Brief Background: The United Kingdom, which
encompasses England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is home to
162 higher education institutions offering postsecondary degree
In 2017-2018, the UK enrolled 458,500 international (non-EU)
students. Of the more than 18,000 US students pursuing full degrees in
the UK, about 6,500 were undergraduates. The most popular courses of
study for American students include social studies, historical and
philosophical studies, languages, business and administrative studies,
and creative arts and design.
Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings 2019
listed four British institutions among the top 20 universities in the
world: The University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Imperial
College London, and University College London. These institutions are
members of the Russell Group, an organization representing 24 leading UK universities committed to outstanding research and teaching.
The UK has six ancient universities which are extant medieval
universities and early modern universities founded before 1600. Four of
the ancient universities are in Scotland and two are in England. The
ancient universities in the UK are among the oldest extant universities
in the world.
Good to Know: A bachelor’s degree in England,
Northern Ireland, and Wales can be completed in three years and degree
programs tend to be very focused from the outset. Whereas, in Scotland,
four years is usually standard, with breadth and flexibility offered in
the first two years of study. The term course refers to what US
institutions typically call a major or program of study, and are
declared during the application process. Most programs are honors
courses, which require students to produce a dissertation or capstone
project based on independent research in their final year.
Some UK universities have courses that allow students more
flexibility in their studies. Combined honors give students the
opportunity to study up to three subjects, similar to having multiple
majors or minors in the US. There are also broad-based courses such as a
bachelor’s in liberal arts. Students who are unsure of what they want
to study might want to focus on Scottish universities, as these allow
students to explore additional subjects during their first year.
Professional degrees—such as law, medicine, veterinary science, and
dentistry—are available at the undergraduate level. It is important to
note that entry requirements for these programs tend to be more
demanding than those for other majors, and the duration of the course
may be longer. There might also be additional steps involved to practice
with these degrees in the US.
In the UK, students can study law straight after high school and the degree takes three or four years to complete. If a student decides at the end of their course that they want to become a legal professional, there are opportunities to pursue a Graduate Diploma in Law. After successful completion of this one-year course, students receive Qualifying Law Degree status, which is needed to practice law in the UK.
Students thinking of practicing law in the United States with a foreign law degree should keep in mind that each state has different requirements. The requirements for each are listed on the state-specific bar exam website and are summarized by the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Bar Admission Guide.
Law is also offered as an academic subject that can be combined with another discipline for students who are interested in law, but may not want to practice. For example, there are dual honors options such as BA (Hons) Business and Law, BSc (Hons) Law and Psychology, and BA (Hons) Law and International Relations.
Special Entrance Requirements: The National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) is a two-part test that is used to help admission tutors assess aptitude for studying law. LNAT is required for most law courses at the universities of Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, Kings College London, London School of Economics, Nottingham, University of Oxford, SOAS University of London, and University College London. Students should take the test prior to submitting their application via UCAS.
Application Deadline: The majority of institutions expect international students applying to law to apply by the Jan. 15 deadline.
There are 33 medical schools in the UK that offer an undergraduate medicine program. These programs provide students the opportunity to pursue medicine without a prior degree, and typically take five to six years. Due to the number of places for international students on medicine courses being capped, the application process for international students will remain extremely competitive due to capacity, the volume of applications, and high academic qualifications required for entry.
Applications must be made through UCAS. Applicants are able to apply to up to four medical courses and their fifth application choice must be to a non-medical course. The fifth choice cannot be dentistry or veterinary science, and is recommended to be an allied health program or life science.
Entrance requirements typically include:
Interviews for medical courses normally take place in the UK between November and March. When a university receives a high volume of quality applications from a particular geographic region, interviews may be arranged at an alternative location.
The American Medical Association includes an informational page for graduates of foreign medical school programs if they wish to practice in the US. The British Medical Association also provides a resource for practicing in the US.
Application Deadline: Oct. 15 in the year before the student wants to enroll.
