This article about the requirements of studying at a UK university was published by the Great British Mag content team on 21 February, 2020
The UK is home to some of the world’s best universities, many nestled in historic towns and vibrant cities. If you want to apply to study at a UK university then the first place to start is UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), through which you will choose a maximum of five universities and write a personal statement.
You will need:
- An up-to-date passport
- An English language proficiency qualification. The most common is the IELTS test
- To show appropriate funds, which will differ depending on whether you are studying inside or outside of London
- A Tuberculosis test (if you are from certain countries)
- The application fee of £20 if you’re applying to just one course, or £25 for multiple courses and for late applications sent after 30 June.
Each course sets its own entry requirements. Most degree programs will require that you have passed your A-levels or attained certain grades. 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.
How can international students apply for a university in the UK?
There are three main ways to apply for a place at a UK university, including via an educational agent, UCAS or directly to the university.
It is very rare for students, both UK and international, to apply directly to the university. All students, in general, will apply through the online UCAS portal.
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.
Alternatively, you could choose to seek help from an agent or advisor who provides information about studying in the UK. It is your choice whether you wish to use these services. Not using one will not leave you disadvantaged.
If you wish to use these services, we recommend seeking out the services of an agent or advisor who has registered as a UCAS centre. They are generally more committed to helping students apply to universities and they will also have access to the best advice and can oversee your application through the UCAS online system. Please note, these external advisors will usually charge for their services.
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, in no preference order. 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 you academically.
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 students is usually around January and we recommend using this as a deadline date. All universities and courses have their own unique deadline date, so it is important to check before you start the process.
If you have missed the application deadline, you may still apply for a course 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 apply for postgraduate courses?
Postgraduate courses, sometimes called masters, are intended for students who have already completed a bachelor’s degree or other undergraduate course. You must show your prospective university that you have the knowledge to succeed at this level and have previously studied a relevant degree. Postgraduate entry information may not specify an exact grade, many will ask for a ‘good honours degree’ which generally applies a first of a 2.1.
Some universities offer pre-masters courses, which give international students a chance to improve their skills in order to meet the academic requirements and improve their academic skills for postgraduate study.
Don’t worry if you are a mature student without a relevant degree. Some institutes are willing to consider applicants who do not have the degree but have relevant experience through work. This is especially relevant in vocational courses like creative writing and journalism. Get in touch with the relevant department for more information as each course and institute is different.
Unlike undergraduate degree applications, which are usually completed through UCAS, many people submit directly through the university. Many institutions have their own online application systems, which can be found on their website. We recommend not using UCAS for your postgraduate application, as not all courses and universities will appear on their system. This application will include slightly different requirements to undergraduate or foundation applications, for example academic transcripts, a research proposal or your CV.
If you do not use the UCAS system, you can apply for as many postgraduate courses as you like. However, this is not the recommended approach. You’ll need to put a lot of effort and attention to detail to tailor your postgraduate application for that exact course, instead of a general personal statement that can be used for lots of different courses and universities. We recommend applying for no more than three postgraduate programmes.
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’s important to write a compelling personal statement that makes you stand out from the other international students who want to study in the UK.
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. And never sound arrogant.
Always be honest. Don’t pretend you have experience, interests and hobbies that you don’t have. Write 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?
International students are requested to show they have a certain level of spoken and written English. IELTS (International English Language Testing System) 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, expect a minimum band 5.5 for UK courses, with a band of 6.5 for top universities. 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.
Students can still submit their application before the language requirement is met. 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.
Can I study in the UK without an IELTS score?
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.
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