Application Process for International Students in UK Universities [UPDATED FOR 2020]

The UK is one of the most preferred locations for international students from all over the world due to the country’s high standard universities and quality of education. Although many students aspire to get into the right UK university, some might lose track due to improper guidance and resources.

While getting an admission in a UK university might sound easy initially, the entire application journey is time-consuming and a bit tricky. Our step-by-step guide will help international students understand the complete application process for getting into a UK university and will make sure your application process is much simpler than imagined.



Visit the UCAS Website

Before initiating the entire process, students are advised to take a look at the UCAS (The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) website. The website offers a lot of information on the lists of universities, courses offered, application deadlines, etc. Moreover, this resource also allows you to submit your applications to multiple institutions that frequently recognise it as the only application system. Consider UCAS as an entry permit for your application in UK Universities.


Application Requirements

The most important part before starting an application is to get know the important admission dates and deadlines. Students failing to submit their application as per the deadline might have to wait for another year to start the entire application process. Some courses expect you to apply in January while others require advance submission of documents during the October of the year preceding your entry. While most offerings provide late deadlines, all positions can already be occupied, which is why you should submit your forms as soon as possible. Before starting, make sure you have all the below required documents in place:

  1. Passport or another identification document – it must be up-to-date
  2. Birth certificate (required by some courses).
  3. English language proficiency qualification – IELTS Test or its equivalent (C1, TOEFL, etc. depending on specific university requirements).
  4. Academic transcripts for students entering Master’s programmes.
  5. Proof of managing funds for your studies – If you wish to study in a London based university, you will need to provide a proof that you can afford the minimum monthly expenses of £1,020 tuition fees and living costs. This cost might drop to £820 per month if you plan to study outside London.
  6. Tuberculosis test report (certain countries) – before applying for a UK visa, it is essential for people of some countries to undergo a Tuberculosis test, so be sure to check whether you need to get tested.
  7. Letters of reference (can be obtained from your teachers or advisers who know your academic performance and can confirm your suitability for higher education).


Choose your Course and Select your Universities

Before selecting a university, it is necessary for a student to know whether the desired course is available at the university. UCAS has specialised UCAS centres that are found in many western countries. These organisations have professional advisers who are highly knowledgeable in recent curriculum changes and requirement updates. If such a centre is available in your country of residence, you should contact it and confirm your choices before proceeding to reduce possible uncertainty.

While university plays a great role in education, the most crucial part before selecting a university is deciding a course based on the student’s personal interests and passion. This can be done by going through university websites and exploring the courses offered. Once you have selected a course, search for its unique code on the UCAS website which will be required later in the application process. Every student is entitled to select up to five universities for submitting their application. As of 2020, UCAS charges you £20 for a single course and £25 for applying to multiple courses. In most cases, selecting multiple options will maximise your chances of successful enrolment.


Write your Personal Statement

Every year, UK universities receive thousands of applications from students with different grades and from different countries. So, writing a personal statement is necessary to set you apart from other students. A personal statement should consist of maximum 4,000 characters or 47 lines describing yourself and your passion for the selected subject. Details such as personal interests, how the university will benefit, reasons behind choosing a particular course and previous achievements must also be added to the personal statement.

Do not attempt to copy successful examples of these documents found online. UK universities are presently running extensive plagiarism checks and borrowing the ideas of others can result in instant reporting of this offence to all universities you have applied to. Here are some tips that we have found effective when helping students prepare their personal statements:

  1. Write a list of the course advantages you consider highly relevant for your future goals.
  2. Write down your personal academic and life priorities.
  3. Think about the knowledge of the subject you already have and how it can be expanded.
  4. Identify your key capabilities and personal qualities making you a valuable student.
  5. Establish links between all these elements to make a coherent statement.

In the end, you should have a brief text demonstrating your best qualities, your genuine interest in a specific sphere of knowledge, and a clear explanation of how this development direction will be supported by studying a specific course in your university of choice. Make sure that you proof-read your personal statement extensively and get rid of overused clichés like ‘passionate’, ‘sparked my interest’, ‘fascinated’, ‘from a young age’, etc. If you lack the expertise in this sphere, you may want to consult a trusted essay writing service to get help with editing your statement.


Apply on the UCAS Website

As mentioned earlier, the UCAS website is the comprehensive solution for the UK university application process. The website guides students through the entire process from filling out the personal information to writing a personal statement and collecting codes of various universities and courses. The best part about approaching different universities is that students can send identical applications to up to five universities they wish to apply for.

As noted earlier, the website charges £20 for submitting a single course application in a single university and £25 if a student plans to apply for various courses and universities. All you have to do is pay the fee and wait for your application to get processed. There exist several paths depending on your current academic status. These differences are associated with the fact that various universities accept applications on 15 October, 15 January, 24 March or 30 June (usually, this date is reserved for the Clearing process). In some cases, you can be still completing your school education at the moment of the submission.

If you are presently studying at a secondary-level institution, you may need to provide the following information:

  • The key elements of the programme you are presently studying.
  • Information about any extra-curricular activities.
  • Predicted scores or grades you are planning to achieve at the end of your current academic course (this information is usually provided by subject teachers).

This information is attached to the aforementioned letter of reference to demonstrate that the applicant has good academic progress and meets the requirements of the course they are planning to enter. If you are not presently studying at any academic institution, you can obtain the references from your current employer.

Another important thing is to provide alternative contact when submitting your documents to UCAS. Do not skip this step! In the case of an emergency hospitalisation or any other force majeure circumstances, this nominated contact will have the right to ger information on your behalf and discuss your application perspectives.


