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What should I know about starting university?

Banner made up of photos of students.

Students will begin university towards the end of September. If your son or daughter is leaving home, they will be given a few days before the start of term to settle into their accommodation and make new friends. Universities stage lots of events during the first two weeks of term (Freshers’ Fortnight) to encourage students to make friends and join clubs and societies. An introduction to the course will be provided by course tutors to help prepare students for the studies which lie ahead. The following diary will give you an idea of a student’s research, application and enrolment timetable starting at the beginning of Year 12 and continuing right through to attending the first few weeks of university.

February to June (Year 12)

Students research university choices, attend Open Days and Higher Education Fairs. Schools/colleges receive information from UCAS for the students — i.e. guidelines, application forms/software etc.

September 1st

UCAS begin to receive applications for the following year’s entry to a course.

October 15th (Year 13)

Closing date for applications to Oxford or Cambridge, and for all medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine or veterinary science courses.

January 15th

Closing date for main cycle applications to all other university courses.  Applications arriving after this date will be marked "late".

Mid March

UCAS Extra starts (see UCAS website for details of this late application system).

June 30th

Last date UCAS can receive ‘late’ application forms.


A-level and equivalent exam results are published. Students who have met the conditions of their offer will have a place and will automatically receive information from the university. Students who do not get the results for either their first or second choice university will automatically enter Clearing. Students will also enter Clearing if they are not holding any offers. Clearing is a UCAS service that helps students find a place on a university course which may still have vacancies once exam results are known. See UCAS website for details. Vacancies are listed on the UCAS website starting on the day that A-level results are published. Vacancies are also listed in newspapers and on individual university websites.

It is helpful if students are around during the results period in August. Should they not get the grades they were hoping for they may need to phone around universities. Sometimes Admissions Tutors will perform telephone interviews with students and can give any remaining places to students at this time. They may even ask students to go along to the university so that they can meet them.

Early September

It may be an idea to collect a few useful presents for your son or daughter to take with them to university. We asked some students at Cardiff University what items they enjoyed/found useful when they left home for the first time and settled into life at university. (This list is optional!)

  • Collection of family photographs
  • Stationery (folders, notebooks, post-it notes, blue tak)
  • Hand wash liquid
  • Bottle of wine/beer and two glasses (to make friends!)
  • Corkscrew
  • Radiator rail
  • Linen basket
  • Mobile phone top up card
  • Toiletries
  • Posters

Late September

University courses begin and students will have been given dates for arriving at the university. The first two weeks at university are called ‘freshers fortnight’. Universities hold lots of events during these two weeks of term to encourage students to make friends and join clubs and societies. During the first week, students will enrol on to their course and will attend introductory lectures. They will also receive their timetable for the rest of the term.

Useful facts

The closing date for medicine, dentistry, science/medical applications and all applications to Oxford and Cambridge is 15 October.

The closing date for all other applications is 15 January.

All universities provide support and advice for students from a variety of backgrounds on a wide range of matters including; academic issues, finance, students with disabilities or with children, international students.

Example timetable of a student studying BSc Information Systems:

Please note that timetables will vary depending on the course.  Science courses will also have laboratory sessions included. Many students will stay in and around the university during weekends. A student's typical weekend may consist of a mixture of academic work and social activities: shopping trip into town; meeting friends for coffee; group project work meeting; cinema/theatre trip; cook Sunday lunch for house/flat mates; washing clothes: preparing for the week ahead etc.