UK remains a top destinations for international students

When selecting universities, it is essential that students create a balanced college list

By Sam McNeilly

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Published: Sun 31 Mar 2024, 12:13 PM

With world-leading universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, and King’s College London, lower tuition costs, and shorter paths to top professions including law and medicine, it is no surprise that the UK is one of the most popular destinations for international students. With competition for places growing fiercer every year, Hale Education Group offers expert insight and guidance in every aspect of UK higher education to ensure students stand out in the application process.

The majority of UK applications are submitted through the University and College Admission Service (UCAS) portal. Before beginning their application, students must decide on the subject they want to study, as there is limited flexibility to change courses once enrolled at a UK university. Relatedly, this makes high school course selection vital also, as each major requires students to have studied specific subjects prior to their degree. Once this decision is made, students can select a maximum of five universities to which they will apply, and there are various factors that must be considered in this process.


While the student’s geographical and cultural preferences play an important role, the most important aspect is academic achievements–every course at a UK university has minimum entry requirements which students must meet. These vary across institutions: most courses at Oxford and Cambridge, for example, require students to achieve A*A*A/40+ in their A Level/IB. At less competitive universities, however, entry requirements decrease in relation to the course’s national ranking. When selecting universities, it is essential that students create a balanced college list. While they should apply to top schools if they have the required grades, they should also select universities whose requirements are less competitive in relation to their achievements.

Alongside their education record, students can stand out in the application process through their extracurricular activities. Unlike in the US, where universities seek students with diverse interests, UK universities prefer students who have focused their energies on exploring their subject and developing their academic skills outside of the classroom. Students can demonstrate this in their application in a number of ways: through summer programmes, online courses, research experience, work experience, personal projects, and so on–the important thing is that such activities must relate to the subject they will study at university.


Once a student is ready to apply, they must open an account on the UCAS portal, fill out their information, then write a personal statement of 4000 characters (approximately 600 words). The personal statement is a crucial component of the application process, as it is the only way that students can describe their academic achievements and passions in detail. In it, admissions officers expect to read about how an applicant’s academic interests, subject knowledge, and related activities make them suited to the course.

The deadlines for UK applications depend on where a student is applying. For Oxford and Cambridge–as well as most Medicine, Veterinary, and Dentistry courses–students must apply by mid-October. Oxford and Cambridge (to which, it is important to remember, students can only apply to one), also require applicants to sit entrance exams, which are held shortly after their deadlines. For the majority of other universities, entrance exams are rare (with the exception of Law and Medicine courses), and the deadline is the end of January. Successful applications will receive conditional offers, which means that students will gain entry onto a course providing that they achieve their predicted grades.

While applications for all standard courses are made through UCAS, some of the top UK universities–including King’s College London, UCL, and Warwick–offer foundation programmes, which provide alternative entry routes for international students whose grades do not match their entry requirements. These foundation programmes provide an additional year of education for students to develop their academic skills and subject knowledge before they enroll in a standard degree. Ultimately, UK foundation years offer an exceptional opportunity for students not quite reaching the most competitive entry requirements to study at a world-leading university, and boost their career opportunities as a result.Tailored to each individual student, Hale’s dedicated UK counseling team provides expert support through one-to-one mentorship and guidance.

The writer is Education Consultant, Hale Education Group


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