Home » Studying Abroad: How To Apply To Universities In The UK

Studying Abroad: How To Apply To Universities In The UK

Having studied in England myself and wholly enjoyed the experience, I would like to share how one applies to the universities and colleges in GB as a foreigner with you. Many people are daunted by doing their whole degree abroad purely by the fact that the application procedures are different from home, and stick to the limited opportunities on offer, that center mostly around spending a few months to a year abroad. Also a good option, but I would like to take away some of the stigma of studying abroad completely, and maybe some of you, or your kids will find the information useful.First of all, a great place to start if you are interested in pursuing a degree in the UK is to go to the British Council. In my case it was the one in Vienna, but they are represented all around the world.

I found a wealth of information on UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) there, as well as university rankings, brochures, the application process and was even supplied the application form. Of course, nowadays you can get a lot of this online – oh dear, this makes me feel old – as well as apply and follow the progress of your application on the UCAS page. There is even a special page for international students. The GB system differentiates between foreign students from the EU, who as basically treated identically to UK students, and students from outside of the EU.

In my case, the big difference to the university entry system in Austria was that at the time there was no numerus clausus for most courses at Viennese universities and in order to enroll one showed up on registration day, shortly before term started and signed in. For particularly popular courses, this involved waiting in long lines and surviving sifting out during the first few exams, which essentially provided an unofficial sorting system.

The British system differs significantly from this as you apply for your degree course up to a year before it starts – January for most and October for those wanting to go to the big two, Oxford and Cambridge, and other popular courses. You can apply to up to five courses at the same time, filling in a form with your personal details, grade records, and, very important, a personal statement.

After much searching in the library of the British Council I had focused my efforts on five universities: Oxford (unbeknownst to me, not actually that good for Engineering, but as a foreigner I felt I had to apply to one of either Oxford or Cambridge), Durham (as a back-up), Bristol (based on a friend’s recommendation and one of the top two places to study Aerospace Eng. in England), Imperial (one of the top two places to study Aerospace Eng. in England) and Queen Mary.

For those not familiar with UK uni (university) speak, these are short for Oxford University, the University of Durham, the University of Bristol, Imperial College and the Queen Mary University of London.

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Cambridge had disqualified itself in my choices by a professor telling me during a visit there that I would probably, like all foreign students, struggle and not do very well there.

Once you have submitted your application form, you wait. The universities then get back to you, letting you know if you have received an offer for a place at their institution, and at what conditions, ie what grades you need to get to be allowed to enter. Depending on how much the university wants you and how popular the course is, there are different tacks to take here: high requirements for popular courses, low requirements if they really want you and other combinations in between, as well as unconditional offers.

I was invited for an interview in Oxford only. None of the other universities expected foreign nationals to go to this expense. At Oxford I spent the coldest night in my life in the student dorm, not a good start. I was put up in one of the older college buildings and ended up wearing every bit of clothing I had with me in order to get warm enough to sleep. The interview did not go well. They seemed unused to anyone not coming out of the English school system, and I was not well prepared for questions based on a school system quite different from the one I came from.

Durham did make me an offer, which I declined, it being too easy (2 Bs and C). I am a bit of a sucker for a challenge.

I visited Imperial; and their amazing lab equipment, while truly impressive, seemed to be accessible only to researchers, not students. Not that they made me an offer anyway, so that took care of that.

Queen Mary did make me an offer, but I must admit I was rather scared by the area in the East End the one time I went to see the facilities. I definitely recommend having a look at the schools you are interested in, if you can manage it. You will be spending a few years there, after all.

Finally, and to my great joy, Bristol made me an offer I could not refuse: not too easy, with the free self-confidence boost that they only picked one out of 12 applicants, and a lovely city to boot.

Offers made require a reply; unconditional offers can be accepted right away to confirm the place. Offers conditional on grades can be replied to with either a firm acceptance, your first choice, or an insurance acceptance, your back-up. You are restricted to replying to two conditional offers. If you receive no offers, you can apply to more courses.

Once your results are in there are the following options:
– You meet your first choice requirements and go to this university.
– You exceed the requirements and can look at the UCAS Adjustment service.
– You have not quite met the required grades you’re your universities make an alternative offer.
– You do not meet the requirement grades and go into UCAS clearing, where free places at universities are assigned.

And with that, you are off! Off on a big adventure, in a great university system enabling you to get top quality degrees with a good mix of theory and practical aspects, in a reasonable time periods.

Have fun!

Cary is in her mid-thirties, living in her third home country, Germany, in Hamburg, with her Irish husband and little boy. Their little family is a true MischMasch, part Austrian, American, Irish, with some British flavour thrown in, for good measure. Writing is one of Cary's passions, as well as travelling and learning, and she enjoys pursuing it in her blog MyMischMasch.

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