Understanding UK universities’ acceptance rates

If you’d like to go to university, you must understand acceptance rates so that you can consider your chances with universities and plan how to tackle their acceptance rates. 

This article runs through how acceptance rates work, along with which universities have the lowest and highest acceptance rates. 

Here, at The Profs, we are university admissions experts so we’ll also give you an inside scoop on how to beat acceptance rates! And remember, if you’ve got your heart set on getting into university against all odds, or on a specific high-flying university, we can help you triple your success rate.

Over 95% of our students get into their first and second-choice universities. Why not join them?


What is a university acceptance rate?

In its simplest form, the university acceptance rate refers to the percentage of applicants who become admitted students to a particular university or programme. It is an important metric that reflects the level of competitiveness and selectivity of an institution. Generally, a lower acceptance rate indicates a higher level of competition, as universities receive a large number of applications but have limited spots available.

It is essential to understand that acceptance rates can vary significantly depending on various factors. Prestigious universities or highly sought-after programmes often have lower acceptance rates due to their rigorous admission criteria and limited capacity. On the other hand, universities with higher acceptance rates may be more inclusive or have specific enrollment goals.

However, it’s important to note that acceptance rates can sometimes be misleading. For example, if a top university deems difficult and expensive admission tests crucial for a large proportion of their programmes, this could inflate their average acceptance rate as fewer students are eligible to apply for admission and the ones that do, are more likely to be suitable for an offer. 

Whilst a university’s acceptance rate provides insights into its selectivity, it should not be the sole determinant of your decision-making process. It is crucial to consider other factors such as academic fit, programme offerings, faculty expertise, campus culture, and resources available. Remember, the right university for you aligns with your academic goals, personal aspirations, and learning style.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that acceptance rates can fluctuate from year to year due to various factors, including changes in application volume, institutional priorities, and external circumstances. Therefore, it is always recommended to research and verify the most up-to-date information directly from the university’s official sources.

Confused or need guidance? Chat with our expert team. We can help you choose the right university for you and get your offer!

What are the types of acceptance rates?

There are a few ways to calculate acceptance rates. The most common two are application-to-offer (offer rate) and application-to-admittance (admission rate). 

The latter is the most important as it reflects the complete picture. Acceptance rates based on application-to-offer are generally a little misleading as they are higher than acceptance rates based on application-to-admittance. This is because many students will not meet their offer requirements, or even if they do, they may decline their offer. 

When doing your research, remember that there is a difference between acceptance statistics and admission statistics!

What are the types of offers a university makes?

There are two types of offers a UK university can make:

  • A conditional offer: This type of offer comes with certain conditions that must be met by the applicant. These conditions typically revolve around achieving specific academic requirements, such as obtaining certain grades in final exams or completing prerequisite courses e.g. an offer based on you achieving an AAB with an A in Maths. Conditional offers are contingent upon the successful fulfilment of these conditions outlined by the university. Once the conditions are met, the offer becomes unconditional, and the applicant can confidently secure their place at the university.
  • An unconditional offer: An unconditional offer is an offer of admission that does not come with any specific conditions or requirements. It signifies that the university has assessed the applicant’s qualifications and academic background, determining that they have met all the necessary criteria for acceptance. Unlike a conditional offer, an unconditional offer assures the applicant of their place at the university without any additional conditions to fulfil.

It’s important to note that the prevalence of conditional and unconditional offers can vary among universities and programmes. Some institutions may predominantly issue conditional offers to ensure that applicants meet specific academic standards before finalising their admissions. Others may extend a mix of conditional and unconditional offers, considering various factors such as academic achievements, personal statements, references, and interviews.

While an unconditional offer may seem desirable due to the certainty it provides, it is crucial to carefully evaluate all aspects of the university and programme before making a decision. Consider factors such as the reputation of the institution, the compatibility of the programme with your academic goals, and the overall learning environment. Remember, the aim is to choose a university that aligns with your aspirations and offers the best opportunities for personal and academic growth.

Please note: International applicants are most likely to receive an unconditional offer.

Confused or need guidance? Chat with our expert team. We can help you choose the right university for you and get you your offer!

The best UK universities and their acceptance rates

Below are 21 of the best universities in the UK, listed in alphabetical order, along with their rankings and undergraduate acceptance rates. 

Undergraduate acceptance rates can be a great indicator of how prestigious and competitive the university is, even for postgraduate applicants. However, it’s worth noting that postgraduate acceptance rates are usually higher for a multitude of reasons, with inflation being one (as mentioned earlier). 

Also note that some top universities, like LBS (London Business School), are not included in the table because they are exclusively postgraduate universities.

Please click on any of the rankings or acceptance rates to view the source.

