Revving up to study in the UK? We can promise you that it’s the beginning of a very exciting journey. The UK has a long, illustrious history in higher education. Several of the world’s best-ranking universities and leading experts in their fields are right here! With that UK degree, you’re all set to strike your way up the path of your future aspirations. Whatever the field you’ve always dreamed of studying, you’re all but guaranteed to find an excellent course matching your requirements here! So, how do you get started with the application process for the UK?
How Do International Students Apply to UK Universities?
How you go about the process of applying to a UK university depends, first and foremost, on your study level. If you’re a prospective undergraduate student, you apply through a single platform for up to five courses! UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) makes the process as simple and straightforward as possible. Once you complete your application, UCAS sends off your details to your chosen universities in one go! If you’re a postgraduate student, you will typically submit your application to the university directly. However, some courses are also available through the UCAS Postgraduate service!
So let’s get into the details, shall we? First things first, there are two things we recommend you know before you start applying:
- Which courses in which universities you want to apply for
- Intake dates
Researching Your Courses and Universities
Universities will typically have set entry requirements for incoming students. For international students, there may be additional requirements too, such as proof of your English language proficiency. Since UK university admissions requirements vary from program to program, and institution to institution, it’s wise to know early on exactly which courses you qualify for. Since you can apply for five courses in a go, you want to make sure each of your five choices counts!
Sometimes, UK universities will still accept your application if you don’t hit target requirements. But considering how competitive getting into these schools is, we still advise going in prepared. Plus, researching your course and university early gives you the chance to work your way up to certain requirements. Be sure to look into the subjects and grades the courses you’re considering are asking for! You might need to look into the international equivalents of these grades if you’re studying under a non-UK academic system.
Intake Dates for the UK
There are two set application deadlines for prospective undergraduate students in the UK throughout each academic year. Let’s take a look at the closest ones!
UK University Application Deadline 2023
- October 2022, applicable if:
- You’re applying to either the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge
- You’re applying for a medicine/science or dentistry course
- 15th January 2023:
- Typically the deadline for most courses
If you didn’t make the January deadline, you can continue to apply up until 30th June. This is the “late deadline” – any application after this goes into “clearing”. This means that you might not get into your first choice university. Although you can apply at any time between January and June, our advice is to apply early. Programs have a finite number of seats and intakes are very competitive. To secure your spot, the sooner you apply the better your chances. Plus, this also means you get an acceptance faster. You’ll need the additional time to apply for a visa, get health insurance, arrange travel and accommodation, and so on.
Application Process for the UK for Undergraduate Students
Let’s say you’ve narrowed down your list of courses and universities. Next comes the actual application process. Browse through our breakdown of how to apply to UK universities as international students, for undergraduate programs:
1. Get a UCAS Account
Since you’re applying through a central platform, the first step is to register with UCAS. On UCAS’ homepage, you’ll find the options for Student Sign In. Scroll down to the 2022 Entry option, and click Create Account. To register, you just need to provide your standard details – first and last names, email addresses, etc. Make sure your name matches all your official documents, including exam results! If there’s a mismatch, this could delay your application later on.
Once you register, you’ll get a confirmation email from UCAS. Type in the code, and boom – you’re in! The platform is very user-friendly and guides you through every step of the process. Before you can begin applying, you need to specify your:
- Intake year
- Level of study
- Country of residence
- Mobile number
- Subjects you want to study (maximum three)
- The name of your secondary school or college (if you can’t find this in the dropdown list, you can type it in!)
Once you’re done with all that, you get access to the UCAS Hub, which is pretty much your personal dashboard to manage your applications! The first thing you’re likely to see on this page is the “Your Applications” tile. Click this and you’re ready to start applying.
