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.

UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) 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

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Choose
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 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 only 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.

Explore
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
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.

Decide
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.

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.

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? Student.com has fantastic student accommodation available in London, Manchester, Liverpool and many more cities.

During

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Application
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 contact details, all necessary for application and correspondence.

Choices
The five courses you have decided to apply to – don’t worry about a preferential order, this is only seen by you (and UCAS!).

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

Employment
You should note any previous or current employment here, particularly anything of relevance to your course.

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.

Reference
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
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
This date on the year prior to the course beginning is the deadline for the majority of dentistry, animal veterinary, and medicine applications. This also applies to course at the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford too.

15th January
This is the last advised application date for the majority of other courses. If you submit after this date, some universities will not consider your application.

24th March
This is the last date for some art and design courses, though it’s definitely worth checking on a case-by-case basis.

30th June
If you apply after this date, you’ll be entered into clearing. Entry into this process means you will need to contact your university of choice directly, to check if there is space on their courses. The applicable courses will be listed  on the UCAS website from early on in July until close to term start in September.

Make sure all of your applications have been submitted and received by UCAS by 18:00 GMT, UK time.

After

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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 Brightside International Student Calculator, which can help you to estimate the cost of studying in the UK.

Visas
Unless you’re from EEA or Switzerland, if you’re from any other location outside the UK, you’ll need to arrange a Tier 4 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.