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The basics
THE UK: Applying to University - Must read

How to apply to study in the UK

Now that you’ve decided to study in New Zealand, you’ll need to know how to apply. Read on to find out everything you need to know, including important deadlines and academic and English language requirements.

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The British education system is one of the most prestigious in the world. A degree from a top UK university will certainly help you to succeed in your chosen career. However, with universities being well-known internationally, this leads to a competitive application process. In this article, we review and simplify the application process so you know exactly what to expect.


Understanding the higher education system in the UK




The UK offers a choice of over 160 universities. Top of many students’ lists are members of the Russell Group – an association representing twenty-four of the country’s top universities. However, even outside of this prestigious group there are many well-known universities.


If you’re worried about the grades you might need then perhaps one of the lesser-known universities has something to offer. Many of these specialise in specific areas, particularly if your subject isn’t considered traditionally academic (for example sports or art), and often the academic requirements are not as high.




Another option is applying to one of the UK’s further education colleges, of which there are over two hundred and forty. These institutions offer a range of academic and vocational courses of varying lengths which are much cheaper than your standard university course.


In most cases, you’ll come away with a higher education-level diploma rather than a bachelor’s degree, but for many people, this is exactly the first step into the professional world that they are looking for.




For students of performing arts, you could consider a conservatoire. These institutions offer a blend of individual tuition, practical training and performance. Here you’ll typically study 9am to 5pm with performances scheduled on evenings and weekends.


Important application deadlines


In the UK, the academic year typically runs from September through to July with breaks over the Christmas and Easter periods.


Undergraduate / further education college applications


The application process for universities and colleges in the UK is highly competitive. At the undergraduate level, these are processed through the University and College Application System, UCAS.


UCAS lists four main deadlines, all in the academic year before you want to begin your studies:

15 October

Application deadline for:

15 January

Application deadline for:

  • all other courses (except some art and design courses with a 24 March deadline)

24 March

Application deadline for:

  • some art and design courses

30 June

Application deadline for:

  • late applications (you will need to first contact the university or college to enquire if they still have spaces left on the course)


Conservatoire applications


You’ll need to apply through UCAS Conservatoires. Deadlines for conservatoires should be checked with the institutions directly. We’d recommend contacting institutions a year in advance to avoid disappointment.


Postgraduate applications


Postgraduate applications are submitted directly to the university. Each institution will have its own process and deadlines. We’d recommend contacting universities a year in advance to understand their requirements.


English language requirements


If English isn’t your first language, you’ll need to take an English language test to prove you have the skills to complete your course.


Common exams you might be asked to sit include IELTS, Cambridge English Advanced, TOEFL and PTE Academic.


Which test you take and what grade you’re required to get will depend on the individual university and your course. For more information, check with the international admissions office at the university you’re applying to.


Academic requirements


Universities will set their own academic requirements, usually on a course-by-course basis. You don’t necessarily need to have the grades at the time you apply, but you may be asked to provide evidence that you’re expected to receive them before you start the course.


For an undergraduate course, you will most likely be expected to have three A-levels (or equivalent qualifications) at a certain grade. At the postgraduate level, depending on what course you’re applying for, you’ll need to have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree (or equivalent) already. Universities set their own requirements for grades so be sure to check when you apply.


Also, be sure to check that your university recognises your qualification(s). Certain awards, like the International Baccalaureate, are widely accepted, but less well-known ones may be treated differently by different institutions.


Important application documents


Before a university formally accepts you, they’ll probably ask to see some documents. However, these aren’t necessarily required when you begin your application. Many will only request documents once they have offered you a place.


Remember, for any document not in English, you’ll usually need to arrange for an official translation.


Your university or college may ask to see:

  • academic transcripts (if you do not yet have your exam certificates) and/or exam/qualification certificates
  • English language test results
  • a copy of your passport or another valid identity document


Before you start your course, you will also need to provide your university with a copy of your student visa. Read our article about applying for a student visa in the UK.


Personal statement


Personal statements are often considered the most time-consuming part of the application process. You’ll also need to write a personal statement of between 1,000 and 4,000 characters. This letter is your opportunity to sell yourself, telling the university why you want to study with them and what makes you a good candidate.


You should write in a professional tone but don’t forget to make it sound personal too. If you’re unsure what to include, UCAS has some helpful advice. Remember, the same statement will be sent to all the universities you apply to, so don’t make it too specific or mention any by name.


Academic reference


You will also need to ask a teacher, adviser or professional person who knows you academically to supply a reference letter. This should be a written recommendation detailing your academic ability, work ethic and general suitability for higher education.


At the postgraduate level, requirements differ between universities, but it is likely you will need to supply similar documents.


The application process


UCAS is the only place you can apply to UK universities at the undergraduate level, colleges and conservatoires. You’ll need to register for an account before you can begin. If you’re applying for a postgraduate course, you’ll need to apply directly to the university.


The process is relatively straightforward but be warned, it takes time so don’t leave it until the last minute.


Here, we break down each stage of the application process for undergraduate students.


A UCAS application step-by-step

  1. Personal details
    • basic questions for you to answer about yourself and your circumstances
  2. Education history
    • enter details about your school and academic qualifications
    • there are drop-down options for the most common qualifications, but if you can’t find yours, just type the details in the ‘other’ box
  3. Employment history
    • list any paid jobs you’ve had
  4. Select your course(s) and institution(s)
    • you can choose up to five (four if you’re applying for medicine, dentistry or veterinary sciences)
  5. Personal statement
    • copy and paste this into the box
    • make sure you have proofread it before you submit
  6. Initial submission
    • check your application and tick the declaration box
  7. Reference
    • you’ll need to ask your referee to attach their letter of reference for your application to be considered complete
  8. Pay the application fee
    • your application will not be submitted until you have paid:
      • GBP 22.50 for a single course choice; or
      • GBP 27 for multiple choices


What happens next


The university/universities will be in contact to let you know if you have an offer of a place. They may request you attend an interview (or audition, for performing arts) before they extend an offer.


Once an offer is extended by a university it will be either ‘conditional’ (dependent on you getting certain grades) or ‘unconditional’ (where they have accepted you irrespective of any pending exam results). Once you’ve received an offer, you’ll need to make a start on your student visa application.


It would also be sensible to start looking into accommodation options – if you’re hoping to live in university accommodation, there’s usually a deadline for applications. Check this direct with your university.  Find out more about how much it costs to study in the UK.


Top tips


Here are some top application tips:

  • Attend some university open days(if you can) so you can get a good feel for the place. It will help you know whether it’s somewhere you’d enjoy studying.
  • Make use of a university's international admissions office . They’ll be happy to offer you guidance about their processes.
  • Accept any help or guidance you’re offered along the way from teachers, guidance counsellors or trusted friends, Extra eyes reading over an application can always be helpful.


Study in the UK


'Study in the UK' eBook

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