This video provides an overview of the application process and will be helpful for any students (and their parents) looking ahead to their UK university applications. The blog below provides further detail and there are many links to resources which students should find helpful.
Occasionally there are changes to deadlines, admission test requirements etc. and this guide aims to provide a general overview. For the most up to date information you should refer to the entry requirements on the UCAS or university websites for the specific courses you are looking to apply for.
The UCAS application
The UK university application process is centralised – you apply through UCAS. You can apply to 5 courses in the UK per academic year. If you are considering Oxbridge, you can only apply to Oxford or Cambridge, and if you are applying for medicine, dentistry, or veterinary you can only apply to 4 courses, your 5th choice must be a different course.
You can find out more about what is needed to apply on this page of the UCAS website. In summary the UCAS application consists of:
- Personal details
- Qualifications gained and pending
- Personal statement
- Course choices
- School/College reference (and predicted grades for pending qualifications)
Once you have submitted your UCAS application the information is sent to all the universities you have applied to. It is worth noting that the same information is sent to all of the universities so the personal statement needs to apply to all 5 course choices.
You then use UCAS Track to monitor the responses you receive from universities. Reply dates vary considerably, some universities will give out offers as and when they receive applications, others will wait until after the UCAS deadline and reply to all applicants at once. The deadline for universities is usually in May or June, but many will reply by March. You may receive;
- A conditional offer – based on your pending qualifications (A Levels/IB or international equivalents) and other entrance requirements you are yet to meet, e.g. an English qualification.
- An unconditional offer – you have already met the entrance requirements so there is nothing more to do.
- A rejection – the university does not give you an offer.
Once you have received a response from all 5 courses, you then choose a firm choice and an insurance choice – more information about replying here. If the offers are conditional you then need to try your hardest to meet the conditions of the offer. The universities will confirm whether you have met the offer once you receive your A Level/IB results.
The application is usually made during the last year of school and there are two deadlines for submitting the UCAS application:
- October 15th – for all courses at Oxford and Cambridge, and medicine, dentistry or veterinary at all other universities
- January 25th – for all other courses
Depending on which courses you are applying for there may be other deadlines to register and sit admissions tests or interviews. These can be as early as August (so more than one year before entry), but they do vary so it is best to check the individual courses.
Exceptions to the usual timeline
- If you are planning to take a gap year you can either apply whilst you are at school and select ‘deferred entry’ on the UCAS form, or you can apply during the gap year once you have received your grades. For more information about gap years take a look at our blog.
- Some school years run from January to December and whilst a small number of UK university courses offer a January start the vast majority are September so you will have a 9 month break between finishing school and starting university.
- Singapore has a 2 year National Service requirement – some universities will accept a 2 year deferral if you request it, whereas others will state you have to apply whilst you are on National Service. You will need to think about the time commitment, especially if you are applying for courses that have admissions tests and interviews – you will need to be very organised and check whether you will be available on the day of the test or interview.
Choosing a course
Many UK degree courses are specialised – you will spend 3 or 4 years studying one subject in great depth. Therefore, you need to carefully consider what your areas of interest are and which course you might be best suited to, which will increase your chances of winning places.
To read about course choices in more detail do take a look at this blog, and thinking about the following can be useful:
- Do your current studies tell you anything?
- Do you have an intended career path?
- Are you interested beyond what you have studied at school?
There are courses that are broader and combine 2-3 subjects such as Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) or Liberal Arts which may appeal if you want to keep your options open.
Choosing a university
The key consideration is whether you meet the entry requirements and as such, you will need to know what your predicted grades are before finalising your 5 university choices. That said, you can certainly explore different universities and examine their courses in more detail. A History course will vary so you should look at the modules you will study at different universities to ensure they fit your interests. Do take a look at the ‘where to study’ section of this blog.
Most universities will consider only the information submitted in your UCAS application and will make offers based on your academic profile and your personal statement. Some universities require admissions tests and interviews to allow them to differentiate between many strong applicants.
