Like any country, the UK has its own university application process. As a student from the US, navigating this new system might be challenging. Let’s take a closer look at this process and ways you can prepare before applying to university in the UK. 

UCAS for US students

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) is the UK’s admissions service for higher education; think of it like the Common App in the US.

Can US students use UCAS?

Yes, US students and all international students applying to universities in the UK can use the UCAS system!

The first step is deciding on a university you want to attend and its range of courses offered. While the UK has more than 160 universities to choose from, you can narrow your choices by deciding what type of undergraduate degree (also known as determining your major in the US) you want! Having this nailed down is also mandatory for the UCAS application. So, take a close look at what schools offer the best courses for a degree in business, the arts, economics, or whatever subject piques your interest the most.

What subjects can I study in the UK?

Click here to find what subjects can you study in the UK
Once you’ve decided on your top universities, go ahead, and start your UCAS application, which, if selected, will submit applications to up to five universities at one time. Keep in mind that UCAS application fees cost £27.50 for up to five choices (about US$35) in 2024.

UCAS application deadlines

  • UCAS application deadlines

Essential to remember: UCAS application deadlines are in October and January. For the 2024 entry:

- First deadline: October 16, 2023, for courses at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge or most courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science, and dentistry.
- Second deadline: January 31, 2024, for most courses.
- ‘UCAS Extras’ deadline: February 28, 2024, is considered the ‘UCAS Extras’ open date, where you could add an extra university choice if you received no offers or rejected any offers you did receive.
- Automatic entry to Clearing: June 30, 2024. Clearing is how higher education institutions fill places they still have on their courses and is reserved for students who apply after June 30, didn’t receive any offers, and other situations.

After determining the deadline you need to follow, your university selections, and your intended degree, you’ll need to register with UCAS officially. Your UCAS application consists of important details such as residency status, contact information, education history, employment history, course selections, a personal statement, and a reference. Let’s dig into some of these sections in more detail.

How to write a UCAS personal statement as a US student?

The UCAS personal statement focuses on you as the student –– why you’d like to study at a particular university, your past experiences and skills, and more. The personal statement typically must be at least 1,000 characters long. You’re encouraged to write in your own style and to be unique with your piece — it’s your personal statement; be impactful and be you!

Your reference, known as a ‘referee’ in the UK, will be a written recommendation from a teacher, adviser, or professional who knows you and your skillset in the academic or professional world.

How to apply

Steps after you’re placed on a course

After completing all these steps in your UCAS application, you’re all set to submit it! The hardest part of the whole process might be waiting to hear back, which may require some patience. After you do receive notice from the universities you applied to, and (it is hoped) admittance to university (also known as being ‘placed on a course’), you’ll need to decide on which university to attend. From there, you’ll receive a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from your future education provider.

Obtaining your CAS is critical when applying to one of the most important documents before traveling to the UK: your student visa.

August tends to be a peak month for UK student visa applications, so try to apply for yours before then and always make sure to apply at least six months before your course start date.

As part of the student visa application process, you’ll need to submit fingerprints and a digital photograph of yourself and then wait for a decision, which usually takes up to three weeks. Once you’re approved to study in the UK, make sure to bring along your passport or travel document, and your CAS. You may also need evidence of finances, parental or guardian consent for those under 18, a Tuberculosis test certificate, and an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if required by your university.

USA student visa guide

More details about UK Universities

  • Which is the most affordable university in the UK for international students?

 As an international student, you’re likely considering costs, and some UK universities are relatively more cost effective than others.

University costs will vary depending on your institution selection, so take a close look at university websites and contact their financial departments for additional information as you begin your university search. 

And it’s worth noting that the cost of these UK universities is usually considerably less expensive than tuition in the US. There are plenty of options for international students who prioritize an affordable and high-quality education in the UK! 

  • Which UK university has the most US students?

For US students coming to the UK to study, there are several popular university choices that host the majority of students from the US, including the University of St Andrew’s, the University of Oxford, the University of Edinburgh, University College London, and the University of Westminster. However, there are international students in nearly every university throughout the UK, so don’t let these fast facts narrow your university choices too much.

Applying to university in the UK is different than in the US, but by following the steps above, it’s doable. Follow these general guidelines to the UK UCAS system and familiarize yourself with the preparation you’ll need to do ahead of application time. You’ll be ready to start your lifechanging experience! 

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