With the UCAS application season now in full swing, sixth formers will be looking to select which institutions are best suited to them, and come up with a shortlist of five to put on their UCAS form.

For those hoping to get accepted at some of the top universities, we thought we would highlight 10 of the best 20 with a more fun angle, and show how universities have been used by film crews for settings and scene backdrops in movies and TV shows.

While a few may be extremely familiar, some may surprise you…

1. The Theory of Everything (University of Cambridge)

James Marsh’s 2014 Biographical film, which won two Golden Globe awards (among others), sees a young Stephen Hawking fall in love with English Literature student Jane Wilde at the University of Cambridge.

Currently ranked as the best university in the UK by The Guardian and The Complete University Guide, and 3rd in the world by Times Higher Education, Cambridge scores top marks for course and teaching satisfaction, careers after six months of graduation, research quality and entry standards.

Spread across 31 colleges set in a beautiful city, Cambridge offers a range of degree programmes from Archaeology and Engineering, to Linguistics and Philosophy.

If you’re considering applying to Cambridge this year, make sure you submit your UCAS application by the 15th October deadline. You can decide to apply to specific college, or submit an open application where a computer program will allocate you a college, which you will have to accept. This decision has no impact on whether you will be offered a place or not.

Other notable films that reference the University of Cambridge include Kingsman: The Secret Service, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Chariots of Fire, Cloud Atlas and Bridget Jones’s Diary.

2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (University of Oxford)

The University of Oxford's Divinity School, Duke Humfrey's Library (part of the Bodleian), New College and Christ Church College all featured in the first film of J.K. Rowling’s famous book series about a boy wizard attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Parts of Oxford were also featured in the subsequent Harry Potter movies, putting Oxford on the map as a huge tourist attraction for the armies of fans (as if it wasn’t already globally renowned for its academic excellence!).

As well as the Harry Potter franchise, Radcliffe Square, Exeter College and Christ Church College were used as filming locations in the movie based on Phillip Pullman’s bestselling novel, The Golden Compass.
This small city has also been used for backdrops and settings in many other films, including The History Boys, The Oxford Murders, Shadowlands, An Education and The Riot Club.

Like Cambridge, you must apply by the 15th October deadline if you want to be considered by Oxford for a degree programme.

Again, you can choose one of their 35 colleges to apply to by putting down a particular college’s campus code on your UCAS application, or submit an open application where your college will be decided for you.

3. Never Let Me Go (University of St Andrews)

Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 bestselling novel set in an alternate history, some of this love triangle story about organ donors, starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, was filmed at Andrew Melville Hall, a student residence at the University of St Andrews.

In 2009, this accommodation block at Scotland’s oldest university was transformed into the Dover Recovery Centre, recreating the book’s recovery centre for organ donor patients. Film extras, playing the roles of doctors, nurses and patients, descended on the 1960s structure designed by renowned architect James Stirling in the summer to record the scenes over a 12 hour period.

Ranking highly for subjects such as Geography, Mathematics and International Relations, St Andrews is made up of a number of historic and modern buildings throughout the town of Fife on the east coast of Scotland.

Boasting a huge student satisfaction score, notable alumni from this university include Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge, Chris Hoy and six Nobel Laureates.

St Andrews carries out world leading research activity, with over 40% of its turnover coming from research contracts and grants. It is also home to the world’s oldest student debating society (est. 1874), and the tradition of Raisin Monday.

4. Primeval (University of Surrey)

This British science fiction TV show, which aired between 2007 and 2011, follows a group of scientists responsible for investigating the appearance of prehistoric and futuristic creatures that try to bring about the end of the world.

During series two and three, the University of Surrey’s Duke of Kent building was used as the filming location for the first Anomaly Research Centre. Housing the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, and shaped like the bow of an ocean liner, the building is situated overlooking a lake, and provides an excellent nursing training centre and a roof garden.

The university’s main campus is near Guildford, and concentrates heavily on research and development into satellite and mobile communications, using its Surrey Space Centre and commercial spin-off company Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

Crowned the University of the Year in 2016, Surrey has also been recently named as one of the best university for Food Science degrees in the latest league tables from the Complete University Guide, and specialises in other subjects such as Medicine, Engineering and Business.

Sporting facilities here are excellent, with a new £35 million sports centre opened in 2010 with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, squash halls, a climbing centre and more.

In September 2015, Surrey University officially opened the doors to its state-of-the-art 5G Innovation Centre, which aims to develop the next generation of communications technology in conjunction with major industry partners such as EE, Vodafone, BBC, Samsung and Ofcom.

For the movie and TV buffs out there, Surrey has been used for numerous filming locations over the years, so there are plenty of other sites you can visit outside of the university. Check out this comprehensive list and map at VisitSurrey.com for more information.

5. Bonekickers (University of Bath)

A team of archaeologists feature in this BBC drama that ran for just one series in 2008, and was filmed on location at the University of Bath campus (which ironically does not offer an Archaeology degree).
Starring Hugh Bonneville, the programme combined science, conspiracy theories and crime procedures to create an over-arching mystery throughout the six episodes.

