Jump to navigation
Sign Up to ReceiveQS e-Guides!Sign up for free
Want to study in the UK? Our guide has all the information you'll need to get started at a university in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
In terms of popularity with international students, the UK lags only behind the considerably larger US. So: what exactly is the appeal of studying in the UK?
An obvious starting point would be the universities, one of which – the University of Cambridge – you may just have heard of, seeing as it is currently ranked the second best university in the world, according to the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings (it was first in 2010 and 11). You'll also probably know of Cambridge's historic rival, the University of Oxford.
But there’s a lot more to UK universities than just Oxford or Cambridge. Four UK universities currently rank among the world's top 10. There are a total of 30 institutions in the top 200, and 55 in the top 700. A shortage of options, then, will not be an issue for the UK-bound international student.
But while finding the right university should be very high up on an international student’s checklist, it will not be the only consideration. So what is living in the UK really like?
All four of the UK's constituent states (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) enjoy areas of outstanding natural beauty, and the nation’s storied and colorful past means that there’s no shortage of history – also evidenced in the idiosyncratic customs and traditions you’ll almost definitely encounter. And wherever you’re stationed, the country’s relatively diminutive dimensions mean you can easily hop on a train or in a car (just remember to drive on the left…) and be somewhere completely different in less than an hour.
There’s plenty going on culturally too: the contemporary live music scene is vibrant and varied, London is one of the world’s fashion capitals, and there’s no shortage of higher cultural activities should that be more up your alley.
If you fancy something a little less taxing on the mind, you can embrace the national passion for sport (football, rugby, cricket, boxing, motorsport, and tennis amongst others) or the classic British pastime of just going to the pub. And even the traditionally questionable British cuisine has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, so you need no longer fear the tough meat and boiled vegetables of yesteryear.
Studying at master’s or PhD level? Read our graduate-level guide to the UK >
Discover some of the UK's top student cities...
No discussion of life in the UK would be complete without a reference to its capital city. Home to 10 million people, London is the beating heart of the UK. Life in the city, which is the financial, cultural and political center of the country, is extremely fast-paced, and if you don’t like crowds or noise, it might not be the place for you. It is also one of the world’s most expensive cities.
However, if you can get past all that, there are few places which can guarantee you as exciting and intense – academically and otherwise – an experience. Universities in London include several of the world’s best, with UCL and Imperial College London both making the top 10 of the QS World University Rankings.
Discover the top 10 universities in London >
Manchester is famed for its music – few cities have produced as many prominent acts in the past 30 years. Resultantly, it is a bit of a party town, so if your social life is important to you, Manchester should be on your shortlist. But it’s not just about the drinking and the dancing. Universities in Manchester include the University of Manchester (also home to the Manchester Business School), which stands at the lofty position of 32 in the QS World University Rankings.
If you’re a football (soccer) fan, Manchester will also hold a special appeal. Manchester United is the most decorated club in the country, while local rival Manchester City is the richest. On top of this, the area around the city is awash with smaller clubs, which form an indelible part of the area’s character.
Read a student's guide to Manchester >
Now the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham came to prominence during the industrial revolution. Today, though, it is a thriving commercial hub, and is home to the largest shopping area outside of London (which, in the local branch of Selfridges, is home to one most striking buildings in the country). Birmingham (or Brum, as it known affectionately by locals) is also one of the most multicultural places in the UK, and resultantly, few cities can offer you as varied and colorful a cultural experience. Universities in Birmingham include the highly respected University of Birmingham (ranked 77 in the QS World University Rankings), as well as two other smaller universities, and two university colleges.
It may have lived for many years in the genteel shadow of Edinburgh, but Scotland’s largest city has in recent years shaken off its former gritty reputation to emerge as one of the UK’s most dynamic up-and-coming cities. With historic architecture, distinctive local traditions and museums to rival any city in the UK, Glasgow now also has enough trendy bars, restaurants and gig venues to keep even the most hardened hipster entertained. Universities in Glasgow are also following the upward trajectory of the city. The University of Glasgow has improved its ranking performance in recent years and now stands at 54 in the QS World University Rankings, while the University of Strathclyde ranks at 254.
Okay, Oxford and Cambridge are two separate and distinct cities with their own history and character, but these two cities are bound together in the collective imagination as semi-mythical academic enclaves with a profound historic affinity, as well as an ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek rivalry. Both are old medieval towns, built on rivers and situated towards the south of England (a stone’s throw from London), both are relatively quiet and peaceful, and both are completely dominated by their universities – the two oldest in the Anglophone world.
Oxford and Cambridge are both collegiate, and their constituent colleges loom large over the cities’ town centers, which you’ll also notice are teeming with the bright young attendees. These, as you know, are some of the most prestigious universities in the world (Cambridge is 2nd and Oxford is 6th in the world), and to list their notable alumni would have an effect somewhat akin to snow blindness.
Oxford or Cambridge? How to choose >
The UK has a centralized university admissions service, which handles all undergraduate applications - the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS). This is used both by domestic and international students.
While UCAS processes the applications, decisions about admissions are made by individual universities. Any questions that are not about the technicalities of application should be directed to the university concerned.
For information about deadlines and what information to include in your application, seek advice from UCAS. Remember that requirements may vary depending on your country of residents. Fees and visa requirements will also differ according to whether or not you’re from the EEA.
Applicants from the EEA (and Switzerland):
Find out how much it costs to study in the UK >
Click to apply
© QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited 1994-2013. All rights reserved.
Find your perfect study destination.
Universities in the USUniversities in the UKUniversities in AsiaUniversities in EuropeUniversities in Latin America
The world’s top universities – overall, by subject and by region
QS Best Student Cities brings you 50 of the world's best cities for students.
Meet university admissions directors from around the world, at a QS event near you
QS Stars is an in-depth rating system for universities
Find the university that best fits your interests and career plans
Get advice from other students around the world in our international student forums