With a world-class education, internationally-renowned qualifications and a potential eye-opening experience abroad, it is no wonder why the UK is the first destination that most Singaporean students look to for an education abroad.
However, studying overseas can be an intimidating adventure, and it begins with the befuddling application. Just like you, when I was looking at an education abroad, I was overwhelmed by the astounding amount of information out there. Terms like “Foundation Year”, “UCAS”, “LNAT”, “UKCAT” and other strange acronyms were just popping out all over forums and websites. I simply didn’t know what to make of it. If that’s what you are feeling right now, don’t fret. I took over a year to understand the different facets of applying to UK universities and here’s a concise guide on what you need to know, and do to get into your dream university.
1. The UCAS Application
Unlike Singaporean, US and Australian Universities, the UK Universities have a central online platform that consolidates your application to the various universities throughout the UK. This is the UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admission Service) – www.ucas.com.
In order to apply to the UK, you need to create a UCAS account the year before your year of matriculation. Meaning if you are intending to commence your study term in 2017, you should be creating your account in early 2016 (preferably before June). If you are a Singaporean male who needs to go green for 2 years, then start applying 2 years before your year of study unless you are gunning for a PSC Scholarship or Oxbridge(under deferred entry, only Cambridge and Oxford allows for 2 year deferments, the rest only offer 1 year).
Make sure you fill in your personal particulars correctly and enter your educational qualifications correctly. Most importantly, remember to put in your ‘O’ Levels English Results or your IP English Results as it will be used as a measure of your English language capabilities, which is extremely important for an education in the UK.
2. Choosing Your Course
After you have created your account and filled in all the relevant personal particulars (which takes a really long time, I know), you have to decide what you want to study, and where you want to study.
Now, this is going to be difficult. Your subject choice has to be based on considerations such as your interest, dream job, cost of education and of course your results. I don’t think I can offer much guidance here, but once you have decided on your course of study, you need to make sure you take the necessary exams (if necessary) to get into your course of choice at your ideal university.
Not all courses will require you to take an exam, but here’s a list of examinations you might need:
For Medicine, Dentistry and Vet Science:
BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT)
UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT)
For entry to medical and dental schools.
Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT)
For graduate entry into medicine and dentistry courses.
Health Professions Admissions Test (HPAT)
For entry to certain medical courses at the University of Ulster.
The National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT)
For entry to law.
History Aptitude Test (HAT)
For entry to all degrees involving history at the University of Oxford.
Mathematics Aptitude Test (MAT)
For entry to mathematics or computer science, or a joint honours degree involving mathematics at the University of Oxford.
Modern and Medieval Languages Test (MML)
For entry to modern and medieval languages at the University of Cambridge.
Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)
For entry to physics, or a joint degree involving physics at the University of Oxford.
Sixth Term Examination Papers (STEP)
For entry to mathematics at the University of Cambridge.
Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA Cambridge)
For entry to computer science, natural sciences, engineering and economics at the University of Cambridge.
Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA Oxford), formerly known as the PPE Admissions Test
For entry to politics & economics (PPE), economics and management (E&M), experimental psychology (EP) or psychology and philosophy at the University of Oxford.
Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) UCL
For entry to European social and political studies at University College London (UCL).
English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)
For entry to English courses at the University of Oxford.
Please check the registration dates of all the examinations and ensure you do not miss them. For example, the UKCAT has to be taken before 6 Oct and the BMAT Registration period is 28th September. Hence, the advice on starting preparing for your UK applications in the early half of the year.
Furthermore, you should study for most of your entry exams. They won’t need extensive preparation like the A levels, however, tests like BMAT require some content knowledge whereas exams like UKCAT are almost purely based on IQ and Aptitude so there isn’t much to do other than practice. There are some courses you can take (which is really expensive), some say they work, some say it doesn’t matter, but my personal opinion is that the edge it gives you might not be too significant.
