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Studying at Top UK Universities

The UK continues to be a popular destination for international college students. The primary reasons being the high academic standards of UK universities and opportunities to live and work upon completion of studies. While Oxford and Cambridge (jointly referred to as Oxbridge) stand at the pinnacle of research institutions, the UK is also home to the highly respected Russell Group of Universities. These are twenty-four prestigious institutions including Imperial College London, University College London, University of Manchester, University of Edinburgh etc. located in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

Interestingly, in contrast to the other popular English-speaking countries like the US or Canada where undergraduate studies are for four years, the UK offers courses for three or four years. Some of the universities also offer partial scholarships, bursaries, and financial support to deserving international students. All these factors make the UK an attractive destination for international students.

Although there is a streamlined application process for the UK universities through UCAS, the admissions are quite competitive with many applicants for each available seat. Additionally, since students can only apply to five universities, they need to strategically choose the universities they are applying to. It is important for students to understand what the universities look for in their applications and how to best position themselves in front of their dream university.

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“The sooner, the better”. Leading universities around the world assess student grades and activities from grade IX – XII. Especially for admissions to UK universities, academic performance is very important. As such, it is advisable that students focus on their studies from grade IX. For some courses, there might be unique subject prerequisites. Many aspiring medicine students are surprised to learn that Chemistry and Math are key subjects for admission to medical programs instead of Biology. Similarly, for studying Economics or Business students should have studied Math throughout high school.

Additionally, high school is the right time for students to develop their extracurricular interests and identify opportunities for future projects and subject related activities. Also, since the student will need to make critical choices regarding subject, board, stream or school selection in grade XI, it is important to have an idea of what they plan to study in college.

Please continue reading to understand the process better-

Grade IX & X

Understand and identify the student’s interest, personality and what really drives him/her. Work towards academic enrichment, brainstorm about project ideas – personal/group projects (academic/non-academic), or community service projects. Qualifying/winning in National or International Olympiads is another great advantage if the student is seeking admission in top UK universities.
It is the right time to engage the student in some writing assignments to prepare for the upcoming college essays and research papers perhaps (if the student is keen about it). This is when students plan their curriculum – CBSE, ICSE, IB, etc. based upon the choices of subjects. The fine tuning of the extracurriculars start and students enter the more intense phase of preparation by the end of grade X.




For most UK universities, the applications are submitted eight to twelve months in advance. So, for the session starting in September 2023, the students will submit their applications between October 2022 and February 2023. The deadlines are different for different programs like Medicine, Economics, Computer Science, Engineering or Architecture. Please research the exact deadlines for your specific program carefully. Universities do not have to consider applications received after the deadline, although they can if they have spaces available once the on-time applications have been considered.

Grade XI & XII

Grade XI marks the beginning of one’s application process wherein the prospective applicant can start practicing essay answers, give projects & activities the final touch and execution (in some). Leadership experience is another aspect that one needs to focus on – school or community related engagement that challenges your skills of leading a project or club. Internships and extra academic courses are another great way of showing interest in that field. Coursera, EdX, Udemy are some of the amazing websites that offer such courses in abundance. Students can enroll themselves for online or offline internships as well that will further enhance the overall profile and add credit to the application.
Start finalizing the college list and segregate under dream and safe categories. Apply for Grade XII predicted scores, letters of recommendations (1 subject teachers, 1 school counselor/vice principal). Draft the resume for the final editing all your achievements. Now begins the extensive process of filling in the forms and completing the formalities. For the UK universities, Statement of Purpose (SOP) requires a great deal of thought and introspection, highlighting the student’s achievements and showing why an applicant is keen on pursuing a certain subject. The SOP should cover the students’ career aspirations, how they developed an interest in their subject, any relevant work or research experience related to their subject and their plans.

The reference letters are usually provided by the teachers that have observed the student closely; it includes the aspects of the applicant’s growth trajectory in the subjects, accomplishments and interest shown, and any remarkable achievements highlighting their expertise in the field. Students can talk about their journey, the inspiration(s), and ideas and how they have implemented those to achieve certain results. Apart from the SOP there are university specific questions where students can demonstrate their interest and knowledge about the university they are applying to. And since it is an English-speaking country, the applicants are supposed to appear for either IELTS or TOEFL (compulsory) to show their English proficiency. Typically, anything above a 7 out of 9 band is considered good in IELTS, and a 100+ in TOEFL has the same attribute out of 120.

Advanced Placement (AP) Exams enable students to earn college credits before they even start college. Taking an AP Exam helps students stand out to colleges, universities, and scholarship programs by showing one’s will to work hard to complete college-level work. Most U.K. universities accept AP Exam scores as a proof of the student’s knowledge and performance in their key subjects. Even if a program doesn’t require them, these test scores can be a great addition to your application—and they can help you qualify for merit-based scholarships at some universities. AP is flexible, allowing students to take as many or as few exams as they wish to, in any given year. Students usually take AP Exams in Grade 11 or 12 or both.



