What to Do if You Don’t Meet UCL’s Entry Requirements

UCL has become one of the most prestigious universities in the world, which is why it has a low acceptance rate of 12% (based on data from UCAS). If you’re worried that you don’t meet UCL’s requirements, there are some tips and tricks that could tip the scales in your favour. Let’s break them down.

UCL’s basic criteria considers your grades, subject choices, the quality of your application, your experience, your English language proficiency, and your interview (if you have one). This article will explore each of these factors, helping you to identify which areas you might be lacking and to equip you with the know-how to combat this.

Contents:

    1. What is the criteria to get into UCL?
    2. Understanding UCL’s entry requirements for undergraduates
    3. Understanding UCL’s entry requirements for postgraduates
    4. What should I do if I don’t meet UCL’s Entry Requirements, and how do I get in?

What are the criteria to get into UCL?

UCL is ranked 4th in the UK by Times Higher Education (2023) and 9th in the world by QS World University Rankings (2024). As one of the best Russell Group universities, UCL can afford to be choosey. Hence, it runs a competitive admissions process. 

Meeting or exceeding UCL’s entry requirements doesn’t guarantee you an offer. You are considered in relation to the standard of applicants that year.

When it comes to entry requirements, UCL considers a variety of factors:

  • Grades: UCL’s prestigious university ranking means that it can ask for higher grades than other UK universities. So, check whether your grades are up to par!
  • Subject choices: Some courses at UCL might deem it essential that you’ve studied X or Y subjects. In other cases, they might recommend specific subjects. Beyond what is mandatory or advised, it’s important that your subject choices convey a genuine interest in your chosen degree, as well as applicable knowledge, and relevant capability.
  • Your application: Your personal statement (including your references, CV, portfolio, and/or written work if applicable) should demonstrate your suitability for both UCL and your chosen degree. It should prove that you are motivated and impassioned by the course.
  • Your experience: Relevant work experience, extracurriculars, and extra/other qualifications might give you an edge over other students or make up for other areas in which you lack. Lived experience can help strengthen your application, though the weight this holds varies depending on the course. 
  • English language ability: If you are an international student, UCL might ask you for a qualification proving your proficiency in English. The expected level of proficiency depends on your chosen course.
  • Your interview: You might be interviewed depending on your chosen programme. Many universities do not interview their applicants so this is an extra step that adds some further effort and pressure to the process. However, it also gives you a valuable opportunity to stand out if your application on paper is not as strong as your peers!

It’s important that you familiarise yourself with UCL’s application process as much as possible, including the structure, so that you can prepare equally for every step and avoid mistakes. Check the page for your chosen course and ensure that you’re aware of everything that will be expected from you. If it’s unclear, contact your department.

UCL claims to take a holistic approach when making decisions on applications because they consider your qualifications (achieved and predicted), personal statement (with any portfolio or written work), references, and interview (if applicable). So, each step holds weight and is important.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the factors you’ve got to consider? Or just generally daunted by UCL’s admissions process? Here at The Profs, we have amazing admissions tutors, with a proven track record of tripling their students’ chances of success. They can help you with meeting the entry requirements, as well as preparing your perfect application. Don’t stress, just reach out to our friendly team for an expert helping hand. 

Also, check out our previous articles:

Understanding UCL’s entry requirements for undergraduates

First thing’s first, you need to understand UCL’s expectations. We have made a table where you can see the university’s criteria for each of its undergraduate courses. Just click below to check it out:

View Table
Can’t find your subject? Click here to find your missing course.

Are you an international student? Check out UCL’s help page for international students where you can find your specific country of residence as well as the coinciding entry requirements. 

Understanding UCL’s entry requirements for postgraduates

Applying for a postgraduate course is completely different to applying for an undergraduate course. UCL considers a new set of criteria, and it varies according to the course. We have made a table where you can see the university’s criteria for each of its postgraduate courses. Just click below to check it out:

View Table

Can’t find your subject? Click here to find your missing course.

Some of Imperial College London’s courses on the postgraduate table above are offered as Master’s programmes (taught and/or research) as well as PhD programmes so application expectations may differ depending on which one of these you are pursuing. Hence, it’s important to check specific application details for yourself!

Are you an international student? UCL recognises international qualifications and/or experience that is equivalent to their UK entry requirements. Check out UCL’s help page for international services where you can find your specific country of residence as well as the coinciding entry requirements.

Also note that there are application fees for undergraduates and postgraduates. Find out more, as well as waivers to this, here.

Check out our previous articles on how to apply for a UCL Masters and getting into UCL postgraduate

What should I do if I don’t meet UCL’s Entry Requirements, and how do I get in?

We have some insider advice to share if you don’t meet UCL’s entry requirements. UCL might not necessarily be beyond your reach! Below is a breakdown of what you could be lacking regarding UCL’s entry criteria, and how to tackle this.

Insider tip: When it comes to subject combinations, UCL is a little more flexible than universities like LSE and Oxbridge because it is a multi-disciplinary university that prides itself on its interdisciplinary approach. So, if you are taking one subject seemingly totally unrelated from your chosen course, it shouldn’t weaken your application if you can explain how it links to your other relevant subjects and has equipped you with the necessary skills for your degree. Demonstrate that there are links within the bigger picture. UCL offers a lot of courses combining unlikely subjects, so you can show that you think in the same way as UCL, or even apply for one of their niche courses.

