UCAS application timescale

Primrose Kitten2 comments

Applying to university is a long and complicated process. You need to get it right so that you end up in the right place.

You need to start at least a year beforehand, but if you're thinking about applying somewhere really competitive—say, Oxford, Cambridge, or a course in medicine—you need to start much, much earlier so that your UCAS application and your personal statement look impressive. Let's assume that you've done that bit, and that you've got all the work experience and all the different bits you’ll need for your personal statement.

 It's summertime, and school has broken up, so what I want you to do is start thinking about your university choices. Start doing a bit of research into courses and universities, and start thinking about your personal statement. The best place to start is by making a big, broad list of things about you. Don't start writing it yet, but start thinking about what sort of things you could put in there. Loads of university open days happen in June/July, so it’s a great idea to go and visit the places you’re interested in to see what it feels like to be there. Do you get a good feeling when you're there, or is the feeling not so great? University applications open early September, but universities do not wait around until the deadlines to start handing out places.

Remember, the earlier you apply the better, so the more organized you are, the sooner you can get your application in. That's why it's terrific to have spent the summer thinking about what course you want to pursue and which university you want to attend. All of this will help you craft a polished personal statement. You also need to start nagging your referees—and I mean gently nagging, of course! You don't want to bother them too much, but your application can't be submitted until your referees have added their reference. So even if you're super organized, and you've written your personal statement, and you're ready to go at the beginning of September, your referee may not be. That's why it is a bad idea to leave your application until right before the deadline. If you tell your teacher the day before the deadline that you want to apply to Oxford, they will have to write a reference quickly, and they may not do an outstanding job if they don't have much time. They may not even get it done at all!

The deadline for Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine, Veterinary, Dentistry is mid-October. That's mid-October the year before you start. The deadline for the rest of the courses is going to be mid-January, which is the same year that you start. If you get rejected by all five places, you can add some more on in about mid-February. Art and Design courses have slightly different deadlines, which tend to be around mid-March.

After you've received all of your five decisions, you have roughly a month to decide which one you're going to accept as your firm and which one is going to be your insurance choice. For example, if you have them all by the end of March, then you have to make your decision by the beginning of May. If you have them all by the end of May, you have to make your decision by the beginning of July.

In July, Clearing is going to open. If you don't have any offers and you didn't want to put any more on, then you can apply through Clearing. If you didn't apply at all the first time around, then you can also apply through Clearing. This is where the universities open up any remaining unfilled slots they have in their courses. In mid-August, we get to A-Level results day, and this is when Adjustment places open. If you did better than expected, you could apply for an Adjustment place, or if you did worse than expected, you might have to go through the Clearing system.


Ana’s Story - What I Wish I’d Known Back When I Was Applying 

Ana has A-levels in Biology (B), Chemsitry (B) and German (C). She undertook a lot of work experience at a local science start up company.

My name is Ana and I’m a student at the University of Nottingham, currently finishing off my final year of Pharmacy. As well as having experienced the UCAS application process myself, I’ve helped friends and family with their applications, and volunteered for the University during interview and applicant days, which has left me with lots of experience with university applications on the whole.

Now that I’ve been through it all, the only thing I regret is not doing more reading around before submitting my application. This was vital, especially since, at first, I was on the fence about whether or not to go to University at all. Whilst I wouldn’t change a thing about the past few years and ultimately I’m happy I ended up here, it would’ve been nice to know what other routes there were into my chosen career path. The one thing I did do in terms of research was attend a UCAS University Exhibition day, where representatives from different subjects and universities come along to sell their course to prospective students. These sorts of events are the best ways to gauge your interest in a course or a subject matter, and attending one definitely made me certain that University was where I wanted to be.

Another thing I’m glad I researched is the individual course breakdowns once I’d decided which course I wanted to go into. Whilst many people may tell you a degree is a degree, this is only true to an extent. Different universities can teach similar subjects in very different ways. I’m definitely more suited to coursework, and it was important to me that I didn’t end up doing a course where the majority of my grade was based on performance during exams. Nowadays course breakdowns are available on the University’s website, but when I applied a few years ago, the information wasn’t as readily available – so I phoned up and asked. While it did take a while for some departments to get back to me, it was definitely worth it.

Another thing I wish I’d done is spend a little bit more time in the cities I was considering studying in, just to see what living here would be like. At the end of the day, University isn’t just about the course – essentially you're moving home, so the city around it is just as important. My course has about 30 timetabled hours per week, and during term I spend all of the rest of my time in libraries, cafes, restaurants, the gym, or out in the evenings. When I was making my choice, I focused solely on the university itself, not its surroundings, and whilst I’ve finally learned the ins and outs of the city, I wish I’d factored it in when I was picking between courses. Having said this, if you end up really falling in love with a university even if the city it’s in doesn’t quite appeal to you, you could always take public transport or taxis to neighbouring cities. 

The last thing I wish I had done was pay more attention during my interview day. The people who interviewed me were the same people teaching me when I returned in September, and the building where I was interviewed was the exact same building I found myself back in during first year. Getting to know the campus a little bit better during my interview would’ve made settling in during first year much less daunting

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UCAS Applications – The First Things to Think About

Primrose Kitten1 comment

The UCAS application process is tricky, and you need to make sure you get it right because this decision determines what you do with the next three or four years of your life.

The first that you need to do—and this is not a small thing in any way—is to pick five courses you want to apply for. This is complicated; you need to think about what you're going to enjoy; you need to think about entry requirements; and you need to think about where you want to live. After you've picked five courses, you need to write a personal statement. This is going to be a big part of deciding whether you get into university or not. This is the bit that the admissions tutors are going to look at when they are making their decision whether to accept you, whether to interview you, or whether to reject you. So if you get this bit wrong, you might end up with no offers. After you've picked your five courses and written your personal statement, you can then start to fill in your UCAS application form.

