If you are an applicant to an undergraduate course, have you had a look at the timeline on this website?
All undergraduate applications normally go through UCAS, which is a national organisation which organises all applications.
Postgraduate applications will normally be handled directly by universities or you can apply through UCAS for some courses. It’s still important to do your own research though, because not all courses are linked to this system (yet, in my experience). Other parts of this website will be able to help you, depending on what your needs are. What follows below is mainly directed at undergraduate applicants but can also be useful for postgraduate applicants.
From the timeline you will have had a good idea of what is expected already if you are an undergraduate (new degree student).
You would need to find someone who can write a reference for you, in English, and who can talk to universities should this be required. Having a reference written in your own language and having it then translated is not permitted and is most certainly not advisable in the first place! Of course, this person needs to know you quite well, both academically and as a person.
For both postgraduate students as well as undergraduate students competition is getting more and more fierce for fewer places, especially for those degrees which are in high demand, such as law, medicine and nursing. Work experience can make the difference between getting a place or not, especially for the more practical/vocational degrees. Often, postgraduate applicants have experience in their chosen field already, or are able to prove considerable work experience and/or experience of successful undergraduate study. For applicants to a first degree work experience is more important.
Many, if not most university applicants in the UK do some form of work experience, voluntary work or anything else that benefits and supports their application. If you decide not to do this you may find yourself at a disadvantage. For example, if you would like to study medicine it’s of course not expected you’ve done open heart surgery, but you could think of the skills, insights and personality you need to have/develop to be a good doctor, and look for work experience that will benefit you. It doesn’t always have to be the most obvious option. Something different may make you stand out in a good way! This is a challenging thing to think about and organise but if you think it through logically, then you will be able to find something that helps you.
How do you find (work) experience?
Think of your subject and/or the career linked to it if you can. If you find this difficult, you can explore these on the Prospects website.
- On there you could look up your subject and explore what skills, knowledge etc… you may need to make a success of your studies.
- Linked to that, you could explore some career options linked to your subject in the same way.
- Together they will give you a good idea what you are expected to develop over the course of your studies.
- You could then explore what work experience options are open to you that broadly link in with these.
- If you are able to find work experience that broadly fits in you can use this in both your personal statement and your interview to convince admission staff and tutors that you deserve a place.
- In order to get a placement you could do the following:
- let everyone around you know you are looking, and what you are looking for. That way you have lots of people working in your interest…
- find charities that offer opportunities in the skillset you are looking for.
- think of employers in your area that may be sympathetic to giving you an opportunity. Make sure not to make assumptions… you may be surprised at what is possible! Just ask and see what happens.
- do additional short courses such as First Aid if you are thinking of medicine, or additional IT courses or similar if you are thinking of business… be creative!
What you are looking for are the professional skills, general or specific study skills, knowledge and softer skills (that prove commitment, hard work, motivation, dedication etc…) that you need to successfully study at university and/or are essential or important in your chosen subject or linked career. Work experience as a cleaner may be difficult to link to an academic education, but even that would be better than nothing as it may prove determination and sticking with something that doesn’t necessarily appeal. I don’t need to say that the more it fits in with your subject/career/general academic study, the easier it can be used to promote yourself as a good candidate for your chosen course.
I would just like to repeat that work experience may be very important in getting you a place!
Especially if you apply through Ucas, but also if you are a postgraduate student applying direct to universities, you may need a personal statement explaining why you would be a good candidate. For a Ucas application especially this follows strict guidelines. Universities will let you know if there are any additional requirements linked to your postgraduate application, including specific expectations and requirements. Whether you need to enter a piece of writing may depend on your history, your undergraduate degree, the number of applicants to your course, whether you apply for a scholarship etc…
For undergraduates, your personal statement may be one of the most important things you write for a long time. Together with your secondary school results and your interview, if you will have one, it’s one of the ‘make or break’ aspects of getting in. Very basically, it consists of more or less one A4 page of writing to support your application. This may include any experiences you had, why you would be a good student for university x to have, why you would like to study subject y, your insight or knowledge of the subject etc… No need to say, one A4 page is not a lot of space to write all of that down, so every word and every letter, space etc… counts! You ideally will also need to include the key words the reader of your personal statement wants to see, after all, familiarity makes agreement to have you as a student easier. The personal statement will take up most of your time of the actual application… it needs to be as perfect as it can be! UCAS has a tool and suggestions on their website.
In addition to all this, it’s very important not to copy anything as UCAS uses anti plagiarism software to go through statements. You will be caught out!
The interview is not there to catch you out but to find those students that will do best on the course and those who fit in best with the university’s culture and way of teaching. Sometimes universities will ask you what sound like very strange questions to make you think creatively and on the spot. It’s all too easy to pre-prepare the most obvious questions or to recite directly from one of your course books. To avoid candidates doing this, university staff will ask questions you can’t prepare for. Usually, interviews are more about your skills than your knowledge.
Interviews are daunting to anyone, but at the same time there is nothing to be afraid of. After all… you’ve been preparing for the best part of six years!
Entry tests (BMAT, ELAT, TSA, STEP…):
For some degrees and at some universities you will have to sit an entry test before you are accepted. This will be mentioned in the course description, where you will also find the sort of test you will have to sit. It’s often important to contact the university/universities you apply to, to make sure you sit the right paper. Normally those tests, for UK based students, will be taken at their school or college. This is of course not possible if you live abroad. Most countries will have a centre where you can sit this test and I can help you find out and arrange this. Be aware of when these tests take place and leave plenty of time to organise your place. It will cost something as well…
English (or Welsh?):
If your first language isn’t English and this is a requirement, then there are three main ways of doing this, depending on university requirements:
- IELTS or the International English Language Testing System: arguably the most required test for entry to UK universities.
- ESOL test or English for Speakers of Other Languages: required for some courses at UK universities and well respected by employers.
- TOEFL or Test of English as a foreign language, is sometimes required in the UK but is mainly aimed at American universities.
Which of these you need to take depends on which university and which course. Most of the time, the preferred test will be mentioned in the course description. It is possible to sit these tests quite late in the application procedure, but it could also be useful to do this early on and to mention it in your application. This may make it easier for universities to say yes to your application.
All these tests assess your reading, listening, writing and speaking ability and will attach a score to your result.
- Academic IELTS is scored between 0 and 9 (expert user)
- The ESOL course is scored differently and it depends on the papers you sat. CAE and CPE are the most interesting for applicants to university and these are graded A to E, where A to C grades are passes. CPE is the highest level, similar to the level of native speakers.
Useful web addresses:
Websites for applying:
Website useful for exploring work experience through course requirements:
- Prospects: see in the relevant section above for how you can use this website to good effect for exploring work experience options.
- Cambridge Assessments: useful website for information on entry tests.
- Test Preparation: click on ‘select a test’ at the top of the page.