Warning: You will not increase your chances of getting into a course at UCL by applying to as many courses there as possible. UCL specifically states (on multiple of its course pages):

  • Undergraduates: Multiple applications to the same department will not be considered.
  • Most programmes at UCL don’t accept an additional personal statement. 
  • Postgraduate: Applicants can apply for a maximum of two graduate programmes (maximum of one application for the Law LLM) in any application cycle. 

Hence, the quality of your application is more important than the quantity of applications and you could decrease your chance of admission by applying to several courses at UCL.

1) If your subject choices don’t align with UCL’s expectations

The subject combination you take can be used to determine whether you’re a suitable candidate for your chosen course as well as to assess your passion and relevant capability. If your grades meet/exceed UCL’s requirements but you’re not taking “required” subjects then you might not be considered. However, if you are not taking “preferred” subjects then you might still be able to build a strong application by pursuing these subjects in alternative ways outside of A level/IB.

If your grades aren’t amazing then you should ensure that you are taking the subjects deemed “useful” and/or “preferred” by your chosen course to boost your chances of getting in (however this is unlikely to help you if your grades fall substantially below UCL’s requirements).

Many of UCL’s undergraduate courses require applicants to take at least 2 subjects from UCL’s preferred subject list. Even if your course does not specify this, it is definitely still worth fulfilling this to make yourself a more attractive candidate for UCL.

Even if UCL offers little to no guidance on required/recommended subjects for your chosen course, you should ensure that your subject combination makes sense for what you’re choosing so that you seem like you know what you want to do. Generally, UCL values students with foreign language and critical thinking skills.

UCL ranks in the global top 10 for the following subjects (2023): Education (1), Architecture & Built Environment (1), Archaeology (3), Anthropology (4), Pharmacy & Pharmacology (4), Psychology (5), Geography (6), Medicine (6), Anatomy & Physiology (6), and Biological Sciences (8).

Insider tip: UCL has a bunch of unique undergraduate and postgraduate courses, such as, Chemistry with a European Language’, ‘German and Russian’, ‘Human Sciences and Evolution’, ‘Artificial Intelligence Enabled Healthcare’ or ‘the Dual Law degree (UCL/HKU). If you choose one of these courses and use your personal statement to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of it as well as passion, you can really stand out!

Insider tip (postgraduates): Don’t simply articulate that your undergraduate course is in the same subject as your chosen postgraduate course and that you want to continue learning within this area. This is obvious. Say how your undergraduate course differs from your postgraduate course and why you need this second degree. How will it expand your knowledge and why is this important? Why do you need to do that?  

Recovery tips: What can I do if I don’t meet the subject requirements?

It is important to recognise that if a certain subject is required, it might be worth your time to take the missing subject. 

Sometimes there are fast-track options available, such as using school holidays to take classes and revise. Alternatively, you can get a tutor, and invest time and effort outside of school into taking the added subject. If you implement these strategies, you might be able to catch up in time for the exam/coursework deadlines or proceed with later deadlines. If your school will not facilitate you adding this subject to your timetable, they might still allow you to sit the exams. If not, you might be able to find an external institution to sit the exams with. 

If you’re applying for a postgraduate course with an undergraduate degree in the “wrong” subject, your solution might involve: enrolling in a conversion course, completing a course at UCL’s Summer School, or completing a relevant supplementary qualification. You could also talk about the modules you did in X subject that covered X modules from your missing subject. 

Insider tip: If you haven’t taken an essential subject for your chosen course, or you failed it, it might be worth taking a foundation course. Unlike many other top universities, UCL considers students who have a foundation degree in lieu of A levels. You would still need to plead your case as UCL considers students who have enrolled on or completed a foundation course in the UK or in another country on a case-by-case basis. So, it’s not certain they would consider you. Your best bet is if you can take one of UCL’s two foundation courses: Undergraduate Preparatory Certificate for Science and Engineering (UPCSE) or Undergraduate Preparatory Certificate for the Humanities (UPCH). If you are predicted to meet the entry requirements (and write a clearly relevant personal statement) you are guaranteed an offer on over 160 UCL degrees! Note: you are not eligible for these courses if you have A levels.

What if I can’t get a grade in my missing subject? 

It is definitely worth explaining to UCL why you have not studied a required subject. For example, if your chosen course requires you to have studied Ancient/Classical Greek or Latin, and your school doesn’t offer this subject, you should flag this in your application. Similarly, if you tried to enrol in a required subject and your school wouldn’t let you, you should note this in your application. For UCL’s Economics BSc, Economics is required if offered, so it is definitely worth flagging if you don’t have this option. If your referee can mention this for you, that is ideal, but if not, ensure that you do so yourself. UCL has contextual entry requirements precisely for situations where students lack advantages and opportunities. You can check the contextual requirements for courses on our tables. Don’t ignore what’s missing, try to confront it! 

