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How should I choose my five courses?

On your UCAS form, you can apply to up to five courses. Read on to find out about how to use these choices strategically!


Consider your grades

Different university courses will have different grade requirements for entry.

As such, it is important to look at the entry requirements for courses in light of your predicted grades and feedback from teachers about what is realistic for you to attain. This will help you to be realistic and to avoid putting too much pressure on yourself.

Note also that universities increasingly make ‘contextual offers’ on the basis of your circumstances and your school’s academic profile — you may be eligible for a reduced offer.


Aim high

We encourage applicants to be ambitious in their choices of university.

However, top universities, particularly Oxbridge, LSE and Imperial, are highly competitive; there is no guarantee of success, even for applicants with perfect predicted and past grades. As a result, you should make sure that you have other options among your five choices that you have a more reliable chance of receiving an offer from.

Note also that you can’t pick both Oxford and Cambridge.


Include a range

It is good to ensure that your chosen courses have a mixture of grade requirements, rather than picking five courses which all have identical entry standards.

You can think of your five choices as covering:

  • 1 aspirational: a competitive course; it is difficult to achieve an offer

  • 2-3 achievable: courses that are realistically within reach in light of your predicted grades

  • 1-2 safe: a course that acts as a back-up plan, e.g. if you do not achieve the grades you are aiming for

This will also mean that at least one of your choices could be a possible ‘insurance choice’ for if you miss the grades of your first choice.


Use all five choices

As part of this strategy, we highly recommend filling in all five UCAS choices.

Even if you have your heart set on one or two universities, or you plan to reapply next year if you don’t achieve your aspirational choice, there is no harm in keeping your options open.

It is also worth mentioning that the five universities you apply to will not know your order of preference. You decide later once you have received your offers which will be your first choice and your (optional) insurance choice.


Medical subjects

For Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine, the UCAS process is slightly different. Only four out of your five UCAS choices can be for medical courses.

For these highly competitive course, it is even more important that you fill in all of these choices to improve your chances; successful applicants typically receive just one of their four choices.

However, you can then use the fifth choice for a different course, which may provide a useful back-up option. You may like to choose something in a related field, such as Biomedicine, Pharmacy, Pharmacology, or an Allied Health course. You could even choose a completely unrelated course if you prefer.


Choose similar courses

It is possible to apply for different subjects at different universities. However, bear in mind that (for the present) applicants still submit the same UCAS Personal Statement for all five of their choices.

  • For example: if you wanted to apply for PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) at Oxford, this combination is not offered by all universities. For your other choices, it might make sense to apply to courses that include one or some of these subjects (e.g. Politics and Philosophy, Politics and International Relations, or Politics and Economics).

  • Depending on your specific academic interests and the topics you refer to on your Personal Statement, you may be able to apply to different subjects at different universities. For instance, if you are interested in the human side of Geography, there may be sufficient overlaps with Economics or Land Economy.

  • Different universities may use different course titles for the same subject area: e.g. ‘Geology’, ‘Earth Sciences’, or ‘Natural Sciences (Earth Sciences pathway)’.

The courses you choose should be similar enough that your Personal Statement still makes sense for all of them, since it should be focused on expressing genuine passion for the subject content.


Speak to one of our Advisors

If you would like more help with refining your five choices or working out what is realistic for you, our Universities Team would be delighted to speak with you and offer our guidance. Get in touch with us today at

— Megan Bowler  |  Universities Consultant