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Planning ahead: How to prepare for undergraduate study in the UK in 2017

As an international student, the undergraduate application process can seem daunting but is actually very straightforward. Millions of students do it every year, and with a little foresight and planning, the process can be surprisingly easy.

If you would like to study in the UK in 2017, you have a full year between now and the September intake, but acceptance to the best courses can be competitive, so it’s good to start the process in good time.

Together UK universities offer over 37,000 undergraduate programmes and the honours year is integrated into the standard programme duration – typically three years. You may be attracted to a subject you have already studied at high school or you may prefer to grasp the chance to study something new. Whilst UK degrees are typically more focussed on one or a combination of two specific subjects some universities specialise in modular or flexible degree structures allowing you the option of creating bespoke programme combinations. The development of degrees such as Liberal Arts or Natural Sciences use a multidisciplinary approach to facilitate the study of complex real world issues such as political instability or climate change.


Image courtesy of the University of Exeter

If you have a specific career in mind you should research accreditation requirements in the country in which you intend to work and may want to check out opportunities to undertake a placement as part of the degree or gain work experience through other university schemes. Studying in the UK provides the opportunity to live and study with students from a range of different cultures but why not go one step further and add a study abroad option in a third country? Many universities have relationships with providers outside the UK who teach in English so you needn’t have additional language skills to benefit from such opportunities.

Universities already have their undergraduate programme lists posted online, and the UCAS search tool includes all undergraduate degrees in the UK, so it’s easy to research your options well in advance.

Academic Requirements

In general, universities will expect good academic performance and, particularly for science courses may require minimum scores in certain subjects. For example: Engineering students will be expected to be proficient at maths, etc.

Some programmes may also require that you participate in an interview either face to face or online or that you submit additional evidence in support of your suitability such as a portfolio of your work for creative degree courses or sit a subject specific test such as UKCAT / BMAT for Medicine degrees.

Most British universities post their requirements in terms of A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate, but will also recognize qualifications from most countries’ secondary education systems. To find out if you are eligible for a particular course, contact your chosen university’s International Office.

Most students apply for an undergraduate degree whilst still at high school and before they know the outcome of their final results. Instead universities use the results from earlier academic exams, interim assessments or grades predicted by your teacher, to make an offer conditional upon the outcome of your final assessment. This way you can focus on your revision and enter your exams motivated by the knowledge of what you are aiming to achieve.


Image courtesy of the University of Exeter

English Language

To ensure you derive the maximum benefit, academically and socially, from study in the UK, you will need to be confident in the use of English across reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. If you need a visa to study in the UK proof of linguistic ability is an immigration requirement as well as an academic necessity. Most British universities accept IELTS and TOEFL certification at the following levels:

  • At least 6.5 overall and no less than 6.0 in the writing section and no less than 5.5 in any other section
  • At least 90 with minimum scores of 21 for writing, 21 for listening, 22 for reading and 23 for speaking

Minimum scores and tests accepted may vary a little by subject and university, some may accept English-language qualifications from your home country or from international curricula such as the International Baccalaureate or IGCSE – contact your chosen university to find out exact requirements.

If you need to take a standalone English test it is a good idea to do so early in your applicant journey. If you fall short of the required level, you then have plenty of time to re-test or enrol on your chosen university’s pre-sessional course. Alternatively many universities offer longer Foundation Programmes to top up both subject knowledge, linguistic and study skills in preparation for an undergraduate degree.


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The Application Process

Applications for undergraduate study in the UK are made through UCAS. This is a simple online process which allows you to lodge up to five applications via a single form. You can read our full guide on that process here. Applications to Oxford or Cambridge or for Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary science have to be submitted in October whilst applications to other institutions / subjects can continue to be made after this point for as long as a university has vacancies.

The UCAS process asks you to summarise your academic and English language studies and also to provide a personal statement outlining why you want to study the subject/s you have chosen. The universities you select via UCAS are unable to see where else you have applied, and must give equal consideration to all applications received by the relevant deadline, so it is a very fair system.

If you fall short of the grades required for your ideal course, don’t worry. The UCAS system encourages you to hold an ‘Insurance’ choice as well as your first or ‘Firm’ choice. If you do your research carefully and ensure your applications are both a realistic match with your abilities and that your insurance choice requires lower grades you can be prepared for all outcomes.

In the unlikely event that you don’t receive any offers, you may want to check out ‘Clearing’ where remaining vacancies are advertised from the 1 July each year.

It’s Never Too Early to Apply

While the September 2017 intake might seem a long way off, it’s never too early to start your research. Application times can vary dramatically from university to university, and country to country; and can take significantly longer as the cut-off dates get closer. Also be sure to check and double check the requirements for each step of the process. An overlooked qualification or an incorrectly filled out form can cost you weeks, or even months.


Image courtesy of the University of Exeter

This article was sponsored by the University of Exeter, which is now accepting applications for its September 2017 intake. Ranked in the top 100 universities in the world by Times Higher Education, Exeter is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and was named top for International Student Satisfaction by StudyPortals in 2014. The University is renowned for the quality of its academic courses and its three garden campuses in the beautiful South West of England. Eighty-six percent of Exeter students graduate with either 1st class honours or a 2:1, and over 95 percent are in employment or further study within six months of graduation. 

Feature image courtesy of the University of Exeter

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