Another tip for if you are missing a required subject is: to try to find a related extra qualification that you can complete which can stand in for the missing one. For example, those that are not taking Maths but want to get into a Science course that requires or recommends a grade in this might consider taking the TMUA, MOOCs, UK Maths Challenge or STEP to demonstrate their mathematical ability and bolster their application. Or a student applying for a postgraduate degree in a business discipline despite not having studied any quantitative subjects might consider taking the GMAT/GRE to make up for this. If you do this, ensure that you articulate how learning outside of school has prepared you for your degree. 

Insider tip: If you can’t get a grade in your missing subject try to at least take relevant modules in that subject. Maybe your teacher/professor will let you sit in on some classes so that you can still learn and make notes. Or perhaps you have already taken relevant modules within your existing subjects/degree. Flagging this will give UCL confidence that you have learned about the desired subject even though you don’t have an official grade in it. Pursuing it outside of your usual classes will also demonstrate passion, work ethos, and initiative. 

Recovery tips for if you don’t meet subject recommendations: 

Finally, you might find that your subject profile does not clash with the subject requirements for your desired UCL course, but only the recommended/favoured subjects. In this case, taking another A level course might not be wise at all, nor would be discussing the missing favoured subject in your application. However, it is never a waste of time to take a relevant extra qualification that could bolster your application and show capability in UCL’s recommended subject/s. 

UCL is heavily competitive, so anything that you can do to present yourself as the ideal candidate for their course is advised. If most of the successful applicants for your chosen UCL course have taken History or a Foreign Language and you are without this, you should pursue something along these lines outside of your curriculum and flag that in your application. For example, you could join a History society and do independent research/work for the History department or take a Language course outside of school and complete an international language qualification. If your course favours students who have studied Economics, attend relevant talks and try getting involved in fundraising, or better yet, something entrepreneurial.

Insider tip 1: Go beyond to demonstrate keen interest and ability in your course. Research the optional modules you’ll have to choose from and say which ones you’d choose and why.

Insider tip 2: If you don’t meet the standard entry requirements for your chosen course, it’s worth contacting the department to check whether you are (or can become) eligible through other qualifications and/or experience. This is because UCL often accepts equivalent or related qualifications and/or work experience in lieu of standard entry requirements.

2) Underestimated factors that carry weight

Your application is not about how great you are:

Surprisingly, a lot of applicants forget to mention what they intend to do with their degree as well as why they are applying, or why they are a good student for their chosen course at this university. This, however, is exactly what the application is supposed to focus on, rather than just proving why you’re great. 

UCL cares about their students having a genuine interest in and passion for their courses so your application is the perfect chance for you to prove this to them. Show UCL that you’re well-suited to their course and the university itself. Explain why you are the best candidate whilst remaining truthful. 

Insider tip 1: Try to link your course to UCL. Why is UCL the best-equipped institution for you to pursue this programme? For example, a UCL graduate on our team at The Profs wrote this in their personal statement regarding studying Comparative Literature: ‘Comparative Literature should consider a multitude of literary cultures, and translations between languages; UCL is equipped with the expansive knowledge to provide this – as it offers a vast, diverse array of languages and cultures.’ They made this stronger by going on to discuss Literature through a sociological lens and the importance of studying non-western literature. If you’re applying to a course with an international focus, it’s great if you can draw a link between that and UCL’s international standing. 

Insider tip (postgraduate): You will usually be asked for the following, and these factors should be just as polished and prepared as your personal statement: CV (have you got the background to execute this work to a world-class standard of excellence?), project proposal (hoes this have academic merit for new knowledge?) and prospective supervisor (does the department have the expertise to advise on this research?). Start your application early and put just as much time and consideration into these steps as your personal statement.

UCL graduate (2022): “Proving dedication and love for your subject is better than simply saying how you’ve always naturally excelled at it. You don’t want to seem like a talented passenger who ended up here by chance. You want to show a clear sense of direction. I even said that I loved my subject despite the hardships I’d face with it as I have a learning difficulty which has made it challenging. I expressed how this actually motivated me even more to excel. Accordingly, I have a robust academic record to support this.”

Perfect your personal statement

Your personal statement is supposed to demonstrate passion. However, it is best to do this without saying “I am passionate about X” like most other students. Why would you like to study this subject, why do you love this subject, and why should this department as well as UCL take you on as a student? Speak from the heart and talk with motivation. Remain short, focused and concise: you should constantly be talking about your course. Your subject is the only thing your personal statement should be about so allow this to structure your writing and remain relevant. Any achievements, activities, and/or soft skills should only be mentioned in the context of your subject. 

Demonstrate that you’ll be a good student for the next 3-4 years by showing that you’re an analytical and critical thinker, who’s willing to learn and has good time-management skills (all characteristics specifically mentioned by UCL). UCL also values strong communication skills so try to showcase this in your experiences and writing. It’s even better if you can mention more transferable skills you’ve acquired and how they are transferable. It’s also important that you indicate your pathway or elective within your course (if applicable) to show that you know your intentions with this course and you’ve done your research.

Mentioning one or two things that you participated in over a long period is usually better than mentioning lots of short-term stuff because you are more likely to demonstrate excellence and offer a detailed representation of fewer things that you were committed to. 

