Anglophilia: UK university admissions policy | Varsity Education

Anglophilia: UK university admissions policy

In today’s post we continue to examine what makes a UK university education different, and sometimes more attractive, to the rest of the world. So different that the UK hits the top Google rankings for US students wishing to study abroad. Last week we looked at the history of British universities, this week we examine UK university admissions policies and how they vary from other countries.

The Basics

All overseas students are expected to be fluent in English. Most universities require a formal English language qualification of some kind to be submitted, the most common being the Academic IELTS .

Undergraduates are expected to have the top grades in their country of permanent residence’s equivalent education systems. American students, for example, will be expected to complete the SAT or ACT exam, as well as up to three SAT subject or/and AP tests. Each university may have specific requirements of their own so it is essential to check their websites to see what may apply to a chosen course.

Please note: studying medicine in the UK is a lot more complicated, including limitations on numbers of international students and a future blog will cover this in much more detail. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates.

Applying Online

All applications for UK universities are made online through the UCAS website  and the application fee is £12 ($19) for one course, or £23 ($36) for multiple courses or for applications sent after 30 June. Undergraduates can only apply to up to five institutions, so it is vital that thorough research is done beforehand. It is also worth noting that the same application will go to all of the universities; it is not possible to tailor individual applications to each. You can only apply once per cycle and if a student has applied in previous cycles, all information will need to be submitted again. Unfortunately, undergraduates cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same cycle, so again, prior research is important.

As much detail as possible should be added to the education history section. All qualifications are listed by name and country and if any are missing, they can be added to the ‘Other’ section. Proof of qualifications may be required and universities often have different policies for how they want to receive them; again, check with the individual university. Finally, an academic reference is mandatory. These can come from a teacher, advisor or professional who has worked academically with the undergraduate.

The Personal Statement

Personal statements differ from US college submission essays in a number of ways. While a submission essay talks about the student’s abilities and life outside college, the personal statement is much more subject-focused.

The statement needs to demonstrate why the student is applying to their chosen subject at a higher level. Ambitions and interests, and what makes them the most suitable candidate, should be mentioned, as well as any relevant skills, experience or achievements gained from education, work or other activities, including unpaid and voluntary work, should also be listed.

Universities tend to publish course descriptions which often mention the qualities, skills and experience it is useful to have for each subject, so these can assist when writing the statement. Because the same statement goes out to each course applied for, we recommended universities and colleges are not referred to by name.

Finally, in total, personal statements are a maximum of only 4000 characters and this includes punctuation and paragraph breaks so it is vital that the statement is polished, relevant and succinct.


The Oxbridge Interview

Though many universities skip this process and rely on the submitted application, Oxford and Cambridge take their interviews seriously and with good reason.

Depending on the subject, Oxford, for example, invites between 30-90% of candidates to interview. Generally this means travelling to the UK to be there in person. In the most extreme of circumstances a video interview may be allowed but these are rare.

What are potential students judged on? Academic passion and intellectual curiosity, specific to the chosen subject. Questions are designed to gauge the undergraduate’s desire to learn and their ability to think on their feet so students can certainly expect to have their analytical and critical thinking skills put to the test.


What Doesn’t Count

What may put a student in a superior position in other countries is highly unlikely to count in the UK. This includes legacies: offspring of previous graduates or benefactors do not have a guaranteed place and there are no financial or hereditary spaces available. Though Oxbridge has produced some amazing sports stars, first and foremost they are academics; there are no scholarships based on physical ability.

Finally, there are no affirmative action policies in place: all applications are considered equally regardless of the ethnicity, gender, religion and beliefs or sexual orientation of the undergraduate. This meritocratic approach ensures UK universities have a healthy mix of people from all walks of life.

Next week we continue our series and will look at how UK tuition fees are considered mild when compared to a number of other institutions across the globe.