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Study abroad | What you need to know about applying to universities in the UK

Applying to the UK universities is a simple process but preliminary research and planning are important. If you begin a year in advance, you are in a good place.

June 18, 2022 / 08:50 AM IST
At King's College, Cambridge, UK. (Photo: Chris Boland via Unsplash)

At King's College, Cambridge, UK. (Photo: Chris Boland via Unsplash)

In 2013, I wrote to a friend who had been to a prestigious UK university for a master's degree. I wanted some help with applying to universities in the UK. If you are in the same spot I was then, you would be familiar with the trepidation of going over hundreds of websites, just trying to understand what needs to be done to get in.

I was confused, nervous and unsure of how I was going to do this. So I asked for help. To my chagrin, I was advised to look it all up online. This was annoying, I know, and it did take me a lot of time to figure out things. However, when I finally shortlisted the universities I wanted to apply to, the process became smooth.

If you're applying to schools in the UK, and have chanced upon this article, I want to start by saying: breathe, it’s a simple process, at least simpler than applying to Delhi university!

Where do I start?

Start a year before you want to start at the university. This is a research-intensive process, but information is online. I would start by looking at the university league tables that come out every year to see where universities in the UK figure, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what their overall ranking is. You could also look up the Discover Uni website for information. The QS World Rankings is a good guide to refer to, and so are the rankings released by Times Higher Education and The Guardian. Here, you can look up universities from around the world, including the UK and Europe, the courses they offer, admission requirements and other basic details, and compare them.


If you are someone who wants to apply to the top universities in the UK and if you meet the admission criteria, league tables carry important information to help you reach a decision. These rankings are like barometers to assess the credentials of a university. The UK higher education system is a strong institution, but it’s always good to avoid landing in just about any university that offers admission. Ranking guides help you do that.

Once you have a list of universities you want to apply to, you could look up the institutions' websites and dig deeper into course modules, faculty and admission requirements. Always remember, UK universities are open and welcoming to foreign students, so if you have any questions, get in touch with the university directly.

Work for your shortlist

This is an important part of the process, and your evaluation of the colleges that eventually make it to your shortlist may include considerations of course options, ranking for student satisfaction and career prospects. These are important questions to ask for every university you find interesting, but equally important is to check the report card and placement record of universities.

Other useful parameters to look at can be teaching standards, research potential, academic facilities, and location. If you are into extra-curricular activities, many UK universities offer a range of options.

In the end, financing your course matters, so information on course fees, accommodation and living costs, and scholarships on offer may be crucial to making the final decision.

Not all the UK universities need a GMT or GRE for admissions, and the requirements are specific to the program you are applying to. Research at least a year before applying, so you can prepare accordingly.

Application process

The application processes for undergraduate and postgraduate courses are different. For undergraduate courses in the UK, you need to register and apply to all of the UK universities and colleges through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). The UCAS website has all the important details for undergraduate admissions including a course search tool.

Postgraduate courses in the UK have their own specific entry requirements and application processes, so start with your shortlist of universities and register with the universities you wish to apply to. The university websites offer elaborate instructions on how to apply to the postgraduate courses. In the beginning, this may appear daunting but the online admission process is fairly simple and smooth. When you create the applications, though, remember to prepare in advance for two important details most applications need - your Statement of Purpose (SoP) detailing your motivation for wanting to study the course you are applying to, and two recommendations from academics or professionals who can support your application. Both these requirements need some planning and hence, are important to prepare for in advance.

Some courses now use the UK Postgraduate Application and Statistical Service (UKPASS) scheme, where you can apply for up to 10 postgraduate courses through one simple application.

You can apply using the UKPASS service at any time as there are no deadlines.

SoP matters

From personal experience, I consider a good SoP to be a game-changer. Over the years, I have advised several students on the SoP and the UK admission process and with 100 percent success in securing funding for their choice of courses. The secret sauce has been the SoP. An authentic, motivated SoP that reveals the real you beyond the labels and marks plays a key role, particularly in securing funding. So take this seriously, and begin writing early and revise drafts before finally submitting.

Managing application outcomes

Every detail of your application is usually managed by a super-efficient application management system which sends notifications via email every step of the way to keep you informed. Once there is a decision on your application, you will usually be notified via email. You could track the progress online in the application system.

Offers for admission may be conditional or unconditional. Unconditional offers generally mean that you have the offer of a place that you can accept right away. Conditional offers are subject to conditions specified that you need to fulfil before the place is secured for you. The conditions could be attached to additional exam grades or English language test scores that you may be required to obtain before you are offered a place. A few courses may require an interview before the offer is made.


Education in the UK can be very expensive, but scholarships and financial support are widely available. The British Council guide to scholarships and other funding programmes to support study in the UK may be a good place to start with.

Besides the numerous scholarships, bursaries and other financial support schemes to fund students at UK universities by the UK government, several UK universities have their own scholarship and funding arrangements to help foreign students, and even offer all expenses paid postgraduate studentships.

A wonderful addition to this list are the GREAT programme offering a minimum of £10,000 towards tuition fees for a one-year taught postgraduate course for students from 18 countries including India, and the Prospect list of postgraduate funding with plenty of options.

The graduate route

The most important change in the UK immigration system in recent years has been the availability of work visas for students after postgraduate courses at a UK university. Unlike before, students graduating with a masters or PhD degree in the UK can now apply for a graduate visa for a minimum of two years and use that to look for work in the UK.

Applying to the UK universities is a simple process but preliminary research and planning are important. If you begin a year in advance, you are in a good place. Why fret when you can plan.
Pallavi Singh is a freelance journalist and business historian in training at Queen’s University Centre for Economic History, Belfast. Views are personal. She tweets at @econhistorienne
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