#UniShorts: The University Application Process in the UK vs. the States

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the university application process is similar whether you’re applying for a school in the UK or the United States. In both cases, you sign up for an online portal before selecting a variety of degrees to apply for and fulfilling the specific requirements for that university or course in question. 

Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll realise that there are a couple of major differences in the ways that the UK and US application processes work. Here’s a quick and easy breakdown if you’re pressed for time. 

Logistical Differences in the University Application Process

While you sign in and build a profile on the Common Application portal if you’re applying to a US college, you then may well have to submit a separate application depending on which university you’re interested in. For example, Harvard might want a 750-word essay responding to a specific prompt, whilst Dartmouth might require you to answer a list of personal preference or shorter-form questions as part of their application system. 

By contrast, once you sign in to UCAS, you can write a personal statement and use that same statement for all of your prospective universities and courses (bear in mind that certain courses and colleges, like those at Oxford and Cambridge, will require additional information and documents). 

Basically, the university application process in the United States will require a bit more work on your part. Let’s say you’re applying to 6 colleges: that could mean that you find yourself having to prepare 6 personalised applications, with several different essays or interviews with college alumni. However, if you’ve set your heart on studying in the States, then you’ll find this process enjoyable. The essay prompts tend to leave plenty of room for creative expression, and US colleges will value candidates with a wide, eclectic variety of extracurricular activities. 


Speaking of extracurricular activities, let’s delve into the candidate prerequisites that universities tend to look for in the UK compared to the US. Generally speaking, UK institutions place an especially keen emphasis on prospective students’ academic records and their projected A-Level, Advanced Higher, or IB results. By contrast, US colleges take a far more holistic approach when it comes to admissions. 

Here are some examples of activities, titles, or services that US universities will value on a candidate’s application: 

  • Volunteering or project work 
  • Varsity/first-team sports and leadership rules 
  • Student government
  • Music groups 
  • Internships and community involvement. 

Basically, these colleges are looking for examples of activities and extracurriculars that demonstrate a candidate’s passions, talents, and general initiative. While you don’t want to play these things up too much in your UCAS personal statement, you should try to put them on full display when building your profile for US university applications. 

Bear in mind that US colleges (especially the top ones) will also care about your academic record, including: 

  • Your SAT and standardised test results 
  • Any AP or Honors classes you’ve taken (or where you’ve gone above and beyond in your schoolwork) 
  • Your GPA or academic transcript from high school. 

Generally speaking, however, US colleges try to get a sense of who you are as an individual (your academic record, your sporting or musical achievements, your community engagement, your likes and dislikes, hobbies, passions), whereas UK institutions are far more focussed on your academic results. 

More Info 

This is a little snapshot of a couple of the key differences between the UK and US university admissions processes, but if you want some more in-depth info, as well as thorough and clear advice on how to bolster your personal application, visit the Studying in the US or Studying in the UK sections of our blog. Those looking for a more intensive, hands-on approach to building a successful application should book a free online consultation to speak to one of our experts.

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