Evaluating the Top UK University Acceptance Rates

When it comes to planning your university application, you’ll need to think about the admission requirements for the institution in question. It’s also useful to look at the average acceptance rates for any universities that you’re interested in: this helps you to figure out your chances of getting onto a degree or course that you love. 

Some British universities are much harder to get into than others, especially considering the long and rich academic history of the United Kingdom and the multitude of revered institutions up and down the country. 

You’ll have plenty of excellent options, whether it’s choosing to apply to Oxbridge, checking out some of the other Russell Group universities, or looking at the highly-respectable red brick institutions. 

In this article, we’ll look at the top UK university acceptance rates, and will help you to figure out where you might want to apply. 

Choosing a University

Choosing a university shouldn’t depend solely on factors like name, prestige, table rankings, or acceptance rates. 

While it may be nice to say you attend one of the top five or ten universities in the UK, you should also consider these key factors when choosing the best fit for you:

  • Location: do you want to be in a city, or in a small town nestled by the sea or in the countryside?
  • Course-type: consider the type of course you want to take. There’s no point applying to a prestigious Russell Group university if they don’t offer the degree you want to study.
  • Cost of living: think about your student budget. How much can you afford to spend every month on rent (after first-year), groceries, drinks, or events?
  • Travel connections: you might also want to consider how well-connected the university is to local areas, or to your hometown. 

If you want more in-depth information on picking the best university for you, head to the Choosing the Right Course for You section of our A&J Education website. 

Applying to a UK University

When you apply to a UK university, you’ll have to go through the centralised UCAS portal. 

You’ll fill in your application online and submit it before the deadline. Remember that the deadline for Oxbridge is 15th October, several months before the deadlines for most other UK universities. 

You can apply to a maximum of five different universities through a single UCAS application. For more information on the UCAS process, check out the Acing the UK Admissions Process section of the A&J Education.

What is the Russell Group?

The Russell Group is a group of twenty-four UK universities that collaborate on research efforts to produce over two-thirds of the high-quality research output from British institutions. 

The twenty-four universities in this collective are: 

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
  • Cardiff University
  • Durham University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • Imperial College London
  • King’s College London
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Liverpool
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
  • University of Manchester
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University College London
  • University of Warwick
  • University of York

The Russell Group was first formed in 1994 as part of an arrangement between 17 well-known UK universities. It became a fully-fledged incorporated organisation in 2007.

The idea behind the Russell Group was to provide an unbeatable student experience that was supported by excellent levels of teaching and high-quality facilities, attracting some of the brightest and most intelligent minds from around the world, both as students and as teachers.

Nowadays, Russell Group universities receive three-quarters of the research grant and contract income won by UK institutions

If you want to find out more information about the advantages and disadvantages of applying to Russell Group universities, check out this article.

Top UK University Acceptance Rates: Applying to the Russell Group

When you apply to a Russell Group university, you’ll have to achieve a minimum standard of grades in your final year exams. 

This factor is particularly important if you are choosing to study a professional degree such as Medicine or Dentistry, where students should have high grades in specific facilitating subjects. For example, in a competitive course like Biological Sciences, you’ll probably need to achieve an A or A* grade in A-level Biology and Chemistry for admission. 

Russell Group Acceptance Rates

You’ll find that acceptance rates vary depending on both your chosen Russell Group university and your chosen subject area. 

Here’s a selection of RG universities and their average acceptance rates in 2021:

If you exclude Oxford and Cambridge, the hardest Russell Group universities to get into are LSE (36.5% acceptance rate), Imperial College London (42.9% acceptance rate), and the University of Edinburgh (51% acceptance rate). 

You should also bear in mind that certain courses and degrees are easier to get into than others. Degrees like Psychology, Law, Pre-Clinical Medicine, Business Studies, and Sport and Exercise are highly popular, while courses like European Languages, Veterinary Sciences, and Mathematical Sciences are much less popular

It’s also well worth noting that there are several non-RG institutions with low acceptance rates as well. The best example of this is St Andrews, which has one of the lowest average rates of any UK university (41%). If you apply for Creative Writing, Marine Mammal Science, or Psychology, you’ll face low rates of between 20% and 27%. 

University of Oxford Acceptance Rates 

When talking about acceptance rates at a prestigious university like the University of Oxford, you need to take into consideration the higher numbers of students that apply from around the world. 

Oxford’s average acceptance rate is around 21.5%, but there’s a lot of variation in this rate depending on which degree you’re applying for. Courses like Classics, Music, Modern Languages, and Theology and Religion have acceptance rates of over 40%. On the other hand, degrees like Economics and Management, Computer Science, and PPE have acceptance rates of between 7% and 15%.

University of Cambridge Acceptance Rates

The average acceptance rate at Cambridge is 26.5%, but if you apply to a course like Architecture or Economics, you’ll contend with rates lower than 14%.

However, if you apply for a subject like Classics, Music, Archeology, or Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, you’ll face much higher acceptance rates of between 40% and 50%.

Top UK University Acceptance Rates: What are “Red Brick” Universities?

The “red brick” universities are nine institutions that were founded during the 19th century and endeavoured to teach students useful practical skills, particularly focusing on Medicine and Engineering. 

These universities were also called “civic institutions,” because they adopted progressive admission strategies that valued talent and character over a candidate’s wealth or social status. 

The phrase “red brick” was first used in a book of the same name by Edgar Allison Peers, a professor at the University of Liverpool. Here are 10 of these “red brick” civic universities:

  • Victoria University (no longer operational)
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Sheffield 
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Reading
  • University of Nottingham
  • Newcastle University

Eight of these universities are now part of the Russell Group, excluding Victoria University which became defunct in 1903 when Manchester and Liverpool became independent institutions.

Applying to a Red Brick University

Since most of these institutions are in the Russell Group, they’ll have relatively rigid academic expectations for candidates. 

Remember that certain courses will have lower admissions rates than others: for example, you’ll likely find it more difficult to get into Journalism at Sheffield than getting an offer for one of the Science-based subjects. That’s because Journalism is one of the best courses taught at Sheffield. Think about how well-regarded the degree you’re applying for is: if it’s a subject area that the university is particularly well-known for, you may well find that it has a lower acceptance rate than other degrees at the institution.

Top UK University Acceptance Rates: The Final Word 

If you are looking to apply to Oxbridge or one of the highly-respected Russell Group universities, it’s best to start preparing as early as possible. 

You want to ensure that you can make an informed decision when finding an institution that reflects your interests and personal needs. Once you’ve made this choice, you’ll have plenty of time to seek extra tutoring and application advice or to take part in more extracurricular activities that will increase your chances of acceptance.

Rather than basing your decision on rankings and acceptance rates alone, why not take the opportunity to visit some campuses and get an idea of the types of facilities and local amenities available? You can also get in touch with us at A&J Education to book a free consultation and get some advice on how to bolster your application.

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