Looking to apply for university in the UK? This is the ultimate guide to the UK university application process. From making a decision about your university choices, to writing a good personal statement, this step-by-step article explains everything you need to apply for uni through UCAS.
How do international students apply for university in the UK?
In the UK, universities use an online application system called UCAS. All universities receive student applications through this system. Applying through UCAS ensures that every student has an equal opportunity to receive an offer. Regardless of where you live, all students have the same deadlines through the UCAS system.
The exact date varies slightly each year, but you can check the deadlines on the UCAS website.
★ If you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge
★ For most courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science and dentistry
★ For the majority of university courses
You can apply for up to five courses at the same or different universities.
For example, you could apply for ‘business’ at 5 different universities, or apply for 5 different courses at the same university. Depending on your preference, you can choose to prioritise the university or course type in your application.
An exception to this applies if you are studying medicine, veterinary science or dentistry, or applying for the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge.
Applying for medicine, dentistry, veterinary science or veterinary medicine:
★ You can only apply for 4 courses in any one of the subjects
★ You can apply for a 5th choice in a different subject later on
Applying for Oxford or Cambridge:
★ You can have 1 course choice from either Oxford or Cambridge. For example, if you apply for English Literature at the University of Cambridge, you cannot apply for other courses at that university, and you cannot apply for a course at the University of Oxford.
However, it is important to note that you can only submit one personal statement. You cannot submit a different personal statement for each course you are applying for. Information about writing your personal statement can be found further down the page.
What information do you need to apply for university through UCAS?
★ A registered account with UCAS
★ Personal contact details and residency status (if applicable)
★ Educational history from secondary education onwards - qualifications are listed by name and country (but you can also select ‘Other’ if you cannot find the right option)
★ Proof of your educational qualifications (certificates and transcripts) - some universities may ask you to send them as part of your application
★ Employment history - only include paid jobs
★ University course choices - can choose up to five in no particular order
★ Personal statement - you will need to write a 47-line or 4,000-character piece about why you want to study the course you are applying for
★ A reference - this is a statement about you from a teacher, employer, or person who is familiar with your work
★ Application Fee - £22.50 for a single application choice, £27 for two or more application choices
Choosing the best UK university for you:
Every student has different requirements and preferences when it comes to university choices. So in the process of researching universities, think about what is important to you in the place you study.
Some factors you might consider are:
★ University course rankings
★ Facilities and campus location
★ Number of students at the university
★ Transport links to the university
★ Cost of accommodation and tuition fees
★ City or countryside university?
★ Small or large international student community?
To help you figure out if a university is right for you, here are some decision-making options for international students:
★ University prospectuses and website information
★ University social media pages
★ Virtual tours of the university
★ Video tours of the university facilities
★ Visit the country and campus in person
★ British Council international events
★ Join an online student community forum
★ Talk to an education agent
★ Contact the university directly with any questions
Types of qualification UK universities accept:
Through UCAS, all qualifications are accepted and quantified equivalently. This is great for international students, as you can apply with qualifications from your home country. Most university course pages will show the minimum entry requirements for a range of qualification types.
You can also find an admissions qualification list for each country on the university website. If you are unsure about your entry requirements, contact the university admissions office to discuss your situation.
The UCAS Tariff points system translates qualifications into a number. This system helps admissions officers to understand the value of grades from different qualifications and compare them to the entry requirements of the university. To find out more about UCAS Tariff points, read our explainer article here.
Applying through an agent:
What is an education agent? An education agent is an organisation or individual that helps people who are looking to apply to university through each stage of the process. They provide advice on university applications, including personal statements, documents, interviews and visa support.
Most education agents charge for their services. You can select paid services ranging from guidance meetings to direct assistance. The more involved the education agent is with your university application, the more they charge for their services.
To find a qualified education agent, use the British Council’s Global Agents List to filter and find the kind of agent you are looking for. You could choose an education agent from your home country, or from the city you are looking to apply to.
Check the reputation of the education agent before paying for any services. Some agents may have direct relationships with universities. This is positive if you know which university you are hoping to study at. However, this may result in biased advice if you are unsure of the universities you want to apply for.
English language tests to take before applying:
You may need to complete an English language test before applying to university in the UK. This proves to the university how competent you are with the English language and ensures you will be compatible with the university teaching and assessments. Check the entry requirements of your course before you apply, as universities may only accept certain tests. If it does not specify, here are some examples of English language tests you can complete:
This English test is an in-depth and high level qualification. It is useful for displaying your English abilities to employers and universities. The test will assess you for the skills you need to excel whilst studying, working and living in an English-speaking country. Over 9,000 educational institutions, organisations and governmental departments accept this certificate.