In the UK, students can pursue a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (BVMBVS), or Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine (BVetMed). These degrees can be completed within four to six years.
Some veterinary medicine courses in the UK are accredited by American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and/or the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE), giving students the ability to practice throughout UK, Europe, North America, and Australasia.
Special Entrance Requirements: International academic entry requirements vary by institution for veterinary medicine courses, and in some cases, may be more rigorous than for BA or BSc courses. Applicants are typically expected to have relevant practical experience with handling animals. UCAT, BMAT, or an institution’s own test may be required. This will be stated on the entry requirements page of the institution’s website. Interviews are required for most veterinary medicine courses.
As part of their degree programs, many UK universities offer work
placements, sometimes referred to as a sandwich year. Sandwich years are
typically undertaken between the second and final year of the degree,
and allow a student the opportunity to put their knowledge into
practice, network with companies in their field, and earn money. This
experience does not usually require an additional visa, as it is closely
tied to a student’s academic course. The sandwich year might also be
used to study abroad.
Academic Calendar: UK academic years run from
September to May, with breaks in mid-December to early January and in
March to mid- to late-April. Major exam periods are usually in January
Search: The British Council’s website
gives students information about selecting a course and institution.
Students can search for courses and institutions through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service
(UCAS). The nonprofit organization offers a UK-specific online
application system comparable to The Common Application. UCAS also
provides tips and other guidance to potential students and families.
Another useful website is Unistats, which allows students to compare three courses alongside one another.
UK media outlets publish university and subject league tables, which
are similar to rankings. Because the UK university system is geared
toward a student’s course of study, subject league tables may provide
useful perspective or serve as a starting point for students looking to
study a particular major. However, methodologies vary; students are
urged to read the fine print, such as the number of people surveyed and
the year the information was gathered.
Apply: Most students, domestic and international,
apply to British universities through UCAS. Over 20 British universities
also participate in the Common Application Some universities also
accept applications made directly to their institution.
Students can apply to a maximum of five courses in the UK, regardless
of application method. The British Council recommends students apply to
three target and two safety courses. Target courses are those for which
a student is likely to meet the entry requirements, and safety courses
are those that may require grades slightly below the student’s expected
results. A student can apply to more than one course at the same
institution. Admission officials at the universities where a student has
applied cannot see where else the student has submitted an application.
Students considering Oxford or Cambridge can apply to only one of the
two institutions. For more on the Oxbridge application process, see
Students will be expected to enter their complete academic course
history in the UCAS section as part of their UCAS application form,
students will submit one personal statement and a letter of
recommendation from an advisor, teacher, or similar academic
professional. Final grades and an academically oriented personal
statement are important parts of the application.
Personal statements should show “a student’s passion and motivation
for applying and why they are suitable for the course,” according to
UCAS. Applicants have 4,000 characters to write one statement, which is
sent to all the universities where they have applied. The statement
should straightforwardly reflect why the student wants to study their
chosen course. Topics such as extracurricular interests or hardships
overcome should be linked to how they have impacted the student’s desire
and preparedness for studying their course of choice.
If a university requires additional application documents, the
student will be asked to upload the documents in a Supplementary
Application Questionnaire that is sent to them electronically after they
have submitted their UCAS application. Counselors are sometimes
required to submit supplementary documents upon request by the
References: Letters of reference should focus on the
applicant’s suitability for studying the intended course. Application
readers—admission officers or professors who teach the course—want to
know whether the student is knowledgeable about the subject and has
demonstrated an interest in various ways, to gauge whether they can
successfully study it in depth. The letter of reference should also
include a link to the school profile—particularly the curriculum—and
cite any extenuating circumstances.
Advise students to apply to courses which are very similar. A personal statement that tries to weave together too many different courses will not be read favorably. For example, a student should not apply for engineering at one university and business at another.