In general Oxford and Cambridge have their own entrance tests for specific fields/areas of studies to assess the applicants’ candidature. For example – If a student wants to pursue Engineering at Cambridge, they will be required to appear for their Engineering Admissions Assessment (EAA). Similarly, for admissions to Oxford for medicine, students need to appear for the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT). Students planning to study architecture, business or economics will need to appear for the relevant tests. Additionally, Oxbridge may conduct admission interviews after the test.

Other than Oxbridge, other UK universities do not require standardized tests for most streams. The exception is medicine, where several universities require standardized tests like BMAT or UKCAT. We usually advise students to draw up a longlist of ten target universities while entering grade XI and prepare diligently.

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Let’s learn about some of the top entrance tests accepted by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge:

OxfordBMAT (Biomedical Admissions Tests)Biomedical Sciences Medicine2 hours
OxfordCAT (Classics Admissions Test), Oxford ELATClassics & English1 hour , 1.5 hours
OxfordMAT (Maths Admissions Test)Comp. Science, Maths, Statistics2.5 hours
OxfordTSA (Thinking Skills Assessment)Economics & Management2 hours
OxfordPAT (Physics Aptitude Test)Engineering, Material Science, Physics, Physics & Philosophy2 hours
CambridgeNSAA (Natural Sciences Admissions Test)Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology2 hours
CambridgeTMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admission)Computer Science, Economics2.5 hours
CambridgeENGAA (Engineering Admissions Test)Engineering2 hours
CambridgeBMAT (Biomedical Admissions Tests)Medicine2 hours

Based on their performance in grade XI (and applicable tests) students can shortlist the final five universities they will apply to. Students should be careful about the final grades they receive, as universities may revoke the admission on that basis.




Regardless of the curriculum type, IGCSE, IB, CBSE, ISC etc. academic scores are a high priority in the UK. The other aspects of the application, such as online courses, activities, and community service are secondary. So, it is crucial for students to have stellar grades, especially in their core subjects. For certain courses universities may also require students to provide a sample of their written work or art portfolio.

When we talk about Oxford or Cambridge, these universities really appreciate Research Papers done by the students in the subject/field of their interest to show their sincerity and diligence. The level of commitment it requires adds credit to your whole application and sets you apart from other applicants. In addition to the grades and test performance and interview, UK universities require the student’s personal statement and two reference letters.

It is important to note that UK admission offers are conditional. Also referred to as ‘restrictive offer letter’, means that a student needs to fulfill the university’s requirements for admission. For e.g., if a student’s predicted score does not match their final score in Grade XII, the university has the right to revoke admission.

Studying at a top UK university can be a rewarding experience and can facilitate long-term opportunities for students. With timely planning and preparation, students can gain admission to their dream university.



In general, universities in the UK give limited scholarships to international undergraduate students. Most undergraduate scholarships are awarded for exceptional performance in the classroom or other endeavors, particularly in sports. These scholarships are an excellent source of support to help with the finances even if they typically won’t cover your complete tuition costs.

The top 6 universities that offers such aids and scholarships are:

Univ. of NottinghamIt grants a Regional Excellence Award that covers a part of the student’s tuition fee. It offers an amount of £ 3000 each year of the duration of the degree.Before 12 Oct 2022
Univ. College LondonMultiple criteria like country of origin, degree type, current/prospective student, etc. are considered for partial scholarships.By 29 April the year of the start of term
Univ. of SheffieldIt is provided to international students based on their choice of degree. The amount can range from £ 2000 to £ 2500, or another scholarship that covers 50% of the tuition fee.30 November 2022
Univ. of BrightonIt is a merit-based scholarship that considers outstanding students. It offers different amounts – £ 1000, £ 2500,  £ 3500.14 November 2022
Univ. of ManchesterThe scholarships and bursaries offered here are subject-specific given to international students and can include travel awards & university funding.15 November 2022
Warwick Univ.The scholarship is granted only to the students residing out of the UK and Europe. They take ethnicity & country into consideration. It covers 25% of the tuition fee.Before 1 November 2022

About the Author: 

Ankita is an Admissions Specialist & Editor at Scholarly, and has 4 years of experience in study abroad. She has a Masters degree in English Literature from University of Delhi. Ankita is an ardent reader who enjoys fiction and composes personal poetry. Her interests lie in learning more about the ancient history of the world and how she can pen down the experiences she gains in her life as articles.

Scholarly helps ambitious international students locate the right universities and courses to pursue their education. We provide college credit courses and research papers to students that want to learn more and differentiate themselves. We help students develop and present their best version to their dream university. Our recommendations are based on the student’s field of interest, academic performance, financial resources and career plans. We provide test preparation classes from the best teachers to help improve scores and thus the prospects for admission. We also assist students with their visa and loan applications to reduce the anxiety associated with international education.

For additional questions about international education, choice of majors, university selection or admission strategies please visit the Questions section of our website.

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