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Decide on your course of study
This is crucially important for applying to UK universities as they admit students into specific courses at universities. Unlike the USA, where students are admitted into the university and are free to pursue any major, or Canada, where students are admitted to certain faculties, UK universities are rather rigid in their course structure. So be sure that you are 110% interested in the subject, as that will be your life for the next 3 years (or more) at university.
The main factor that universities consider when admitting students is their passion for the subject; personal statements, as you will learn more about later on, will be read by admission tutors who are experts in your chosen field of study. Therefore, choose your course wisely based on your interests, your passions and personal experience, and not because your parents told you so, or in hopes of getting high-paying jobs, as it will show through in your personal statements, and there is no way of bullsh*tting your way in.
If you are unsure of a specific course of study and would like to apply to a few similar courses (ie. biology, biological sciences and biomedical sciences) at the same university, you may do so. However, take note that each different course you apply to (even if it’s at the same university) is equivalent to applying to a new university (see below).
The UCAS website has an extensive list of all the available courses and the universities that offer them, which serves as a good starting point.
Decide on the universities
Decide on the universities based on some of the factors below in no particular order:
- Location and environment
- Ranking (especially if you are a scholarship holder)
- Prerequisite academic qualifications
- Recognition of your degree
- Teaching style
- Course outline
There’s no universal syllabus for an undergraduate course – the same course with the same UCAS code in a different university might have a dissimilar focus. For example, Economics courses in certain universities (ie. LSE, Oxford, Cambridge) are quite quantitative and mathematical while the others involve more discursive arguments. Because of that, always remember to check out the course descriptions from the respective university official websites to determine if it is the right course for you.
However, there is a restriction to the number of universities you may apply to, which is 5 universities, or 5 courses to be more exact. If you have fewer than 5 universities that you are interested in attending, it’s advisable to choose 5 universities or courses anyway and have a few as backup.
Applying through UCAS
Unlike Australia or Canada where you apply to individual universities, application to UK universities all go through a single platform – UCAS.
First off, create your username and password in UCAS, and include the buzzword of your school if you are applying through your college. This is particularly important as your college will be responsible for submitting your testimonial and forecast results.
Besides filling up your personal details and academic qualifications, you will be required to submit a personal statement (up to 4000 characters or 47 lines). The personal statement plays a crucial role in your application – especially for courses that do not require additional tests/ interviews – as it allows you to demonstrate your passion and relevant experiences in your chosen course of study, distinguishing you from the other applicants with similar academic qualifications. There’s no one-size-fit-all formula to produce a good personal statement – it’s all about portraying how unique you are as an individual and how you are the most suitable candidate for the particular course.
Do note that you will only be submitting ONE personal statement to the all the universities you intend to apply to, thus ensure that you are applying to similar courses. You do not want your personal statement to lose focus by applying to two contrasting subjects (ie. Medicine and Law) as it will be much more difficult to portray your enthusiasm and to persuade the admission officers of your commitment to the subjects. That being said, DO NOT MENTION NAMES OF SPECIFIC UNIVERSITIES in your personal statement, as it will be read by all the universities you apply to, and you definitely do not want to eliminate potential admission offers. Dropping names of specific universities will NOT enhance your personal statement in the eyes of the mentioned universities, as you will only come off as pretentious and ignorant.
UCAS also poses certain restrictions. For example, you cannot apply to both Cambridge and Oxford, and as competition for medicine courses are really tough, you are only allowed to apply to 4 medical schools (although the 5th choice can be used to apply to a backup health science related course). If you are applying to Oxbridge, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and art & design courses, do take note of the earlier deadlines – you definitely do not want to miss it as UCAS only has one application cycle per year.
UCAS application forms are submitted electronically, and you would then need to pay an application fee of £23 (multiple universities) or £11 (one university).
Check out the UCAS Step-by-step guide at http://www.ucas.com/how-it-all-works/undergraduate/filling-your-application which provides relevant links to various sites.
English Language Test
Most universities require you to provide evidence that your spoken and written English is adequate for the programme. Their preferred English language qualifications include GCSE English Language and IELTS. Some universities do accept Malaysia English SPM 1119, so do check with their respective websites.
An IELTS band score might be part of your conditional offer. Thus, it’s not necessary to sit for the test before submitting your application and there are cases where students have to retake their IELTS after receiving their conditional offers because the band scores do not meet the requirements. However, it does not hurt your application either if you plan to submit your IELTS results in your UCAS application.
You can find out more about IELTS here: http://www.ielts.org/
You might be required to take admission tests if you are applying to the following courses:
- Medicine: BMAT (http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/for-test-takers/bmat/about-bmat/) , UKCAT (http://www.ukcat.ac.uk/)
- Law: LNAT (http://www.lnat.ac.uk/)
- Mathematics: STEP (http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/for-test-takers/step/about-step/)
- University of Cambridge: Various course combinations (http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/apply/tests/)
- University of Oxford: Various course combinations (http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/tests)
The test results are used differently by different universities. Don’t forget to check out the official websites to find out more about the test format, fees and times.
Certain competitive courses (ie. medicine) and universities (ie. Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial) might require you to attend interview sessions either in person (in UK or in Malaysia) or via Skype.
The University of Cambridge has interviews sessions conducted in Malaysia, although you will need to adhere to an earlier application deadline. (http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/apply/dates.html)
Oxford University conducts either Skype interviews or fly-in sessions (accommodations are usually provided). However, if you are a medicine applicant, it’s compulsory to attend an interview in Oxford University.
Imperial College London organises interviews in Malaysia for Chemical Engineering applicants, while Electrical and Electronics Engineering interviews are conducted via Skype.
Most medical schools also require students to attend face-to-face interview sessions. (http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/What_you_should_expect_at_a_medical_school_interview)
These are just some of the examples, and it’s always good to check the official university website before submitting your application to find out more about interview sessions.
If you have not sat for your final examinations, you will most probably receive a “conditional offer” from the universities, with specified requirements that you need to meet (ie. A*AA in A-Levels including an A in Mathematics, 6.5 band score in IELTS; or 38 IB points overall, with a total of 18 points for HL subjects).
Upon receiving the results from all 5 of the universities, you will need to make your decision in a designated time frame, else all offers would be declined automatically. You will be asked to choose a “Firm choice” (the university that you will definitely attend if you meet your offer) and an “Insurance choice” (the university that you will attend if you do not meet your Firm’s conditions).
If you do not have any offers (either because you are rejected by the universities or your exam results do not meet the conditions), clearing is an option to see which courses have extra seats remaining.
Congratulations if you have reached this stage! Work hard and perform well in your final pre-university examinations to satisfy your conditional offer, and you have earned your passport to your university in the United Kingdom.
We wish you all the best in your application, and do not hesitate to contact us if you have any queries!