Tracking Progress

The UCAS tracking system allows you to monitor replies from universities as they respond to your applications. Effectively, you can receive two types of messages:

  • Conditional offers that grant you entry on the basis of your examination results.
  • Unconditional offers.

You can accept or decline both types of offers at once if you wish to. However, it is usually more reasonable to wait for multiple replies before making a final decision. If several universities are ready to grant you admission for the selected courses, you can choose several options:

  1. Accept a single firm offer and wait for examination grades.
  2. Accept a single firm offer and one backup offer as an insurance policy.
  3. Decline all offers and add new choices via the Extra policy at UCAS.

The successful candidates will receive a CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies) from UCAS. It is a digital document consisting of a unique reference number sent by the university which has accepted the student’s application. This document is mandatory for applying for student visa and will include all the details of your course, its start date, tuition fees, etc. Please, also note that you can adjust your choice of courses if your final grades are better than the predicted scores provided to your university of choice earlier. In most cases, students can find alternative options and rearrange firmly accepted offers to select a better educational programme, if they are willing to.


Alternative Scenarios

Despite your best efforts, you can still find yourself in a situation where all of your applications were declined and you are getting closer to the application deadline without any offers from universities. Do not panic!

UCAS had Clearing and Extra options designed specifically for these situations that have worked effectively for many international students. Let us consider your list of choices:

  • You can use the Extra option to submit new applications if all of your five initial offers were declined. This will give you additional chances to succeed if you analyse the reasons for the rejection of these applications and adjust your strategies accordingly.
  • If none of the options work until 30 June, UCAS will offer Clearing courses. Do not be misguided by this name and think of these programmes as ‘supermarket leftovers’. In many cases, universities fail to fill all vacancies due to a small number of applicants, insufficient promotion or last-minute decline of offers by earlier enrolled applicants. To meet their financial and academic goals, they may be willing to provide this position to you, which is where the UCAS website may be helpful. Make sure that you monitor the Track status if you choose to start the Clearing process. Before engaging it, you can write a follow-up letter to your earlier selected universities to make 100% sure that they are not willing to accept your offers.


Pay for Immigration Health Surcharge

Another document which is mandatory while applying for the UK visa is a receipt of the Immigration Health Surcharge. This can be obtained by paying a fee of £150 and it will take care of your annual healthcare expenditures during your stay in the UK. You can make this payment when you are submitting your application online or during a booked appointment. To use the medical services offered by the NHS, you need to provide a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). Keep in mind that you still have to pay for eye tests, dental treatments, and several other treatments that are not covered by the healthcare surcharge.


Apply for your Visa

A Tier 4 (General) Student Visa is required for a full-degree course in the UK, whereas a Student Visitor Visa is needed if a student wishes to pursue a course for a duration of six months or less. An online application form needs to be filled in for the visa application along with fingerprints and photo at a visa application centre. After this, you will be able to get a Biometric Residence Permit. You can apply for a student visa within six months after receiving the CAS and at least three months prior to the beginning of the course.

There also exists priority and super priority services in several countries partnering with the UK Visas and Immigration government agency. The first option allows you to get a visa decision within 5 working days while the second one provides for a 24-hour response. These opportunities may be invaluable for the aforementioned Clearing and Extra courses or some courses starting soon. Priority and super priority services allow you to capitalise on these ‘last-minute’ options and minimise possible risks.


Visa Interview

Once the visa application is submitted, students will be invited for a visa interview either at a visa application centre or through a video. A usual visa interview round generally consists of questions regarding the course, university and financial arrangement. 

Here are some common questions you may be asked:

  1. Why have you selected the UK as your preferred country of studies?
  2. Why have you selected the specific university you are planning to undertake studies at?
  3. How do your studies fit in your career aspirations?
  4. What is your background and immigration history?
  5. What is the source of your funds and how can you confirm their availability?
  6. How are you planning to pay the fees for subsequent course years?

Make sure you have all the documents in place before the interview and be prepared for a fluent English conversation. In most cases, your university of choice may have a guide or FAQ on preparing for this procedure or may be willing to provide assistance in preparation. Keep in mind that the inability to attend the meeting can result in a visa application refusal.


Plan your Journey

As soon as your UK visa is approved, you can plan your journey by booking tickets and checking accommodation options within and outside the university campus. Students on a visitor visa can arrive one week before the programme begins while students enrolled in a full-degree course can arrive up to 30 days prior. To reduce the number of tasks at your hands you may choose to reside at university houses or halls of residence upon your arrival and seek more convenient accommodation options later.

A temporary visa is provided for a limited duration of stay in the country and needs to be upgraded with a Biometric Residence Permit. Make sure to collect your Biometric Residence Permit within 10 days of your aforementioned arrival date. Failure to do so might result in the payment of hefty fines reaching £1,000 in the worst-case scenario. In most cases, you can pick up your BRP from a Post Office branch coordinated with the Home Office. If you fail to collect this document due to postal issues, the loss of your identification documents or your decision letter, inform the immigration authorities about these problems as soon as you can to coordinate further actions.


We hope that our guide has helped to break down the application process for International Students into simpler tasks that you can complete step by step. It may seem complicated at first, but the UK is one of the most popular countries for International students to study in, and there are plenty of reasons for this, which make the time-consuming application process worth it in the end. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious while you are waiting for a reply from the universities you have applied to. It is also normal to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of information. Going through this guide thoroughly several times may be helpful to see the whole picture and develop an effective strategy for you.

If you realise that you need assistance with writing or proof-reading your personal statement, this is something we can help you with. Our company has many professional writers who can always advise you on how to write an assignment or how to write a good coursework in the future. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information. Protection Status