The teacher or counselor who serves as the applicant’s academic
referee will also be asked to predict final year grades or exam results.
Such predictions are based on professional judgment, the student’s past
performance, current progress, and the school’s historical performance.
Referees are encouraged to work with department heads and the student’s
teachers to provide predictions, however UCAS is aware that this is an
imperfect science. Although some universities require predicted grades
for the application to be considered complete, others will accept
applications without them. Check with the university’s International
Office to find out how critical the predicted grades are to the
application. Because most offers of admission are conditional on
achieving the predicted grades or scores, counselors and teachers should
do their best to make fair and accurate predictions. Inflating a
student’s predicted grades may result in a student missing out on a
conditional offer. See the Upon Acceptance section below for more
“Undergraduate degrees in the UK are much more focused on a
single area of study than in the US. Because I had a firm idea of what I
wanted to study, the opportunity to develop a strong, in-depth
understanding of my subject area was a significant factor in my decision
to attend university here. However, American students should be aware
that it’s incredibly difficult to change your course of study (or major)
once you’ve started your degree, so it’s important to know what you
want to study before enrolling in a UK university.”
—Eleanor Good, California, Queen’s University Belfast
Deadlines: The application season opens in early
September. The deadline for applying to Oxford and Cambridge is Oct. 15,
as well as medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science courses. Jan. 15
is the equal consideration deadline for all other UK universities,
which students are encouraged to meet. Some institutions, however, may
accept applications after the equal consideration deadline, and up to as
late as six weeks before the course starts.
Some art and design courses have March deadlines so that applicants have adequate time to prepare a portfolio.
Application Fees: UCAS charges applicants 18 pounds for one course, or a total of 24 pounds for multiple courses, up to five.
Admission Requirements: Entry requirements for UK
institutions are generally transparent and straightforward, and can be
found on university websites or by contacting individual admission
offices. A counselor can easily confirm the minimum GPA, test scores,
and other requirements for admission.
Requirements typically include a combination of advanced coursework
such as AP courses and test results; IB or college credits; SAT, ACT and
SAT Subject test scores; in addition to a high school diploma.
Typically, students apply through UCAS without submitting a high
school transcript. The high school transcript, one of the most important
elements of the application process in the US, is not usually
considered for US applicants to the UK, though some universities may ask
for it. Rather, on the qualifications section of the UCAS application
form students will indicate qualifications they have already received.
In this section students will also include results on any exams such as
AP tests, SAT or ACT, or SAT subject tests. Qualifications that are
pending, such as AP and IB exams, that will be taken in May of their
senior year will be reported here as well.
Upon Acceptance: UK universities are usually able to
offer admission electronically within two months of an application’s
submission. Students may be admitted unconditionally or conditionally.
An unconditional offer means that the student has no conditions to
meet and has a place at the institution if they choose to accept it.
A conditional offer is the most common offer made to both UK and
international students. If a student has a conditional offer this means
there are certain requirements outlined by the institution that the
student must meet to secure their spot, such as obtaining a certain
final exam score (AP exams; IB scores; ACT, SAT or SAT Subject tests
scores) or certain GPA. These offers are legally binding on the part of
the university and cannot be rescinded.
Years in Formal Education: Comparing England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to Scotland
Students who applied to five universities and received no offers of
admission may have the option of adding an extra choice. UCAS Extra is a
free service that allows these students to apply to one course at a
time from late February up until early July. A final option, called
clearing, is the period during which universities are allowed to fill
any places they still have available. Clearing runs from July to
September each year.
Once a student is notified of decisions, UCAS enables a student to
hold two offers from institutions in the UK. The first is a firm choice,
or the student’s first choice, and the second is an insurance choice,
which provides the student with a safety net should they not obtain the
results required by their firm choice.
Tuition and Fees: Each university sets its own fees.
Annual tuition fees for international students range from about 10,000
to 21,000 pounds per year, with the exception of medical courses which
can be up to 38,000 pounds per year.
