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Ucas application tips for international students

As a prospective international student in the UK, the first step is to understand the application process. Here are some tips to help you get through it

    Stephen Spriggs's avatar

    Stephen Spriggs

    February 1 2020
    Ucas application tips for international students


    The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) is the online application process for all British universities. Preparation is key to producing a top-level application form. Be aware of what the universities you select are looking for and make sure you have the right qualifications and experience needed before applying. Because the Ucas application process is quite unique, international students may find it tricky to navigate.

    Capable students can often be turned away from the university of their dreams due to a simple misunderstanding in their Ucas application form or through missing deadlines. Mid-October is the deadline for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, all medicine, veterinary and dentistry courses, and mid-January is the deadline for the remainder of courses and universities. Although the purpose of the Ucas application is to express the benefits that the student will bring to an accepting university, it’s important for the content of the application to be honest, genuine and humble.

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    The application will be seen by admissions officers who have seen many applications, so making the right impression is vital.

    The Ucas form is made up of several stages. 

    Personal details

    Once you have registered an account with Ucas, you can start the application process. The first step is to add all your personal details to your account, including funding and sponsorship options, residential status, any special needs or impairments and any criminal convictions. These boxes should be easy to fill out because all the questions are self-explanatory.

    You will need to verify this information by email; additionally you are able to give your parent, guardian or adviser nominated access if you’d like them to speak on your behalf throughout any stage of the Ucas process. 

    Choose a course

    Choosing the right course is a key part of the process. This is the stage where you commit to what you want to study. To make sure you are applying for the right course, it needs to be a subject you are passionate about, have the right A levels or academic qualifications for and have any relevant work experience. For help, speak to a teacher or lecturer familiar within the UK system or an educational consultant before filling in your application to make sure you are applying for the right course.

    Choose your universities

    With Ucas, unlike most other university admissions systems, you can only apply to five universities offering the same or a similar course. This can seem quite daunting because there are many universities in the UK but you have to narrow it down to just five, and there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. A good place to start is to look at how well a university is known for your chosen course and then look at the course content to see if it aligns with what you want to learn. Then look at the entry requirements and realistically consider whether you might be able to meet them. Finally consider the university itself – the location, whether it is a campus or city university, what there is to do in the surrounding city or town, transport links, etc. 

    Take the time to read student testimonials for potential universities, attend open days and speak to admissions officers to get a real feel for what a university is like, and then select up to five that you think fit you the best. Once you have received all of your offers, you will have to choose your first choice university and an insurance university in case you don't receive the grades to get into your first choice. 

    Educational background

    A full educational history is required within your Ucas application, providing an honest and detailed insight into your academic background. This should include all qualifications and equivalent scores from secondary school onwards. If studying and awaiting results, it is important for your referee to include your predicted grades within your application, so universities know what standard of work you are aiming towards. Also, you still need to include schools and colleges that you attended even if you didn’t finish the course or receive any qualifications from them.

    The qualifications required by Ucas are often stated in UK terms such as A levels. On the Ucas website, there is information about international school qualifications and how they apply to the courses you are interested in. The UK university application process is different to many other countries because schools and colleges in the UK give out predicted grades to students. As an international student you may not have these but this is not a disadvantage.

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    Employment history

    Work experience may be relevant when applying to university but this section is more relevant to postgraduates or those applying for courses such as medicine. You can add up to five jobs on your application; these can be full-time or part-time jobs. Any unpaid or voluntary work should be mentioned in your personal statement. Make sure to include company names, addresses, job descriptions and start/finish dates.

    Personal statement

    The personal statement is the most important part of the application. This is the part where you can showcase your interest and potential in the course you have chosen and the reasons behind your decision. First, as an international student it would be beneficial to explain why you want to study in the UK and why you would rather study abroad than in your home country.

    Demonstrate your knowledge and experience that supports your interest in the chosen subject. Explain why you think you’d be a great asset to your chosen institution and what you’d bring to the course and the campus. Finally, what are your career aspirations? Give an insight into how this stage in education can help you achieve your end goal and dream career.

    Stay honest and humble in your personal statement and remember to stick to the word count. Writing a personal statement off the top of your head straight into the application box is not really advisable. Take the time to plan out key bullets points, talk them over with a teacher or family member and write a few drafts until it represents you, your goals and experiences perfectly.


    Everyone who applies to a university through Ucas needs a reference letter – a written recommendation from a teacher, adviser or professional. This can be a teacher in a relevant subject field or your tutor. It must be someone who knows you well. If you are applying from overseas, make sure you approach your referee well before the Ucas deadline in mid-January. A completed reference is the last step you need before submitting your application.


    If you are waiting for results in the summer before entry and you are not taking UK exams such as A levels or the International Baccalaureate, you will be required to give your first choice and insurance choice your results to confirm your place.

    Applying to university is a difficult task so make sure you take guidance from your student adviser and get to know the UK university system better by doing your own research. Once you’ve completed your application, make sure you proofread it several times before sending it off.

    Read more: Applying through Ucas as an international student


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