UniversitiesUK rankingAcceptance rate
Durham University8th19%
Imperial College London3rd10%
King’s College London6th8%
Lancaster University10th10%
London School of Economics (LSE)7th12%
Loughborough University7th11%
University College London (UCL)4th10.62%
University of Bath5th10-20%
University of Birmingham14th13.8%
University of Bristol9th12.5%
University of Cambridge2nd15.8%
University of Edinburgh5th8%
University of Exeter15th16.8%
University of Glasgow10th15.6%
University of Manchester8th12.5%
University of Oxford1st13%
University of Southampton 17th77-84%
University of St Andrews4th17.6%
University of Surrey13th65%
University of Warwick11th15%
University of York17th20%

Note: All university rankings are from 2023 or 2024, provided by the University Guide, Times Higher Education or QS World Rankings. This table of acceptance rates aims to refer to application-to-admittance, rather than application-to-offer; the numbers are from 2019 to 2023. Also, all universities are obligated to provide information on the demographics of their student bodies, so if you’re interested in this please check the university’s website directly.

Click on the universities in the table to access blogs with insider advice on how to get into them!

Dreaming of getting into a top university with a competitive acceptance rate like the ones above? We are who to talk to. Here, at The Profs, we are university admissions experts with a wealth of experience and success stories to back us.

Interested in going to university in the United States? America is home to an abundance of prestigious Ivy League schools, colleges and universities, like Harvard University and Cornell. Selective colleges and elite universities like these require high standardised test scores (like the ACT score) and have a low number of accepted students in comparison to the number that apply. To better understand US college admissions or smash the process read our previous article on the Common App and how to get into US universities, or reach out to our expert US admissions team!

Which university has the lowest acceptance rate?

According to recent data, the UK universities from the table above with the lowest acceptance rates are King’s College London and the University of Edinburgh. This would suggest that they are two of the most competitive UK universities to get into. However, whilst both are extremely good universities with great rankings, they are not ranked in the top three best UK universities. 

This is where acceptance rates need to be considered with a pinch of salt, as it is reasonably safe to assume that getting an offer from Oxbridge might be slightly more difficult. As mentioned earlier, universities like Oxford and Cambridge are likely to have slightly inflated acceptance rates due to how many of their courses require admissions tests. Similarly, Oxbridge has higher application fees and their student costs are much higher. Even though there is financial aid available, it is not a given and can be competitive, so this might also reduce applications from ineligible candidates.

Need help navigating the world of university admissions and acceptance rates? Chat with our team.

Which universities have the highest acceptance rates?

We’ve already covered the 21 top-ranked UK universities and their acceptance rates, which tend to be low as they are ultra-competitive. 

So, check out the UK’s less competitive universities. The table below details some of the universities in the UK with the highest acceptance rates:

UniversityUK rankingAcceptance rate
University of Sussex50th61%
St Mary’s University, Twickenham86th75%
University of Leicester 38th72%
University of Portsmouth47th69%
Cardiff Metropolitan University71st64%

You might notice that the University of Southampton and the University of Surrey were reported to have similar acceptance rates to the universities in this table despite being highly ranked UK universities!

Remember, aim for the university you want – one that is right for you! Don’t base your applications around universities that appear “easier to get into.” We can help you achieve your dreams! Chat with our experts.

How to beat the acceptance rates

Here are some of our insider tips regarding how to combat low acceptance rates!

  • Start early: Begin your university preparation as early as possible, exploring different universities, programmes, and their admission requirements. This will allow you ample time to research and make informed decisions. If you’re applying for a postgraduate course then you should try to submit your application as early as possible, as most postgraduate courses accept applications throughout the year meaning that they can often operate on a first-come-first-serve basis. We can help you structure your time and prepare.
  • Focus on ticking your university’s boxes: Meet their entry requirements for predicted grades in specific subjects and attain their required score in any admissions tests. Familiarise yourself with the test requirements, practice extensively, and aim for high scores to enhance your application. It’s even better if you can surpass their required grades so work diligently to achieve your best. We have expert tutors for A levels, IB and admissions tests who can help you get top grades!
  • Broaden your options: Apply to various universities, including those with slightly higher acceptance rates. Having a diverse list of options increases your chances of receiving multiple offers.
  • Highlight your strengths and achievements: Showcase your unique skills, talents, awards, and achievements in your application. This helps you stand out from the crowd and demonstrates your potential to contribute to the university community. It’s a good idea to research your university’s ethos, culture and most celebrated clubs so that you make references indicating that you’re a good fit.
  • Craft a compelling personal statement: Your personal statement is an opportunity to showcase your passion for your chosen field of study, your relevant experiences, and your future aspirations. Take the time to write a well-crafted, tailored personal statement that captures the attention of admissions officers. You want to hand in something unique that sounds genuinely enthusiastic, curious and articulate! Competitive universities tend to look for students with potential who will not waiver in their dedication. We have experienced and dedicated personal statement and writing tutors who can help you create the perfect personal statement!
  • Obtain strong letters of recommendation: Request letters of recommendation from teachers, mentors, or employers who know you well and teach you in your discipline. Pick someone who can speak to your abilities, character, and potential. These letters can provide valuable insights into your capabilities and strengths.
  • Attend university open days and events: Take advantage of university open days and events to visit campuses, meet faculty members, and gain a deeper understanding of the programs and facilities. This can help you make informed decisions and demonstrate your interest in the institution. It’s also great if you can drop a hint somewhere that you’ve visited the campus in person to highlight that this university is your top choice.
  • Demonstrate relevant experience: Gain practical experience or engage in relevant activities related to your field of interest. This could include internships, volunteering, research projects, or participation in relevant competitions or clubs. Such experiences can demonstrate your dedication and commitment to your chosen field. You want to talk about relevant accomplishments in extracurricular activities, independent study, and work experience. Things like this can help you stand out from the crowd as sometimes good grades aren’t enough on their own.
  • Nail the interviews: If interviews are part of the admissions process, this is often what makes or breaks your offer so practice and prepare thoroughly. Research common interview questions, reflect on your experiences and goals, and practice articulating your thoughts and ideas confidently. Don’t forget to chat with our expert interview coaches who have tonnes of experience in university admission interviews. 