This English test displays your exceptional fluency in English, recognising your speaking competency. Passing this exam ensures you are ready to study or work in a professional academic environment e.g. PhD research. The test consists of 4 papers.
More than 11,000 educational institutions and training providers around the world recognise this English test. It tests your general reading, listening and writing, as well as your academic reading and writing. The speaking test is completed either before or after the other tests.
To take this 2-hour English test, you must complete it via computer in a test centre. You will be tested on speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. Over 3,000 educational institutions and professional bodies accept this certificate.
100% of UK universities accept this 1.5-hour English test. You will be tested on your speaking, listening, reading and writing skills. TOEFL offers English proficiency tests at each stage of the English learning process. The test for proficiency in academics is called the TOEFL iBT.
The Trinity ISE test is recognised by educational institutions and governments. The writing and reading sections are completed through controlled written exams in registered test centres. The speaking and listening sections are completed via an in-person conversation or online video in test centres.
Institution’s own test
Some universities offer an independent English language test, specifically for that institution. This test will be completed by university officials and you will not need another English test to apply. Check the entry requirements of your course to see if this applies to you.
Writing a stand-out personal statement as an international student
As part of your application, you will need to write a 4,000-character or 47-line personal statement. This should outline why you are applying to study your chosen course at university. Ask yourself why you want to be an international student in the UK, and express your reasoning in your personal statement. It may also be helpful to mention your English competency, especially if English is not your first language.
Admissions officers use personal statements to help make a decision on which students to offer course places to. Therefore it is important that you demonstrate your interest in the course through actions, not just words. Give evidence of extra-curricular activities, work, volunteering or reading that you have done to justify your interest in the course. For example, if you are looking to study journalism, you could talk about working on the school newspaper, or producing your own podcast.
Remember you only have 4,000 characters to use, so every sentence should be valuable and relevant to your application.
Applying for a UK student visa
Before you arrive in the UK to start your university course, you need to apply for a student visa. Your student visa application can be completed on the GOV.UK website.
The visa application requires you to have:
★ An offer to join a university or college course
★ An English language test that meets the proficiency for the course
★ Proof of sufficient funds to pay for your studies and living costs
If you are arriving from one of these listed countries, you will need to complete a TB (tuberculosis) test. After completing a Home Office approved test, you will receive a certificate that is valid for 6 months. It will need to be included in your student visa application.
After you have received your confirmation that you can study in the UK from the Home Office, you will either be posted or need to collect a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). Within the process of obtaining a BRP, you will need to go to a visa application centre to provide a digital photo of your face and fingerprint scans.
When do you apply for a UK student visa?
If you are applying from outside the UK, the earliest you can apply for a visa is 6 months before you start your course. You will usually get a decision on your visa within 3 weeks.
If you are applying from inside the UK, the earliest you can apply is 3 months before your course begins. You must apply before your current visa expires, so your new course must begin within 28 days of your current visa expiring. You’ll usually get a decision on your visa within 8 weeks.
How much does it cost to apply for a UK student visa?
★ £363 to apply from outside the UK
★ £490 to extend or switch to a UK student visa from inside the UK
How many hours can I work on a UK student visa?
You can work a maximum of 20 hours per week on your visa. If you have a work placement as part of your course, this does not count towards your allowance. Your visa must state that a work placement is part of your university programme.
How much will it cost for healthcare?
To receive NHS healthcare during the time of your studies you will need to pay a fee:
£470 per year for students
£624 per year for all other visa and immigration applications
How much does it cost to study in the UK?
International students have to pay for the international student tuition fees. This is more than domestic students will pay. When you are looking for a university course, the international fees are listed in the description.
The tuition fees will vary in price depending on the course. For example, engineering or medicine degrees usually cost more than business degrees.
Some universities have international scholarships available for non-domestic students. Enquire at the university you are interested in applying for to find out if you are eligible for a scholarship.
When applying for a UK student visa, you need to show evidence that you/your family have enough funds to cover tuition fees and the cost of living.
Some EU students can apply for student loans, depending on if you have a ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled’ status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The EU Settlement Scheme deadline was 30 June 2021, which means that any EU citizens looking to study in the UK now must apply for a UK student visa.