You're going to need to give them your essential details, as well as student finance information if you're from the U.K. or the European Union. You're going to add your course choice, your education level, your employment history, and then you're going to write your personal statement and add in your references at the end. 

Your references will be significant. This is what helps the admissions tutor decide whether you're a yes, a maybe, or a no. Please note that these references have to be submitted at the same time as your application, so you shouldn't fill in your application at the deadline because you will need to have your references from previous teachers ready and waiting. If you want to apply for medicine, veterinary medicine, or dentistry, only four of your five choices can be for those courses. This is to give you a guaranteed insurance choice in case you don't meet the entry requirements for those courses because they are highly competitive. This is also true if you want to apply for Oxford or Cambridge, as only one of your five choices can be for either Oxford or Cambridge. For example, you can't apply for Oxford and Cambridge, and then three other things. For courses at Oxford, Cambridge, medicine, veterinary, or dentistry, your application needs to be in mid-October if you plan on starting your course the following September/October. The rest of your applications need in by the deadline of the middle of January for a course beginning September of that year.

It’s important to note, however, that universities will not wait to hand out offers until after the deadline. Universities start reading applications and making decisions as soon as they receive them at the beginning of September. By the time January comes around, they might have already given away a large number of their places. Just because January is the last time you can submit your application, that doesn't mean that's when you should submit your application. Get your application in as soon as possible. University admissions tutors are going to have a massive pile of admissions to go through, so you need to make sure that yours stands out, and stands out in the right way.

This is where your personal statement, your references, and your predicted grades are going to play a major factor. These three components will determine whether you are accepted straight away, whether you get asked for an interview, whether you get rejected, and whether the offer they give you is conditional or unconditional. If you get a conditional offer, you'll have to get specific grades to go into the course—whereas an unconditional offer means that they thought you were so amazing that they have accepted you no matter what your results are. Once the university has made this decision, they will notify UCAS, and then UCAS will inform you. Once you've received all of your offers, that's when you can decide which university is the one for you.

You choose one firm choice (which is where you really want to go, assuming you get the grades) and one insurance choice (which is where you want to go if you don't get the grades for your firm choice). The objective is to make sure the required grades for your insurance choice are lower than the grades for your firm choice. Then, the rest is just hard work.

On results day, you're going to need three plans: A plan for what happens if you get better results than expected, as you might be able to apply for an Adjustment higher-tier university (more on this later); a plan for what happens if you get the results that you need; and a plan for what happens if you get worse results than expected.


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Can you afford to go to university?

Primrose Kitten1 comment

Attending university is a massive investment. Not only is it three, four, or five years of your life, but it also costs tens of thousands of pounds. The other question, however, is whether you can afford not to go to university? You should also consider how much do you have to pay upfront, and what your options are if you can't get a job afterwards.

Many students worry about tuition fees and whether or not they can afford university. I'm sure you've heard loads and loads of horror stories about the amount of debt you'll be in if you go to university, so I'm going to break things down and make things as transparent as possible for you.

While you're at university, there are going to be two main areas where your money will go: tuition fees and living costs. You can get a loan toward your tuition fees of up to £9,250, depending on where you live and what course you're taking. You can get a further loan to cover your living costs, as well. The tuition fee loan is paid straight to university, so you won’t have to deal much with that, but the living cost loan is paid straight into your bank account, likely on a per-term basis.

The loan to cover your living costs will depend on what type of course you're taking; whether you're doing a teaching course or a medical course; what kind of background you come from; whether your parents are in employment; whether you have support from your parents or partner; how much your parents and partner are earning; whether you're going to university in London; whether you're going to university outside of London; whether you're going to be living at home or living on your own. These loans only have to be paid back once you've left university and once your income passes a certain threshold, currently set at £21,000. Then you only pay it back as a percentage of your income. Interest on the amount is charged right from the beginning, and you will have to pay that off as well.

You do not have to pay for university upfront, nor do you do not have to start saving money straight away. You'll get a loan, and then you’ll pay it back years later once you're earning.

Let's consider an example. We have a student whose parents are both employed. They're each making £20,000 a year, so the combined household income is £40,000, a little bit below the national average. This student will go to university full time, paying £9,250 in tuition fees, and living away from home, outside of London. They will get £9,250 in tuition fee loans each year, and then on top of that, they will also get a £4,920 loan for living costs.

This student will get roughly £14,000 in loans a year. Over a four-year course, taking into account interest, by the time you have to start paying it back, this is going to be around £60,000. It sounds like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money, but it shouldn't be scary.

Somebody who has no parental help, living and studying in London, can get up to £11,000 pounds for living costs as well as £9,250 for tuition fees. They're going to have a loan of £20,000 per year, or £80,000 after four years.

You’ve got massive debt when we're coming out of university, but how much are you going to pay back?

Once you start earning over £25,000, you pay it back at nine per cent of your income over £25,000. The average starting salary for a graduate is £29,000, so you pay interest on the difference between £25,000 and £29,000, that's £4,000. At nine per cent of that £4,000, this works out as £30 a month from a take-home salary of £1,690, not very much at all. Not a massive impact on your daily life. That's a takeaway pizza or going out, or a pair of shoes. If you earn less than £21,000, you'll pay nothing. You don't have to worry about paying it back at all. You only pay it back once you pass £21,000, and then you just make payments for 30 years. After 30 years, it's entirely written off. If you have a starting salary of £25,000, in 30 years, you'll have paid off about 80% of your debt, and then the rest of it will just be forgotten. It is not the horror story that the newspaper headlines are trying to make it out to be. Yes, it’s scary owing £50,000 or £60,000 pounds in your early 20s—it is a lot of money, but the repayments are very manageable. It's a small amount of your take-home pay, and that level of pay might not have been available to you if you hadn’t gone to university and didn't get that degree.

