This article was written by the Great British Mag Editorial Team on 03 June 2020.
Learn how to apply to a UK university, as an international student, including what paperwork you will need to provide, how to prove your English proficiency and whether you should use an agent or apply directly via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
What are the requirements of studying at a UK university?
As part of your preparation you will need:
- An up-to-date passport
- An English language proficiency qualification. The most common is the IELTS test
- To show appropriate funds and they will differ depending on whether you are studying inside or outside of London. Our article on what it costs to study in the UK will help you work out a realistic budget.
- A Tuberculosis test (if you are from certain countries)
Each course sets its own entry requirements. Most degree programs will require that you have passed your A-levels or equivalent qualifications in your country. Some university courses, like art or English, may ask applicants to show examples of their work or attend an interview, other universities will not require this. We recommend contacting the course administrator for more information on the specific course requirements.
The most important thing is to make sure all the requirements are met before the deadline date, if you miss this you may have to wait another year to study in the UK.
As an international student how can I apply to a UK university?
It is rare for students, both UK and international, to apply directly to the university. in general you will apply through the online Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) portal.
The cost of applying through UCAS is £20 for one course and £25 for multiple courses or for late applications sent after 30 June. As of 2021 the fee for applying to multiple courses will be going up to £26.
When you’ve finished your application, UCAS will forward it to the university of your choice. You can track the progress of your application on the UCAS website. If your application is successful, the offer will appear on your UCAS profile as one of two different types:
- Conditional (C) – you’ll be able to study your chosen programme if your examination results are right. For example, if you get the desired IELTS results.
- Unconditional (U) – you’ll be able to study without any further requirements, usually if you have already met the course requirements.
You can make a firm choice, your first choice and an insurance choice, which is the second choice if you do not meet the requirements of the first.
Can I use an agent to apply to a UK university on my behalf?
You can choose to seek help from an agent or advisor who provides information about studying in the UK and can help you navigate the application process.
If you wish to use these services, we recommend contacting the university you want to apply to and asking which agents they work with in your country. You can also seek out the services of an agent or advisor who has registered with UCAS or the British Council’s Global Agents List.
Agents found via UCAS and the British Council have been vetted and can help you with the application process. Please note, these external advisors will usually charge for their services.
Be careful when choosing an education agent; some are fraudulent. You should make sure that an education agent is legitimate before paying them any money. Check if the agency complies with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), which helps UK universities to properly support and train agents.
Application process for the UK, Northern Ireland and Scotland
There are six sections to a UCAS application, which you will need to fill out when applying for university in the UK:
- Personal details including your home address, phone number and email address.
- Course choices, which can include up to five different courses. You do not need to list them in preference order and the universities will not be able to see your other choices.
- Education, including all current and pending qualifications with your predicted results.
- Employment, which includes all full or part-time paid employment if applicable.
- Personal statement detailing why you should be accepted on the course. Read below for tips on how to write your statement.
- A reference letter of recommendation from an adviser, teacher or other appropriate person (not relative) who knows vouch for your academic achievements.
What is the deadline for university applications?
The final deadline for international students is usually around June (to start in September), however it is important to apply as soon as possible as some courses will fill up quickly. The deadline for UK student is usually around January, we recommend using this as a deadline date although do check the deadlines of your chosen course as they may have unique deadline dates.
Can I apply if miss the application deadline?
If you have missed the application deadline, you may still be able to apply for a course of your choice using the Clearing system. Be aware, this is usually not applicable for all courses. All applications received after 30 June are entered into the Clearing process.
Clearing is how universities fill in any spaces they still have left on their courses. Register on the UCAS website and fill out the application, they will send you guidance on the steps you need to follow and the vacancies left on courses in the UK. In Clearing you will have fewer choices on which university you can apply to, but you may be considered for a course if your results are a little lower than required.
Before you make a Clearing choice, call the university with the Clearing number assigned to you and your Personal ID. They can look up your application and inform you if they will reconsider your application, even if you have applied to them earlier. Call around to different universities and get informal offers over the phone, then decide which one you want to accept. Only add a Clearing choice once you have permission from the university.
How do I write a personal statement for university applications?
There is lots of competition for places on the best courses at UK universities, especially popular subjects like medicine, media and law. This is why it is important to write a compelling personal statement that makes you stand out from the other students.
Here are some tips on how to write the perfect personal statement
- It is important to express your interest in the subject you are applying for and show your passion for the course matter.
- Your opening sentence should immediately grab the attention of the reader.
- Admission officers love it when you can link your hobbies and the course you are applying for. If you don’t have any relevant hobbies, don’t mention them.
- Think about the type of career you would like to move into after you finish your degree. Explain how the degree will help you meet your ambitions.
- You don’t have to use complicated words. Use lots of paragraphs, clear ideas, and a defined beginning, middle and end.
- Never sound arrogant.
- Always be honest. Don’t pretend you have experience, interests and hobbies that you don’t have.
- Try writing lots of drafts and show them to your family, friends and people at school before submitting your personal statement.
What IELTS score do I need to get into a UK university?
As an International student you will need to show you have a certain level of spoken and written, although you can apply to a university before the language requirement is met. In this case the university will form a conditional offer based on your application, but you will need to meet all their requirements before arriving at the university.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is one of the most common tests that proves to a university that your level of English is good enough to complete the course.
On average, universities expect a minimum of a 5.5 score with top universities expecting between 6.5 and 7.5. It is important to check with your desired course before applying, as all courses have different requirements.
If you have already achieved your required IELTS before applying for the course, it is important to include these details in your UCAS application. The test should be no more than two years old by the time the visa application is made.
Many institutes recommend taking the IELTS Academic option. IELTS General, UVKI General and life skills are not suitable tests for university admission. The IELTS UKVI Academic test is generally accepted but is more expensive and not offered in many countries as the academic option.
Can I study in the UK without an IELTS score?
In some circumstances you will not need to take an IELTS, or IELTS equivalent if you:
- Studied the International Baccalaureate programme in the English language
- Studied the Singapore Integrated Programme (SIPCAL)
- Have been educated full time in the English language for the two years before the October application deadline and remain in full-time education in the English language until the end of the school year in your home country.
- Achieved an International Baccalaureate Standard Level (SL) with a high score in English
- Achieved a European Baccalaureate with a high score in English
- TOEFL, Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) and Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) are other options you may wish to look into when applying for an English university.