UK Application Process

Published On: 03 Oct 2008

 | Last Updated On: 27 Mar 2013

The application process for UK universities

Unlike applying for a first degree, there is no central admissions system for postgraduate courses in the UK. You will have to apply directly to the educational institutions concerned and each one will have a slightly different application procedure. There is, however, a generic form that is accepted by most institutions, which you can get at your local British Council office.

Timetable for applications

Starting early with your preparations to find a course and university/college will increase your chances of finding a place of your choice, one that offers courses and funding options that suit you. Students should also keep an eye out for application submission deadlines as they may vary from one university to another. The following timetable might help you manage your preparations and search better.

24–28 months in advance: research and plan

  • Identify areas of study that interest you and universities that offer courses you want to do
  • Attend education fairs
  • Use the internet to inform yourself sufficiently about the various courses and universities offering programs that interest you
  • Find all required information regarding eligibility, application process and visa requirements.

18 to 12 months in advance: research and finalize

  • Use this time to investigate more options; talk to people from the UK or from your chosen area of study to get a better understanding of how things work
  • Ensure that your referees will provide necessary references
  • Apply for standardized tests such as GRE, GMAT etc.

12 months in advance: apply for funding and make final arrangements

  • Fill out forms and send the main application
  • Apply for funding
  • Make arrangements relating to travel, accommodation, visa etc.

Application procedure in general

What goes into an application varies from institution to institution. Some only require a letter while others will want a complete academic history and research plan. What is most usual is to fill out one of their application forms where you will be expected to highlight your academic record and possibly mention your proposed research interests. Contact the National Academic Recognition Information Centre to know the UK equivalents of your qualifications. This way you can ensure that your qualifications meet the course requirements. Do not put the equivalents on the form as the admissions officer will do that. If the documents are not in English, do provide a translation.

If English isn't your first language, you may be asked to supply proof of your English language competence. This is usually done by taking an English language test, such as IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or TOEFL. Work experience is valuable when applying for a postgraduate course so give full details of employment as well as skills and training that you may have developed on the job. Your personal statement is one of the most important parts of the application form and you should write it very carefully. Mention your motivations for the course and talk about your experience and interests; be specific and honest.

You will also have to state where your funding is going to come from, although at this stage it won't be necessary to be definite, and to provide academic references from someone who has previously taught you. Some of the more popular institutions will want you to have an interview before they make a decision and this will give you the opportunity to see the department and to meet with the tutors and students. Interviews will usually involve one or more of the course tutors and they will want to know, amongst other things, why you have chosen the course and what your goals are. Think beforehand of all possible questions you might be asked so that you are well prepared. You should also think of some questions you could ask the tutors. These might include queries relating to course or research requirements, whether you are eligible for financial support, and research interests of the academic staff. Investigate prior to the interview to give a good impression.

Admission criteria

Most graduate degree programs require students to have an upper second class honors degree. However, since its equivalent may vary from country to country, it is better to seek clear and accurate information from individual universities. Contacting individual universities will provide you with sufficient information to know the criteria for admission to the graduate program of your interest.

Common application requirements

  • A completed application form
  • Personal statement
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Explanation of how you intend to fund your studies
  • Transcript (from each institution at which you completed undergraduate coursework)
  • Letters of reference
  • Interview

Academic documents required include:

  • Class X/ A Levels / secondary school mark sheets and certificate
  • Class XII/ O Levels / high school mark sheets and certificate
  • Bachelor’s degree transcripts and degree certificate
  • Transcripts and certificates of any other programs that you may have attended.
  • If the originals are not in English, copies and a good English translation must be enclosed.

If your undergraduate qualification or university is unknown to the admissions tutor, approach the British Council for advice.

Application forms

Send inquiries at least 12 months before the proposed date of admission.

There are three ways to get application forms.

  • Fill out request forms on university websites: Most universities have a form on their websites which can be completed online to request application material.
  • Ask agents/representatives: Most universities have representatives in many countries who will give you the application forms and guide you through the application process as well.
  • Download from the university website: Many universities have a downloadable and ready-to-print version of their application form on their websites. These can be used for applying just as regular forms.

Application essays/ statement of purpose

The personal essays and the statement of purpose also play a very important role in the process of evaluating your application. It gives the admissions committee assessing your application their most significant impression of you as an individual. A personal statement should include reasons for choosing the particular course, a brief note on your area of interest and personal goals, and a paragraph explaining the suitability of your education and experiential background to the course. Most schools have a set of questions that they would like the students to answer. These include questions about your achievements, leadership activities and the reasons for seeking further/higher education. We recommend that you spend as much time as possible on this part of your application as this could make or break your application.

Work History – Resume

Some programs require at least a few years of work experience for admission. Most UK business schools are quite strict about this. A detailed résumé is an important part of your application. It should include all information of professional work experience along with details such as names of positions held and descriptions of achievements and range of work.

Explanation of how you intend to fund your education

The application form may have a section that requires you to provide an explanation for how you intend to fund your education at the university/college. This information is used by individual departments to check how many students may require funding, so that students do not have to secure funding before applying. However, in the application form does mention the university-based funding options you may be considered for. Also mention other sources to which you have applied for funding.

Letter of recommendation

Reference or recommendation letters play a very important part in your admission to a good program. Such a letter is a signed statement from a person who knows you well professionally or has taught you in a subject that is related to the course you are applying to. It should mention your qualities, both positive and negative, that is, strengths and weaknesses as a prospective student. The author of the letter must indicate his/her position, how long he/she has known the applicant and in what capacity. He/she should briefly discuss the need, importance and usefulness of the study the applicant proposes to undertake. Authors are usually also asked to give their applicants ranks, which help admission officers to interpret the academic credentials of foreign students. Students should obtain letters of recommendation (often on the prescribed forms sent by the institutions) from teachers who know them as a person as well as a student. You may like to request your author to give concrete examples that may show your qualities and help your case. Many universities have their own list of questions that have to be answered by the person giving you the letter of recommendation. Letters that do not give enough information can jeopardize a candidate’s chances of selection.


Many students who apply for graduate study programs will not have to face an interview. However, in certain cases an interview maybe an optional requirement. An interview presents an opportunity for students to highlight their strengths in person, making it easier than explaining things on paper. In case a candidate is expected to have an interview, it will most likely be over the phone and not face to face. There is also a possibility that a representative of the university may be present in your country and you would be expected to attend an interview with him/her. In case a university does expect you to attend an on-campus interview, you may ask if they will provide assistance with travel expenses. While being interviewed it is very important to discuss your personal interests, what is it about the university that interests you and how you will fit into the new environment and benefit from it. Also, you will find that many questions asked during the interview may have already been answered by your personal statement. Therefore it is important to maintain a consistency in the answers you provide during the interview. Your interviewer may also ask you for any questions you have. It is important to make use of this opportunity and prepare a few questions beforehand.

Standardized tests score reports

  • IELTS (International English Language Test): For most courses and universities, international students are required to take IELTS,which is regularly administered by the British Council. Some universities may accept TOEFL(Test of English as a Foreign Language) as an alternative. You need to send your IELTSor TOEFLscore report with your application package. Some universities may waive this requirement if you have been studying in English medium throughout your formal education and they are convinced that you are proficient in English.
  • GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test): For most management courses, international students are required to take GMAT. You need to send your GMAT score report with your application package.

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