Grades and subjects: university courses will have ‘typical offers’ which are the grades they expect applicants to achieve and required subjects that applicants must be studying. These are usually shown for A levels and the IB but they will have international equivalents available. If you do not meet the requirements your chances of being offered a place are reduced, and for competitive courses many applicants will exceed the requirements and still not be offered a place.
- Some universities have preferred subject combinations even if they are not required and LSE provide this information for each course – e.g. see ‘entry requirements’ for Economics. Generally, the most competitive universities will prefer ‘traditional’ subjects and as an example you can take a look at UCL’s preferred subject list.
- If you are an international student you may be required to evidence your English proficiency. Universities have different requirements which can vary by course so do check whether you are likely to meet the criteria before applying.
Personal statement: this is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants as it is the only personalised part of the application. To find out more about the personal statement do read this blog, look at the detailed guide on the UCAS website and browse articles from The Uni Guide.
Admissions tests: some courses have admissions tests in addition to the academic information submitted to UCAS. Oxford and Cambridge list the courses that have admissions tests so do read this carefully. Some universities require a test for Law, and for Medicine you would need to take the BMAT or UCAT. There are other courses, such as Maths at Imperial which require the MAT and for design-based courses such as Architecture you may need to provide a portfolio or complete a design task.
Interviews: most courses in the UK do not require an interview, but it can play a significant role in the admissions process for other courses, most notably at Oxford and Cambridge, but also for medicine and engineering at other universities. Always check the entry requirements for the courses you are planning to apply for.
Other ways to enhance your application
- Extra-curricular activities are not formally considered as part of the entrance requirements and as such you do not need to build a profile. That said, you should take part in activities that will build your leadership, teamwork and creative skills as universities will look for evidence of these in your personal statement. You should definitely continue with extra-curricular activities you enjoy – keeping positive and thinking about your well-being will help with the stress of sixth form.
- Super-curricular activities can really help your application to UK universities as they demonstrate an interest in the course you are applying for. You should look to engage with reading material, podcasts, online courses, Ted talks etc. to broaden your knowledge beyond what you are studying at school. Do take a look at this useful guide which explains the benefits of super-curricular activities and provides lots of suggestions. Cambridge publish suggested super-curricular activities and Oxford have an online resource library called Staircase12 – both resources are a great place to start for any student even if Oxbridge is not on your radar.
- Work experience can be a requirement for courses such as medicine of veterinary science, but otherwise it is only advised. Work experience is a good idea for two reasons; firstly it will help you to decide whether the course you have chosen is the right fit for you in the long-term and secondly it demonstrates commitment to universities and you can use examples of what you learnt in your personal statement.
- The extended project qualification (EPQ) is taken alongside A Levels where you have the opportunity to research an area of interest. Universities look favourably on EPQs as they build many of the skills required at university (time management, critical thinking, presentations etc) and some universities, such as the University of Bath, will reduce your offer if you are taking an EPQ. We would advise you choose a topic that is relevant to what you want to study at university as it will give you content for your personal statement and areas to discuss at interview. Not all schools offer the EPQ and it is possible to take it externally, even though we would advise you ask your teachers at school to check they think you can manage the additional workload.
Our top preparation tips
- Focus on your academics – this is the most important consideration for UK universities so you should aim to secure the highest predicted grades you are capable of.
- If you are yet to choose IB or A Level subjects – do some initial research about subject requirements to ensure you do not rule out certain courses later on
- Read/watch/listen – look beyond the school syllabus and engage with super-curricular activities.
- Work experience or volunteering – use the holidays wisely and take the opportunities on offer whether in person or virtual.
- Be prepared and start early – this will reduce stress and ensure you submit the best application possible before the deadline.
How can Keystone help?
We offer a comprehensive advisory service and can help with all aspects of applying to UK universities. We can oversee the whole process from start to finish, or you can select the modules that are required. You can find out more about our service here and we are always happy to have a free consultation with families that would like to find out more.