Universities In UK: The Ultimate Guide For International Students

 In Education, United Kingdom

If you want to study in a school that looks like Hogwarts, you’re in luck because the universities in UK are known internationally for their globally recognised lectures, stunning architecture and prestigious programmes. British higher education has a strong international reputation, with studies showing that over half of international students citing this reputation as one of the main factors in deciding to study in the UK (as compared to 22 percent of international students studying in Canada, 21 percent in Australia and 15 percent in the US).

The QS World University Rankings, an annual publication of university rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds, names the world’s top universities for the study of 51 different subjects and five composite faculty areas. In the 2021 QS World University Rankings, four out of 10 of the top universities in the world are universities in UK. In fact, there are over 20 universities in UK in the top 100!

In terms of specific subject rankings, universities in UK have also performed well, with schools like the Royal College of Art taking first in the world for art and design, the University of Sussex for Development Studies and Loughborough University for sports-related subjects. Aside from the prestige of attending one of the universities in UK, other factors such as a multicultural, diverse student population and beautiful school architecture are just some of the reasons international students are drawn to study abroad in the UK.

We’ve done the legwork so you don’t have to and rounded up a few of the universities in UK, along with tips to the admission process in this handy guide!

*Rankings are based on statistics from the QS World University Rankings 2021.

Top universities in UK

1. University of Oxford

oxford is one of the universities in uk
Photo credit: Ben Seymour / Unsplash

Rank (as of 2021): #1 in UK, #5 in the world

The reputation of this university precedes itself – and for good reason! Whilst its foundation date remains unclear, it is known that teaching at Oxford existed in some form as early as 1096, making The University of Oxford the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest university in continuous operation.

This prestigious university has groomed over 28 prime ministers of the UK, 72 Nobel Prize laureates and 6 Turing Award winners, amongst a host of political leaders, artists and business leaders. The university itself is made up of 39 semi-autonomous constituent colleges, six permanent private halls, and a range of academic departments. In particular, the University of Oxford often ranks as number one in the world for four humanities disciplines: English Language and Literature, Modern Languages, Geography and History.

International students make up 45 percent of the total student body at Oxford – that’s almost 11 thousand students! The University of Oxford has a student population coming from over 160 countries, the largest groups of international students at Oxford come from the US, China, Germany, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore. With such a diverse student population, you will surely be able to find your community at Oxford.

University of Oxford
Address: Oxford OX1 2JD, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 1865 270000
Opening hours: Varies depending on college, check website for more information

2. University of Cambridge

cambridge is one of the universities in uk
Photo credit: Julius Dūdėnas / Unsplash

Rank (as of 2021): #2 in UK, #7 in the world

The other half of the famous ‘Oxbridge’ duo is, of course, the University of Cambridge. Founded in 1209, Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s fourth-oldest surviving university. Interestingly enough, the University of Cambridge actually grew out of an association of scholars who left Oxford after a dispute with the townspeople. This might explain many of the common features shared by both ancient universities, and why people often refer to them collectively as ‘Oxbridge’.

Like Oxford, Cambridge is formed from a variety of institutions, including 31 semi-autonomous constituent colleges and over 150 academic departments, faculties and other institutions organised into six schools. All colleges are self-governing institutions functioning within the university, each with its own internal structures and activities. Instead of a main campus, Cambridge’s central facilities and colleges are scattered throughout the city.

In terms of education, undergraduate teaching at Cambridge centres on weekly small-group supervisions in the colleges, usually consisting of groups no bigger than four students. This intensive method of teaching allows for closer supervision and more direct discourse between lecturers, students and peers. Evidently, this ‘crown jewel’ method of teaching has proven successful, given that the university has produced over 90 Nobel Prize affiliates, covering every category.

University of Cambridge
Address: The Old Schools, Trinity Ln., Cambridge CB2 1TN, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 1223 337733
Opening hours:
Varies depending on college, check website for more information

3. London School of Economics

lse is one of the universities in uk
Photo credit: Ed Sweetman / Dreamstime

Rank (as of 2021): #8 in UK, #49 in the world

Looking to become the next Elon Musk or Bill Gates? Well, you’re in luck because the London School of Economics (LSE) has educated the most billionaires out of all European universities, as well as being the alma mater of 55 heads of state along the way. This public research university is located in the heart of London, near the boundary between Covent Garden and Holborn. This quaint area was historically known as Clare Market and houses not only the majority of LSE today, but an exciting blend of antique stores and trendy pop-ups.

A part of the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ of universities in South East England (an unofficial grouping of elite universities that usually comprises of Oxbridge and one London-based university), LSE has the highest proportion of world-leading research among research submitted of any British non-specialist university. Given that it is the only university in the UK dedicated solely to the study and research of social sciences, LSE is a pioneer in subjects such as anthropology, criminology, social psychology, sociology and social policy.