 The Cost of Living at University

University can be really expensive, and in addition to those expensive, you will also have the added stress of managing your finances, perhaps for the very first time. So, can you afford to go to university?

In this chapter I'm going to talk you through estimated costs for each week at university, extrapolated across each year. We will compare this value to the loan you're going to get for your living fees, and then we’ll talk about what you can do with the difference.

The first thing and most important thing to consider is your accommodation. At university, there is often a wide range of accommodation available, from self-catering shared rooms to en-suite rooms which are fully catered, as well as everything in between. These rooms can go for about £100 a week up to about £200 a week, but for this example I’ve gone for a middle range figure about £140 a week. You can expect to spend about £30 a week on food, about £10 a week on transport, and about £5 a week on your phone. Socializing at university is pretty cheap, often for about £30 a week. And then there are all the other things, like stationary, photocopying, pens, and other items that you will need for your coursework, all of which comes out to about £5 a week. All of this together is going to come to £225 a week of living costs while you're away at university.


Estimated cost each week:

Accommodation                      £140   

Food                                       £30

Transport                               £10

Phone                                      £5

Social life                                £30

School supplies                      £5      

Total                                       £225


While the actual length of courses varies, some terms are very short, some are very long, and holidays should be factored in as well. It's roughly 40 weeks that you'll be at university, so £225 pounds a week for 40 weeks brings us out at £9,000 a year.

There are some additional expenses that you should expect as well. For example, at the start of the course you're going to need to buy some books, which will cost a few hundred pounds. For lab-based courses, you might need to buy a lab coat or equipment. You might also want to buy yourself a computer to use in your room.

All of these estimates are going to vary by person. The food cost will range depending on whether you eat meals you've made yourself or whether you eat out. Socializing would depend on how much you drink, how often you go out, and whether you go to student bars or whether you go to ones that make fancy cocktails. The transport costs will depend on whether you're living on campus—which quite a few of you will be doing for your first year, so you'll be able to walk to lectures—or whether you have to get a bus or a train to your lectures. And if some of you are studying in London, the cost of the Tube is actually quite expensive.

A few of the universities have published their estimates for living costs while in attendance. Edinburgh’s estimates are between £7,000 and £13,700 a year, while Manchester’s estimates are about £9,000. The NUS estimate about £13,000 in London and about £12,000 for the rest of the U.K. Birmingham says just below £9,000, and Oxford says a year there will cost you between £12,000 and £18,000.

This money is not including tuition fees. The tuition fees are in addition to these living expenses, but remember, you're going to get your tuition fee loan up to £9,250 to cover your tuition fees. As we discussed earlier, you won't see that money in your bank account, as it just gets paid straight to the university.

The living cost loan, on the other hand, is paid straight to you. For the majority of students, the living cost loan will be about £4,920 per year. This is quite different from my estimate of £9,000 a year for you to live on, which leaves you with £4,080 short over the year, or just over £100 a week, for you to find so that you can afford to go to university. You have three main options for this: parental support, getting a job while you're at university, or saving up during the holidays.

The student loans company often assumes that your parents will be giving you some money. When you apply for your student loan, you tell student finance how much parental support you will be getting, including information such as how much your parents make or whether you're in contact with your parents. If you are not going to be getting any parental support, then the level of loan you will receive will be higher, up to £11,000. 

Saving up is also a possibility. You have long summer, Christmas, and Easter breaks, so you have lots of time in there to work really hard and save up money for the term ahead. If you're going to be working during the term time, the minimum wage for 18-year-olds is £5.90 an hour. To make up that £100, this means you're going to have to work 17 hours a week. The advantage of any work that you do while you're at university is that it looks really good on your CV. The disadvantage is that you won't have as much time to study and you won't have as much time to socialize.

For the majority of you, it will be a combination of all three. There might be some parental support involved, you might get a job, and you might have some savings as well. I know that I worked 15 hours a week in the university library sorting out books. It certainly wasn't the most exciting job in the world, but I did love being in the library! And then on top of that, my parents helped me out a little bit as well.

Believe it or not, the other hard part will come for when the loan is paid out to you. Because the loan is paid on a termly basis, this means that at the beginning of the term, you will have loads of money and everyone will go out that night, and the next night, and the next night, and the next night. And then towards the end of term, you won't have any money, which is when frequently my friends and I would eat ‘tuna surprise’—the surprise being that we couldn't afford tuna so it was literally just pasta and a tin of tomatoes!

Budgeting is tricky, and it's especially tricky if you don’t have any help with it or it's something that you've never done before. There are lots of things you can do to influence how much money you spend a university, and if you budget wisely, you can do it.


Lucy’s Story - What I Wish I Knew Now

Lucy is studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Her A-Level were in English Literature (B) Drama (B) and French (D)

I love my university and the course I’m studying, but there are many things I’ve found out along the way that I wish I had known before starting. My first two weeks in university were spent running around like a headless chicken. Due to the size and amount of the rooms the university has, I was never on time for my lectures. It took me a few weeks to familiarise myself with the layout of the university. Had I been forward thinking I would have settled into uni before the studying started. Once I received my timetable, I could have visited each lecture room and made a mental map.

I also recall arriving to university with an absolute ridiculous amount of furniture. I really wanted to make my room as comfy and pretty as I could. Looking back that could have been achieved with half the stuff I brought along. Not only were some of my purchases a complete waste of money, they were also very impractical. I really did not need a £100 coffee machine for my room. The kettle in the kitchen worked just fine. I sold my coffee machine without even using it once.  

