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Applying to a UK university

Written by the Bell Team

Applying to university in the UK is an exciting, but complex process. Our expert Higher Education Advisory Service helps our students every step of the way. We've asked our University Counselling Manager, Sarah Pettit, to produce a guide to help you with your university application. 

Applying to a UK university

Exclusive to students studying on one of Bell’s University Pathway Programmes, our expert, independent advisors guide you through every stage of the university application process, from choosing the right course to completing your application form and writing a personal statement. Help will always be available to you at this important time!

We have put together the following article to help you understand the process of applying to a UK university:

If you are applying to study for a first degree at a university in the UK your application must be made online through UCAS – the Universities and Colleges Admission Service. 

How many courses can I apply for?

You can apply for up to five courses at five different universities or colleges. Many, but not all, of these will begin in late September.

When can I apply?

Even if you are applying for a course starting in September 2017,  you can apply now.

If you wish to apply to Cambridge or Oxford Universities the deadline for applications is 15 October 2016. There are also special deadlines for courses in medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine and applications to art and design courses.

If you are from an EU country you are regarded as a home student and you should send your application by 15 January 2017. Even if you are not from a country in the EU – you are an international student – it is still a good idea to apply by this date as some universities do not consider the applications received after it and popular courses fill up quickly.

UCAS will accept applications from students from outside the EU until 30 June 2017. Applications received after this date are sent into Clearing, which is explained below.

What do I need to include in my application?

When you register on the UCAS website you will be given a username and you will need to choose a password and create some security questions and answers. Keep a record of this information – you will need it every time you want to look at your application.

You will need to provide information about your secondary school education, including your school qualifications. You also need to add results of any English language qualifications (such as IELTS) that you have already done.

You should include a Personal Statement, in which you write about yourself and explain your interest in the courses you want to study. You should say why you have chosen the courses and why the subject interests you.

To complete your application, you will need to obtain a reference from someone who can write about how suitable you are for university in the UK.

The UCAS website offers a lot of guidance about the application process.

What happens after my application is sent to UCAS?

Once your application is completed and submitted with a reference to UCAS, it will be sent to the universities or colleges you have chosen for consideration. The universities may make you an offer of a place, which can be conditional or unconditional.

To follow the progress of your application and to accept or decline any offers you may receive, you can use the Track facility on the UCAS website.

If by the end of June you find that none of your applications have been successful, then you can make use of UCAS Extra. This allows you to make one other choice of university through UCAS.

If by the middle of August you still find that none of your applications have been successful, then you can apply directly to any universities that still have places available on courses that interest you. This is done through a system called Clearing. UCAS will automatically inform you if you are eligible for this.

Where can I get more information about applying?

If you are currently a student at Bell Cambridge you can make an appointment with our Higher Education Advisory Service. 

More information about the application process is also available on the UCAS website.

Where can I get more information about degree courses in the UK?

It is important to find out as much as you can about the courses and universities before you apply.

University prospectuses and websites
A prospectus is information about a university and its courses in a printed form. There are university prospectuses and guides to applying to university in the Study Room. However, a lot of information is available directly from university websites, including information about fees, living costs, scholarships and accommodation.

Open days
All universities have open days when students can visit in order to see the university and meet the academic staff on the courses they are interested in. It is usually possible to visit universities at other times by contacting international office at a university.

There are some useful books about applying to university available. These include:

  • The Guardian University Guide
  • The Times Good University Guide

By selecting course search on the UCAS website you will find a list of every university course and information about their entry requirements, such as the IELTS score required. There are also links to university websites.

Go to and compare UCAS points and other information for different subjects and institutions, Find out the achievements of recent students and discover what sort of jobs they are doing six months after finishing and read what over 177,000 students felt about the quality of their higher education experience.

If you wish to find out how a university or a course is rated according to “league tables” you should visit one of the websites below. They also offer other information about studying at university.

Other useful websites include the following: – a database of all types of courses available in the UK. – information about open days at universities.

Author: Sarah Pettit, University Counselling Manager at Bell Cambridge.

Bell’s University Pathway Programmes are designed to prepare international students for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees taught in English. Find out more about courses starting in 2017. 


Sarah Pettit, University Counselling Manager

Sarah Pettit, University Counselling Manager

Qualifications: BA (Hons) Modern Languages (French and Spanish) and a postgraduate diploma in European Language and Intercultural Studies from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, and a CELTA.

Sarah has been advising Bell students on higher education for eight years. Before joining Bell, she worked in international student recruitment and advice for University College London (UCL) and Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

“One of the most important aspects of my role is to help students identify the right university for them to reach their potential. I provide information, advice and guidance to help students make sense of UK qualifications, to choose the right course at the right university. I pride myself on the independent, impartial advice service that we offer at Bell.”

Written by the Bell Team,
Bringing you up-to-date information and useful insights from Bell, so you know exactly how we can support you - when the time is right.