Guide to UK Applications • Undergraduate

How to Apply to UK Universities as an International Student

POSTED ON 04/17/2023 BY The Red Pen

Undergraduate international student at a UK university

If you’re wondering how to apply to UK universities as an international student, the application process is pretty straightforward. You will have to submit your applications through the UCAS  website, which serves as a centralised platform to apply to universities in the UK.

Although the holy trinity of predicted grades, a letter of recommendation, and a personal statement are the standard UK university requirements for undergraduate applications, they require more from international students. 

Here are some additional UK university requirements from international students:

UK undergraduate application requirement 1: Written work

Many courses at the University of Oxford require students to submit a sample of written work as part of their application process. Depending on the course, the written piece should demonstrate analytical reasoning, language and writing skills appropriate for the degree. For example, the Classics at the University of Oxford is a wide-ranging degree devoted to studying literature, history, philosophy, languages and archaeology of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. To apply for this course, students must submit two writing pieces, either as essays or commentaries in relevant areas. 

Similarly, for social sciences and humanities courses, such as history or English, the University of Cambridge asks applicants to submit one or two examples of written work from a relevant A Level/IB (or equivalent) course. You must present examples that your school teacher has marked. Also, prepare to discuss them in your interview. The University of Cambridge usually notifies students about the type of written work, the submission process and the deadline. It also expects you to submit a cover sheet with your written work. Keep a copy so you can read it before your interview.

UK undergraduate application requirement 2: Special personal statements

When you apply to UK universities, some call for an additional personal statement for specific courses. The University of Warwick’s Bachelor of Science in Global Sustainable Development invites shortlisted students to submit a personal statement in addition to what they’ve sent through UCAS. Students must address their keenness in the subject and specify one example from their studies or extracurricular activities within the 3,000-character limit. The submission deadline is within two weeks of receiving an intimation from the university. 

UK undergraduate application requirement 3: Portfolios 

Some UK universities require portfolios for art and design-related courses such as fine art, crafts, photography, dance and drama. A portfolio is a collection of a student’s artwork. Depending on the subject, it should include sketches, digital arts and designs, photography, musical compositions, short films, essays or creative writing samples. A portfolio must demonstrate a student’s artistic motivation and reflect a potential to experiment, imagine, and explore ideas and techniques.

Universities use portfolios to assess whether students are prepared for the course and will mention what they require on their website. For example, the University of Arts London (UAL) tells you how to submit a portfolio and shares tips on creating one. 

While most universities accept digitally uploaded portfolios, they expect students to submit a portfolio statement to elaborate on their creative process. For instance, the University of Glasgow Arts expects 10 digital artwork images and a 300-word statement. Once the university receives your application via UCAS, they will email you a link where you can upload the portfolio. However, some universities prefer that you present your portfolio during the interview. 

Students may showcase work produced during their A Levels, internships and even outside the formal education spectrum. Enrolling in a foundation course is a popular way to prepare an art portfolio. These courses are a great way to explore and identify the kind of art and design field you wish to pursue at university. Here are some tips for creating an impressive portfolio: 

  • Know your work: Do not include pieces that you can explain. You must be able to explain your thought process for all your work. 
  • Include a range: Showcasing your ability to work with different themes, materials, and techniques is essential.
  • The process is as important as the product: Feel free to include any unfinished work and discuss your vision for the completed product. 
  • Take control: Show the admissions officers your most original work rather than what you think they might like. Your individuality is a powerful tool for creativity.
  • Build a strong story: Ensure your work reveals a straightforward narrative from introduction to conclusion.
  • Include annotations and notes: Remember to explain and contextualise your work. Creating a portfolio is like telling a story.

UK undergraduate application requirement 4: Auditions

Conservatoires provide performance-based higher education, including music, drama, screen and production courses–both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. While students must audition at individual conservatoires, UCAS Conservatoires streamlines the process by enabling them to create a single electronic application and submit it to six conservatoires. Some of the participating conservatoires on UCAS are:

  • Birmingham Conservatoire
  • Leeds Conservatoire (postgraduate only)
  • Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music
  • Royal College of Music
  • Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
  • Royal Northern College of Music
  • Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama 
  • Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

Remember that some institutions may have individual requirements. For example, the Royal College of Music has a detailed list of audition requirements for each field of music specialisation. 

Performing arts schools allow applicants to choose their audition pieces based on specific directives and also give them some preparation time. In some cases, students are asked to perform two contrasting pieces. For example, a drama student can pick a monologue from Shakespeare and a speech from a modern play. Musicians might have to do sight reading; dancers and actors may need to join a class or a workshop. Students are assessed on individual performance and social interaction in a group audition. 

Various people watch live auditions. A panel may comprise just two people or an entire audience of tutors, current students and immediate competitors. Some institutions conduct ‘recall auditions’. While the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s recall audition takes a whole day, other recall auditions can occur over weeks, where successful applicants return for another audition.

*Note: Bigger institutions have started conducting online auditions after the pandemic. 

UK undergraduate application requirement 5: Interviews

Interview invitations depend on individual universities and their departments. For example, most programmes at the University of Warwick do not require interviews. In the rare event that they do, UCAS will notify students. On the other hand, Middlesex University London has several programmes that need interviews.

While The London School of Economics and Political Science doesn’t interview applicants for most programmes, Oxbridge does. To get invited for an Oxbridge interview, applicants must do well in their subject-specific tests, have outstanding predicted grades and write compelling personal statements. Here are 10 ways to ace your Oxbridge interview.

Courses most likely to request interviews are medicine, veterinary science, dentistry, nursing, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, teacher training, radiography, social work, speech and language therapy, art, design, dance, theatre and music. Other courses outside this list may use an interview as part of their application process. For example, the chemistry department at Imperial College London reviews UCAS applications and invites shortlisted students for interviews. Therefore, applicants need to check the admissions process with university departments. 

UK undergraduate application requirement 6: Tests

Courses at Durham University, King’s College, University College London, and London School of Economics and Political Science test applicants to gauge their aptitude and ability to handle the rigour. Oxbridge universities and Imperial College London also ask for additional exams. So, depending on your course, you must track the dates and deadlines of these exams. Here’s a comprehensive list of the important entrance exams. Here’s more about entrance exams in the UK. 

UK university requirements for international students will vary by institution and by the course. If you want to pursue your undergraduate degree in this country, here are nine compelling reasons to study in the UK. You may also want more details on higher education in the UK. But if you need assistance with your application, please get in touch. Our UK specialists look forward to helping you meet your academic goals.