The student population at LSE is also incredibly diverse – with over 55 percent of undergraduates being international students coming from outside the UK. Over 150 nationalities are represented amongst the student body, and the university also has the second-highest percentage of international students of all world universities.

London School of Economics
Address: Houghton St., London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 20 7405 7686
Opening hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Mon. to Fri.); 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Sat. + Sun.)

4. Imperial College London

imperial college london is one of the universities in uk
Photo credit: irisphoto18 / 123RF

Rank (as of 2021): #3 in UK, #8 in the world

Out of all the universities in UK, Imperial College London is one that focuses exclusively on science, technology, medicine and business. Established by the Royal Charter in 1907, Imperial College London grew out of Prince Albert’s vision for an area of culture – subsequently merging the Royal Albert Hall, Natural History Museum and the Royal Colleges to form Imperial College.

Their motto (scientia imperii decus et tutamen) translates to scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire. This dedication to the protection and proliferation of scientific knowledge can be seen in Imperial College’s subject rankings. In the 2019 subjects rankings by Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Imperial ranked fourth globally in the clinical, pre-clinical and health categories. In addition, it also ranked 11th in physical sciences, computer science and 12th in engineering and technology.

Here’s a fun fact for you: In 2018, The Guardian noted that Imperial College graduates actually pick up the highest salaries in the UK in the first year after graduation, earning up to a fifth more than students leaving Oxford and Cambridge! This is further supported by the 2019 Guardian University Guide and the Complete University Guide, in which Imperial College graduates are ranked first for employment prospects among universities in UK.

Imperial College London
Address: Exhibition Rd., South Kensington, London SW7 2BX, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 20 7589 5111
Opening hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Mon. to Fri.); 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Sat. + Sun.)

5. University College London

ucl is one of the universities in uk
Photo credit: University College London

Rank (as of 2021): #4 in UK, #10 in the world

The University College London, or more commonly known by its abbreviated name of ‘UCL’, is a major public research university in London and the second-largest university in the UK by total enrolment. A progressive university founded upon the ideas of philosopher Jeremy Bentham, UCL was the first university in England to be entirely secular admit students regardless of their religion. UCL also takes the spot as the first university to admit women, as well as being one of the oldest universities in England.

The 2019 subject rankings by Times ranked UCL in the world’s top ten for nine subjects: Anthropology, Archaeology, Architecture, Anatomy and Physiology, Education and Training, Geography, Medicine, Pharmacy and Pharmacology and Psychology. In broad subject areas, UCL ranks 10th for life sciences and medicine, 15th for arts and humanities, 34th for social sciences and management and 49th for engineering and technology. Like many other universities in UK, the famous alumnus of UCL includes 34 Nobel Prize winners, the inventor of the telephone and even one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA!

You might be wondering, who are the students of UCL? The University College London has nearly 43,900 students – of whom about 53 percent come from countries outside the UK. The diversity of central London brings together a unique community of committed, engaged and intellectually curious students from all walks of life.

University College London
Address: Gower St, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 20 7679 2000
Opening hours: See website

6. The University of Edinburgh

Photo credit: jbyard22 / 123RF

Rank (as of 2021): #5 in UK, #20 in the world

We weren’t kidding when we mentioned Hogwarts – the University of Edinburgh’s campus is something straight out of a Harry Potter movie! There are five main campuses in the city of Edinburgh, with many of the universities’ buildings being of great historical and architectural significance. Officially opened in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of Scotland’s four ancient universities and the sixth-oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Edinburgh receives over 60 thousand undergraduate applications each year, making it one of the most popular universities in UK by volume of applications. The university continues to have links to the British royal family, having Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh serve as its Chancellor from 1953 to 2010 – a role that has since been passed on to Anne, Princess Royal since 2011.

The university also offers students the opportunity to study in Europe and beyond via the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme. This programme encompasses a variety of international exchange agreements with around 300 partner institutions in nearly 40 countries worldwide. Some notable universities include the National University of Singapore, University of Melbourne, Seoul National University, Georgetown University and Lund University.

University of Edinburgh
Address: Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 131 650 1000
Opening hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Mon. to Fri.)

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Admissions process for universities in UK

1. Admission criteria

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The very first criteria you need to meet for universities in UK are your academic qualifications and grades from your previous education. Whilst the requirements may differ from school to school, most universities in UK will accept school-leaving examination results such as the SAT or ACT, GCE A-Levels and International Baccalaureate Diploma. Since most UK universities are highly competitive you can expect to be required to have higher grades and highly-regarded qualifications.

If your certification is not in the university’s list of equivalent qualifications, however, you might have to either submit additional requirements (such as portfolios or interviews) or be subjected to an entrance test. In fact, most universities in UK use entrance tests to filter out the best candidates from all applicants. Generally, these tests will evaluate the core and major concepts in the study field you are pursuing, as well as related subjects from associated fields.