2. Shortlist Up to Five Programs
As you make your way through your UCAS application, the site will prompt you with specific easy-to-follow questions to streamline the process. For the Your Choices section, you get to add the top five programs you want to apply for. This is where doing your research and narrowing your list of courses down first helps. The process only takes a few minutes, as you specify your:
- chosen university
- start date
- location (for universities with multiple campuses)
- point of entry (the stage of your program you’re entering in. For most undergraduate students this will be 1st year)
The final item asks you whether you’ll be living at home while studying. As an international student travelling to the UK, the answer to this is of course “No”.
If you’re not yet done with your university research, you can also search for courses and universities through UCAS! A series of helpful filters can help you narrow down the programs available to you. The program pages feature all the details you’ll want to know more about, including course descriptions, campus locations, tuition, etc.
Once you shortlist your programs, make sure you save your progress and click “Mark complete” to move on!
3. Fill Out Your Personal, Residency, and Contact Details
Make sure you’re not leaving any questions blank! It’s important also to provide your most current and up-to-date details. As you can expect, these sections cover the standard information about you including:
- First and last names
- Date of birth
- Email address
- Telephone number
- Postal address
You also establish your status as a non-UK citizen here by specifying your Residential Category!
Through the “Contact and residency details” section, you can nominate someone, such as a parent, teacher, or agent, to communicate with UCAS on your behalf. When you’re completely confident that you filled everything out, mark the section as complete. Do this consistently for each section! It helps both you and UCAS track your application progress by seeing at a glance which steps you are done with!
4. Fill Out Your Education History
Your universities will want to see your qualifications through secondary level education onwards. As an international student, you may need to send your secondary school leaving exam results directly to the universities you’re applying to.
Take a look at the exam results UCAS accepts and processes
Irish Leaving Certificate
Sports Leaders UK
Cambridge International (CIE)
City & Guilds
IB (International Baccalaureate)
Say you’re done sitting for one of the above exams and have your results. You’ll select the exams you sat for, type in the subjects you took, the date of your qualification, the awarding organisation involved, and your grades for each subject. UCAS verifies your exam entry records with the qualifications you submitted for your application. And then they can proceed with sending off your application to your chosen universities! Note that a mismatch in the information may delay your application. It’s very important to make sure all the details you’re providing UCAS, including your grades, are true and accurate.
If your qualifications don’t fall under the above exams, you need to arrange to send your exam results and certificates directly to your chosen universities as soon as you get them. You’ll still need to add these qualifications to your application through UCAS, as well.
If you’re in the process of completing your qualification, you’ll be sending your chosen universities your predicted grades. Make sure your referees know to add your predicted grades to your application! We’ll be discussing the role of referees in your UCAS application in just a bit.
Lastly, if your education history involves studying at a college or university where you didn’t complete a course, you’ll need to add this on too. You must specify the start and finish dates of your program, and that you didn’t receive any qualifications upon completion.
5. Specify Any Work History
If you have any part- or full-time work experience, add that on here! But if you don’t, that’s okay. Work experience is not a requirement for the application process for the UK at undergraduate level. You can simply mark the section as complete to move to the next step. And if you’re wondering – unfortunately, voluntary or unpaid work doesn’t count here. You can add that to your personal statement, though!
6. Submit Your Nationality Details and Supporting Information
As an international student, you’ll need to let UCAS and your chosen universities know more about you. This section is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is declare your country of birth and nationality and you’re done! If you have dual citizenship, you can declare that here too.
The supporting information section asks you a few straightforward questions. These include whether or not you’ve ever lived or worked in the European Union (EU) and if you have any disabilities to declare. The latter is really important. You have the right to equal opportunities for education and declaring a disability helps universities understand what resources they may need to accommodate your learning.
7. Submit English Proficiency Results
Some universities have specific English language requirements for admissions and different courses. Hopefully, if you’re at this stage of the application, you’ve already looked into what they are. And likely have sat for the tests too, if needed! Some universities accept your English grades from secondary school leaving exams. If this isn’t the case for you, or English isn’t your first language, you’ll need to provide your TOEFL or IELTS TRF number. UCAS will verify your scores automatically and inform your chosen education providers! If you haven’t sat for these tests, you can still submit your application. Your university might send you a conditional offer, whereby you can get the spot in the program if you hit specific English language test score requirements. To give yourself a solid shot at an unconditional offer, we recommend sitting for the proficiency tests before you start applying! You’ll need these test scores to apply for a Student visa, too.
