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How to apply to university: essential guide to university applications

Expert advice and support for all stages of the university application process and studying abroad

  • Admissions
  • Guides
  • Study abroad
Carly Minsky's avatar

Carly Minsky

February 7 2017
College application


Applying to university can seem very daunting. There’s so much to do! But really, getting your application in is just a series of stages: do the research, narrow down your university choices, write the applications, and then play the waiting game. Then come the final decisions.

Nobody else can help with the waiting game (start a new box set?), but as for the other steps, there’s plenty of support available for choosing universities and writing applications, whether from your teachers, expert advisers or a multitude of online resources.

For those looking to study abroad and students happy to stay closer to home, the following guide includes many of the tools and resources you need to make informed decisions and applications that show off your true potential.

Choosing your university

Researching the options available to you is an essential start to your university application process. This depends on many factors, including entry requirements, funding and financial factors, subjects and courses available and many more.

Common advice includes visiting universities in which you are interested, or at least making contact with someone – student or otherwise – at the university so you can understand more about whether it is the right fit for you.

But such factors often have to come second to important considerations about visa requirements and funding opportunities. And when it comes to entry requirements, it is generally worth applying to a range of institutions so you have at least one back-up choice, just in case.

Resources: Finding the right university and course

Six tips to choosing the right programme at the right school
How do I choose a master's degree?
Choosing where to study abroad 

Tips for choosing and applying to university

Resources: Ucas (UK) university applications

Five things to do before submitting your Ucas application
11 most common opening lines of Ucas statements 

International student applications through Ucas 
Life after Ucas – what comes next?

Writing your university application

Once you have narrowed down your options, the real work starts.

Writing university applications is very different in different countries. In the United States, colleges often expect extensive personal essays, which are designed to reveal much more than just your academic skills.

These essays must show flair and personality, as admissions tutors are often looking for candidates who are the best fit for their institution or course, from a pool of equally capable applicants.

In the UK the personal statement is more formal and structured around academic achievements, motivation and extracurricular activities.

Make sure you tailor your application to each university, rather than copying and pasting each section. Admissions tutors can always tell.

If English is not your first language you will need to take an English as a foreign language test. Read one applicant’s experience, with tips here.

Resources: writing applications

How to write a US college admissions essay
Grammatical errors to avoid in your university application
Tips for writing an original personal statement

After applying

In the UK the deadline for submitting Ucas applications is usually the middle of January. Elsewhere deadlines often vary with different colleges, so it is essential that you check carefully.

Once you have hit the big red button on all your applications, the waiting game begins. For some universities there will be interviews at the second stage of the application process, but if not you’ll have to sit tight until decisions are announced.

After that, the decision is largely in your hands. If you are applying internationally, now is the time to prepare your visa application, and if you have yet to sort out funding, it is well worth looking into your options.

When visa, funding and confirming your place are all sorted, the only thing left is to stock up on stationery, review any reading lists and prepare for the next adventure.

Resources for after submitting applications

Oxford University's hardest interview questions 
Funding opportunities for disadvantaged students
Visa applications and funding for international students

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