UCL claims they “integrate [their] education, research, innovation and enterprise for the long-term benefit of humanity.” Thus, a mission statement within your personal statement is doubly important for UCL. What are your values and what is your personal idea of success? Try to align this with UCL’s ambition of benefiting humanity. If UCL loves your mission statement, they won’t want to turn you down e.g. UCL might feel they’re contradicting their ethos to reject a medicine student who dreams of one day opening a free healthcare clinic in Costa Rica.

Please note: Don’t waste time talking about grades! UCL will see your grades when they look at your academic transcripts and predicted grades.

Insider tips from UCL students and graduates: 

  • Tell UCL how you will contribute to the school in a positive way. 
  • Don’t introduce yourself as another typical hardworking student – how are you interesting or unique?
  • Actually tell UCL who you are. Be truthful.
  • Remain specific and to the point.
  • Tell them why you’re suited to a multidisciplinary university, especially if your subject is interdisciplinary. How would your research complement this?
  • UCL grounds itself in a global context and presents itself as an international university. How do you fit into this? Are you globally ambitious? If you have international links and/or experiences, these could be presented in a relevant way to show why you’re a good fit for UCL’s culture and that you have applicable skills.
  • Will your research contribute to global understanding?
  • Presenting yourself as an innovative thinker, especially if this can be backed up with an example, is attractive to UCL and fits its ethos.
  • Show that you’re genuinely thirsty for knowledge and curious about your chosen field.
  • Demonstrate that you’re a creative student who can use logical reasoning to solve complex problems. Prove that you have the capacity to analyse information and offer innovative solutions. 
  • Your personal statement is personal. It isn’t about checking boxes, it’s more about showing you care and are interested in your degree. Tell UCL your worldview, passion, and what you hope to achieve with your degree. What do you expect from UCL and what do you want from it? How will this degree at UCL help to build your career?

Advice from a humanities professor at UCL: “My usual advice for personal statements (both undergraduate and postgraduate) is to emphasise the academic side of things, with specific reference to literature/films you have encountered and scholarship that has helped you analyse it and leave need-to-know extra-curricular stuff just to the final paragraph.”

Postgraduates should note that UCL’s personal statement is usually a little shorter than other universities. So, keep your focus on impact and what you will contribute. 

Remember, UCL does not systematically offer an interview component. Hence, you might not get the opportunity for an interview so there is A LOT of emphasis on your personal statement!

The Profs offer advice on crafting the perfect personal statement, just watch our video or read our previous blog on this subject.

You might also want to check out UCL’s Director of Admissions’ top tips and UCL’s Head of Undergraduate Admissions video on Applying to UCL via UCAS.

Note that all students applying to university for 2023, 2024 or 2025 will still be required to submit a UCAS personal statement as normal. However, from January 2025 onwards (October 2024, for Oxbridge applicants), there will be changes to the UCAS application process and students will no longer be required to write a personal statement. Instead, all applicants will answer a series of shorter, more tailored questions provided by UCAS. 

Demonstrate insider knowledge: 

Prove subject expertise. Show that your understanding of the course is beyond comprehensive by talking about very specific and complex concepts. The best way to do this is to do your research and go beyond the curriculum and A level understanding. If you take the time to read a large breadth of quality literature around your subject, you can reference academic texts or textbooks and analyse them to demonstrate that you are an independent knowledge-hunter and are able to work at university level. Be careful not to read the most popular texts that most students in your field might point to. Express something unique to your personal interests. Or find something unknown, underrated, niche, and/or peculiar to talk about. It’s important to demonstrate passion and knowledge for sub-subjects within your main subject.

When conducting your extra reading and research in your subject check out the variety of online courses (some are free) that UCL offers. You can demonstrate a genuine interest in UCL by mentioning that you took one of their courses

UCL is looking for motivated and enthusiastic applicants who have evidence of academic ability and deep interest in their subject. UCL especially values students that develop their learning beyond the classroom. Hence, any way that you can show you’ve researched your discipline and extended your knowledge beyond the syllabus will help to make you an attractive candidate for UCL.

Better yet, research your specific department, and discuss how you would contribute to their existing published research or accomplishments. If you really want to impress UCL, you could study the first 2-3 weeks of a first-year module for your chosen course and talk about this in your application to show that you are an independent learner that’s ahead of the competition. Generally, it’s good to show an understanding of what your chosen course involves and your potential lecturers. A lot of UCL’s postgraduate courses expect you to already have selected and/or contacted a supervisor.

Insider tip 1: UCL claims that their “distinctive approach to research” will “transform how the world is understood, how knowledge is created and shared and the way that global problems are solved.” How do your research methods or findings align with this goal? Demonstrate that you’re cohesive with UCL’s vision.

Insider tip 2: UCL is London’s Global University; it is concerned with the wider world, committed to changing it for the better, and aims to be publicly engaged in addressing real-world problems. Keep up to date with national and international current affairs relevant to your field. It can boost your application to link the outside world to your discipline. 

Talk end goals:

UCL likes to see that you have a serious career plan after you graduate and this is best explained at the end of your personal statement. Ensure that you outline ambitions that are specific, realistic, and will be aided by the degree.

UCL values applicants with a clear career plan because they want their students to continue on to get good jobs after university and maintain a strong UCL alumni network. UCL wants to know what you intend on doing after your degree, and if you have work experience, how this will help you in your degree as well as your future career and other goals. UCL wants to know why you need this degree. So, mention your career aspirations in your application and be specific. 