While the university campus does not appear heavily as a filming location in the TV and movie industries, the surrounding historic city of Bath has played host to camera crews for a wide range of sets and backdrops. These include Inspector Morse, Les Miserables, The Duchess, Persuasion, Vanity Fair and Dracula.

Bath is currently ranked as the 6th best university in the UK by The Guardian, and 9th by the Complete University Guide and The Sunday Times. Its main campus is set on Claverton Down next to a lake, and has been continually upgraded to include new teaching facilities, accommodation blocks, computer laboratories and office space.

It has grown rapidly over the last few years, and almost 16,000 students are now studying for a course there.

Admissions are competitive, with around seven applications for every undergraduate place available.

6. Kingsman: The Secret Service (Imperial College, London)

This 2014 film, directed by Matthew Vaughn, centres around the recruitment of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin into a secret spy organisation.

Some scenes for Kingsman, such as Harry Hart confronting Professor Arnold, were filmed at Imperial College London. Other films shot at this Russell Group university include Basic Instinct 2.

In 2015, Imperial was ranked as the second best university in the world by QS, and currently ranked 5th in the UK by the Complete University Guide, 7th by The Guardian and 3rd by The Times.

As expected, Imperial offers some of the best degree programmes in the UK, with subjects including Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth & Marine Sciences, and Engineering.

Entry is extremely competitive, with the acceptance rate in 2018 at only 12.74%, so an excellent personal statement is a must.

Graduates prospects are great, with figures showing those with a qualification from Imperial are successfully recruited around the world, and can expect the highest starting salary in the UK than graduates from any other British university.

As one of the most innovative universities in Europe, Imperial’s focus is on the science and technology sector, with its main campus set in South Kensington.

7. Broadchurch (University of Exeter)

Series two of this hit ITV drama was filmed partly at the University of Exeter, with their Streatham Campus (regarded as one of the most beautiful campuses in the UK) providing the location for Broadchurch’s Wessex Police Headquarters and Wessex Crown Court with their Forum building.

This top institution has been named University of the Year by the Sunday Times (2013) and the Times Higher Education (2007), and has maintained a top 10 position in the Student Satisfaction Survey since its launch in 2005.

Ranked highly for a number of degree subjects, including Biosciences, Classics, and Sociology, entry standards are demanding, and at least six students apply for each undergraduate place available. Their research is internationally recognised, and are a member of the UK’s Russell Group.

8. The Dark Knight (University College London)

Some scenes for this 2008 blockbuster by Christopher Nolan (an alumni of UCL) were filmed in and around University College London, a popular place for movie and TV crews due to its central location in London (near Euston) and the historical nature of its front quad and main building.

Other films shot here include The 39 Steps, Eyes Wide Shut, Gladiator, Thunderbirds, The Mummy Returns, Atonement, Starter for Ten and Inception.

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first university to be established in London, with its main campus set in the historic area of Bloomsbury.

Heavy investment over the years has led to state of the art facilities at this prestigious university, and even beat Oxford in the annual QS World University Rankings in 2012.

With an excellent academic reputation and high quality research, England’s third oldest university scores top marks for Economics, Law and a number of other degrees programmes.

Graduates are extremely employable, so applicants can expect favourable prospects if they gain a place at this highly selective institution.

At least 33 Nobel Prize winners are featured in their alumni.

9. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (London School of Economics)

This 2014 American action spy thriller film, directed by Kenneth Brannagh, tells the story of Jack Ryan. Studying at the London School of Economics, Jack becomes a U.S marine who fights in Afganistan and is severely wounded when his helicopter is shot.

Following a lengthy recovery, involving how to learn to walk again, Jack is recruited for covert operations by the CIA. Scenes for the movie were filmed at LSE, famed for its many notable alumni, 18 of which have been awarded a Nobel Prize, and others that have become billionaires or world political leaders.

Founded in 1895, LSE has been extensively refurbished since 2000, and boasts a huge library with over 4 million print volumes.

Despite its name, this university based in Clare Market, London does not just deal with Economics – it also teaches and performs research in a number of legal and social science subjects, including Anthropology, Mathematics, Human Geography and International History.

LSE’s high quality research has led it to become one of the world’s leading dedicated social science institutions, with graduates among the most employable both in the UK and internationally.

10. Inspector Wexford (University of Southampton)

This Hampshire-based TV show used University of Southampton as the setting for the fictional University of Hilldene, where Inspector Mike Burden’s daughter studies Chemistry.

Founded in 1862, this coastal-based Russell Group institution has seven teaching campuses, including one in Malaysia which provides engineering courses and state of the art facilities.

Consistently recognised as one of the leading research universities in the UK, each campus is equipped with its own library resources. It is currently ranked as number 16 in the UK by The Guardian and 81st in the world by QS.

If you’re into sports, Southampton is a great choice of university if you’re applying this autumn, as it’s involved in a huge number of sporting activities, from baseball to martial arts.

With over 20,000 students, it is the largest university in the south east of England, and is cited as the UK’s leading university in Engineering, having received the top 5* rating for research in all of its departments.

Computer science and modern languages are also among the top degree courses on offer here.

Further information

For more tips and advice on choosing a university and applying to university in the UK, please see:

If you have any comments, suggestions or feedback on my post, or want to share any of your own media trivia about UK universities, please leave your replies below.