the logo

Top 7 qualities universities look for in student applicants

If you are beginning your Ucas application, be aware of the most important attributes that will impress an admissions officer

  • Admissions
  • Guides
Jeremy Lewis's avatar

Jeremy Lewis

October 13 2017
7 qualities universities look for in student applications


The latest annual survey of university admissions officers, commissioned by ACS International Schools, highlights the top qualities universities will be looking for in applicants’ personal statements, in addition to academic qualifications.

These are the seven qualities that you should try to illustrate in your university application. 

1. A positive attitude towards study

Students must demonstrate that they are ready to work hard – that they’re not just applying to university for the social life, but that they will be able to cope with the workloads of their chosen course and thrive at a higher level of education.

As well as good grades, students can demonstrate this in their personal statements by mentioning their extended essay or personal projects they have taken on to expand their knowledge or study skills. Linking this to their intended area of university study is helpful. Showing the ability to manage your time and workload is important, too. 

2. A passion for the chosen course subject

Students must demonstrate a passion for their chosen subject. Independent extended interest in a subject that goes above and beyond what is required in the classroom, a personal achievement and extracurricular activities can all help to illustrate this. It’s beneficial for students to show how learning within and beyond the classroom links to their chosen course.

Ultimately, passion and perseverance are qualities that are also highly sought after by employers, not just universities.

3. An ability to think and work independently

According to this year’s survey, almost half of admission officers in the UK feel students aren’t ready to step up to higher education.

Why would they think that? Well 89 per cent of respondents cite students’ inability to think and learn independently; while three-quarters believe students lack social skills and, even more worryingly, common sense.

So it is important to show that you are a well-rounded person outside of your studies. 

Apply to UK universities through Ucas as an international student
Choosing your university: 5 things to do before submitting your Ucas application
7 tips for applying to top universities in England and the United States

Applying to Oxford? Here’s how to pass the Oxford admissions interview
How not to write a personal statement
11 most common opening lines in Ucas personal statements
Common grammatical errors to avoid in your university application

4. An ability to persevere and complete tasks

Students need to show commitment and determination – 91 per cent of university admissions officers look for evidence of these qualities in applications.

Universities are looking for indications that students will complete their course and have an understanding of what it entails. If you are a member of a sports team, involved with any committees or school councils, or even have a part-time job, it’s worth mentioning this on your personal statement. All of these roles show a sense of commitment and an ability to take responsibility for tasks. You can also talk about any leadership experience you have gained or contributions that you have made.

You could also include any additional qualifications, such as music grades, or courses such as lifeguarding or first aid that you have taken.

5. An inquiring mind

Almost all university admissions officers (91 per cent) look for evidence of an inquiring mind in student applications. 

Have you taken the initiative to read around your subject outside of the classroom? Researched more about a theory you touched on in class? Talk about this in your personal statement – it not only demonstrates a curious mind, but also a positive attitude to study, an interest in your course and an ability to think and work independently.

6. Good written English

Make sure you check, check, and check again that every word and sentence of your personal statement is spelled correctly, makes sense and is grammatically correct. Ask as many people as you can to proof-read it and check that it makes sense – especially teachers who have experience in helping with university applications. Admissions officers will notice mistakes, which can suggest a lack of attention and care on your part.

7. An ability to work well in groups

Some 73 per cent of university admissions officers have said they look for evidence of an ability to work well in groups, so if you are part of a sports team, committee, club or any other group where you work with others, include this in your application to show that you are a good team player.

Many courses require group work, and universities will also want to see evidence of how you can contribute to the institution overall, whether that is being a part of the students’ union, joining a society or starting up a new club.  

Read more: Best universities in the UK 


You may also like

Checking results on A Level results day

Life after Ucas: What comes next in UK university applications?

Most of the Ucas burden is now off your shoulders, so this breakdown guides you through what to expect from the next eight months as your await university offers, decisions, exam results and clearing opportunities.

Carly Minsky

January 20 2016
sticky sign up

Register free and enjoy extra benefits