As all degrees in UK are taught and assessed in English, you will need to show excellent language proficiency in order to apply to a UK university. Whilst the IELTS is more common in the UK, other standardised tests like TOEFL or UCLES are also accepted. You would have to score for these language tests as proof of your language proficiency. Note: This only applies to nations where English is not the first language/mode of education.

2. Application period and semester dates

The good news is that most universities in UK use the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) as a way to operate their application process. Instead of having to apply to each university, you are able to submit one application via UCAS, which is then forwarded to the universities and colleges that you have applied to. Universities then choose to give students either an unconditional offer, where the student will receive a place regardless, or a conditional offer, where the student will receive a place subject to their grades being met.

Depending on the subject and the university you are applying for, candidates must submit your application by the relevant submission deadline to ensure that it will be given equal consideration by the higher education providers.

Deadline Course
15 October Those applying for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science courses. Anyone applying to Oxford or Cambridge must submit their UCAS applications by 15 October – in the year before you wish to begin your study.
15 January Majority of applications must be submitted by 15 January – in the calendar year that you wish to begin your study.
24 March Applies to art and design courses, usually a later application deadline around March to give students time to complete portfolios.
Note that this table should serve as a rough gauge and applications should enquire with their university of choice for more information.

Note: It is possible for students to submit applications up until 30 June each year, but a late submission may not be given the same consideration as those submitted before the deadline. Applications received after 30 June are placed directly into “Clearing” and will not be considered.

Learn more about application deadlines and the application process at the UCAS website.

3. Tuition fees and scholarships

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There are two levels of tuition fees at publicly funded universities in UK: home student fees (including EU students) and international student fees. UK tuition fees vary greatly depending on your course of study and university. Generally, the tuition fees start from around $14,000 and goes up to $53,000 for international students. At all levels, humanities and social sciences degrees tend to cost the least, whilst laboratory and clinical degree programs are more expensive.

If you require financial aid, consider applying for one of the many scholarships offered by the UK government, individual universities, independent organisations and various charities. An overview of scholarships available from the British Council and other organisations can be viewed here. It is also worth checking out what scholarships and support schemes are available from the government and other organisations in your home country.

It’s also worth remembering that most universities in UK offer shorter programs compared to countries such as the US, with three years for the average undergraduate degree instead of four, and one year for a master’s degree instead of two; so you might be able to subtract a year’s worth of fees and living costs from your total budget.

4. Accommodation

Most students live in university halls of residence in their first years before moving into rented private accommodation in the following years. In fact, most universities in UK offer both self-catered and catered halls of residences, with meal plan prices being included in the rental for the latter. Generally, most students choose to live in university halls due to several factors: Cheaper rental prices as opposed to a flatshare, ease of travel to campus and proximity to university friends.

If you choose to live outside of your university residences, rental in London is estimated to be around $11,400 per academic year (usually around nine months or 39 weeks). However, more affordable options can be sourced if you opt for a flatshare. It is best to contact a local property agent for the lowest rental costs.

5. Additional costs

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Health insurance

Known as the National Healthcare System (NHS), UK’s healthcare system is known globally. Depending on the length of your stay, you might be able to access and use the NHS.

The requirements for a student studying in the UK goes as follow:

  • Tier 4 General Student Visa (more than 6 months) – you can access the NHS
  • Tier 4 General Student Visa (under 6 months) – you will need private medical insurance
  • Student Visitor – you need to take out private health insurance

Students from the EU should have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) that allows them the right to benefit from free NHS treatments. Non-EU international students are required to pay an annual surcharge for the duration of your student visa. The full annual surcharge for a stay beyond six months is $300 and can be paid as part of the visa application.

Whilst you are not required to have private medical insurance, it is recommended to have your own international private medical insurance to ensure that you receive timely care.

Student visa

Most international students will require a student visa in order to study in the UK. You can check whether or not you require a visa from the United Kingdom government website here.

Students who are 16 or over and want to study at higher education will need to apply for a student visa through the Student Route. Do note that you will need to wait until you have an offer from a university or college before applying for a visa. Your university will then be able to give you a document called a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS). An application fee of £348 as well as a valid passport will be required.

In addition, you will also need to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge of £470, which gives you access to the NHS. Students receive a 25 percent discount on the usual cost of this surcharge.

Cost of living

The cost of living in the UK varies from place to place, for instance, cities like London tend to have a higher cost of living as opposed to suburban areas. Here’s a rough estimate of the miscellaneous costs you might incur when you live in the UK.

Cost Activity
$30 – $40Weekly grocery shop
$10 – $12 Meal in restaurant or pub
$30 Books and course materials
$45Gym membership
$40 – $50Entertainment/night out
$107Cost for TV license a year (if you want a TV in your home)
Note that this figure is a rough average of the cost of living across the UK.

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