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How to prepare for a British university without moving to the UK

The UK higher education system is among the best in the world with British universities regularly topping global rankings. It's no wonder that the country attracts many students from abroad. According to the UK government's International Education Strategy, the country plans to increase the total number of international students choosing to study in UK Universities each year to 600,000 by 2030.

When it comes to getting into universities, for international undergraduate students, the application process is the same as for UK students.

However, if you are an international student finishing your high school exams and it's your first degree in the UK, you will need to take one of the foundation programmes - for example, A-levels and an English language course. It will help you fill in any academic gaps you might have, improve your English, prepare you for the possible initial culture shock in the future, and increase your chances of admission.

Application process

Like their British counterparts, international students often apply through the University and College Admission Service (UCAS) which operates the application process for British universities and colleges. Your chosen university will review your application and decide whether to make a conditional offer (where the applicant will have to achieve certain grades) or an unconditional offer (where the place is guaranteed).

During the application process, students provide the following:

  • your education history (from secondary education onwards)

  • your course choices (up to five)

  • a personal statement detailing why you’d like to study with your chosen universities, and what skills and experience you bring to the table

  • a reference, or a written recommendation from a teacher, adviser or professional who knows you academically

Requirements for undergraduate students

Your level of English

As an international student, you must demonstrate a satisfactory standard of spoken and written English to support your application. This can be done by taking the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) Academic test.

The desired IELTS score for courses in the UK varies depending on the university and the particular degree course (make sure to check out the websites of the universities you're interested in to see specific requirements!). However, an IELTS score of 6.0 to 7, which roughly translates into B2-C1 on the Common European Framework of Reference (the highest IELTS bands being 8-9) is generally accepted by most UK universities.

Your grades

In the UK, Advanced level qualifications (known as A levels) are subject-based qualifications that can lead to university, further study, training, or work. You can normally study three or more A levels over two years. They’re usually assessed by a series of examinations taken after 13 years of education.

Cambridge International A Levels that have been designed specifically for international students are recognised by UCAS, UK universities and other establishments worldwide as equivalent, grade-for-grade to the A Levels taken by students in the UK. These qualifications are aligned with OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA), one of the major UK examination boards (also known as awarding bodies) that set and award these qualifications.

The Cambridge International A Level is reported on a grade scale from A* (highest) to E (minimum required performance). Most universities in the UK will require three good A-level grades for admission (AAB). However, highly selective institutions like Cambridge and Oxford ask for a range from A*A*A-AAA, depending on the course.

The good news is that you can take both a foundation programme and the IELTS exam remotely, without the need to incur additional costs by going to the UK.

Like traditional schools, online schools offer Cambridge International A Levels subjects in almost any combination, which allows for an individualised and flexible curriculum. Schools can also have IELTS preparation courses and provide support and assistance with the UCAS university application (including teacher references).

And, of course, you can take the IELTS exam from home or any private and well-lit space with a stable internet connection.

Want to know more about A-level exams preparation and British education in general? LEO International Online School offers a diverse and intensive two–year A-Level programme designed to prepare students for entry to universities in the United Kingdom. Our dedicated team provide support to students during the application process. Learn more about this programme and our other courses here, and don't hesitate to contact us at


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