Applying to university is a massive step. The decisions you make now are going to determine your future and shape the direction that your life takes for the next three to four years.
I've been guiding students through the UCAS application process for years now, and with this comprehensive guide I intend to share with you as much information as I can.
The first step to this complicated puzzle is finding the right course at the right university. Do you need a bachelor’s degree, an honours degree? Do you need a foundation course or a sandwich course? Are you looking for a city university or a campus university? Student finance is complicated, so you also need to consider the costs of living and tuition fees and ask yourself whether you can afford to go to university.
Over the course of this book, I will advise you on how to write successful personal statements. Along the way you’ll learn what to write, what not to write, what admissions tutors are looking for (and what they hate), and what is going to guarantee that you end up in the reject pile straight away.
We’ll go over what universities are looking for, so you will know the specific entry requirements for all the different degree subjects. We’ll cover everything an aspiring university student needs to know, including: What are the application procedures for medicine? Do you need the BMAT or the UKCAT? What are UCAS points and how do they work? What are natural sciences and liberal arts? What are some university courses that you may not have considered? The list goes on, but worry not! I'm going to talk you through how to prepare for interviews and cover all the different routes you can take into university, including A-level and non-A-level routes. And then we’ll cover the most important part: what to do on results day!
Unlike in the U.S. and mainland Europe, U.K. universities only infrequently offer liberal arts degrees. New students are required to pick one subject, or maybe two subjects in rare cases, and then study that one subject in depth for two, three, four, five or six years. Recently there has been a move to reduce the time that it takes to two years to reduce the cost. Alternatively, you can change a three-year course into a four-year course by adding on a work placement, starting with a foundation year or you can extend it even further if you want to add a master’s year in the end. Degrees in medicine and law can be six years long, and you can start these at 18. There is no need to do a separate undergraduate course beforehand; you can do law or medical degrees straight after Senior School.
The applications are all made via a centralized system, known as the UCAS system. If you want to apply for medicine, veterinary science, or any course at Oxford or Cambridge, that needs to be done by mid-October for a September start the following year. If you are going to apply to other universities or subjects, then that needs to be done by January for starting in September the same year.
Tuition fees are paid yearly in the U.K. At the moment the fees for home students are up to £9,250 a year. For international students, they can range anywhere between £12,00 for a lecture-based course up to £20,000 a year for a practical or a lab-based course. The teaching is going to be a mixture of lectures, with class sizes ranging from a few students up to a couple of hundred students. Small tutorials with a professor will be smaller, and are going to be probably less than five students. In some cases, your degree will include practical work, where you are going to be in a large lab with students and a few post-graduate student supervisors. Some examples of practical work projects include lab time for a computer engineering project, a mechanical or civil engineering project, or an architecture project.
There is no extensive scholarship system in the U.K. The universities are very, very popular, so they do not need to use scholarships to entice people to come to them. Teaching is generally for thirty weeks of the year and usually Monday to Friday, but this does vary from university to university. Oxford and Cambridge, for example, teach on a Saturday but have long holidays. Conversely, some universities are having shorter holidays so that the overall length of the course is shorter, thus making it cheaper. Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham also have a collegiate system, where you apply to a specific college that you wish to attend, not the overall university. With this system, most of your time is spent in the college, not in the broader university environment.
The final grade you are going to get at the end is either going to be a 1st, a 2:1 (upper second), a 2:2 (lower second), or a 3rd. This is going to be based on a mixture of things, but mainly your end-of-year exams. Your first year will not count for too much, so only about 10% of your first-year exams will go to your final grade—but you will need to pass your first year so that you can progress on to the second year. Your second-year exams will count for between 20 and 40% of your overall grade, and then your final-year exams, whether that is your third or your fourth year, will count for anywhere from 50% to 70%. Universities will generally provide you with accommodation, but only for your first year. After that, you are expected to go and find lodging with friends.