US students are eligible to use direct loans from the US Federal
Student Aid program at most UK universities. Some scholarships are
available for international students. The British Council website can provide more details.
Housing: Many universities guarantee on-campus
housing—typically single-occupancy—for first-year international
students. International students are usually integrated into first-year
housing with domestic students. Many student residences are
self-catered, meaning students prepare and cook their own meals. In
cities, for-profit, privately run residence halls are common. Many
students elect to live in these private dorms or other private rental
accommodations after their first year.
Minimum monthly costs for housing and other living expenses are
estimated at 1,015 pounds outside London and 1,265 pounds in London by
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).
Visa and Other Permits: Universities typically advise admitted students on how to apply for a student visa. Visas are issued by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).
Students are advised to apply for a visa as soon as their offer of
admission becomes unconditional. Students must receive a Confirmation of
Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from the institution they plan to attend
to complete the visa application. Most US students meet the requirements
for what is called the Tier 4 student visa, which is valid for the
duration of an undergraduate degree program, for up to five years. To
obtain a visa, students must demonstrate they have sufficient funds for
living costs. However, US citizens applying from within the USA do not
need to show evidence of funds.
The visa application cost is 348 pounds. See the UKVI website for more information.
Though US students do not need to prove they have private health
insurance, they will be asked to pay an annual health care surcharge
upfront as part of the visa application process. Students must pay the
per year fee (300 pounds in 2019) for the duration of the visa.
International students are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week
while courses are in session, and full-time during university breaks.
Advice from the Field: The British Council provides numerous resources for counselors advising students on higher education in the UK, including a College and University Guidance Counsellor Handbook.
Additionally, UCAS has a guide for counselors
that explains the application process and how advisers can monitor a
student’s progress. Counselors can fill out a practice UCAS application,
allowing them to see what students will encounter when formally
Counselors who have specific questions pertinent to an individual
university are advised to contact the institution’s international
Counselors should be aware that applicants have the right to request
access to their recommendations under UK law. This law applies to all UK
schools and their applicants, regardless of whether students have
waived their FERPA rights on The Common Application.
Many UK universities, particularly those in London, are known as city
universities. Students should be advised that these may not have
campuses in the traditional American sense. This can be daunting to
students who are adapting to both college life and overseas living. Some
American students prefer the familiar nature of campus universities,
which look and feel more like many American institutions.
“Although I love my hometown of Oakland, California, I wanted
to take advantage of my university years to travel and develop an
understanding of a different way of life than that of the US. Although
most US universities offer study abroad programs, enrolling as a
full-time student in an overseas university has given me the opportunity
to experience a different culture on a much deeper level than one can
achieve in a single semester.”
The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) provides student visa advice as well as a wealth of information about other aspects of living and studying in the UK.
Many US cities are home to local chapters of UK university alumni
associations which regularly host social, professional development, and
volunteer events. Alumni can also stay connected with their university
through newsletters and online networks. Similar to US universities, UK
universities’ career services will continue to offer their alumni
support to help them progress and develop their career. Some alumni may
also choose to become involved in connecting with prospective students
and sharing their experience at student recruitment events.
The British Council Alumni Awards celebrate the outstanding
achievements of alumni and showcase the impact and value of a UK higher
education. Award winners and finalists are leaders in their fields who
have used their experience of studying at a UK university to make a
positive contribution to their communities, professions, and countries.
You can find out more about past winners and how to apply or nominate
someone through the British Council website.
The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge—often
referred to together as Oxbridge—are two of the most prestigious
destinations for postsecondary study in the United Kingdom. Both
universities are rated at the top of international rankings for quality
of teaching and research. Students entering either Cambridge or Oxford
can expect a challenging curriculum. Admission decisions at each
university are based solely on academic indicators of a student’s
ability and potential, according to stated selection criteria for each
course, and, importantly, the application process for Cambridge and
Oxford has some additional steps compared with other British
Only a small number of courses are available for study (48 at Oxford
and 30 at Cambridge), and programs of study are traditional and
rigorous. The hallmark of an Oxbridge education is the focus on
small-group instruction led by academic experts. At Oxford, these
sessions are called tutorials; at Cambridge they are supervisions. Both
systems allow students to debate and argue ideas with some of the best
minds in the world.