3. Your Dream School
When you apply to the UK, there are several factors you should consider, some of them might seem ridiculous, but trust me, they matter.
A. University Ranking
a. Do not just look at the university ranking in the league tables, look out for how each university fares in each particular course. That will give you a better gauge on the quality of education in the university.
B. Style of Teaching
a. There is no hard and fast way to figure out the teaching style of each university other than to visit each website manually and read up. Alternatively, you can also get on the ground feedback from forums such we www.brightsparks.com/forum or http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/forum.php
a. To be honest, most universities have around the same costs for studying. For non-clinical subjects (Medicine, Dentistry, Vet Science), they cost around £16,000($34,000) a year. Clinical subjects on the other hand are a whopping £33,000($70,000) a year on average. So depending on the length of your course (3/4/5/6 years), your cost might vary.
D. The City
a. This is a consideration that not many think about but here’s why it is important.
b. The cost of living directly influences the amount of money you spend overseas, which might be an issue for some.
c. In addition, the culture might vary from one area to the next. Do you prefer the city life in London? Or the beautiful scenery at Cambridge?
d. Lastly, the accent. You most definitely do not want to end up studying in a university with lecturers to whom you don’t understand and end up flunking all your subjects. This is especially pertinent for Scotland universities, so make sure you understand the accent before enrolling.
E. The Admission Rate
a. Be honest with yourself and ask yourself whether you meet the academic requirements needed to enter a prestigious school such as Cambridge, Oxford, King’s or London School of Economics. Don’t just think about the minimum AAA/A, think about whether you will have a hard time struggling to keep up? Of course, you also only have 5 choices so you might want to put some universities that you know you stand a better chance getting admitted into should you not be able to make it into those extremely competitive ones.
4. Personal Statement
a. Your personal statement should be about your motivation with regards to the course you want to study and what makes you uniquely qualified for it. Do note that you only submit one personal statement to all 5 schools on your 5 UCAS choices, so ideally, you should apply the same courses, just at different schools. However for clinical subjects, you can only put them as 4 of your choices and the last choice has to be a non-medicine/dentistry/veterinary science course.
5. Important Deadlines (Deadlines are roughly the same each year, but exact dates may vary)
a. 20 Sept:
i. Cambridge deadlines for Cambridge applicants choosing to be interviewed in Singapore:
1. 1) COPA, 2) UCAS, and 3) Transcript Upload Submission. All 3parts + SAQ have to arrive for a complete application.
b. 22 Oct for most colleges:
i. Cambridge applicants need to submit their Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) to complete their Cambridge application.
c. 15 Oct: UCAS deadline for all Oxford, Medicine / Dentistry / Veterinary Science applications
d. 3 Jan: Deadline for all UCAS applications
6. Apply as an individual or part of a school
Some Junior Colleges such as Raffles Institution have dedicated college counsellors to see your application through, so if you have no idea what was going on like I did, then you should go with a school. However, if you know what you are doing and have a firm grasp on your college choices, then go ahead and apply as an individual. Just make sure you hit the deadlines on time.
Before you leave, make sure you apply for a student visa. UK is pretty strict with its immigration laws. A comprehensive guide on how to get your student visa, how long its valid for can be found here,
However, in general, most students need not worry about getting a student visa. The university that you are admitted into will source for all the relevant information for you and all you have to do is to follow their instructions. Nevertheless, do contact your university for information at least a few month before beginning your studies to make sure everything is in order and you do not have to do any last minute preparations.
Well, I hope I’ve helped clarify some of the confusion that surrounds UK university applications but if you want to get more specific advice on how to write a personal statement, ace external exams needed to get into popular courses such as medicine, stay tuned to the next part of this series. Until then, cheers :)
In the next part of this series, I will discuss some of the more specific details such as how to write a good personal statement based on seniors who have made it into their dream school, be it medicine, law or other courses. I will also explore the more popular course options such as Medicine