Despite the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9,000 for many courses, (or perhaps because of them, as students strive to get the best value for money), the best UK universities are massively over subscribed. This means that they have to apply admissions criteria to decide whom they are going to offer places to.
The university admissions policies vary widely between universities and even between courses at the same university. For example, Edinburgh University Vet School gives ‘equal weight to both academic results (achieved or predicted) and non-academic qualities’, while for Oxford and Cambridge, where academic excellence is a given for applicants, these ‘non-academic qualities’ are even more important for university admissions.
All UK universities will have a policy of equal opportunities, aiming to ensure a level playing field for university admissions, regardless of factors such as social background or physical disabilities. Many of the top establishments are especially keen to shake off their ‘elite’ image through their university admissions procedures, and so actively encourage and support university admissions from such groups through bursaries and similar schemes.
With grade inflation vastly increasing the number of students applying for university admissions with top grades, more and more universities are introducing additional tests or entrance exams as part of their university admissions policies. Around half of UK university admissions now use these tests in selected subjects, an increase from just a third 3 years ago.
These university admissions tests vary from standard exams, such as the UKCAT test used for medical schools, to college specific tests, such as the Oxford Thinking Skills Assessment, used for university admissions to courses such as PPE, philosophy and psychology. For a full list of institutions that use university admissions exams, see the admissions section of the UCAS website and while you’re there, you can also check out details of some of the admissions tests used.
The famous, and much feared, Oxbridge entrance exam was scrapped in the mid 80s by Oxford and Cambridge, however these are slowly being reintroduced by both universities in response to the scrapping of A/S Level exams. Around 85% of Oxford university admissions now include an entrance exam, with Cambridge also testing many applicants beyond their A Level exams.
Applications for university admissions to Oxford and Cambridge are mutually exclusive (you may only apply to one or the other in any one year). Furthermore, you must apply for Oxford or Cambridge university admissions earlier than for any other courses, with applications closing on the 15th October, compared to 15th January for most other university admissions.
For most university admissions, the two most important factors will be your personal statement and your interview. With so much competition for places, university admissions have become far more subjective than they used to be, and these days you must prove yourself worthy both academically and personally to gain a place. To do well at this stage of the university admissions procedure, you need to really do your homework to find out what each university admissions policy is and what they are looking for in their ideal candidate.