University in the UK explained
Studying at a UK university as an international student has many advantages: it is a great opportunity to improve your English language skills, to enrich yourself by living in a different culture on your own and to increase your job prospects.
The British university system is vastly different than other european systems. In this article I will explain you in detail how British universities are structured, how to choose the best university for you and how to prepare your application.
How are British universities structured?
Once you have passed your final high school exams, if you want to undertake higher study you can either apply for a course at a college (offering university-level education combined with practical experience) or you can apply for a course at a university, offering degrees which are usually three years long (four in Scotland) and that will award you, at the end of the course, a bachelor’s degree.
If you want to keep studying after your first degree, you can apply for a postgraduate degree, where you will be studying to obtain a master, which can be followed by a doctorate to obtain a PhD.
How do I choose the right university for me?
There are more than 100 universities and colleges in England alone and with such a large choice, choosing the best course at the best university for you is not an easy task. First of all, you need to know that every university course only accept a given number of students: whether you will be accepted or refused will depend on your application and, most importantly, on your final grades at high school. For selected courses where an in-depth knowledge of a specific subject is required, the university might ask you for specific grades in that subject.
If your native language isn’t English, British universities will also require you to prove your English language skills. The IELTS certificate is widely accepted across the country, and generally universities require you to achieve a grade between 6 and 7.5 (out of 9). To find out which grades you need for the course you would like to apply to, visit the university’s website, find the course you are interested in and check the entry requirements section. You will most likely only find British grades, but as a general rule the Italian grade of 95/100 is equivalent to AAA, 90/100 is equivalent to AAB, 85/100 is equivalent to ABB and so on.
Now that you have established which courses you would like to apply for, you have to choose where you would like to study. The answer will vary according to your preferences and your needs: if you have a limited budget, the north of England is a great choice thanks to the lower cost of living; if you prefer living in a quiet area, it is best to avoid crowded cities such as London or Manchester.
University rankings are very important in the UK: each year every university in the country is ranked based on various factors such as facilities, quality of research and teaching. The higher a university is ranked, the better it will look on your CV.
How do I prepare my application?
First of all, you should familiarise yourself with the UCAS website (University and Colleges Admissions Service): this portal works as an intermediary between the applicants and universities.
Once you have created an account, you will have a number of sections to fill out:
- Personal details: Here you will have to provide your contact details, your education history and state any qualifications you might have;
- Course choices: Here you will have to list your course choice preferences. You can apply to up to five courses, which do not have to be from the same university. At this stage you are not required to order them by preference. You can apply to courses in different subjects (for example, you can choose to study English Literature in London and History in Birmingham), but it is recommended to apply to subjects in the same area (humanities, sciences etc) because you can only write one personal statement;
- Personal statement: This is the most important section of your application. You will be asked to write a 4000 characters (or 47 lines) long letter in which you need to convince the university you are the ideal candidate for the course you have chosen. There are plenty of resources and examples online to help you write your statement;
- Reference: This section has to be filled by one of your teachers. You can ask a reference from the teacher of the subject you have chosen or alternatively you can ask your English teacher if you are an international student. Your teacher is also required to state your predicted grade (unless you have already completed high school);
- Fees: Finally, you will be asked to pay an application fee. The cost is currently £20 if you only apply for one course, or £25 or if you apply to more than one course.
Applications are open from mid-September and the deadline is on 15th January. There are some exceptions to this rule: if you would like to study at either Oxford or Cambridge University (you can’t apply for both), or if you want to study medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or science, the deadline is on 15th October.
What happens next?
You should start hearing back from universities from March. You could get one of these three answers:
- Conditional: Your place is put on hold and will be confirmed once you have met all the entry requirements;
- Unconditional: You meet all the entry requirements and your place is confirmed;
- Unsuccessful: Your application has been rejected.
Once you have received an answer from the universities you will be asked to select your firm choice (the course you most want to attend) and your insurance choice (your backup choice should you not meet the entry requirements for your firm choice).
If you pass your final exams and you achieve the grades asked by your university, the status of your offer will automatically change from conditional to unconditional: this change usually takes place in August when British students receive their A Level results. Now that you have your confirmation you can prepare your application for a room in university halls and start planning your move!
How can I finance my studies?
British university courses are considerably more expensive than other european universities: in 2019/2020, one year can cost up to £9250 for UK and EU students. For international students (except EU students) the cost of one year starts at £10,000.
The vast majority of British and European students apply for a loan from Student Finance, which will cover the fees for the entirety of the course. You will start repaying your fees in monthly instalments after graduation as long as you are earning at least £21,000 per year. If you are earning less, you won’t be asked to pay.
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