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University jargon buster

It may sound obvious, but rule one of the university application process is 'if in doubt ask'!

The education process is ever changing - careers advisors, tutors and higher education staff have a tough enough time keeping track of changes and reforms as it is - so we do understand how a sudden influx of information can be overwhelming.


Some students will pass their exams with better results than expected, which sometimes means that not only have they met the condition of their firm choice but they will have exceeded them.

Those applicants can enter a period of adjustment which allows them to reconsider where and which course they may wish to study.

BA, BSc, FdA, FdSc, PGCert, PGDip, PGCE, MA, MSc, MRes, MPhil, EdD, PhD

Classifications of degree in universities within the UK that can be studied at St Mary's:

  • BA: Bachelor of Arts
  • BSc: Bachelor of Sciences
  • FdA: Foundation Degree
  • FdSc: Foundation Degree Sciences
  • PGCert: Postgraduate Certificate
  • PGDip: Postgraduate Diploma
  • PGCE: Postgraduate Certificate in Education
  • MA: Master of Arts
  • MSc: Master of Sciences
  • MRes: Master of Research
  • MPhil: Master of Philosophy
  • EdD: Doctorate in Education
  • PhD: Doctor of Philosophy


Clearing is the process offered by UCAS to advertise places on courses to students where there are still vacancies. This system operates directly after students receive their A level results (or equivalent). 

Clearing is normally used by students if they have not got the grades/marks required by the university/higher education institution they want to go to. However, this process can also be used to allow last minute applications to different institutions or for students who have done better than expected when they received their results.

Degree Grading System

There are four grade boundaries at university level:

First Class Degree - This is the highest degree level. In order to achieve this grade, you must achieve at least 70% in your work.

2:1 Degree - This is the second highest degree level. In order to achieve this grade, you must achieve at least 60% in your work.

Second Class Degree - This is the next grade boundary  down from a 2:1. To achieve this grade, you must achieve at least 50% in your work.

Third Class Degree - This is the next grade boundary below the second class degree. To achieve this grade, you must achieve at least 40% in your work.

NOTE: To be accepted onto a postgraduate degree, most universities will accept a 2:1 or first class degree.

Firm offer and insurance offer

When universities have offered a prospective student a place at their institution it is up to the student to accept one firm and one insurance offer.

The firm choice becomes their first choice and the insurance offer is chosen in case for whatever reason the applicant does not meet the condition of the firm offer.

Foundation Degree

This degree is typically at level 4 and 5. It can be topped up to gain the full undergraduate degree classification.

NOTE: This is different to a Foundation Year. For more information, please refer to the Foundation Year section.

Foundation Year

If you have not been in education for a while or did not get the grades needed to study an undergraduate degree then a Foundation Year allows you to study your subject of interest at a lower level to the Undergraduate degree.

This helps to prepare students for the workload and expectation of the undergraduate degree.

Joint honours degree

Two subjects studied at degree level at the same time form a Joint honours degree. Students often choose to study a joint honours degree if they have an equal interest in two subject areas.

For example, if a student chooses to study English and History at St Mary’s University, their time spent on each subject area will be split across lectures and tutorials equally until they reach a time where they may want to specialise in one of the subjects and spend less time on the other (often known as majoring and minoring).

Alternatively the student may wish to carry on studying both subjects at an equal level throughout their three years of study.

Level 4, 5 and 6

There are three levels of study within an Undergraduate degree:

Level 4 - This is the next level up from an A Level qualification and is typically the entry level of an undergraduate degree.

Level 5 - This is the next level up from level 4. In your second year of an undergraduate degree, you will be studying at this level. This level also includes foundation degrees.

Level 6 - In your third year of an undergraduate degree, you will be studying at this level. Level 6 qualifications include degree with honours and an ordinary degree without honours.

For more information please refer to the website 


Degree programmes are normally made up of smaller units of study called ‘modules’. They are often sub sections of your overall degree title, for example when studying an English degree you may study a module entitled ‘History of the English Language’.

The modular system is designed to give more flexibility when choosing the way you wish to study your degree. Modules can last varying amounts of time and earn different amounts towards a final mark. For example, some modules may last for two semesters in one year and lead to a higher percentage of your overall mark than a module that lasts one semester.


This term refers to all of the degree classifications above undergraduate, including Masters, PhD and EdD.

For more information, please refer to the Degree Classification section.


Whereas most secondary school years are three terms, a university year is divided into two semesters.

Single honours degree

When one subject is studied at degree level. In some cases students are able to pick up modules from other subjects to support single honours study and create more flexibility.

Tariff or points

UCAS has a tariff system (more commonly known as UCAS points), which allows qualifications to be converted into points (e.g. an A at A Level is worth 48 points) and then added together to give a total that can be used as a requirement to get into a course (a course may require 104 points, for example).

The UCAS Tariff now attempts to cover all UK qualifications and some international qualifications. Entry requirements may sometimes be expressed in terms of points, but also identify specific subjects that are also required.

UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service)

The central organisation for processing higher education applications in the UK. Universities and colleges in the UK are members of UCAS which means students have to apply for undergraduate degrees through UCAS. 

Applicants submit a single application via the UCAS website with a list of up to five courses for which they are applying. Choices are not listed in preference order. All five choices are confidential during the application process so universities and colleges considering an application cannot see any of the candidate's other choices.

Applications must be completed by the middle of the January of the year that the student wishes to start university. However schools and colleges set their own timescales so that references can be written and applications sent off as early as possible. This means that students need to have their draft application completed by late October. It is always worth asking with your son or daughter’s school or college to check what deadlines they are setting. All UCAS applications are now made online and are often completed through a series of workshops timetabled into the summer term of year 12 and the autumn term of year 13.

UCAS Extra

If a student applies to UCAS for a place in Higher Education and finds themselves without the offer of a place, UCAS Extra enables them to have an additional choice through UCAS. This means students do not have to wait until 'clearing' to continue to find a place. This procedure operates from late February to June for universities with vacancies. Universities have a short time to consider the application and will either make an offer or reject the application. If a student is rejected they can continue to make applications (a maximum of 3) until June.


If you have never completed a degree before then this is the entry level degree category. Typically these degrees last three years.

However, some can be completed within two years - this is what's known as an 'Accelerated degree'.

Validation and revalidation

We have robust internal approval procedures to ensure that our programmes of study offer a high quality student academic experience.

There are two approval procedures:

  • Validation: for programmes that are new to the University
  • Revalidation: for existing programmes that are reviewed every five years

Any programme that is awaiting the outcome of these approval processes will be marked as either 'subject to validation' or 'subject to revalidation' on the website.