The UK uni entry requirements for international students

02 Jun 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students
Want to study in the UK? Make sure you know the varying requirements you need to pass to get in. 

Unsurprisingly, things are a bit more complicated for international students, which is why understanding everything that is needed of you will help you successfully navigate the application process.

Each course has its own entry requirements, so they can vary considerably, but many have a set standard that is used throughout the country. 

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about UK university entry requirements for international students, helping you land that place at your first choice.

1. University entry requirements

Most courses in the UK require students to have attained certain grades at A-Level, BTEC or GNVQ. The level depends on the university and the course you want to study.  

As an international student coming to the UK who was not educated in the UK system, you will need to contact the administrator of the course you want to study. They will be able to tell you what credentials you will need to provide from your home country. You may also need to take an English language test (more information below).

Those who do not get accepted directly can also come to the UK a few months before the start of their course to complete a pre-sessional course.

2. How do I apply for courses?

There are a number of ways to apply for university courses in the UK, which means there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

The most common routes include:

  • Using pathway providers for foundation programmes
  • Applying through an education agent
  • Applying directly with the university
  • Applying on platforms like Applyboard and studyportals
  • Applying via UCAS

Many international students choose to apply using an education agent, simply because the process can be quite complicated if you are doing it alone. However, portals like Applyboard and studyportals do make the process a little easier and are specifically geared towards finding places for international students.

When do I need to apply?

One important thing you will need to do is make sure you are meeting all relevant application deadlines, so you don’t lose your opportunity to study in the UK.

For example, if you are applying via UCAS, dates you will need to make notes of are:

  • Applications opening – September 1st
  • EU nationals application deadline – January 15th
  • Main application deadline – June 30th
  • Clearing process – June 30th – September 30th

Each route will have specific dates you will need to adhere to, so keep this in mind and make sure you are starting your application as early as possible.

What else do I need to consider?

Regardless of how you apply, there are some other key things you should also consider when starting your applicating, including:

  • That dates for applying for Oxford or Cambridge are a little earlier and you will be asked to attend an interview before your application is accepted
  • The earlier you get your applications in the better (courses fill up quickly)
  • Students who do not attain their required grade will need to go through the clearing process to find a position on another course (if you’d like more information on the clearing process, you can find it here)

If you need further information, you can always contact the international office at your chosen university.

3. Applying for a student visa

All international students on a degree course in the UK need to apply for a student visa through the Student route, including those from Europe. If you are from the EU and started your course before this date 31 December 2020, you are eligible to apply under the EU settlement scheme to stay in the UK and complete your studies.

How do I apply for a student visa through the student route?

You will need to apply online through GOV.UK or a visa application centre near you. You must show that you have:

  • An offer from a UK university or college
  • The right level of English to join that course (covered in more detail in the next section)
  • Finances to pay for your studies and living expenses

For more information, visit the GOV.UK website.

When should I apply?

You can apply three months in advance of your course start date if you are already living in the UK, and six months prior if you are coming from outside of the UK.

If you are already in the UK and eligible to apply without returning to your home country, you must make sure there are no more than 28 days between the end of your previous course and the start of your new one.

How much does it cost?

A standard Student visa application costs £348 if you are applying from outside the UK, and £475 when you are already in the UK. You can apply for priority or super-priority, but the fee becomes more expensive for this service. There are also additional services such as document checking or interpretation which come with an extra cost.

Alongside your visa application, you will also need to pay the immigration health surcharge. From 27 October, this costs £470 for each year you have your visa. For example, if you are applying for a visa for a three-year course, your health surcharge will be £1,410.

The new Student route comes as part of the wider changes to immigration rules in the UK, you can find more information either on the GOV.UK website or through the university or college you have an offer from.

4. What level of English do I need to get into a UK university?

If you want to study in the UK and English is not your first language, you will need to take a language test. This is to show that your English language skills are good enough to study at university here.  

Below, we will cover everything you need to know.

Do I need to take an English language test to study in the UK?

Universities want to know if you have the language and academic skills to complete the course. Most courses demand high standards, which is why international students must sit a test.  

Just like how grade requirements vary between universities, language test scores do as well. For example, courses like law and medicine will require a higher level of English than others.  

The best way to find out the requirements of your university is to check with their international admission office.

What English language test do I need to take?

There are different English tests you can take, and universities usually specify which test they prefer. However, IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic and Cambridge English Advanced are the most common.  

The IELTS Academic test is generally the most recommended if you’re looking to study your undergrad or postgrad course at a university in the UK, but it is worth checking in with your university to find out what they look for.

These tests are accepted and respected in most countries and institutes worldwide. They show your university how well you write, speak, listen, and read in English.

What if I do not pass the language test?

Students whose level of English is not strong enough can still study in the UK, but they will need to complete a one-year foundation course when they are here, prior to starting their university course.

In this case, you will need to apply via a Pathway provider, such as Kaplan, INTO or Navitas.

Where can I live?

Here, we have covered all you need to know about entry requirements for international students hoping to apply to universities in the UK. So, what next? It is time to find your accommodation.

If you are planning on studying here and are looking for student accommodation perfect for international students, Unite Students has halls throughout the UK that promise a welcoming atmosphere, first-class amenities and a vibrant social scene.

Head over to the Common Room to find out what student life is really like and start planning!


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