An important caveat: Students can only apply to either Cambridge or
Oxford, but not to both. Both schools have the same UCAS application
deadline: Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. local time.
Students who want to attend either university should familiarize
themselves with entrance requirements early in their high school years,
since both universities require specific qualifications and have early
The College System
Oxford and Cambridge are collegiate universities, meaning that a
successful applicant gains a place at the university and will be a
member of a college for the entirety of their undergraduate course. A
college is miniature campus and is the center of undergraduate life,
including sporting, musical and dramatic pursuits, and socializing.
Each college at Oxford and Cambridge differs in a number of ways,
including size, location, atmosphere, and facilities. Students should
research colleges of interest prior to application.
Individual colleges are responsible for admitting their own students,
although they do this on behalf of the university as a whole. Students
either apply to a specific college or make an open application, meaning
they will be assigned to a college based on space availability. Both
universities also operate a pooling system—reallocating applicants from
over-subscribed colleges to level out the application field.
Oxford or Cambridge?
Bright and motivated students who have an academic passion for a
particular subject may find it difficult to decide between Oxford and
Cambridge. Students must choose their course when applying, rather than
declaring a major while at university. When deciding between Oxford and
Cambridge, students should look first at the degrees offered by each
institution, as these vary considerably. Oxford offers more joint-honors
courses (e.g. philosophy, politics, and economics; or computer science
and philosophy), whereas Cambridge tends to offer more single-subject
honors courses, though it has recently introduced joint programs in
history and politics, as well as history and modern languages.
For subjects such as history or law that are offered by both
universities, students are advised to research the content of the degree
course before making a final decision. Note the compulsory and optional
modules, opportunities for studying abroad, and teaching and assessment
Apply: International student application requirements are online.
IB Diploma: Depending on the program of study,
students are expected to have a total of 38, 39, or 40 points, including
the core points. Specific minimum scores in certain courses may be
required; students should check online for course-specific requirements.
See the course listing and international qualifications webpage for details.
SAT: Oxford will accept the SAT. Students taking the
SAT will need to achieve a total score of at least 1,470 out of 1,600.
Oxford does not require the optional essay. For details of the
University’s policy on superscoring, visit their international qualifications webpage.
ACT: A minimum score of 32 out of 36 is required.m Oxford does not require the optional essay.
AP/SAT Subject Tests: SAT and ACT scores should be
supplemented by at least three or more AP tests in appropriate subjects
with scores of 5, or three SAT Subject Tests in appropriate subjects
with scores of 700 or better.
Other Tests: Most programs also require students to
take additional, subject-specific tests. Students seeking a bachelor’s
in law must take the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT), for
example, and math applicants must take the Mathematics Admissions Test
(MAT). Results help to determine which candidates will be invited to
interview. Some tests need to be completed before the application
deadline, while others are completed after application, but before the
interview. Students must check course websites to learn what tests are
required and should schedule them early in the process. Most tests are
administered in early November or late October. Students should check
the details of which test(s) they need to take no later than early
September to allow time to find and register at the nearest test center.
Students are not expected to come to Oxford for their test(s), but
their nearest test center may not be local. Schools and colleges may be
able to register as a test center, if they haven’t already. Further
details can be found through Oxford’s website.
Writing Sample: Many courses require a writing sample that demonstrates the student’s analytical, reasoning, and writing skills.
Students must submit their work by the deadline. The college that is
considering their application may have particular format requirements
(e.g., in PDF form), so it is important that students ensure their
submissions meet these requirements.
