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How to apply for a UK course

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Confused about which course to do, where to study, and how to apply? Have a look at our handy guide.

1. What do you want to study?

The first step in planning your UK education is to figure out what stage you are at, and what you want to achieve from your course – to gain skills and qualifications for a particular career? To improve your English? To build your knowledge of a subject you’re interested in?

Here are the key stages of the UK’s education system:

  • Students aged 16 and under attend primary and secondary education. At this level you can study a wide range of subjects, such as maths, English literature, IT, languages, physics, biology, chemistry, geography and history. Find out more here.

  • From the age of 16, students in the UK can go on to further education. You can choose between  academic courses (such as A-levels, the International Baccalaureate or Scottish Highers), which enable you to enter university, or vocational courses, which give you the skills, training and qualifications you need for a particular career. At this level you specialise in a few subjects. Find out more here.

  • With further education qualifications, you can then go on to higher educationundergraduate (e.g. Bachelor’s degree, HND, Foundation degree, etc.), and then if you wish, on to postgraduate (e.g. Master’s degree, PhD, MBA). At this level you normally specialise in one or two subjects. You can also take professional qualifications to help you in your career. Find out more.

At any age and study level, you can join an English language course. There are thousands of courses across the UK, of varying lengths – days, weeks, months, or part-time to improve your English alongside your main studies. Find out more.

To help you decide, have a look at our Subject profiles section for an overview of the different subjects you could study at any stage.

2. Search for courses, institutions and scholarships

Once you’ve decided what you want to study, you can look for the right course with the Education UK search tool. This draws from a database of over 80,000 higher education and further education courses, 1,000 boarding schools and 6,000 English language courses, as well as over 4,000 scholarships to help fund your studies.

  • First, go to the Search menu at the top of this page. Click Courses and you can select your study level and subject, or click Uni/college/school to search boarding schools or find any institution by name.

Click Go and you’ll be taken to the search results page.

  • Next, you can further personalise your search using the options on the left – you can select particular types of qualification, for example, choose whether you want to study full-time or part-time, or choose where in the UK you want to study.

  • In the search results, either click on a course name to see full details of the course, or the name of the institution to read more about it. On the institution pages, you can read about the scholarships and accommodation it offers, its location, fees and entry requirements.

  • When you have found some courses, scholarships or institutions you are interested in, you can add them to a shortlist to compare them. To save a shortlist and come back to it later, register here.

3. Contact your chosen school, college or university

Once you’ve decided which courses you’re interested in, on the course information page you can click:

  • Visit website to go to the course provider’s website for more information. Read more about the institution, its courses and departments, its campus, town or city, and what its students have to say.

  • Download prospectus to download a full brochure of information on courses, costs and the application process.

  • Send an email to contact the institution. You can select which level of study and subject you’re interested in, and send an enquiry to the institution directly – for example, you could ask about entry requirements, scholarships, accommodation or how to apply.

Even better, attending an exhibition and meeting education representatives face-to-face could help to make your decision. Each year, Education UK organises exhibitions in over 50 countries, where you can meet representatives from hundreds of UK schools, colleges and universities. Ask your local British Council office about events near you, and keep an eye on the News and events page for Education UK in your country. Many events are listed here.

If you are able to travel to the UK before you decide, look out for ‘open days’ at the institutions you’re interested in – these are an opportunity to visit and get a feel for the campus, meet staff and students, and ask any questions you still have. The school or university’s website will list details of upcoming open days.

Keep in mind what's most important to you – academic reputation? Sports, arts or social facilities? The number of other international students? Language and study support?

4. Apply for your chosen course

The application process varies greatly between different levels of education and types of institution, so make sure you find out all the details for your chosen course. If you have any questions, contact the institution directly and they will be happy to help.

First, ensure you meet the entry requirements – don’t waste time applying for a course that you’re not eligible for! These requirements will relate to your qualifications, your English language skills, and whether you will be able to secure a visa. To find out if you need a visa and how to apply, see our guide to UK student visas.

Next, give yourself enough time. Many English language courses and shorter further education courses have start dates throughout the year, but most other courses start in September or October, and the deadline for applications can be up to a year in advance (or even more for some boarding schools). Find out what your deadline is, and what's required – if you need a reference, for example, you'll need to give your referee enough time to write it.

Where to apply

For schools, English language centres and most further education and postgraduate courses, you need to apply directly to the provider. These institutions manage their own admissions, so there is no national application system. Most have application forms on their website.

For undergraduate courses and some postgraduate courses, you can apply through a central admissions system, allowing you to apply to multiple institutions quickly and easily.

  • All undergraduate applications are handled by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Check the application deadlines here. You can watch a short video guide here – this shows how to register and complete your application, and what happens next.

The UCAS website also has a guide for international students on tracking your application, arranging your visa, student finance and more.

  • Some institutions also use a central admissions system for postgraduate courses, the UK Postgraduate Application and Statistical Service (UKPASS). See which institutions are part of this scheme on the UKPASS website.

  • UCAS operates an application system for graduates who want to take postgraduate teacher training courses. Find out more and apply online at the UCAS Teacher Training website.

  • UCAS Conservatoires is a separate application system for practice-based music courses, some dance and drama courses, at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Find out more and apply online at UCAS Conservatoires.

Application tips

For advice to help you write your application – particularly for higher education courses, where you will need to write a ‘personal statement’ – check out Six tips from a Head of International Admissions.

If you are invited to attend an interview as part of your application, make sure you read Interviews: Essential advice from UK admissions officers.

5. Finally, stay positive!

The application process can be nerve-wracking, but if you complete everything you’re asked for – and ask for help if you need it! – then this is just the beginning of your UK education.