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What do UK universities look for in applicants?

Posted 25 July 2016
international friends in the UK

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Completing your UCAS application is a big task so we spoke to Sebastian Baker to find out what UK universities look for in applicants and his top tips for success.

Deciding to go to university is a tough decision, and deciding to study abroad in the UK might seem a bit scary. It is worth knowing, however, that when it comes to applying to UK universities you’re in the same situation as everyone else – you all apply online through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, known as UCAS.
Completing your UCAS application is a big task, so we spoke to Sebastian Baker, A Level Programme Manager at Bellerbys College Brighton, to find out what UK universities look for in applicants and his top tips for success.

From your experience, what do universities in the UK look for in an application for a degree?

Universities want to see evidence that you can cope with degree level study in your chosen subject and will do well at the university. This evidence is mostly shown through exam results and this is very important, but you also need to be able to write an effective personal statement and demonstrate the enrichment activities you’ve taken part in. This shows how truly passionate you are about your subject. Strong recommendations from current teachers are also important for your academic reference.

What common problems do international students face when trying to impress a university at an interview or with their personal statement?

Students often fall into the trap of finding out what universities want and then going through everything as if it’s a tick box exercise. If you do this, you lose one of the key things universities are after – genuine interest in the subject.

A classic example of where students go wrong in their personal statements is when they start talking about becoming a ‘rich international banker after university’, or that they really want to go to Oxford ‘because it’s one of the world’s best universities’. These are pointless statements that don’t show your personality or have any meaning. What universities really want is a student who just loves the subject.

The main way you can show this is by reading. The syllabus material isn’t enough proof, so you could start reading first-year university books as a hobby to really show your interest. Some students take quite a lot of time trying to understand this concept and some never fully grasp it, but it really makes you stand out from other applicants.

What advice do you give students about university interviews and the application process as a whole?

Body language and eye contact are important in interviews. I personally give Medical and Oxbridge students training on this so they can develop these skills.

Do you have any advice for writing a personal statement?

I recommend that you start writing your personal statement as early as possible and write five or six drafts. Most students leave it too late but the earlier you start, the more feedback you can have from teachers, friends and tutors.

Also, you really need to know why you want to study your chosen subject. “My dad is a lawyer so I want to be one” isn’t the most effective explanation. Don’t focus too much on your career ambitions. Talk about what you can offer the university and what you can contribute while you’re there.

Is there anything special about how Bellerbys prepares students for university apart from helping them achieve good grades?

Definitely. We have over 50 years of experience in teaching international students. In my view nowhere else will give you the precise coaching and guidance you need to make the transition into the British education system. For example, a student joins us from Singapore and we immediately know the culture they bring with them and how best to address weaknesses and amplify strengths. This is the same for any other nationality.

We give extensive coaching to those applying for courses where they will be interviewed, for example with classes on thinking skills and communication. We find a balance between guiding you and teaching you to be an independent learner – this balance is essential in helping you to get into a quality university and so you can thrive once you’re there.

We provide dedicated and experienced personal tutors and senior tutors where you can receive support on your university application, and I am also available too. At every stage, our students are given the best advice on what courses fit their skills set and where they can study that course.

Dedicated support to help you to choose the right university

With so many of the world's top universities located in the UK, choosing the right one is an important decision. Bellerbys College will help you with your application and we offer the help of an experienced and dedicated personal tutor to support you at every stage of the process. So, don’t worry, you won’t be alone and we’ll give you all the help you need to succeed.

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