How to apply to university in the UK through UCAS

With a whole host of universities featuring in the world’s top 100, choosing to study in the UK is not only a great way to improve your English skills, but also a fantastic experience studying at some of the most prestigious institutions.

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is the central organisation which manages all entries to higher education establishments in the UK. The application procedure can seem daunting, so to help you through it, we’ve broken down the key sections to simplify the process.

Before applying

Explore your university options

You can choose a maximum of five courses on your UCAS application, which means you can apply for five courses at only one university or college, or a different course at five different universities. This is a general rule across the board, though some universities have exceptions – the renowned and prestigious Oxford and Cambridge will only accept one application, and you can only choose four courses in the veterinary science, medicine or dentistry fields.

Research the courses

The UCAS website ( is a really valuable tool for you to research courses. You can filter by your own location, subject, university and university locations. It will present options that are available to you and is a great starting point for your research. Make sure you visit the websites of the universities you’re interested in too, as they will give you a great feel for the location, culture and offerings of your potential new study destination. Start your research as early as possible, so you have plenty to time to make your final decision – do remember that courses generally start in September/October, and lots of universities require you to apply a year in advance.

Think further

Applying to higher education is a big choice and is impactful on your future. Think carefully about what you enjoy, where your interests and passions lie and ultimately what will be relevant to your future career path. At this point, it will be valuable to research job websites too, such as the National Careers Website, to understand requirements for career paths, and encompass all of your needs.

Attend a university visit

If you can fit in a visit to the university you are interested in, it’s a great way to meet course tutors and lecturers, as well as other students beforehand for an insider’s point of view. If you’re coming to the UK from abroad, this may not always be possible, so why not explore using virtual tour instead? UCAS also host a variety of events around the world, which offer prospective students a chance to ask questions and find out more about studying in the UK.

Choose your university and course

Once you have identified your chosen field of study and location, it’s time to narrow your search and make that final decision. Ensure you have thought everything through thoroughly. Most degrees last three, or sometimes four years (as is often the case in Scotland). Some courses even offer a placement year with an employer in the industry which is a fantastic way to gain additional experience, and will boost your CV to make you more appealing to future employers. Others (especially language courses) offer the opportunity to study abroad for a year, which will also make your resume stand out. Work out what’s right for you, and consider all elements.

Find out the entry requirements

Most universities and colleges will have entry requirements for each course  many of these are in line with UK qualifications, so investigate whether you have the equivalent qualifications. If you still aren’t sure, contact the university’s admissions board to find out if you meet these requirements. If you’re an international student, some may ask for a level of English language proficiency, so there might be additional tests to sit to secure your place. Each university and course is different, so it’s always best to check directly to ensure you are eligible.

Check the course fees

Universities and colleges in the UK may charge differing fees depending on course and your entry requirements, so ensure you find out the most up to date costs by investigating on their website, or checking on the UCAS site.

Do you need to book student accommodation in the UK? has fantastic options for student accommodation in London, Manchester, Liverpool, SheffieldGlasgow, Edinburgh and many more cities.

During your application process

Once you have carefully researched and finally chosen the right course and university for you, it’s time to begin your application. You can apply online using the UCAS online application tool, so regardless of your location, you won’t miss out on applying to UK institutions. There are six key sections to your application, as follows:

Personal details

Your own basic details, like your name and contact information.


The five courses you have decided to apply to – the order of preference is only seen by you and UCAS, so you don’t have to worry about a university grading you lower because you haven’t made it your number one choice.


Here’s where you cover all of your current and forthcoming qualifications that you have gained through school and other courses.


You should note any previous or current employment here, particularly anything of relevance to the course you are applying for.

Personal statement

This is the most important part of your application – it’s your best opportunity to give an overview of why you should be accepted by the university and onto your chosen course. Here you can showcase personal and professional achievements, and any extracurricular activity that will bolster your application. This statement can be up to 4,000 characters and it should be a comprehensive overview to support your application. Take time to really prepare for this, and start early so you have enough time to redraft. Do get one of your teachers or another independent party to check this over and give you feedback, and ensure you only write information that’s relevant to your course and application.


This should be a letter that personally recommends you from an academic perspective. This is standardly written by a teacher, career advisor or a tutor, and you should request this in a timely manner so you can submit alongside your application.

Key dates in 2020

As with any application process, there are many key dates you should be aware of as you apply. Check with your universities beforehand, and make sure you leave plenty of time to research, complete and submit your application – particularly your personal statement!

15th October 2019

This is the deadline for the majority of dentistry, animal veterinary, and medicine applications. This is also the deadline for applications to the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.

15th January 2020

This is the last advised application date for all other Undergraduate courses. This is the deadline for the equal consideration, which means that all applications submitted before this date are considered equally. If your application is submitted after this date, universities can only consider the application if there are spaces available after considering all applications that were submitted on time. Even if there are spaces available, universities can also choose to ignore all applications submitted after this deadline.

30th June 2020

If you apply after this date, you’ll be entered into clearing. Entry into this process means you will need to check which courses still have availability and then contact the university directly to apply for one of these open positions. The applicable courses will be listed on the UCAS website.

4th August 2020

This is the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) results day, when school leavers in Scotland get their grades from High School and find out which university they will be going to. If you’re going to study in a university in Scotland, book your student accommodation before this date if possible, as many properties will sell out quickly after the results are published.

13 August 2020

This is the A level results day in England. On this day all school leavers in England will receive their High School grades and find out which university they will be attending in the autumn. If you know which university in England you’ll be studying at before this date, try to book your student accommodation beforehand, as many properties will sell out fast after the school leavers find out their results.

After applying

Living Costs

Studying full time in an international environment can be costly. You need to consider how much you’ll budget for travel, accommodation and bills, and additionally all your personal costs such as food, clothes, and social life. While some smaller, rural cities will be more cost-efficient to live in, London and other larger cities will certainly come with a bigger price tag. It’s worth assessing all elements, and adding in a bit extra in case of any emergencies. A handy tool for reference is the calculator on the Which? website, which can help you estimate the cost of studying in the UK.

Visas for foreign study

Unless you’re from the EEA or Switzerland, you’ll need to arrange a Tier 4 visa, which is a general student visa. You can apply three months before starting your course. The turnaround is normally two weeks, but do leave ample time as it can be much longer than this at peak times. Ensure you have all the documents and information required, which may include an English Language test certification – check out our guide on how to study in the UK for more detailed information.

Left without a place?

If you didn’t get a place in any university in the UK, all hope is not lost. You can still apply on the UCAS Clearing. To find out more about this option, check out our guide on how to survive university clearing.