If you’re applying for a postgraduate degree, this is even more important. Why do you need to extend your studies and how will this postgraduate course help you to reach your goals in ways that your undergraduate course couldn’t? 

Insider tip: If you are applying for a course offered by the UCL School of Management (UCL’s business school), you should note that this part of UCL is based in Canary Wharf. Reference this in your application, showing interest and enthusiasm for the geographical networking and employment opportunities Canary Wharf poses. Show awareness of UCL being a well-connected institution across the world. This will demonstrate that you’re ambitious, thinking ahead and planning on using UCL to get employed.

Your work experience or professional experience (undergraduates):

UCL is a competitive university and it’s best to do all you can to stand out to maximise your chances. Expressing what skills you have learned from your work experience and how they will help you with your course will also make you a more attractive candidate. Moreover, work experience in a relevant industry to your chosen discipline can demonstrate your drive and commitment to the subject. 

Remember, context is important. Remain as relevant to your degree as possible. For example, if you’re applying for a degree in German, you might reference work experience in Germany to prove your fluency and ability to communicate in real-world situations. Generally, UCL values evidence of good communication and collaboration skills, so try to also highlight this.

Interested in pursuing a career in Biomedical Science or Scientific Research Science? To stand out, consider taking part in UCL’s GOS ICH Work Experience Scheme (for 16-18 year old pupils).

Insider tip: Get work experience at a prestigious institution/company and highlight that you are looking forward to working there or in the same field after university. This will show UCL that you have a career lined up after your degree to support their employment survey and alumni network.

Your work experience or professional experience (postgraduates):

For postgraduate courses at UCL, work experience or even professional experience is sometimes a requirement or recommended. Hence, it is very important to check your course’s entry requirements and make sure you complete what they ask and/or suggest. Even if work experience is not requested, it is a good idea to get some either way, to maximise your chances of getting into UCL. The level that this experience should be depends on the topic of your course and its requirements. Again, make sure that you stick to roles and industries that complement your course. Though, varied work experience is useful. 

Some of UCL’s courses are even willing to overlook grades falling below entry requirements where students have substantial relevant industry experience!

Don’t forget to mention the experience you might have picked up during your undergraduate course. UCL offers STS Studentships to undergraduate and taught postgraduate students. It is great if you are able to say you’ve done this (or something similar) as it proves you have some niche experience, but more importantly, it shows that you have initiative, motivation and passion. If you were a part of any university society, especially if you had a position such as president or treasurer, it could be advantageous to mention this.

Insider tip: Take a look at LinkedIn and Facebook. You can search there for senior students from the same school, country, or subject as you who completed a postgraduate course at UCL. Have a look to get an idea of their background. This will give you an idea of what kind of experience to pursue. Not to mention, you can reach out to them directly, network, and ask for advice or for an opportunity. Searching through UCL alumni is especially important if you are not applying with ideal grades as you can find graduates with similar grades to you and deduce from their profile what they might have done additionally to get in. However, minimum entrance requirements can vary year-to-year, so some profiles of UCL alumni could be misleading. Plus, people with subpar grades might opt-out of sharing them on their profiles.

Your extracurriculars:

Extracurriculars are not to be overlooked. For UCL, it is often beneficial to demonstrate that your chosen course is a personal interest of yours that goes beyond academia and why that is. And even better if you have proof to back this up.

Extracurriculars can be a great opportunity to boost your application. If the activities are related to your chosen subject, they can demonstrate genuine passion and interest in the subject. If you have any accomplishments within your extracurriculars, they can be evidence that you have talent, capability, and skills that will equip you for your degree. That said, don’t write ‘fluff’, check that your extracurriculars genuinely relate to your chosen course and strengthen your application. Ensure you add new experiences to your repertoire if you’re falling short in any areas of your application.

Here is a quick list of tips pertaining to extracurriculars when it comes to your application to UCL:

  • UCL views itself within the global context and aims to promote global understanding in all its activities. Hence, you could demonstrate cohesion with this if you’ve volunteered for an international Charities like Amnesty International, participated in World Challenge (or another form of volunteering abroad), took a language course abroad, or were part of the model UN at school or university.
  • UCL aspires to foster a lifelong community, so it could make you an attractive candidate to cite the societies you’ve participated in within the past as well as those you wish to become a part of at UCL. UCL has a bunch of niche events and societies so research them and talk about how you would like to get involved. Prove that you would be engaged with UCL’s community! Plus UCL is looking for students who will “make the most of the many opportunities being a UCL student affords them”, so show that that’s you!
  • UCL values innovation and open-mindedness so try to frame your extracurriculars through this lens. This should be easy with anything creative, against the grain, experimental, or led by the motivation of discovery. 
  • The power of extracurriculars is their ability to prove genuine passion. Watch a lot of documentaries or attend a lot of museum exhibitions on X subject? Mention it! Just be ready to answer any questions on this.
  • UCL values communication and collaboration skills, so any extracurriculars that demonstrate this are valuable.
  • When talking about your extracurriculars, ensure that you are tailoring what you say and how you say it to UCL. They want to know they’re your first choice as well as what you offer them. 
  • UCL is interested in how you think, as well as whether you’re engaged in current affairs and will fit in with their liberal and diverse campus. If you have attended political talks and events concerning BLM, LGTBQIA+, freedom of speech and/or Free Palestine etc, it’s definitely worth mentioning. If you care about any political causes and take an active role in fighting for them, this could be an important part of your application.