Last but not least, seek support from our expert admissions consultants who can provide personalised advice, review your application materials, and help you present your best self to admissions committees. We have insider knowledge of university admissions for top institutions. That’s why 95% of our students successfully bag their offer to their first or second choice university! Let’s get you in.

For insider tips and tricks on how to get into a prestigious university without meeting its entry requirements, check out our previous articles:

Remember, if you’re aiming for the absolute top, it doesn’t hurt to apply to one or two safety schools with slightly less competition and lower entry requirements.

Can universities accept lower grades?

In short, yes. Many universities, even top universities, accept candidates with grades that are lower than their entry requirements. This could be for the following reasons:

  • They are a strong candidate in other areas. For example, they could have other academic accomplishments/qualifications, impressive extracurricular activities, outstanding work experience, alternative awards, an amazing personal statement,  and/or a very strong performance in their interview.
  • The university has not filled its required number of seats for a programme. Many universities are allotted a certain number of seats for their courses to keep them going. If it’s a less popular course, they might be willing to turn a blind eye to a few lower grades to meet the number of students required.
  • Recognition of a student’s extenuating circumstances. UK universities understand that students may face unforeseen challenges or extenuating circumstances that may have impacted their academic performance. In such cases, universities may exercise flexibility and consider accepting students with lower grades if they can provide valid explanations and evidence of these circumstances.
  • Universities may look beyond grades and consider the potential and motivation of a student. If an applicant showcases exceptional skills, talents, or experiences that demonstrate their ability to succeed academically despite lower grades, universities may be willing to make exceptions and offer admission.
  • The student meets the university’s contextual entry requirements, which are lower than their standard entry requirements. Some UK universities have contextual or holistic admissions policies in place. These policies take into account an applicant’s background, educational context, socio-economic factors, and other relevant information. This approach allows universities to consider a student’s overall potential and suitability, rather than solely relying on grades.
  • The student demonstrates clear improvement or upward trajectory in their academic performance over time. Universities may consider the trend and acknowledge the effort and dedication put forth. A consistent upward trajectory can indicate a student’s ability to overcome challenges and excel in higher education.
  • The student comes from a diverse or underrepresented background. UK universities strive to create diverse and inclusive learning environments. They may actively seek students from underrepresented backgrounds or those who bring unique perspectives to the campus community. In such cases, universities may be more open to accepting students with lower grades but exceptional qualities or experiences that contribute to diversity.
  • Some universities offer discretionary or alternative entry routes for students who apply but do not meet the standard entry requirements. These routes may involve foundation courses, access programs, or bridging courses that allow students to demonstrate their potential and acquire necessary skills before progressing to the desired degree programme.

Here, at The Profs, we have lots of experience helping students get the grades they need to get into their top choice university. We’re also experts at helping students craft compelling and persuasive applications, even when they might not completely meet the entry requirements. Contact our team of admissions experts to get started.

Secure your future success 

At The Profs, we understand that the journey to university acceptance can be overwhelming. That’s why we offer comprehensive support through our experienced admissions tutors who specialise in various areas, including Oxbridge admissions, undergraduate admissions, postgraduate admissions, MBA admissions, medical admissions, and US admissions. 

Our dedicated tutors can guide you through the application process, help you craft compelling personal statements, prepare for interviews, and maximise your chances of securing a place at your dream university. Don’t believe us? Check out our proven track record of helping students reach their full potential!

Remember, the university acceptance rate is just one piece of the puzzle. With the right guidance, determination, and academic support, you can unlock your potential and pave the way for a successful educational journey. Trust The Profs to be your partner in achieving your academic goals!