have not taken six or more GCSEs, or five or more Scottish National Qualifications, in the last three years...
By transcript we mean a record of your academic achievement to date in your high school/college examinations, usually for the previous year of your study. ..We would like to be provided with your teachers’ assessment of your academic performance to date.
We strongly prefer to have the fullest possible information available to us in order to conduct a fair and holistic assessment.
Please do NOT include references, detailed project work or any non-academic achievements.
It is not clear exactly what this would mean for home-educated students who do not use tutors; you may need to contact them for clarification, but if your GCSEs were spread out over a wider period, presumably you would list those on the transcript with a note explaining your reasons for taking this approach. A sample transcript is available on the above page.

Cambridge University Applications - The Facts - Cambridge has no blanket requirements for GCSEs, and will take your educational background into account:

There are no GCSE requirements for entry to Cambridge. Applicants have generally achieved high grades in subjects relevant to their chosen course, and most students who apply have at least four or five As or A*s at GCSE. However, there are always exceptions and one of the strengths of the Cambridge admissions system is its ability to assess all applicants individually.
Our research shows that post-16 examination performance is a much better predictor of degree success at Cambridge. While GCSE results are looked at as a performance indicator, this is within the context of the school/college performance and strong performance in Years 12 and 13 can make up for a less stellar performance at GCSE.
How important are GCSE grades when applying to university? From The Guardian. Notes that under-performance at GCSE should not stop you aiming high for university, as long as you explain why the grades do not represent your potential. There are some GCSEs which are requirements for specific courses, and most universities will require at least maths and English GCSEs.

Which? University - How important are your GCSE grades? - a career-related degree may have subject-specific entry requirements. eg for teaching or nursing you will need GCSEs in at least English, maths and a science for primary teaching. They emphasise that GCSE grades are used an indicator of how you're likely to do at A-level: "Because of the assumed connection between your GCSE and A-level results, it’ll be down to you to prove you’re able to achieve top grades. Bs and Cs at GCSE are suggestive of Cs and Ds at A-level – which won’t be enough to get into some universities.".

General Higher Education Advice Edit

Unistats: The official website for comparing UK higher education course data. This includes official data for undergraduate courses on each university and college's satisfaction scores in the National Student Survey, jobs and salaries after study and other key information for prospective students.

Funding Edit






Also look at  for scholarships.  A useful tip is to ensure your son or daughter applies for student finance before their exam results are announced and their place confirmed – they will then have the money in place when the term starts.

Regarding repayments – Your son or daughter will only start repaying their student loan when they have left university or college, and are earning over the income threshold.

The amount they will pay back each month is dependent on how much they’re earning.

•             In England and Wales the repayment threshold is currently £21,000.

•             In N.Ireland and Scotland the repayment threshold is £17,335.

•             The loan is written off after 30 years or 35 years in Scotland.

More about student finance at

School Leaver Programmes and ApprenticeshipsEdit

The National Apprenticeship Scheme as an alternative to University.

Become an apprentice.

The cost to you of becoming a higher apprentice.

All About School Leavers : Lots of useful information here with plenty of links taking you on in a variety of directions.  Get your child to sign up for the newsletter too.

Gap YearEdit

Look at organisations who provide customers with gap year experiences along with qualifications such as BTEC.  Ie Frontier  Make sure your research reviews of these companies carefully to check that they are safe to use.

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