What do universities mean when they ask for ‘written work’?

Once you get started on your university applications, you might run into written work requirements. Depending on the course in question, many UK universities ask their applicants to submit written work as part of their undergraduate application process. But what exactly do universities mean when they ask for written work, and how can you create something that stands out? 

This article breaks down ‘written work’ as part of the university admissions process, providing you with valuable insights, tips, and guidance to help you navigate this important component of your application. 

Also, at The Profs, we understand the importance of strong written work. We have expert tutors in a range of disciplines involving essays, articles, prose and/or poetry, hence they are well-versed in written works themselves as well as university admissions. Our talented and experienced tutor team are here to support you every step of the way.

What is written work for a university?

When universities ask for written work as part of the application process, they typically refer to samples of your creative writing or essays. This requirement allows them to assess your writing, critical thinking and communication skills. 

The specific guidelines and prompts often vary depending on your chosen university and course, but universities often look for well-structured and coherent pieces that showcase your intellectual engagement, unique thought, innovative, analytical aptitude, and ability to articulate ideas effectively. 

Submitting strongly written pieces can greatly contribute to a favourable evaluation of your application by highlighting your academic potential and ability to contribute to intellectual discourse within the university community.

So, well-curated written work is crucial as it can set you apart from other applicants and demonstrate your genuine interest and aptitude in your discipline. If you wish to receive an offer from your dream university, this could be the key!

Oftentimes, written works are required by courses within disciplines like English, Law, Languages, Politics, Philosophy and History.

The university application process: 

Usually, students applying to study an undergraduate course submit a UCAS application to 5 universities maximum. As standard practice, they will need to meet their university’s specified A level or IB (or equivalent) grade requirements as well as provide a personal statement. For certain courses, some universities might require the completion of an admissions test, portfolio and/or written work. 

So, it’s very important that you always check the specific requirements of your chosen course and university as well as any key dates (deadlines are subject to change each year)! Also, international students wanting to study in the UK should note that they might be asked to submit written work as part of their university application whilst UK students might not.

Universities that ask for written work as part of their undergraduate application process:

While many universities do not require written work for any of their courses, multiple do. Several prestigious institutions emphasise this component during the application process for some of the degrees they offer. Some notable universities that require or recommend written work include:

King’s College London
  • Politics
  • International Relations
London School of Economics (LSE)
  • Anthropology
  • Finance
  • International Development
  • International Relations
  • Law
  • Media and Communications
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Psychological and Behavioural Science
  • Social Policy
  • Sociology
University College London (UCL)
  • Law
  • Economics
University of Bristol
  • Philosophy
University of Cambridge
  • Education
  • English
  • History
  • History and Politics
  • Political Sciences
  • Land Economy
  • Law
  • Linguistics
  • Modern and Medieval Languages
  • Music
  • Psychological and Behavioural Sciences
  • Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion
University of Edinburgh
  • Modern Languages 
University of Manchester
  • Law
University of Oxford
  • English
  • English and Modern Languages
  • History and English
  • History of Art
  • History
  • Master of Business Administration
University of Portsmouth
  • English Literature
  • History
  • Law
University of York
  • History

Please note: It is important to check the entry requirements for your course yourself via the specific course page on the university website. This is because course entry requirements often change, as do the specific names of courses, and you should always be certain of what to expect. Also, note that this table is an example. So, it does not mention all the universities that ask for written work, nor does it include all the courses that each university offers that ask for written work.

What should written work for a university application include?

If you are able to include 2-3 pieces of work, you might want to show variety, such as different styles, topics or theories. Demonstrate your proficiency in conveying complex thoughts and arguments through your written work. 

Your examples should be recent and well-curated; ensure that you’re showcasing your best quality work. Remember, this is the first impression of your writing and knowledge so think about how best to present your work to a fresh pair of eyes. 

Your written work should be presented in a professional, logical and orderly way, including clear and consistent page numbers, word counts, and name or candidate number labels. 

Have a look at examples on your university’s website. What kind of spacing do they prefer? What font and size do they use for text? It is crucial to follow any given style guide instructions and abide by the specified word count.

When it comes to what your written work should contain, it really depends on your chosen course. Depending on your discipline, your written work could include:

  • Essays/articles.
  • Poetry.
  • Prose.
  • Script.
  • Responses to specific arguments/extracts/concepts.
  • Speech.

For example, an English Literature degree might ask for 1-3 essays within a specific word count on 1-3 literary subjects. 

Practical tips: The format of your written work

The format of your written work can differ. 

You might be asked to present your written work physically during an in-person interview. In this case, you will most likely spend a large portion of your interview discussing your piece/s and expanding on your argument further. 

In some cases, you might also have to produce the written work in a limited amount of time before or on the interview day. This could be a response to an unseen statement or extract. In this case, the format itself and keeping everything polished is probably less important than your ideas and concepts themselves. That said, you should still ensure that you’ve proofread your work and that the presentation is as professional as possible.

Alternatively, you might be asked to send previous written work online as part of your application process. In this situation, everything is expected to be polished to perfection. There is no accommodation for typos, errors, or bad formatting. Look over your work, correct it and improve it, then look over it again… and again.

Visual tips for written works: 

  • Adhere to your chosen university’s style guide and preferred format.
  • If you must present your work physically, consider factors like size, printing, binding, and how to keep it pristine e.g. a folder or sheet. 
  • Consider indentation, spacing and margins, as well as how your written work might display on another type of computer to your own. PDF (as opposed to Word doc) usually prevents funny displays from happening.
  • If your university allows it, it may make more sense to present your written work via a Google Doc or website link to a personal website. 