I could have saved a lot of money by taking along with me pre-prepared snacks and lunch. I barely had time during the day to sit at the university cafe for a sit-down lunch. Not only would bringing my own food along with me have been a healthier option, I wouldn’t have ended up spending extortionate prices on a chocolate bar and a ploughman’s sandwich. 

This brings me to budgeting. With student loans coming into my bank account as a huge lump sum, I tended to overspend on things that were unnecessary. I really didn't need the same bag in three different colours. Had I budgeted I could have had a fairly comfortable student life without looking for a part-time job.  

One big lesson I also learnt was to make friends. I have a close-knit bunch of friends who I’ve known for years, and I’ve never felt the need to make more friends. Whilst at university, however, making friends is simply networking. It helps to make friends with those on the same course as you, especially when it comes time to creating study groups. These friends are useful in helping you to catch up on any work you may have missed out on due to illness.  

Keeping on top of your work is probably one of the most important lessons I learnt. I now write up my lecture notes in an organised manner a few hours after the lecture has finished. The lecture is still fresh in my mind and the notes still make sense. It helps me to have a head start on exam preparation.


I have also learnt that I should enjoy every aspect of university. These few years are character-building years. The good and the bad have allowed me to transform into a somewhat responsible adult.


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Tuition Fees

Primrose Kitten

Now that we’ve introduced them, it should be noted that tuition fees in the U.K. have become rather controversial. Working out how much you'll pay in tuition fees in the U.K. is a complicated mix of where you come from, what university you attend, what year you're in, and what type of course you are taking.

Home students are British and other European Union citizens, and the level of fees the university charges these home students is regulated by the government. These can change on a yearly basis according to the university rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The TEF gives grades of gold, silver and bronze to successful universities, which allows them to raise fees in line with inflation. 

If you do a sandwich course—taking a year away from the university—then you'll probably be able to pay a reduced level of fees for that year even though you'll have very little to do with the university during your time away. 

For international students, I'm afraid there are no guidelines or limits when it comes to fees. It is a free market, and the universities can charge whatever they think they can get away with charging. This ranges from £12,000 a year for a lecture-based course up to £25,000 a year for practical courses like science, computer science, architecture, or medicine.

If you're an international student, your fees may vary depending on what year you are currently enrolled in. For example, if your first year is lecture-based, your payment may be on the lower end of the spectrum; once your courses become more practical-based (for example, if your final year is completely lab-based), then your fees may be much higher in the last year than they were in the first year.


Home Students Fees


Home Location

University Location



Anywhere in U.K. or E.U.



Scotland or rest of E.U.



Rest of U.K.



Anywhere in U.K. or E.U.


Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland or rest of E.U.


Northern Ireland

Rest of U.K.




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Applying as an International Student

Primrose Kitten1 comment

Deciding to apply to university in a different country can be a daunting prospect, but there are some fantastic opportunities out there if you're willing to strive for them. Nearly 15% of students studying at U.K. universities are international, so there are plenty of opportunities for foreign students.

For the majority of foreign applicants, the process is exactly the same as home students. You decide on your course, and then you decide at your university. You think about your personal statement, and you apply via UCAS. You can use the other sections of this book to see how to pick a course, how to pick a university, how to write your personal statement, how to get references if your school isn't used to applying through UCAS, and what you can do if you've been out of school for a while.

You'll still need to abide by the deadlines: the October deadline for medicine, veterinary, Oxford, and Cambridge, and the January deadline for everything else. However, because you are an international student, you are very welcome by universities because they can charge you more, which means they are much more likely to be lenient on deadlines than they are to home students.

You are going to need to think carefully about funding. There are going to be some funding requirements. You need to think about whether you're going to qualify for a visa, and also whether you're going to be able to show that you're proficient in the English language. There are some health considerations that the government takes into account as well, but universities really want international students, so your chosen university’s international students’ office will be more than happy to help you. If you need a bit of help, the universities that you’re applying to are going to be a brilliant place to reach out to.

Chao’s Story - Applying as an International Student 

Studying abroad isn't just an extraordinary chance to gain from a number of the best educators—it is a chance to live in another country and learn more about it by taking an interest in regular activities. Having the opportunity to apply and study as an international student is an opportunity I would always take because it’s an experience I would never forget. In any case, before applying as an international student, all students going to U.K. need to get a student visa through the U.K. home office.

As an international student, the application process can be overwhelming. Foreign students face extra challenges and stress factors beyond that of our U.K. associates. This is because the majority of us might come from countries where mail services are costly, unreliable and slow. Application charges might need to be paid in this style which may be inaccessible to us and our relatives in our nations. Also, coming from a different educational system as an international candidate, we regularly need to independently explore school sites, deal with unfamiliar vocabulary and terms on applications, and manage different admissions materials. With this, we need to improve our English language and demonstrate it.

We can only exhibit our English language capacity by completing an English language course. However, if you are a citizen of a country that is amongst the English Speaking Commonwealth, for example, Jamaica, it is easier for you to do your own ESOL or IELTS at a private college if you wish to study in the U.K. in certain immigration classifications. IELTS level 7 is the Standard English Language section is required for most advanced education courses in the UK.

But for me, through my research, I found some ways which helped me improve my language skills while applying as an international student, and these might be useful for you too. They are:

  • Signup for online courses equipped towards not only English but your basic coursework, too.
  • Ask some brilliant students, lecturers or professors to suggest great learning materials that you could work with freely.
  • If you have no one to ask, do not feel disappointed! There are books that deal particularly with language for academic settings. Check the Internet for a list of them, as they may really be of value.
  • Watch English language TV programs and movies to improve your familiarity with the language. It really helps!
  • Lastly, I made the Internet my best friend by making use of free resources online, specifically magazines, newspapers, and articles. These truly helped me increase my language skills without costing a penny.