Interviews: Course faculty, known as tutors,
typically create a short list of candidates by late November or early
December and then invite selected students for an interview. Applicants
may receive very short notice of an interview date. Note that any travel
costs incurred are at the student’s expense. The college considering
the application may choose to interview the student via telephone or
Skype, but this is not guaranteed. Interviews for specific subjects take
place within a designated time frame, and applicants must make sure
that they are available on the dates required for their subject,
although remote interviews may need to be scheduled outside of this time
period, subject to the availability of the professors.
Interviewees should be well-read and knowledgeable about the subject
matter of the course to which they are applying. They should also
thoroughly review the selection criteria for their course, be fully
familiar with what they wrote in their personal statement, be cognizant
of relevant arguments, and be prepared to discuss their own views.
Offers: Students can expect a decision by the end of
January of the year in which they plan to matriculate. An offer may
come directly from the college to which a student applied, or it may
come from another college within the university. For students who have
not yet completed high school, the offer will likely be conditional on
IB Diploma: Students should have a total of between
40 and 42 points, with 7/7/6 in IB Higher Level subjects. Applicants may
be required to achieve a 7 in a particular subject, depending on
SAT: Applicants will need to achieve 750 in each
component to give a combined score of 1500 for most science courses and
economics; and 730 in evidence-based reading and writing and 730 in
mathematics, to give a combined score of at least 1460 for all other
ACT: An ACT composite score of at least 32 (for arts
and humanities) or 33 (for sciences) out of 36 is accepted as
equivalent to the SAT Reasoning Test scores.
AP/SAT Subject Tests: Applicants must submit a
minimum of five AP tests (with scores of 5) in appropriate subjects.
Note that SAT Subject Tests are not normally viewed as being equivalent
to A Level/IB Higher Level/Advanced Placement (AP) Tests.
COPA: The Cambridge Online Preliminary Application
(COPA) is required of all applicants outside the European Union. A
student’s application will be considered invalid unless the COPA is
received by Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. GMT. The application fee is 30 pounds. The
applicant must ensure the college of choice (see The College System
section) on a student’s COPA matches the college indicated on the UCAS
application. If a student does not have a college preference, the UCAS
and COPA applications should reflect the open application option.
Cambridge will match open applications with a college.
Transcripts: Transcripts must be submitted or the
application will not be eligible for review. More information about
transcript submission deadlines can be found on the University of Cambridge’s website.
SAQ: After students have submitted their UCAS
application, they will receive a SAQ—an online form that collects
additional information not found in the UCAS application. There is also
an opportunity to write a Cambridge specific personal statement here.
Students are advised to pay close attention to the deadline for the SAQ.
The 2018 deadline for most students will be 6 p.m. GMT on Oct. 22.
Students for whom a different deadline applies will be notified by their
college. Also, be aware a student must include their COPA code,
received after submitting the COPA, in the SAQ.
Admission Assessments/Other Tests: Most applicants are required to take a subject-specific written admission assessment, either pre-interview or at the interview.
Other tests may be required, depending on the course of study. For
example, applicants to mathematics and related courses must complete the
Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP). Students are urged to check the
specific course website for details about any required tests.
Interviews: Admission decisions at the University of
Cambridge are based solely on academic criteria and all applications
are reviewed by academic staff members within the college that the
student has applied to or been allocated. Applicants with a realistic
chance of being offered a place are invited to attend an
interview—usually around 75 percent of applicants each year. Cambridge
interviews vary depending on subject and college, but the main focus of
interviews is to explore the candidates’ academic potential, motivation,
and suitability for the chosen course of study. Interviews are similar
in many ways to supervisions and help selectors gauge how candidates
would respond to the teaching methods used at Cambridge.
Offers: Students can expect a decision by the end of
January of the year they plan to matriculate. An offer may come
directly from the college to which the student applied or it may come
from another college, through the pooling system. For students who have
not yet completed high school, the offer will likely be conditional on