Timing (undergraduates):

Undergraduates should get started on their applications as soon as possible to ensure that they can dedicate maximum effort to it, and be familiar with all the steps expected from them, rather than rushing or being ill-prepared. However, applications will only be considered after the deadline. So applying early does not offer a higher chance of being admitted to UCL.

Timing (postgraduates): 

Postgraduate applications (unlike undergraduate applications) are on a rolling basis. Applications are considered from the opening date and courses remain open until they are full. Hence, UCL advises students to apply as early as possible due to competition. So, you want to be the first to submit; your personal deadline should be the opening date for applications. 

Insider tip: Applying early for postgraduate courses at UCL gives you a higher chance as there is more time and more staff available to read your application carefully. There are also sales targets that UCL will be keen to meet by filling their seats with students whilst they have lots of spaces! 

If you have the grades, went to a solid university for your undergraduate degree and have some relevant work experience, applying early will make it very likely you will get an offer. Applying early is especially important for popular courses as they tend to close early. 

Don’t ignore the power of your referee:

You should always set up a meeting with your referee early in the application process because their statement about you is just as integral as your personal statement. 

A good referee is important. Obviously, you want them to speak highly of you, but ideally, they will highlight your skills and qualities that are relevant to your chosen degree. For this reason, as well as for the general impression of your application, it is best to choose a referee who teaches your chosen subject or within your discipline. It is also a good idea to choose a referee who knows you well enough to write you something of quality. 

Get to know your referee so that they can get to know you. This is especially important as UCL will contact your referee if there is any missing information. Inform your referee of extracurriculars and anything important that you’ve done well in. Talk to your referee about your strengths that they might not be aware of: what you have read around your subjects, and your work experiences and non-school achievements. You want your referee to convince UCL that you are good at your chosen subject/s, passionate about them, and committed to your discipline. Beyond that, you want your referee to sell you as a person and your characteristics as you’ll have already covered your academic triumphs. If you get to choose, choose wisely.

Use your referee wherever you need them and ask them to vouch for you. If you lack a particular qualification or a high enough grade in something, you want your referee to defend why that is and assure UCL that you are still a suitable candidate with a good academic track record. Maybe they can say how you make up for this loss. However, it is important to note that this is somewhat relative. For example, it is unlikely that your referee’s commendation will save you if all your A level grades fall a good chunk below minimum requirements.

It is ideal if your referee can mention any weaknesses or extenuating circumstances in their statement. This way, you can focus your own personal statement on your strengths, rather than explaining or defending the weaknesses in your application. It can also sound more credible coming from a referee. Plus, you won’t have to use precious parts of your restricted word limit to say so yourself. However, if your referee won’t bring these things up, make sure that you do.

UCL offers some advice on selecting referees here. They also offer a video guide on reference advice.

Here is what UCL asks referees to include:

  • Applicant’s academic performance and potential for success in higher education.
  • Suitability for chosen subject plus attitude, motivation and commitment.
  • Skills and qualities and current/past achievements that connect to the chosen subject area.
  • How the applicant compares with others in their class.
  • Achievements, work experience and extra-curricular activities that relate to their chosen programme.
  • Any contextual information which might warrant special consideration.
  • Any mitigating factors that might affect the applicant’s performance.
  • Predicted grades: explain discrepancies, be honest and clear, and mention obstacles the applicant has faced.

3) Embrace the power of your interview

UCL does not routinely or systematically offer interviews. You may or may not be invited to one. Interviews are more likely to be offered to undergraduate than postgraduate applicants. Hence, interviews are not a form of culling as they might be for Cambridge. Instead, interviews are another relatively equal-weighted step of UCL’s holistic admissions process. Thus, you will only be interviewed if UCL are genuinely thinking about giving you a place. That said, many students are given offers without being interviewed.

Generally, you will almost certainly be interviewed if you are applying to UCL as an undergraduate for: Law, Medicine, Art (after the portfolio), English and Pharmacy. Chemical Engineering usually offers a non-mandatory open day. You are also likely to be interviewed if you are shortlisted for a postgraduate course in a Business or Finance discipline.

Unsure about what to expect for your chosen course? See here to check what additional selection tasks, tests and/or interviews are to be expected from your course. If your programme is not listed on this page, there are none.

It’s worth noting that you have a little more room for a hiccup in your interview if you have a great academic track record. Whereas, if your grades aren’t super high, the interview might become the be-all and end-all. 