There is one thing most of us forget to do, which I almost forgot too, and this is contacting the university or college of our choice. Contacting them will make them inform you about whatever they require from you to determine if you are academically qualified to learn at their university or college. Among other necessities, you also have to show your school that you have sufficient money to support yourself while learning at their school, and you likewise need to have medical insurance in U.K. as the charge of health care with no insurance can be a heavy bill. Applying as an international student might be a bit stressful due to all the processes we have to follow, but at the end of it all, it is worth the stress.  


If you want to apply to study in the U.K., you're going to need a Tier 4 (General) student visa. And as part of this process, you're going to need to show that you're proficient in the English language.

This proficiency testing is known as the SELT or the Secure English Language Test. It is a requirement for your Tier 4 (General) student visa, and it is conducted by Trinity College, London if you're in the U.K., or by the IELTS if you are outside the U.K.

Trinity College has several locations across the U.K., and you need to book your test online. The test will include a speaking and listening component, a conversation component, and a reading and writing component.

The IELTS needs to be conducted at an academic level, and there is quite a long test for this. There are four components to the IELTS. The listening section, which is 30 minutes long.  The reading section, which is 60 minutes long. The writing section, which is 60 minutes long. You do all four components in a row, and you're not allowed a break in between them. The speaking, the listening, the conversation part is between 10 and 15 minutes, and you can do this a week either side of your written test. You will need to show your passport or your identity badge when you arrive to take the test, and the proctors will also use other methods to confirm your identity.


Getting a visa is an important part of coming to the U.K. to study. If you want to come for less than six months, then you can get a short-term visa. But if you want to study for an undergraduate degree, which is more than six months, then you're going to need a Tier 4 (General) student visa. 

Your university will be your Tier 4 sponsor, and when they accept you in the course, then they'll give you all of the details that you need to fill in your visa application form, including your Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies, or CAS. For degree-level courses, student visas can be up to five years. There are some exceptions on the time limit if your courses are over five years, such as Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Architecture, some Law courses, and some post-graduate courses.

The Home Office has fixed values to show how much money they expect you to have to be able to support yourself. You're expected to be able to pay all of your fees, and then you're expected to be able to provide yourself with £1,265 each month while you're studying in the U.K. Your course may not be for the entire year—for example, it may only be nine months—so you'd have to have that £1,265 for each of the nine months you were studying in the U.K. You would then have to return home for the other three months of the year.

You're going to need to prove that you're proficient in the English language by completing a SELT course at a certified centre (see previous section), and any criminal convictions are going to have to be disclosed on your visa application form. There is a charge for applying for your visa, and there is no guarantee that the home office will actually grant you a Tier 4 visa. Be prepared: you're going to have to provide lots and lots of documentation to support all of the things that you've stated in your application. However, if you do manage to get your hands on one of those visas, it is going to be a fantastic opportunity for you to come and study in the U.K.

Immigration Healthcare Surcharge (IHS)

When you are applying for your visa, you’ll be required to pay the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge, or the HIS. Once you have paid this fee, and once your visa has been granted, you’ll be legal entitled to use the healthcare provided by the NHS. This means healthcare will be free at the point of use, but be aware that there are a few services that still required a minimal payment, such as medical prescriptions, dental treatments, and eye tests.

TB Testing

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that predominately affects the lungs and is spread by coughs and sneezes. TB can be fatal, but it is easily treated by a course of antibiotics. Due an extensive vaccination program today, there are very few causes of TB in the U.K. To prevent a resurgence of infection by students from countries with high infection rates, incoming students need to prove they are free from infection. TB tests require a phlegm sample and a chest x-ray.

Students from the following countries will need to take a TB test at a Home Office-approved centre: 

Afghanistan; Algeria; Angola; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Bangladesh; Belarus; Benin; Bhutan; Bolivia; Botswana; Brunei; Burma; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cambodia; Cape Verde; Central African Republic; Chad; Cameroon; China; Congo; Côte d’Ivoire; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Djibouti; Dominican Republic; East Timor; Ecuador; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Georgia; Ghana; Guatemala; Guinea; Guinea Bissau ; Guyana; Haiti; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Iraq; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Kiribati; Kyrgyzstan; Laos; Lesotho; Liberia; Macau; Madagascar; Malawi; Malaysia; Mali; Marshall Islands; Mauritania; Micronesia; Moldova; Mongolia; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Nepal; Niger; Nigeria; North Korea; Pakistan; Palau; Papua New Guinea; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Russia; Rwanda; São Tomé and Principe; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Solomon Islands; Somalia; South Africa; South Korea; South Sudan; Sri Lanka; Sudan; Suriname; Swaziland; Tajikistan; Tanzania; Togo; Thailand; Turkmenistan; Tuvalu; Uganda; Ukraine; Uzbekistan; Vanuatu; Vietnam; Zambia; Zimbabwe

Student Loans

Students from the EU can apply for a student loan as if they were U.K. students. Students from outside the European Union and the U.K. will have to show they can the finances to self-fund for the duration of their studies.


At the moment, Brexit will have no impact on the status of international students. The U.K. will leave Europe at some point, and the negotiations regarding the status of international students have yet to be resolved. 

Costs for International Students

There are lots and lots of things you need to consider when you decide to come to the U.K. to study as an international student. The biggest chunk of the cost for you is going to be tuition fees, which can range from £12,000 to £20,000, depending on the location of the degree, whether it's an academic subject, whether it's a lab-based subject, which year of your degree you're in, and exactly the subject that you are doing.

On top of that, you're going to have roughly £9,000 living costs; these costs rise to about £13,000 if you are studying in one of the big cities like London, Oxford, Cambridge, or Edinburgh.