8. Provide Your Finance and Funding Details
How are you going to cover your tuition fees when coming in to study in the UK? Select the option from the drop-down menu that best applies to you! Remember that you’ll later need to prove you have the funds available to cover your tuition and living costs to qualify for the UK student visa. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with your Student visa requirements while figuring out how to apply to uni in the UK. It never hurts to prepare since you always know exactly what to expect and how to plan!
9. Draft Up Your Personal Statement
While the personal statement comes up a bit later in the game during the application process, this is the part we advise you to work on first. After you have chosen your programs and universities, we highly, highly recommend spending as much time and effort as possible crafting the perfect personal statement. You’re inputting a lot of data, qualifications, dates, and so on for universities to consider. A personal statement, though, gives universities a closer glimpse into who you are as an individual. It’s a unique chance to make yourself stand out to admissions officers.
It’s also a unique challenge because you have 4,000 characters to make an impression. But don’t panic! As long as you know how to write a solid personal statement and are willing to put in the time and effort, you can produce an outstanding one too.
Here’s a crash course with a few key tips!
- Don’t just repeat things universities already know. They can see what your grades are and which schools you studied in
- Keep the focus on yourself. You might want to discuss the role your family, friends, and teachers have in your life, but that’s not the point of a personal statement is it?
- Highlight experiences that showcase your motivation, dedication, resilience, resourcefulness, and other characteristics. Universities want to know how positive of an addition you’ll be to their student community
- Structuring your points around what universities say they’re looking for in students is a good way of making sure you stay on track. Why are you a good match for this university’s program and why is the program a good match for you?
- Remember that you’re applying to multiple universities at once. You don’t want to talk about one specific course or one specific university. Chances are you’re applying to similar courses at different universities so remember to strike a good middle ground
- Don’t exaggerate or share misinformation. It might be tempting to lean into some impressive-looking white lies. But nothing will have your application tossed aside faster than getting caught in those lies
- Don’t copy off samples. There are lots of personal statement samples out there. While you can browse through them for inspiration, don’t rely on them too closely. Your personal statement will go through plagiarism checks. UCAS will be notifying universities if your statement shows similarity levels with other texts above a certain threshold (10%)
- Stick to good grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, with a respectful tone
- Brainstorm your ideas first to write in an organised and thoughtful manner and write multiple drafts
We highly recommend typing your draft up separately. When you’re ready to apply, copy and paste it into the textbox for the personal statement section!
10. Nominate Your Referees
Some universities exempt you from this requirement. If you do need a reference, though, this section of the application is where you supply your referee’s details. Your referee should be a teacher or academic faculty member who knows you, your academic ability, motivations, etc. very well. These are figures of authority in your academic career. Their endorsement of you can have a lot of sway. So, make sure you choose a referee who will best represent you to your chosen university! Make sure you reach out and ask them first if they’re willing to do this for you. If they agree, you can go ahead and give UCAS their contact details. UCAS then emails your referee requesting the necessary information. So do make sure you’re providing accurate and up-to-date information, especially the email address!
You won’t be able to see the academic reference your referee submits. But when this step is complete, you will see that it’s checked off in your application. Coordinate closely with your referee to make sure this step is taken care of in time!
11. Pay Your Application Fee and Submit Your Application
All that’s left is to pay for the UCAS administrative fee, and you’re good to go! If you’re applying for a single course, the fee is £22.50. For more than one course, the fee is £27! Once your application is complete, you can review all your details. Make sure you do this carefully and change anything that may be inaccurate. We’ve been harping on about this but it’s worth remembering after all. Mistakes and misinformation can delay the entire application process! Once you review everything and are confident you checked off all the steps, there you go. Congratulations on completing your UK undergraduate application!