How do I create a written work for a university application?

Creating impressive written work requires careful planning and organisation. Here are the key steps to guide you through the process:

  • Research the specific requirements: Each university and/or degree may have its own guidelines and expectations regarding written work submissions. Thoroughly review your specific course page on your university website to understand what they are looking for. Make notes and create a plan that ticks off each expectation. 
  • Select your best work: Choose a diverse range of your most outstanding, recent, and relevant pieces that highlight your versatility and skills at higher education level. Consider creating something new especially if you feel like you could include something on a more relevant, interesting or unique topic, or if you think you could write something of better quality. 
  • Organise your written work: Structure your written work in a logical and cohesive manner. If multiple pieces have to be in the same document, ensure that each separate piece is titled clearly. Consider using a content table, tabs and/or sections to categorise your work, making it easier for reviewers to navigate and appreciate your written work. Keep things simple as you have limited characters/words so you want to make your written work as easy to read and understand as possible.
  • Seek feedback: Make sure that you show your written work to peers and teachers at your school or college who can offer you constructive feedback. Ideally, talk to professionals in your field. Their input can help you refine and polish your work for maximum impact.

5 Top tips for preparing written work

1. Start early: 

Creating, editing and/or collating impressive written work takes time. Begin the process well in advance to allow for careful selection, organisation, and refinement of your work – or the chance you might want/need to create something from scratch. You might also find that the different universities you’re applying to ask for different things. Plus you need to allow time for people to look at your written work and give you feedback, and for you to make alterations. 

2. Tailor your written work: 

Your written work should speak specifically to your chosen discipline and degree programme. Research the specific requirements of each university and tailor your written work accordingly. Highlight the skills and experiences that align with their expectations and demonstrate your suitability for the course. 

That said, don’t be afraid to go outside the box. If you’re submitting an essay for English Literature or Law, you might submit an interdisciplinary essay which also analyses a historical, philosophical or sociological topic. Similarly, it might not be good to only submit work from school on overdone topics – maybe you have something more original from your free time or an extracurricular which showcases independent thought. Just remember to have your work assessed by a teacher before submitting it!

Remember, uniqueness is essential. Universities see hundreds of written works that are amazing but almost identical. Yours needs to be different to stand out. 

3. Showcase your passion:

Choose pieces that genuinely reflect your passion and enthusiasm for your chosen field. Admissions officers are looking for candidates who are genuinely engaged in their subject area. Eagerness and willingness for your subject are valued characteristics by universities. 

You can prove commitment to your subject by analysing current affairs/debates, new novels, new articles, exhibitions, modern relevant scholars/figures, documentaries and/or films that relate to your discussion in your written work. Show your passion and innovation!

4. Challenge yourself:

It’s important to experiment, take risks and challenge yourself. Even if that means you make some mistakes. This shows you will be a student who takes all they can get from their degree. Universities are often interested to see how you learned and improved from your mistakes and that you’re not afraid of going against the grain in your work. 

Your written work is supposed to prove that you’re a work in progress with amazing potential, not that you’re perfect. 

Please note: Universities are looking for heart and narrative. Can a stranger understand your way of thinking and is it interesting? An impactful beginning and end will strengthen your written work.

5. Practice self-reflection: 

Use your written work as an opportunity for self-reflection. Evaluate yourself alongside your written work. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your work, and be prepared to discuss and articulate your creative choices during any future interviews.

How we can help

Here at The Profs, university applications are our thing! We know exactly how to create the perfect written work to boost your application and maximise your chances of success. That’s why 95% of our students get into their first or second-choice universities. 

Want to join the winning team? Reach out to our friendly, expert tutors! Your dream university awaits.


What written work should I submit to Cambridge?

Cambridge typically considers timed practice essays completed for A level English Literature or History courses. Submitting exemplary written work from these areas can support an application to Humanities programmes.

What is the deadline for submitting the written work at Oxford University?

Oxford University usually requires submission of written work by mid-January each year. Applicants should confirm the exact deadline with their chosen college.

What is the word limit for written work at Oxford?

Essays written for Oxford in response to provided prompts are generally expected to be approximately 1,500 words in length. Adhering to this guideline demonstrates an applicant’s ability to construct a well-developed argument constrained by standard parameters. However, you should check the exact word limit with your specific course and college.

How important is written work for Oxford and Cambridge?

Written submissions carry meaningful weight in Oxford and Cambridge’s comprehensive evaluation of candidates. Displaying strong written communication skills through polished, thoughtful work samples aligns with the university’s emphasis on academic potential and preparedness for rigorous coursework.

How long should written work be for a university application?

The length of a university written work can vary depending on the specific requirements of your course and institution. There is usually a maximum word/character count as well as a guideline on how many individual pieces you can send. It’s crucial to check the guidelines specific to your course/university and adhere to them to ensure that your written work is considered by the admissions team.

How much does it cost to submit a written work to a university?

Undergraduate and postgraduate candidates usually have to pay an application fee, whether they’re applying through the UCAS application form or directly to the university. If you are required to submit a written work this will be part of your application and it will be covered by the application fee – it will not be a separate cost. 

From application fees to tuition and living costs – universities, independent schemes/institutions, and student finance usually have support in place to offer waivers, grants, scholarships, and/or loans to students in need. This often includes an application fee waiver.