UCL’s interview style is extremely different to Oxbridge and offers a variety of styles. Here are a few of UCL’s interviewing styles that are good to be aware of:

  • English interviews: Most applicants from outside the UK and some from within the UK will be considered without an interview. Shortlisted applicants who are invited to an interview will take part in an online interview, which will last about twenty minutes and will involve speaking to tutors. On the morning of the interview, applicants are emailed a short piece of poetry or prose about which they are asked to write a short essay highlighting anything they find interesting or noteworthy about the text. Those who are actively considered may be contacted for further information or asked to complete a questionnaire.
  • Pharmacy interviews: All candidates will be contacted by the School of Pharmacy by email about an online test.
  • Medicine interviews follow the MMIs (Multiple Mini Interviews) format. These consist of 8 stations (each 5 minutes in length with 2-3 questions) that candidates rotate around. Find out more about how to prepare for an MMI in our helpful guide to preparing for Medicine interviews
  • Business Analytics (MSc) interview: Shortlisted applicants might be invited for an online interview via Kira Talent. Applicants invited to interview will have a period of 7 calendar days from receipt of the email to complete the interview. Check out our previous article on how to prepare for your Kira Talent Prep Interview.

Insider tips: UCL interviews

As mentioned, the structure of the interview can depend on the course you’re applying to, however, there are some general rules of thumb. We have compiled a list below of interview tips that are specific to UCL:

  • UCL is looking for students that are genuinely thirsty for knowledge and curious about their chosen field. So, ensure that you express this.
  • Take any opportunity to demonstrate your analytical and critical thinking abilities. 
  • Employ creativity and logical reasoning to solve complex problems. UCL wants students with the capacity to analyse information and offer innovative solutions.
  • Showcase your very best communication skills.
  • Be thoroughly prepared to talk about your personal statement, including any reading or research that you mentioned in your application, or that might have been included in your curriculum.
  • Interviews can often be online and won’t follow a typical structure. So, if this is the case for your course, get to know the online platforms and structure by completing mocks e.g. Kira Talent. 
  • Generally, UCL is checking whether you think independently and are excited about your course. 
  • Be real! Don’t memorise things to say and try to look intelligent. It’s better to be actively engaged and present. 
  • Showing curiosity and asking questions is encouraged.
  • Start preparing and practising early!
  • If you have a radical or innovative idea, share it! UCL values these characteristics.

Remember: the interviewers are highly experienced and are able to see through nerves, stress and silly mistakes so don’t get too worked up about the little things. There are no trick questions, and if an answer seems obvious, it might be just that.

4) If your grades aren’t up to par

Many universities (even top universities) solely or predominantly consider your A levels. However, UCL grounds itself in “intellectual excellence” so they look for a robust academic track record and often consider your GCSEs as well as your A levels (or equivalent). Hence, you must ensure that your grades are impressive across the board, especially in subjects relevant to your course.

The importance placed on your academic history can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have the opportunity and platform to showcase all of your wins from when you were young. This can extend beyond your GCSEs themselves to any extra qualifications, courses, tests or extracurriculars you took and did well in, so long as they demonstrate academic excellence and/or talent in your field of interest. On the other hand, if you have had a dip in grades here or there over the years, this may weaken your application. 

So, let’s talk solutions for if any of your grades are lacking:

Careful what you declare:

Put your best foot forward as long as it’s not deceitful. 

If you have two GCSE or A level grades for a singular subject, with one being lower than the other, you might not need to declare both of them. If the better result is the most recent one, then this is your rewritten grade, and you should only present this grade to UCL. Though there is a chance that they notice the date is later than your other GCSEs or A levels and ask you about that. If this happens you should explain that you completed the test twice and that this is your most recent result. 

However, if your most recent grade is the lower one, then this is your current and rewritten grade and you have to declare it. But in this situation, you should declare both of your grades as evidence that you have in fact achieved higher before, and you can even state that the higher grade is the accurate representation of your abilities. 

Similarly, if you took an extra test or qualification beyond your standard GCSEs and/or A levels then it is not mandatory for you to declare this or your results in your application to UCL. If you didn’t do very well, don’t bring it up. 

All that said, make sure you talk to a teacher at your school to double-check what you have to declare as you don’t want to get into trouble or have your statements mismatch anything your school files for you.

Offer an alternative track record: 

Mention all your relevant wins from the beginning to the end of your time at secondary school. Again, this can include absolutely anything that demonstrates excellent academic ability and/or talent in your field of interest. The better these wins are, or the more you have of them, the more likely they are to make up for your academic blips. 

For example, you can stand out by mentioning scholarships, awards, class prizes, the percentile you were ranked in your class (if your school offers this), and competitions such as the UK Maths Challenge. Even things like a high level on Minecraft can prove skills such as problem-solving and systems-building. Reading is also important. Demonstrating a keen interest in a wide array of academic texts around your subject and being able to analyse them comprehensively can demonstrate your interest and aptitude in your subject, even if you don’t have the ideal grades. For example, if you’re applying for Anthropology you could stand out by engaging in a complex discussion regarding a range of texts about poststructuralism.

Insider tip (postgraduates): If you want to apply for an MSc in Business Analytics, Finance, or Management and you don’t have a quantitative background or a history of high grades in quantitative subjects, UCL is not necessarily out of reach. UCL’s entry requirements for courses like this are less high and quantitative-focussed. Unlike other top universities, the GMAT or GRE are not required. So, you can stand out even without top grades or a quantitative background by taking the GMAT or GRE. Of course, you should study hard and try to get a high grade in this. Similarly, if you excelled in a section/module of a course that you got an average mark overall in, point this out. Highlight any quantitative grades you have. Wherever you lack, have something else to offer.

