If you plan on applying to any British universities, you’ll need to get to grips with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) application system. Young Post asked the British Council’s education marketing manager Cissy Lo and West Island School higher education advisor Ellie Tang for advice to make the application process stress-free.
Double check entry requirements and application deadlines
Don’t miss the deadline. The cut-off date for most degree courses in Britain is Janaury 15, says Lo. You have less than four months to prepare several things, including your personal statement, your five course choices, your application fee, and a reference.
But Tang adds that the application deadline for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science at Oxford and Cambridge universities is October 15. It’s unlikely that these universities will consider any applications after the deadline has passed because these courses are very competitive.
Tang recommends checking both the entry and English requirements carefully. “Be realistic. Don’t waste your choices if you know you probably won’t get great results. Ask your teachers for predicted grades to ensure your latest school performance meets these requirements,” she says.
Keep an eye on the latest entrance requirements, too, adds Tang. “The first thing I asked students to do after the summer holiday was to check the updated entry requirements because universities often adjust them without notice.”
Lo recommends asking your school’s international admissions officers for practical suggestions on your university application based on your school performance and English proficiency.
It’s also worth checking the UCAS website for the tariff point equivalents of local or overseas exam results. For example, the top score of 5** in any HKDSE subject (except maths), is worth 56 tariff points. Most universities have entry requirements for the HKDSE and IB listed on their websites.
A clear plan for every possible outcome
Tang recommends devising several application strategies based on your predicted grades. “Your strategy should combine ‘reach’, ‘target’ and ‘safety’ choices. Pick two ‘reach’ courses that are slightly higher than your predicted grades. Choose two ‘target’ courses with requirements at your predicted grades. The last choice – ‘safety’ course – serves as a crucial backup choice; its requirements should be lower than your predicted grades and are likely to secure your spot at university.”
Is your personal statement up to scratch?
Your personal statement comprises 4,000 characters, or 47 lines, including spaces. It is a valuable opportunity for you to tell university admissions officers why you chose their courses. Tang said these reasons should be backed up with examples from your life experience, in and out of school, to highlight why you deserve a spot.
For instance, one student who was interested in medicine and surgery explained how he gained soft skills from visiting a nursing home. He wrote that he listened to the needs of the elderly carefully. Since a doctor cannot be picky about the patients they treat, he highlighted how he was willing to help everyone – regardless of their age, gender or illness. He explained that the visit improved his communication skills, which are an indispensable part of being a doctor.
Tang said your choices should be consistent and relate to your personal statement.
“Universities are looking for strong evidence proving that you suit their courses. If you select diverse subjects for your UCAS choices, say two courses in biology and three courses in English language and literature, you will find it difficult to write a personal statement that is convincing in satisfying all the universities’ expectations. Instead the five choices should be linked, such as medicine and biomedical sciences or pharmacy,” she says.
Remember, a university cannot see the other universities you have applied to. So you can apply to up to five different universities in your UCAS application, and you can apply for more than one course at the same university.
You should also state why you are interested in studying in Britain, as Tang tells Young Post that many applications miss this crucial point.
“If you want to study international business, you can say studying in London will give you a fascinating insight into global business. The capital is an international financial centre and has a long business relationship with Hong Kong.”
Lo stresses the importance of proofreading your personal statement.
“Check for spelling and grammatical errors. Don’t plagiarise other people’s work because the UCAS system has a plagiarism checker, and they will pass their findings on to the universities, which will then decide whether or not to reject the application,” Lo says.
What should you look for when choosing a university?
Tang said choosing a university is like choosing a boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s a life choice so you’ve got to choose carefully. “Just as you wouldn’t rush into a relationship with a person, you shouldn’t rush into choosing a university without researching it well to assess how compatible it is with you in terms of tuition fees, student population, location, ranking, facilities, teaching and assessment style, course content. For example, the content of business management degrees in different universities varies. Remember the university you go to will be one of your partners in life-long learning.”
Make your portfolio stand out
Tang said for subjects related to art and design, architecture and performing arts, there is always a porfolio requirement. Since the requirements for each university vary, check the individual course requirements for the ones you want to apply to. Don’t miss the submission procedures and deadlines too.
Universities are friendly and helpful. If you approach them well ahead of the submission deadline, their staff often go out of their way to offer free advice and feedback on the work you plan to submit.