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How to apply to UK universities from the US

If you're a US citizen, there are many reasons to consider studying for your college degree in the UK.

Every year, thousands of international students choose the UK for their undergraduate studies because of its renowned academic excellence, and broad range of high-quality, respected qualifications.

The British culture and its people also form another strong attraction for those from the U.S. Discover more reasons why international students decide to study in Britain over at our guide to applying for a degree at a UK university.

Below, we highlight the relevant sections to help you through the application process.

1. Register with UCAS

First of all, you need to register your details with UCAS, and make sure you input all your information correctly.

This is different to the U.S system, where you have to make university-specific applications.

UCAS is the centralised university application system in the UK which all students wanting to enter higher education have to go through in order to get a place on a degree program.

Once you have signed up, you will be able to check the status of your application through Apply.

You can find out more about UCAS in our application guide for International Students.

2. Choose a degree

Possibly the most important stage, you'll need to identify a course you want to spend the next 3 or more years of your life committed to.

Our guide on choosing a degree tells you everything you need to consider when selecting a course, including qualifications and entry requirements, subjects you enjoy, course content and work experience opportunities.

You can search for degree courses at individual university websites, or over at UCAS.

Once you've found the degrees you are interested in applying for, make a note of their UCAS codes, as you'll need these later to fill out the application form.

3. Choose a university

You've found the perfect course(s) to apply for - now you need to make sure you choose the right universities to study at.

Our guide to choosing a university will help you with this decision process. Don't just think about whether it's part of the Russell Group or if it's ranked highly in the league tables.

More important factors include the location, the accommodation, facilities, social life and student support services.

Once you've made your shortlist of universities, write down their UCAS codes, as you will need to enter these later on your application form.

Please note that if you are considering applying to either the University of Cambridge or Oxford, you may not apply to both within the same academic year. 

If you would like to find out more about applying to these prestigious universities, please read our dedicated Oxbridge guide

4. Check the entry requirements

We recommend you start your application as soon as possible, since not much can be done if you miss deadline days and you may end up having to wait another year if you have your heart set on studying for a degree in the UK.

It is also important you make sure you meet all the necessary requirements to be successful, and these will vary depending on which degree you wish to study, and which universities you would like to apply to.

Once you have made these choices, it’s important to check the website or prospectus for each university to see whether you meet their minimum entry requirements. 

As you are applying from the U.S., universities in the UK will usually recognise and accept the High School Diploma, SAT and AP tests. 

If the exact entry requirements for USA students are not completely clear on the university’s website, contact their admissions department directly by phone or email, and they will clarify this for you.

You will also need a visa to study in the UK (normally a Tier 4 student visa), since your degree course will last longer than 6 months.

This means universities and colleges will need to see that you have the required qualifications for entry on to the course before you can proceed with your visa application. 

Therefore, be prepared for your chosen institutions to ask for either original or certified copies of any qualification results.

If English is not your first language, you will be expected to hold a qualification or specified test in English, e.g. CAE, TOEFL, IELTS.

Find out more about entry requirements for UK International students.

5. Write your personal statement

Your personal statement sets you apart from all other students and is likely to be key to your success when faced with competitors with similar grades and backgrounds.

You have a maximum of 47 lines or 4,000 characters (not words) to sell yourself and your enthusiasm for your subject.

When writing your personal staement, think about:

  • what aspects of the subject interest you in particular
  • what you will bring to the university
  • why you chose the course
  • what you have done to show you are dedicated to your subject area
  • how your course will help you achieve your future plans and/or career goals.

For more in-depth advice on writing your personal statement, take a look at our writing guide, which has a handy template, as well as lots of other tips.

6. Fill out your UCAS application

One application form is used to apply for 5 different choices.

We recommend you apply to 5 different universities for either the same or similar course.

This is because you're only allowed to write one personal statement for your UCAS form, so it's difficult to write something that will cover all bases for several completely different courses.

Currently, UCAS charges £13 (US$18) if you are applying to only one university for one course or £24 (US$33) if you are applying to multiple universities and/or courses.