You need to consider your costs of traveling home, as not all universities will let you stay there over the holidays; in other words, you might be forced to go home for Christmas as your accommodation may be used for tourists during that time, so you will need to factor in the cost of traveling home three or four times a year. Communications with home might require you to get a more expensive mobile phone contract than other students. You might need to get calling card, or you might need to consider accommodation that has Wi-Fi included, as not all of them do.

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Applying as a Mature Student

Primrose Kitten1 comment

In many ways, mature students have lots of advantages over younger 18-year-olds, but they also face some extra challenges.

When you are 18, you don't have a lot of life experience. You may not know what you want to do, and you may not know what your future path holds. Some 18-year-olds just end up applying for university because that's what they think they should do. However, the advantage of being a mature student (anyone who is over 21) is that you have that extra bit of experience. Hopefully, you're applying to university because you're certain about what you want to do, about why you want to do it, and where it's going to lead you in the future.

The application process is exactly the same for mature students. There is no separate system, and you apply through UCAS just as you would straight out of school. You write your personal statement, you get it in by the deadlines, you pick your university, and your courses. However, the advantage for a mature student is that writing a personal statement should hopefully be a little bit easier, simply because you have more to write about. You likely have already been working, or you have some travel experience. If you have children, then you have the extra skills that come along with being a student parent. You should have a lot more experience to draw upon in your personal statements and in your interviews.

If your A-Levels were a while ago, then there are lots of other paths into university. You can consider doing an Access course or a Foundation course. These year-long courses help provide a transition between A-Levels and the degree coursework. Many of these Access and Foundation courses are offered at the same universities as the actual degree courses, and some of them will continue on into your degree coursework.

If your offer is based on UCAS points, then there are lots of different ways you can get UCAS points. I'm not going to talk about them all here, because the UCAS Guide to this runs to 130 pages long. But even things like life experience can count towards UCAS points. There are some universities that catered more towards mature students; for example, Birkbeck College in London isn't specifically for mature students, but the majority of its lectures are in the evening, which could make it easier if you want to combine working and doing your degree at the same time. There are also some colleges, such as at Oxford and Cambridge, that are specifically intended for mature student. And even though these provisions are in place, you will not be the only mature student no matter which university you attend. There are lots and lots of them out there! Maybe they won't be going as crazy as the 18-year-olds, but you will find a large number of mature students at any university across the U.K. There will be societies, there will be networking events, and there will be socializing events set up so you can meet other people your age.

If this is your first degree, then you can still apply for a student loan. There's no age restriction applying for a student loan, it's just it has to be your first degree.

The advantage that you have over those 18-year-olds is that, by now, you've hopefully had some experience with budgeting and managing your life. You experience with setting priorities means that you should be better equipped for handling the stresses of university. You will likely be more motivated because you've had time to think about your career path and your decision to attend university. 

If you need a little bit more flexibility, then the Open University is also a brilliant place for you to consider. It has flexible online courses that you can fit in around the rest of your life. This is especially valuable for individuals with care responsibilities or those who don’t live close to any universities. The best part is if you don't want to do your whole degree through the Open University, then it can provide a short course which will put you in a position to actually apply to university.

It can seem quite indulgent to leave jobs or to step back from looking after your children to go back and study for a degree. But this is a massive investment in your future, and hopefully, it will all pay off!



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Applying as a Student Parent

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If you have a child or children when you apply to university, you are going to face some extra challenges. But along with these challenges, you will also find that there is a massive level of support for student parents.

Whether you are 18 applying to university with a young child, or whether you are a mature student applying with a few school-age children, you already have some fantastic parenting skills that will help you succeed at university. Trust me, I know that being a parent is hard! But without even realizing it, you have already done some amazing things. Because you are a parent, you are better at time management. You are better at prioritizing tasks. You are better at multitasking, and you're better at seeing through tasks to completion. And this is all because a small person's life depends upon you. These are skills that you’ve acquired in your day to life, but they will also help you succeed at university.

Thankfully, many universities provide extra support to student parents. Many universities have halls geared towards student families, and most campuses have nurseries and childcare facilities on site. There are limits to the number of places that are available, however, so don't apply to a university and assume that you're going to get suitable accommodation. You may have to decide upon a university that's closer to your support network so that you can get extra help while getting your degree.

Every university in the U.K. has student parents enrolled, so you are not going to be the only person in this situation. There are going to be support networks. There are going to be clubs. There are going to be student societies, and they're going to be geared towards helping student parents like you. No university will withhold an offer just because you are a parent. They recognize the extra skills that come with being a parent, and they want the best students that they can possibly get, irrespective of personal circumstances.

When applying for student loans, you will be automatically considered as an independent student, which means your parents' income will not be considered. The result is that you will likely get a higher level of loan to cover your living expenses. The government's childcare grant will pay up to 85% of your childcare costs, and this is paid in a lump sum at the same time as your student loan. You can also get the parents' living allowance, which is paid as a lump sum that you don't have to pay back. If you're a lone parent or both parents are students, then you can qualify for extra benefits, such as income support and housing benefit.

If you’re a parent and you're considering applying to university, then it is an absolutely fantastic step. By making this choice, you are going to be improving your future job prospects, and you're going to be setting a great example for your children.






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Additional Entry Requirements

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As well as A-Levels, some university have specified additional entry requirements. Specifics for medicine and Oxbridge are listed in those sections of the book. This is mainly due to the decrease in students sitting for AS-Level exams, which means that the only formal exam results on your UCAS application form are your GCSE results, which may not be in the subject you are applying for and not all universities think these are representative of how you will do at university.

While not a replacement for A-Levels, a good grade in the following exams may compensate for a poor performance in GCSEs and may be reflected in an unconditional or reduced offer.

