What's most important for applying uni in UK


I am a NCEA student, what does UK university look at the most from a high school student from New Zealand?

What is needed to apply to UK colleges?

Hiya wang.q,

I think the biggest thing that UK universities are looking for is a passion for your chosen subject, and the more ways you can demonstrate that through your application, the better!

Firstly, grades:
If you look on university websites or prospectuses for the courses you’re interested in, they’ll have their minimum A level/ equivalent entry requirements listed. The higher your grades, the less you need to rely on the rest of your application. Depending on the university and the competitiveness of the course, there may be some flexibility as long as you are excelling in the subjects most related to your chosen course, but this is definitely not the case for Oxbridge. I know that for Cambridge, grades are massively important and during A levels, I was told that every 5 ums you drop below 100, your chances of securing a place decrease quite significantly.

Personal statement
You write one personal statement for all 5 courses you can apply for in the UK. It will definitely increase your chances of receiving offers for multiple courses if you’re applying to the same/ very similar ones at different unis, because you can tailor those 4000 characters specifically to why you want to study that particular subject. It might be worth mentioning parts of your A Level courses that you want to study in more detail, but the more further reading, relevant work experience and public lectures you’ve attended and can talk about, the stronger your application will seem. Universities want to see that you spend your time being interested in your subject and that you are prepared and excited about 3/4 years of self directed learning in that subject.

Extra curricular activities/ part time jobs
In my applications I was advised to leave these out of my personal statement in favour of subject specific content, unless you have done something that will make you a particularly memorable candidate, or contribute to skills directly relevant to your course.

I hope this helps!

1 Like

Wang.q, 100% grades - your interest and ability to excel in your chosen subject. I think Carolyn’s answer here is pretty on the spot!


@wang.q - Thank you for your great question.

Summary: The UK prefers strong academics and a wealth of subject-specific knowledge, relating to the degree you’re applying for.

Academics, Academics, and Academics

The most important part of your application is your academics. I know this seems obvious, but it’s important to note, because the UK puts added emphasis on academic achievement and result. This is in stark contrast to the US, where applicants must be all-rounded, or where applicants might be able to outweigh average academic results with extraordinary extracurricular / leadership involvement. The latter is definitely not as important in your application for the UK.

For UK schools, students must have exemplary results across the majority of their subjects. Universities will analyse academic performance over a number of years and look for either consistent high performance or increasing academics. Therefore, it is essential that you maximise your high school grades, to present the strongest application possible. If you’re looking at going to a place like Oxford, you’ll need to be endorsed with Excellence at Level 3. Have a look at their [website for International Qualification requirements] (https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/international-students/international-qualifications?wssl=1).

In addition to your High School academics, some universities will also require an admission test. Again, using Oxford as an example, they have an admission test for all degrees, some of their tests are:

  • MAT: Mathematics Admissions Test (Computer Science Degree)
  • ELAT: English Literature Admissions Test (English Degree)
  • MLAT: Modern Languages Admissions Test (Modern Languages Degree)
  • TSA: Thinking Skills Assessment (PPE Degree)

It’s imperative that you do well on these tests, because they help determine who gets an interview and who doesn’t. Typically, and this is give or take, you need to score 65% and above to get invited for an interview. Note: this will vary by degree and test.

Personal Statement

As part of the UCAS (stands for Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. It’s the centralised service that students use to apply to university) you’ll need to submit a Personal Statement. This is also important. Personal statements are a sort of informal essay. They document a student’s passion for the subject they are applying to study for. Ideally they should be focused around school subjects and the applicant’s personal exploration of the subject in question - extracurriculars and accolades should not be the majority. Personal statements are quite short (4000 characters) , so it’s important to include only the most relevant subject matter.

If you’re applying for a subject that falls under the umbrella of Humanities:
The personal statement should definitely be more philosophical or ‘abstract’ than those of science or technology applicants. If you are applying for a humanities subject, it’s beneficial to show you are well-read/thoughtful. You can mention books you’ve read or studied, current events, etc. You want to emphasise that you view the world around you critically.

If you’re applying for a STEM subject:
Your personal statement should be more grounded in what you have done practically to explore your interest in your subject. While of course it should still reflect your ability to think critically, there should be less abstract and more concrete.

To give you some real examples, Hannah M is pursuing History and Politics at Oxford. She talked about how the Nazi Party justified extreme anti-semitic racial policy with social darwinism. Then linked it back to her curriculum (International Baccalaureate) and how the historians who had created said curriculum had not thought of this.

Another example was Tilly, who is pursuing English Literature. She wrote about her insatiable love for literature. Delving into how reading Mansfield Park by Jane Austen was the catalyst behind wanting to pursue English. She then elaborates on how reading this was one of the first books she read in a more analytical way, not just as a form of escapism. In addition, goes on to talk about Virginia Woolf and other great authors. So as you can see there is this theme of contextualising her personal statement to reinforce her desired degree.

Furthermore, and again using Tilly as an example. She connects her school studies, and elaborates on how her Cambridge A Levels would help her contribute and collaborate with students and lecturers at Oxford. But touching on this from a non-traditional point in view, instead of talking about CIE English Literature, she states Latin, which had helped her learn to look at literature with a different perspective.

So it’s trying to find something unique about your subjects - then tying that into the overall statement.

You could say the approach is synonymous with the US Admission Essays in the sense that you are thinking outside of the box. But it’s in a more refined, specific way, with the intention of demonstrating your breadth and depth within that area. UK Admissions offices love this.

The Interview/s
Once you’ve met all of the above requirements, you might get invited for an interview. This is make or break, and typically the result of these interviews will delineate whether you’re offered a place at x University.

Oxford interviews its shortlisted applicants either over Skype or in person at the college. Cambridge offers interviews either in person at the college, or at a relatively close location (e.g. Singapore, Australia etc).

Interview candidates are announced about 4-6 weeks after submission of the UCAS forms. There is an interview schedule; this will become available on the websites closer to the time.

Interviews for each degree typically span a couple of days each, and are held yearly in early December. During that time you might be interviewed by a couple of different colleges, or have a couple of interviews at just one. If you choose to be present in person for the interviews, you are hosted at a college.

Interviews are set up to be replicas of colleges tutorials. You’re interviewed typically by a couple of Oxbridge tutors. You may have more than one interview depending on your degree. In order to best prepare for interviews you need to have a way of thinking rather than just knowledge of your subject. It’s very thoroughly ‘not about what you think, but about how you think.’

Interviews are not mandatory for all universities, but you’ll find a lot of the top universities (Cambridge, Oxford etc) rely on these interviews to filter through candidates and it’s an integral part of the application process.

Anyway, I hope all of this helps!! :slight_smile: Best of luck.