7. Wait for replies

Once you've sent off your UCAS application, universities usually take a number of weeks to consider your application. Please be aware that:

  • International students from the U.S can submit an application to UCAS at any time between 1 September and 30 June in the year preceding the academic year that studies begin.
  • However, most students apply well before 30 June to make sure that places are still available and to allow plenty of time to make immigration, travel and accommodation arrangements.
  • Often, those applying after 15 January will be classed as a late applicant, so universities may not choose to consider your application.
  • For those applying to Oxbridge, or any Medicine, Veterinary Science or Dentistry degree, you will need to submit your application by 15 October.
  • Check when your application is due with our UCAS deadlines guide.
  • As well as the UCAS application, remember to your eligibility for scholarships, loans and grants, all of which can help you out financially.
  • You can find out lots more information about applying to university in the UK with our UCAS application guide, such as open days, deadlines, and interviews.

If you are successful you will get your CAS form (Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies) which is a virtual document with a unique reference number sent to you by the university that accepted you.

Keep this in a safe place (do not lose it) as you will need it to apply for your student visa.

It will also have all the important information you need to know, including details of your course, start date, tuition fees and your official confirmation of your place at university.

8. Get your documents in order

You will need certain documents when you have been accepted on to a course and arrive to study in the UK.

These include a:

  • passport
  • visa
  • letter confirming you have been offered a place on a course, and
  • evidence that you are able to support yourself financially. 

You will need a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa if you are studying for a full-degree in the UK or a Student Visitor Visa if you are studying for a period of six months or less, which you can obtain through an online application. You’ll need to have your fingerprints and photograph taken at a visa application centre (to get a Biometric Residence Permit) as part of your application.

Be careful with your timings for this one: the application needs to be in no less than three months before your course begins but no more than six months after you received your CAS form so keep your eye on your dates.

For a Tier 4 visa, you will need to pay a £310 (US$435) fee and £83 (US$116) for a six-month Student Visitor visa.

You may be able to get your visa faster depending on what country you’re in so check with your visa application centre.

You will then be invited to a visa interview, at a visa application centre or possibly via video link, where you will be asked questions predominately about your university, course and financial situation. Have all your documents at the ready just in case and be prepared to talk confidently in English about your hopes for your studies in the UK.

For this you are likely to need:

  • Tuberculosis Screening Certificate from UKVI approved TB Test Centre
  • CAS form
  • Current passport
  • English language proficiency test mentioned in CAS form
  • Financial proof you can fund your studies
  • Two passport photographs
  • Academic certificates mentioned in CAS form
  • Original birth certificate (and translation if not in English)
  • Proof of payment for immigration health surcharge

Finally, if you wish to receive free healthcare during your studies, you will have to pay a £150 (US$210) Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fee, which will cover you for one year.

This can be paid online, although make sure you keep your receipt safe as you will need it to apply for your visa.

9. Sort out your finance 

As a non-EU applicant, it’s best to contact the universities you are applying to directly for more information on any help available to U.S students with tuition fees, living costs, etc.

Details of scholarships and other financial aid should be available on their website, but if not, a phone call or email to the university should help you find out more about these.

Anything you can apply for that will reduce your amount of debt at the end of your degree is a bonus.

Good places to start looking for scholarships include:

10. Arrange accommodation

Whichever universities you apply to, there will be a number of accommodation options open to you.

Where you will stay depends on whether your college or university has halls of residence, what city/town it is in, and how much your monthly budget is.

As soon as you have been accepted on to a course at a UK university, you will need to let them know that you will require accommodation (please don’t assume you will automatically be given accommodation). 

The university or college should send you a form in the mail, or an online version for you to fill in. It’s best to start arranging your accommodation as soon as you have been offered a place, as accommodation quickly becomes booked up, and often supply does not meet demand.

Find out more information about the different types of university accommodation available at UK universities.

11. Make your travel plan

Now you can start thinking about getting over to the UK to start your new student life. Speak to the university about accommodation if you haven’t already heard anything and make arrangements for your arrival (see point 10 above).

If you are studying in the UK for less than six months, you can arrive in the country up to one week before your programme begins.

If you are studying for a longer period of time, you can arrive up to 30 days before.

You will have been given a temporary visa which will allow you to be in the country for that period of time.

Your actual visa comes in the form of your BRP which you will have to collect within 10 days of when you said you’d arrive in the UK (even if you actually arrive at a later date). You can be fined a lot of money if you forget, so make sure you remember. You will have arranged when you applied for your visa where to collect your BRP from.

If you are heading off to the UK for your studies soon, you might want to read through our university checklist of what to take with you.

When you arrive in the UK, keep all your forms and documents in an accessible place in your hand luggage to pass on to immigration if required.

Further information

For more tips and advice about applying to university in the UK, please see:

Best of luck with your personal statement!