Learning Hub

How to apply to a UK university – the application process and useful tips

The organisation responsible for processing applications to full-time undergraduate degree courses at UK universities and colleges is Universities & Colleges Admissions Service, more commonly referred to by it’s initials: UCAS. Virtually all UK universities require applications via UCAS for undergraduate courses. Thanks to the centralised application system and well-developed university websites, applying to UK universities is very straightforward, whether you live in the UK or another country.

Students can apply to up to five-degree courses via UCAS online www.ucas.com, which costs £23 (in 2016). Applications start in September onwards with courses such as medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences usually closing in mid-October. For all other courses the deadline is 15 January, but it is better to apply by November. The UCAS website has full listings, of course, specific deadlines. UCAS expect most decisions on applications by the end of March and no later than mid-May.

As part of the application process students provide their personal details including information about their current qualifications and employment history. They must also write a personal statement and provide an academic reference to support their application. The personal statement is a vital part of the application: an opportunity to explain in 500 words why they have chosen that particular course, what skills and achievements they have and their future career hopes.

Decisions will either be unconditional or conditional upon gaining certain grades in their exams, such as BBC/220 points at A-level or 24 points at IB. Once all the decisions have been made applicants accept up to two offers, one as a firm acceptance and the other as an insurance acceptance. Any remaining offers are automatically declined by UCAS. Final confirmation is usually completed by August.

If a student does not meet the conditions of their offers or does not have a place they can enter UCAS ‘Clearing’. Clearing normally happens between mid-July and September, but especially in the days following A-level results, in mid-August. It is a process where students without offers can approach universities that still have places available. A list of which universities have Clearing vacancies is published on the UCAS website from mid-August as well as on individual university websites and in the national press. www.kingston.ac.uk/international.

Before you apply for a degree course in the UK, it is essential that you do some serious research. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips, whether you are already familiar with a favorite university city or if you have never visited the UK. A full-time undergraduate course means spending three or four years in the UK, so make sure you choose the right course, the right university and the right place for your needs. Do not limit yourself to subjects which are taught in schools.

Top tips

  • Visit each institution’s website to learn more detail about the course content, what modules you may study, what options there are for work placements/internships and the related research commitment.

  • What will the university do to help you – student support services? Meet you at the airport? Organise a full orientation on arrival? Help with settling in?

  • What academic support is available? How much contact time can you expect with lecturers? Libraries open 24 hours? Access to online learning facilities?

  • Accommodation is vital. A guaranteed place in university accommodation in year one? How close is it to the campus? Your own room? Cost?

  • Before deciding, think about your expectations and needs for the campus. What sports facilities are there?

  • Where is the campus – central or outside the town? What IT equipment is available? How big are the teaching and learning centers? What subject specific equipment do they have?

On many University websites, you can take virtual tours of the campus and sample lectures and tutorials. Some, such as Sheffield Hallam University, also run online mentoring schemes and weekly web chats where you can contact UK staff and current international students for advice about the application process, and get further information about the university and the city.

Once you are happy with your chosen places, find out more about their cities. Tourist review and local government websites give you good advice about vital elements such as the cost of living, transport, local amenities, population size and places of interest: make the most of your student days. If possible, visit the UK before choosing your universities, but if not, there is more information easily available online than ever – so make sure you use it.

When the research is done, complete your UCAS application. You will be relieved to discover how straightforward the process is. Visit www.ucas.com and follow the instructions to register. You will then be supplied with a username which will enable you to access your UCAS online account at any time to update your application form or track the progress of your application. The application process is explained step by step and the form can be completed and saved in stages.

The UCAS form is in seven sections: personal details; course choices; education history; academic qualifications; employment history; your personal statement; references (to be supplied by your tutor/school); and a declaration. You can only apply once per UCAS cycle, but you can include up to five-course choices at up to five different institutions. Note: Cambridge, Oxford, medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine have special rules.

Once your choices are made, and your application is complete you or your school simply process your payment online – and submit your application. UCAS forward it to your universities, then contact you.