Getting an Offer from a UK University
If your university gets back to you with an offer, it may be one of the following:
- Unconditional: this means you have a guaranteed spot for your program of choice from this university
- Conditional: this means you have a potential spot for your program of choice if you meet specific requirements. This could mean pending grades from secondary school leaving exams or English language requirements
Application Process for the UK – Postgraduate Students
Looking to pursue postgraduate studies in the UK? The application process for UK universities might differ based on the university. A lot of universities take applications directly for their master’s and PhD programs. Carefully research the entry requirements and application steps of the programs you’re considering! You can usually apply directly through the university website.
The standard application documents most of these courses ask for include:
- Previous qualifications and academic transcripts
- English language proficiency scores
- Academic and professional references
You might also need to write a personal statement or statement of purpose for your course. If you’re pursuing a research degree, the requirements may include a research proposal and/or statement.
Some postgraduate courses are available through the UCAS Postgraduate portal. There are no deadline windows for postgrad applications through UCAS, so you can apply all year round. Nevertheless, the programs and universities you’re aiming for may have their own deadlines. Look into these to pinpoint the right application windows for you.
The steps when applying through UCAS are pretty similar to the process of applying as a prospective undergraduate student.
You’ll have to:
- Provide your accurate and up-to-date personal details
- Supply information about your academic qualifications and work experience
- Specify your residency and nationality
- Verify your English language proficiency
- Provide a personal statement (you’ll need to tailor your writing to the intent and purpose of applying as a postgraduate student. To stand out as a candidate with sound critical and analytical skills, mention previous projects you’ve been part of, research you participated in, recent readings you’ve done in the course discipline. How do your experiences – academic, professional, and personal – make you the perfect fit for this course? What skills and interests do you possess that display your potential as a student of this course?)
- Arrange for up to two academic or professional references
- State your finance and funding source
If you already know which courses you’re applying for, you can search them up through the UCAS homepage. And if you’re still looking, you can use UCAS’ search tools to see what options you have available. Once you’ve chosen the courses you’re interested in, shortlist them by clicking the heart icon. You can save your chosen courses and even your search settings (if you’re still in the process of looking) to your dashboard.
Applying to study in the UK takes an extensive and at times confusing process and streamlines it as much as possible. Undergraduates applying through UCAS can navigate the platform’s intuitive application process with ease! For postgraduate students, the process is similarly intuitive, whether you’re applying directly through universities or UCAS Postgraduate. To make your application straightforward, though, we really recommend starting as early as possible. There are documents you’ll need to gather, tests you need to sit, references you need to request. And of course, you need to write an impressive personal statement that immediately sets you apart as a candidate. To make sure you put together a great application, starting early is key. The UK is a competitive study destination after all. You don’t want to risk losing your spot for your dream program. Plus, you also need your acceptance letter early enough to start applying for a visa!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do international students apply to UK universities?
Pretty much in the same way as UK students! International students, like UK students, apply for undergraduate programs through UCAS. And postgraduate students, depending on the university, may apply directly to the institution or through UCAS Postgraduate! As an international student, you’ll nonetheless need to provide specific information, including:
- Academic qualification results and certificates sent directly to your university, in cases where UCAS is unable to process your results
- English proficiency test scores
- Details about your country of birth, nationality, etc.
Is there a list of UK universities with free application for admission for international students?
If you’re applying for undergraduate universities, you must apply through UCAS. And this means you need to pay a small administrative fee. For a single course, you pay £22.50. And for more than one course (you can apply to a maximum of five), you pay £27.
Some universities that don’t have application fees, or waive fees for specific study levels, student groups, or courses include:
- University College London
- University of Warwick
- Lancaster University
- University of Cambridge
- University of Oxford
- Imperial College London
- University of Sheffield