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Choosing and applying to a school

Girl in uniform looking at a laptop at Kent College in Canterbury

In this section:  Finding schools  |  Choosing a school  |  Inspection and performance  |  Applying to a school  |  Can I visit schools before I apply?  |  Entry requirements  |  Visa requirements

Finding schools in the UK

Education UK lists hundreds of UK boarding schools – simply click here and start browsing! Use the filters to narrow your search by residential type, age range, dietary requirements or religious tradition.

You can also look for boarding schools on these websites:

We only list boarding schools because these schools are most popular for international pupils coming to the UK. If you want to look for other UK schools, please go to:

  • Gov.uk for schools in England

Choosing a school

When choosing a school, you may want to ask questions such as:

      •  Is the school in a safe, pleasant area?
      •  Are there any charges for tuition or boarding? What do the fees cover and what additional costs
          will I have to meet?
      •  Has the school performed well in exam results and government inspections?
      •  Does the school have a welcoming, friendly atmosphere?
      •  Are the facilities good?
      •  Does the school have strong pastoral care procedures?
      •  Does the school offer what I need in terms of subjects and activities?

Inspection and performance

To teach and accommodate pupils, UK schools must meet strict quality standards set by the UK government and other education bodies. These standards cover the quality of teaching, accommodation, pupil welfare, facilities and more.

To check that schools are meeting these standards, they are inspected at least every three years for boarding, and every six for teaching quality. Between scheduled visits, inspection bodies will respond to complaints if necessary.

After the inspection, the school receives a report which shows how they performed. You can see the reports on the schools' websites, or by contacting the relevant inspection body below:

      •  England: Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
      •  Scotland: Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education in Scotland
      •  Wales: Estyn, Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales
      •  Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland’s Education and Training Inspectorate
      •  All regions: Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI)
      •  All regions: Bridge Schools Inspectorate
      •  All regions: School Inspection Service.

Each school should publish their students’ exam results on their websites. Most of the websites listed above also publish information on exam results and academic performance.

Applying to a school

Not sure about the difference between independent schools
and state schools? See Education for students aged 16 and under

For independent schools, you need to apply directly to the school. Look on the school’s website or contact them to ask about the application process.

For state schools, applications are usually handled by the local government authority (or, in Northern Ireland, by the school’s local education and library board). Visit the websites listed above for more information. For state boarding schools, you can find out more here.

Demand for places varies and for the most popular schools, you may have to apply up to three years in advance. For many, you should apply a year in advance if possible, but if you have left it later than that it is still worth enquiring – just email or phone the admissions offices at the schools you are interested in.

It is best to start in September (the start of the academic year in the UK), so that you begin at the same time as other students and it will be easier to settle in. However, don’t worry if you can’t apply that far in advance or start in September – some schools are very flexible.

Can I visit schools before I apply?

Every UK school has its own unique atmosphere and facilities. If you can, it’s a good idea to visit the schools you are interested in before you enrol.

Nearly all schools hold ‘open days’ – these are often held in autumn (September, October and November) but you might also find them at other times of the year. On an open day, you can meet the teachers and other staff, look around the school premises, visit the local villages and towns, and meet other pupils.

In some boarding schools, you can even stay overnight in a boarding house and take part in a ‘taster day’ of classes before you enrol. Talk to the head teacher about this.

Entry requirements

Most UK state schools, and some independent schools, do not have entry requirements linked to academic performance. Places are allocated based on factors such as proximity, meaning the student must live within a certain distance of the school.

However, some independent schools and a minority of state schools do set academic entry requirements. Each school sets its own requirements.

  • For some schools, pupils and their parents may need to take part in an interview. Interviews are not meant to be scary – they are usually very friendly. They are a chance for you to ask questions, and for the school staff to find out what you are looking for.

  • Many schools hold entrance exams. Some schools hold exams as a way to select the most academically gifted pupils. Others do not select pupils based on the exam results, but use them as a way to identify what academic support you will need. Don’t be concerned about the exams. There are many different schools, catering for all abilities and talents.

  • Regarding English language skills, schools welcome pupils with a range of abilities, but some may recommend that you do a language course before you begin or when you have enrolled, to ensure you will understand your classes.

For sixth form entry (to study for A-levels, International Baccalaureate or equivalent), most schools set target grades for your exams taken at secondary school level (such as GCSEs or IGCSEs), particularly for the subjects you want to continue studying.

Visa entry requirements

Pupils from certain countries need a visa to study in the UK. Visas are managed by UK Visas and Immigration. To find out if you need a visa and how to apply, please see our article on visas.