Thinking Skills Assessment. The University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and UCL (University College London) all use the TSA for a range of different courses. This takes place at the end of October. For Section One, you have 90 minutes to answer 50 multiple choice questions. This is a skills test, not a knowledge test, so you’re going to be tested on your ability to use numerical and spatial reasoning, your ability to solve problems, and your critical thinking skills using everyday language. Scores for each question are scaled based on difficulty, and your final score for Section One will be out of 100. The University of Cambridge and UCL only require candidates to sit Section One, but the University of Oxford also requires Section Two. Section Two is a 30-minute essay writing task to demonstrate good use of English and ability to communicate. The marks are passed on to the universities to which you have applied, and these will be released in mid-January. While there is no specific content you can study for this test, as with any exam you can prepare by looking at past papers, which are freely available on the assessment website. The test is taken in school and your exams officer needs to register you for the test.

Law - Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, King's College London, Nottingham, Oxford, SOAS and UCL all require the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT).

University admissions tutors know that not everyone has the opportunity to study Law at A-Level, so they need an alternative way of determining who would make a good lawyer. The LNAT doesn’t test subject knowledge, so you don’t need to have studied Law to get a good grade. Instead, the LNAT tests the skills that lawyers need, such as comprehension; interpretation; analysis; synthesis; induction and deduction; and other verbal reasoning skills that are essential for a successful career in law. The LNAT will not be the only factor that admission tutors take into account, but it will play a big part alongside your personal statement, predicted grades, and references. Each university will place a different amount of importance on the results.

The LNAT needs to be sat the year you are applying to university and you can only sit it once per admission round. It is a computer-based test, and must be sat at an authorised test centre; you cannot take this within school.

The test is 2 hours and 15 minutes and has two sections. For Section A, you get 95 minutes to answer 42 multiple chose questions. You will be shown 12 paragraphs and then will need to answer 3 or 4 questions on each. For Section B, you will get 40 minutes to write an essay on a given topic. In Section B, you will need to show that you can use the English language well. The results are sent out twice a year, with the first results sent out in mid-February, meaning you cannot use the results to help determine where you apply via UCAS.

There is no content that you need to study, but you can help yourself prepare for the test by looking at the past papers which are available for free on the LANT website, lnat.ac.uk

Maths – The University of Oxford and Imperial College both require the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT). The University of Cambridge and University of Warwick require the Sixth Term Examination Paper in Mathematics (STEP). Durham University and Lancaster University require the Test of Mathematics for University Admission; this test is also advised to be taken by applicants to the University of Warwick, University of Sheffield, University of Southampton and London School of Economics and Political Science.

The MAT is sat at the end of October after the deadline for Oxford applications, so you can use the results to determine if you should apply to Oxford or not. This is administered by the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing Service—but don’t get confused, because it is still needed even for Oxford and Imperial. This is a subject-based test, and it is best that you let your teacher know you are planning on taking it so they can ensure that you learn all the content in year 12. You don’t need to have taken Further Maths at A-Level to be able to understand the content on this test. Both Oxford and Imperial have an extensive collection of past papers and worked solutions to help you prepare for this test, so you should take advantage of the resources that both universities offer.

The test is 2 hours and 30 minutes long. No calculators or formula sheets are allowed, and it is taken within school under exam conditions. You will need to get your school exams officer to register you for the test. You don’t get sent your results; these are sent directly to the university, but you can request them for the university.

Test of Mathematics for University Admission is spread across two 75-minute papers which are taken consecutively. Paper One is thinking and Paper Two is reasoning; for both of these papers you are not allowed any calculators. The test is taken at the end of October and the results released to you a month later. The results are not automatically sent to universities, but you can select which universities you want to share the results with via the results website. This test is sat within schools and you need to get your exams officer to register you for it. The content is going to be based on what you are studying, and there are lots of free practice papers available on the testing services website.

STEP, or the Sixth Term Examination Paper in Mathematics, has three papers but not all are required by every university. The papers you are required to take will depend on what A-Levels you are taking. Each paper is 3 hours long and has 13 questions (8 pure, 3 mechanics and 2 stats). It is suggested that you pick 6 questions and answer them, but you can attempt as many questions as you like. Only the six highest scores will be used. Paper 1 and 2 are based on A-Levels Maths content, while Paper 3 is based on A-Level Further Maths. These exams are sat at the same time as A-Level exams in June, and results are released at the same time as A-Level results. This means that your offer may be a combination of A-Level results and STEP results. The STEP exam will be sat in school and your exams officer needs to register you. The University of Cambridge has a very extensive range of free preparation material available on their website.


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Deferred Entry

Primrose Kitten

If you want to take a gap year but still apply to university at the same as everyone else, then you can defer your entry. To apply for deferred entry is really easy: you just tick a little box on the UCAS application. But before you do that, make sure you check that the courses you're applying for actually accept students who have deferred entry. Some competitive subjects, some universities, and some courses don't like students who have deferred entry. They want students who come straight from school, so there's no gap in their studying. Before you apply for a course and deferred entry, make sure that they are going to accept you.


You're going to need to explain your decision to defer on your personal statement. You’ll need to explain why you decided to take a gap year, and why you decided to defer your entry. If you can't come up with a good reason, or if you can't explain it well enough in your personal statement, then you're going to be in a little bit of a tricky situation. You're going to need to have plans (or at least an idea of plans) in place. You can't just turn up at the interview and say, "I'm going to play computer games for a year." Because, unless you're applying for computer games design, they won’t see the advantage. You have to have a plan; you have to do something productive, something useful, something good with this year.


