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THE UK: Applying to University - Must read

University applications: An admission officers top tips

It's normal to feel a little daunted by the prospect of applying to a university overseas. We've put together some top tips and advice taken from our consultations with university admissions officers to help you understand the process.

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As an international student getting to grips with the application process can sometimes seem like an uphill battle. You may not be sure what to include with your application, how long it will take to hear back from a university and how best to increase the chances of making a positive impact on the person evaluating your application. With this in mind we decided to pick the brains of those making the decisions, admissions officers. We give you exclusive access to inside information from admissions departments that could make all the difference when you’re applying to a university. 


Time frames 

Once you’ve submitted your application admissions departments aim to respond in around two days. This is of course if they are standard applications and don’t need any input from faculty or advanced entry evaluation. If a faculty needs to assess your application as well, you may be looking at about five working days for a response. Each application will be scrutinized by trained and experienced admissions officers who are well versed in what’s required for certain courses and qualifications. In some cases, you may be offered a course other than the one you had originally applied for, based on the appraisal of an admissions officer. Included in this may be some constructive feedback on how best to gain admission for your desired course. 


Academic references

When it comes to academic references, admissions officers are looking for a student’s ability to both cope with, succeed in and contribute to the course they are applying for. They are taking into account the evidence of academic achievement and the circumstances around your study experience. 


A critical part of the application comes down to the presentation of information. Due to time constraints admissions officers are looking for easy access to material on the qualifications that you are studying / have studied, with a succinct description of each. You’ll need to have references or information from a specialist in the school/college/university you’re registered at or have graduated from.  Make sure that the most relevant subjects for the application are listed first. 


Your references should ideally support and bolster the evidence you’ve included in your personal statement. It should be an endorsement of your abilities. Perhaps it may underscore elements of your character such as self-motivation or creativity. Don’t forget to let your referee know what course you are applying for so that they can reference this accurately in their letter. It can also be beneficial to tie this to your future career ambitions which strengthens your motivation to study a certain course. 



Personal references 

If you’ve been out of higher education and/or studying for a period of time, a personal reference can make all the difference. If you’ve been working it’s useful to get a reference from your employer or manager, which should ideally stand as a character and skills reference. This includes what you may be able to bring to a course based on your work experience and transferable skills. 


Grades and qualifications  

Inevitably if you’re applying to study overseas, you may be wondering how admissions officers ascertain the relative strength and grade equivalents for your qualification.  They have a number of systems and tools with which to do so, for example the National Office for Overseas Skills Recognition in the UK. All who work in admissions also keep up to date and informed on recent developments in the higher education qualifications sector, which are logged and mapped appropriately. 


Help and guidance 

There are a number of ways that you can get assistance and information on the application process. You can contact the institution's recruitment team directly or check out the admissions section on the university website. You may also be able to get sent information packs to help you through the process. Once you’ve got an offer letter this may be accompanied by additional information that can assist you with your application for a visa. 


How to complete an application 

You need to make sure that you complete all the sections of the application in full, with as much detail as you can. Admissions officers will also be looking for explanations for breaks in education and work history, for example a gap year or incomplete degree.  This goes a long way in enhancing your application


How to ace the interview 

For certain courses and qualifications, you may be required to attend an interview.  This may be because the course has a practical aspect or specialist type of research. You would be expected to prepare requested materials beforehand as well as demonstrate your knowledge and experience in relation to the qualification you want to pursue. 


There are no set number of questions you’ll be asked, but it’s good to have an idea of why you’ve applied to study a particular course, chosen the particular institution and the location. Don’t forget you’ll probably be asked what your aims and ambitions are once you’ve completed your degree, so have an answer ready. 


Personal statements standout 

The main question you’re probably asking yourself is ‘What will make my personal statement stand out?’. According to the admissions officers we spoke to it’s all about ensuring that you promote your skills as much as possible and can demonstrate your motivation, as well as aptitude for the course you want to study.  A common mistake you can make is not personalising the statement enough to the course or qualification you want to study.  Some of the elements you may want to include:

  • Why you have chosen the course or courses selected  
  • The reasons why that subject area interests you
  • Aspects of your current studies related to the course(s) that you have chosen
  • Why you think you would be a good student
  • Details of jobs, placements, work experience or voluntary work which you’ve undertaken, particularly if it has relevance to your chosen subject.
  • Any hobbies, interests and social activities that demonstrate that you’re a well-rounded person.
  • Details of non-accredited qualifications and any other achievements that you’re proud of (e.g. being selected for your county cricket team). 
  • Details of any positions of responsibility that you’ve held both in and out of school (e.g. School / College representative prefect or representative).
  • Any attributes that make you interesting, special or unique
  • Whether you have any future plans of how you want to use the knowledge and experience that you’ve gained.



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