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How to apply for universities abroad

When you make your application to a degree course at university, there are a few stages you must complete. We outline several common application steps that you are likely to come across, whatever country you are applying to as an international student.

Application deadlines

Firstly, you must make sure that you submit your application in plenty of time before the application deadline. We have provided rough application deadlines for the UK, USA and Australia below:

  • In the UK the academic year usually starts in September. The deadline for undergraduate students applying through UCAS is usually the end of January. If you are applying to just one UK university, you may be able to submit your application throughout the year directly to the university. For postgraduate students, applications should be submitted by the start of August.
  • In the USA, the most popular intake is the fall intake. International students should aim to submit their applications before the start of January in most cases.
  • In Australia, Semester 1 usually begins in February. The latest an international student can submit their application is usually in December the year prior. Semester 2 usually begins in July, and international students will usually work to an application deadline of May.

Make sure that you check with your university website to be completely sure about your application deadlines, some courses have application deadlines well in advance of the commencement date. Sometimes courses at the same university will also have different deadlines.

Admission requirements

When you apply for a course at any university, you must ensure that you meet the entry requirements set for your course. These are usually provided on the web page of the course that you have chosen to apply for, and will be different between each university and course.

The entry requirements provided will usually include both academic and language requirements. Many university websites will provide guidance for international students towards how their domestic qualifications compare to the academic requirements.

For example, the University of Auckland in New Zealand provide course-specific entry requirements information for international students, whilst the University of Nottingham in the UK provides an A-Z listing of information for international students, with entry requirements and English language qualification requirements stated for students from each country.

Application method

The application process and the type of application form that you complete will vary depending on both the country and the university you are applying to.

In the UK, international students can use UCAS, a central application system, to submit their course applications, regardless of the university and course you are applying for. International students may also apply directly to their chosen university, using an online application form provided by the university.

In most other countries, you will make your application directly to the chosen university, either by completing an online application form yourself or by enlisting the help of an education agent. |If your university states that they do not accept applications with the help of education agents, you must complete the application form yourself.

In most cases, you will need to pay a small application fee at the time of submitting your application.

Application form

There are several common elements of a university application form that are usually required:

Details of your qualifications

You will be asked to provide details of your academic qualifications in your application form. This is to ensure that you meet that entry criteria for the course that you are applying for. You may be asked to provide copies of your qualification documents to prove your qualifications.

You may also be required to provide details of your language proficiency, by providing your scores for language tests or other academic qualifications.

Details of your references

You may be asked to provide a reference from someone who can vouch for you, preferably from an education background. This might include one of your recent teachers. If this is not possible, then you may be asked to provide a reference from your recent employment instead. Your referee will be asked to provide a written statement outlining your suitability for the studies you are applying for.

A personal statement

You will also be asked to provide your own written statement, in which you will outline your interest in the subject you have chosen and your motivation for studying. You can write about the course you have chosen and how you think you are suited to studying this course. You should consider writing about your personal achievements and how they relate to your future studies. You can also write about your future career plans after you graduate.

In some countries your application may also include details of the following:

Proof of your funding

In some countries, such as Australia, you must be able to provide evidence that you have sufficient funds to support you during the duration of your studies. This may be part of your student visa application.

Your passport

You are likely to be required to provide your passport during your application. Your university will let you know whether a digital copy or the physical copy is required.

Be accurate

When filling out your application form, you should be as accurate as possible, and check over your responses carefully before submitting anything to make sure you have completed all relevant fields.


In some countries, or at some prestigious universities, you may be asked to attend an interview as part of your application process. If you cannot attend the interview in person, this may be done remotely by computer.

The purpose of this interview is for your university to get an idea of your motivations for studying and in some cases to assess your language skills.

Preparing for your interview will give you the best opportunity to represent yourself successfully. Make sure you are well read about the course that you are applying for and be sure to have your personal statement on hand. You should also view this interview as your opportunity to ask any questions you have about the course and studying at the university. 

Student Visa

If you are required to obtain a student visa to travel to your new country, you will also need to obtain a student visa. This is typically done after a successful application to university, so as soon as you receive your offer of a place, make this one of your main priorities! Read more in our article Getting a student visa for studying abroad.

Following up your application

Generally once you have submitted your application to university, you do not need to follow up with any further information unless you are asked to do so.

Whilst you are awaiting your application response, make sure that you check your email regularly and respond promptly to any communication that you do receive from the university.

There is no set amount of time that a university will take to process your application, unless stated otherwise, so be prepared to fill your time productively whilst you await your reply, perhaps by performing additional research about the country, practicing your language skills or researching the accommodation that you would like to apply for.

In conclusion

When you are applying to university, particularly to a university abroad, give yourself plenty of time to go through the application process, and ensure that you are both accurate and complete with the information that you provide to your university.

Always ask advice when required, either from your teachers, education agents or the university that you are applying to.