How to apply for university in the UK as an overseas student

How to apply for university in the UK as an overseas student

by Laura Jones

Updated November 7, 2022

Are you thinking of applying for university in the UK? As an overseas student, you might think the process will be complicated. But, actually, all students who want to attend a British university have to apply in the same way. There is an online system – UCAS – which processes all applications, but before you use that you have to decide where you’re going. So here’s our guide to applying for university in the UK. 

How to apply for university in the UK 

1. Choose your course

The most important decision you have to make is which course you want to apply for and at which university. Luckily, when you apply via UCAS, you can apply to five different universities for similar courses. Most people know the area they want to study but it’s important to check out the specifics of courses offered by different universities. If you love modern history you don’t want to end up at a university that specialises in ancient history, so read course descriptions carefully.

We have a blog about how to choose a university based on the subject you want to study here. For a quick rundown: Oxford and Cambridge are the most famous and prestigious universities in the UK. The Russell Group is an association of 24 universities that are thought to be the best in the UK, so they have great reputations; Liverpool, Newcastle and Cardiff are in this group. Or, you might prefer a modern university, like the University of Brighton or a traditional one like the University of St Andrews (where Kate Middleton met Prince William!). 

You need to pay attention to the entry requirements for each university and, if you’re not from an English-speaking country, you should check the English language requirements. The entry requirements are the grades you need – you’ll be able to convert them into grades you get in your country. For language, most universities require a certain level in IELTS, though most accept a lot of other qualifications. 

2. Choose your cities

It can be really hard to narrow down your list of universities and a good way to help you do that is to look at the cities they are in. We talked about the best university cities in the UK in another blog – they were London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Glasgow and Coventry. But the best means something different to everyone. You should think about whether you want to be in a big or small city; if you want lots of great nightlife or you like to be able to get out into the countryside easily; and if you might prefer to live in a cheaper place. 

Choosing London means a huge city, full of things to do day and night but it’s expensive. Large northern cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds have lots to do and great nightlife but are much cheaper than London. Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge are smaller but very student-oriented, it’s fairly easy to get out into nature from all of these cities but they’re quite expensive. Brighton and Manchester are famously LGBTQ-friendly, while Leicester, Birmingham and London are some of the most multicultural cities. 

3. Complete your application form

The UCAS application form has 5 sections. The first four are fairly simple (though may take a while): personal details, employment, course choices and academics (your academic record). You need to know your grades going back quite a few years so gather the details before you start. 

4. Write your personal statement

Probably the most difficult part of the UCAS application for home and international students is the Personal Statement. It’s definitely one of the most important parts of the application, as it’s a way for universities to get to know you outside of your grades. You have to write 4000 characters about yourself, your interests and inspirations, your motivation for studying the course you have chosen and your goals for the future. If you’re an overseas student, you should also say why you have chosen to study in the UK. 

5. Get your reference

You need a reference from a teacher or academic advisor for your UCAS application. Often, students use their subject teacher of the course they want to apply for. It should be someone who knows you well and who can comment on you as a person as well as on your academic achievements.

6. Dates and payment

International students have the same application deadline on UCAS as home students: mid-January in the year that your September course starts (i.e. 15th January 2021 for a September 2021 start). In 2021, a UCAS application costs £26 if you apply to more than one course. 

7. Understand your offers

Some universities, like Oxford and Cambridge, require that students attend an interview before they offer a place. Most other universities will give you one of two offers: unconditional or conditional. An unconditional offer means that you have a place, no matter what happens. A conditional offer means that you have a place if you get the grades the university asks for. Most people choose two offers – a firm offer for the university you really want to go to, and an insurance offer, usually for a university with lower entry requirements. 

The application process is fairly simple and it’s nothing to be scared of. But, you should start early. Choosing your course and universities will take a while – it’s a huge decision. And start writing your personal statement and getting a reference well before the January deadline. If you do decide to apply to university in the UK, we wish you the best of luck! 

If you want to perfect your English skills before applying for university in the UK, visit the Lingoda website and sign up for your free English 7-day trial. 

Related articles