If you want to defer your entry after you’ve already confirmed your spot, then contact the university directly and see if they will allow you to make the change. If you've applied for deferred entry but then don't want to take that up anymore, this a little bit of a trickier situation, because the university might not have places for you straight away. If they've allocated your place for a year later, there might not be space for you to start this year.


If you want to take a gap year, the advantages of deferring entry are that you're going through the process with all of your friends at the same time. You're applying at the same time, getting offers at the same time, you have the whole experience on results' day and the anxiety about what is going to happen. And when it comes to teachers writing your references, you're much fresher in their minds as opposed to having to remember you a year later. Applying at the same time and deferring entry is going to be a much easier application process.


Your other option is taking a gap year and then applying a year later so you have your grades in hand. Now, you can go through the process with your peers, writing your personal statement, but don't actually apply. Leave your application till September and get it in right when the UCAS applications open. Because you're already applying with your grades, you can pick and choose your universities a little bit better because you know whether you're going to meet the grade requirements or not. And because you've done this, the universities might give you an unconditional offer. You might also have firm plans in place because you've had more time to work out what you're doing on your gap year. When you apply for the UCAS deadline in January, you may not know what you're doing over the summer. But if you leave it for a year and apply when the next round of applications open in September, you might have got your gap year plans already sorted out so you can better answer questions in your personal statement and in an interview as to why you're taking a gap year and what you're going to get out of it.


If you're going to take a gap year, you’ve got two choices: You can apply with everyone else and defer your entry, or you can get your results and then apply and take your gap year later, knowing that you’ve got a place waiting for you when you come back. The downside of this is that you might be invited to interview while you’re planning on trekking a rainforest or relaxing on a beach.


Gap years are fantastic, amazing things, but only if you use them properly.


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Gap Years

Primrose Kitten1 comment

If you are feeling burnt out after years in the school system, you can take a gap year between the end of school and the start of university. If you're going to go down this route and take a gap year, I'm afraid it can't just be sitting around playing computer games, hanging out with your friends, and working in the local supermarket. You have to have a plan, otherwise this gap is going to look weird on your CV, and it's going to be hard to explain to universities when it comes time to apply. This time can be put to such fantastic use.


You can go abroad and travel on an epic journey. You will be the envy of all of your friends who are back at home studying, especially when they see your Facebook and Instagram and see all the amazing places that you are visiting. (Although, making other people jealous shouldn't be a reason for you to go traveling!) You can go and teach English, or art, or drama, or music to under-privileged children in countries around the world where they don't have as many opportunities as we do. You can go work in hospitals or orphanages, or you can go and dig wells for communities. You can do things that can have a long-term, lasting impact on all the people that you're going to spend a year helping.


You can work in an animal sanctuary, or you could find an ecological conservation project that you're really passionate about. Maybe this links in with your degree, or maybe this links in with your long-term career goals. Maybe it doesn't, but then you could find a project where you can give back to the community while you're taking a year off.


If you want to stay local, then you can go work in a care home, or you can work on a community project, or you could pick a cause that you're passionate about and spend a year trying to make it better. Doing petitions, sorting out things in the local park, talking to the council, talking to the local community, trying to fix whatever projects—whatever thing that you decided needs fixing.


If you wanted to stay at home, you could be entrepreneurial. You could spend the year setting up a small business, and this has loads of advantages. It's going to give you loads of skills for when you get to university. You could be making money, and this could be a long-term thing that could keep you sorted out money-wise while you're at university.


You could go away from home and do a big working project. You could go work on a farm, you could go abroad and do fruit picking, or you could do a really interesting internship somewhere. This gives you the opportunity to learn skills related to the career that you potentially want to be following after university. If you're going to live abroad, you should immerse yourself in that culture. It maybe something completely different to what you're used to—or it may be somewhere that speaks English, but somewhere that needs an au-pair. Either way, you can go properly get into the culture, and learn the traditions and customs of your host country.


The advantage of taking a gap year is the massive wealth of experience you're going to come away with. You're going to come away with new skills, and you’ll be able to get on with people that you didn't necessarily think that you'd get on with. You could be earning money while you're doing this. You've got the chance to be refreshed after years and years churning your way through the exam factory that is our school system. You're going to come out of this a little bit more mature, a little bit more independent than you were before. And you’ll have time to reflect on what you're about to do next. Is university really what you want to be doing? You've got the opportunity to undertake a massive challenge, something that you'll really, really be proud of. Something that you can take and give back to the world, give back to communities that are less fortunate than us. Sometimes we take what we have for granted. We don't realize how access to clean running water, and access to electricity is actually a privilege that so many people in the world don't have. You have the opportunity to spend a year doing a little bit towards fixing these problems.


However, as brilliant as I think gap years are, there are a few disadvantages to them. If you don't plan them well, it can just be a massive waste of time. You may have all these grand plans to go off and save the world, but if you don't actually get around to doing it, then you're just sitting at home for a year, which is a dull waste of time.


If you go on an epic journey that will make everyone jealous, then that is going to be really expensive. You might have to work and save up for this. You might have to take a loan out from your parents, or from a bank, which you'll have to pay back, and that's a lot of money.


While you are off doing amazing, fantastic things, you may decide that you don't want to go back to university. Now, some of you may see this as an advantage, and some of you may see this as a disadvantage, but this could be a massive interruption in your life plan. Then the shock of going back into the school system—into the university system, into the exam system—might be a bit hard for you to get used to.


Then while you're off having amazing fun on all of your adventures, you may forget everything you have learnt at A-Level. So when you start in your first year at university, there are going to be people who have only been a few weeks out of A-Levels, and you may find yourself at a little bit of a disadvantage. Now if you decide to take a gap year, you're going to have to expect to talk about it in interviews and explain why you took it. Please make sure you have a proper plan in place for this. And if you do go off on a gap year, I'm very, very jealous!


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