Smash your admissions test:

UCL has programme-specific requirements e.g. written work, portfolio and/or admissions test. Ensure that you check what yours are for your chosen course.

If you have an admissions test, you should not neglect it. UCL considers every aspect of your application so there is no exception here. If your A level grades are lower than you hoped, you should try your best to achieve amazing admissions test results to make up for this. It is recommended to start revising early and practise a lot!

For more specific advice, check out our previous articles on how to prepare for the LNAT, UCAT, GMAT and GRE.

Improve your GCSE grades:

Your GCSEs can increase or decrease the competitiveness of your application. All of UCL’s courses require a grade 5 (C ) or higher in English Language and Maths (or equivalent). Some programmes have higher expectations or additional subjects, so it’s important that you check the requirements of your specific course. See our course and entry requirement tables on UCL for more information.

If you fall below UCL’s GCSE requirements, it is probably worth investing some time and effort into GCSE retakes. The solution that is most likely to work is improving your grades.

However, context is important. If your poor GCSE grades are in subjects not mentioned by your course requirements, they probably won’t affect your application. It is also worth considering: how low are your “low” grades? If your low grades are 4-5 (C) or above, then these are usually not worth retaking unless your course has specifically stated that one of these subjects should be higher. Similarly, any grades below 4-5 (C) are important to retake, especially if they’re in traditional subjects.

Finally, do you have 7-9 (A-A*) in subject/s related to your chosen course? For example, if you are applying for Civil Engineering, it’s worth retaking GCSE Maths, Physics, and any Sciences to get 7 (A) or higher.

Improve your A level grades: 

Again, if your A level grades are lower than UCL’s requirements, the safest solution is to improve your grades. Most of UCL’s courses require ABB-A*A*A. It is highly recommended that you meet the grade requirements for your course, or better yet exceed them. It is definitely recommended that you achieve an A-A* in your chosen subject. Attaining higher than the minimum A level requirements will boost your application. 

UCL also states that no matter how good your personal statement is, it cannot compensate for predicted grades below minimum entry requirements. 

So, if you’re not predicted the required grades or are worried about getting them, it might be worth your while to take some time out to retake one or two modules in order to improve your predicted grade or plan to retake your A levels before you hand in your UCL application. 

However, if retaking isn’t an option for you, you might want to consider achieving supplementary academic qualifications. You should ask your school and independently research what courses, tests and/or qualifications you can do to strengthen your academic repertoire. Obviously, you should only choose something related to your chosen course. 

Here is some insider information on UCL’s A level requirements:

  • Resits are usually considered for most of UCL’s courses. Any programmes that do not consider resits will outline this on their department pages (you can also check with the relevant programme contacts). You may be at a disadvantage if you’ve attempted resits more than once.
  • UCL does not participate in UCAS Clearing.
  • If you are taking four A levels, UCL will consider your three highest grades – including any required or preferred subjects. Hence, your offer may be based on the three most relevant subjects for your programme. 
  • If you have studied any A levels at an accelerated rate and completed the qualification alongside your GCSE level study, UCL may specify the A levels you are currently studying in your offer conditions. 
  • UCL will consider the actual marks you have achieved at the point of your application alongside your predicted final marks. So, begging your teachers for higher predicted grades is not a good idea as UCL will notice if your predicted grades don’t correlate with the grades you’ve achieved so far. Moreover, even if you are given an offer, you’d be unlikely to meet the offer conditions. Consequently, it’s better to improve your current grades than increase your predicted grades – and if your predicted grades rise as a result, then great!

Contextual grades:

UCL offers contextual entry requirements that are slightly lower than what is standard. This is to enable UCL’s admissions selectors to assess achievement and potential whilst recognising obstacles an applicant could have faced in their educational or individual circumstances. UCL runs an Access UCL Scheme. If you are eligible for this you don’t need to do anything in addition to your standard UCAS application. Your application will be automatically flagged when UCL receives it. So, if your grades fall a little below UCL’s standard entry requirements, check whether you are eligible for their widening participation scheme, and if so, work towards UCL’s contextual grades instead. More information can be found here.

Support for international students:

If you’re an international student and you want to go to a top UK university but you are lacking in some areas, UCL might be a very good option for you as they offer a lot of support to international students:

  • UCL offers Undergraduate Preparatory Certificates (UPC). These can prepare international students who don’t have the qualifications to enter directly for a UCL undergraduate degree.  These intensive one-year foundation courses are taught on UCL’s central London campus. 
  • UCL offers Pre-Master’s and Pre-sessional English courses to international students who hope to study a postgraduate degree at UCL. The courses will develop students’ academic English and academic skills required to succeed at postgraduate level.

Improve your academic profile (postgraduates):

UCL’s entry requirements for postgraduate courses don’t mention GCSEs and A levels. When it comes to postgraduate applications, secondary school qualifications become much less important as UCL will predominantly consider your degree results. 

However, if you don’t have a 5 (C) in GCSE Maths and English this could weaken your application and it might be worth investing a little time into retaking to be on the safe side. Similarly, you wouldn’t want any poor A level grades to cast doubt on your application.

The majority of UCL’s courses require a 2:1 or a First Class Honours undergraduate degree. If you only just meet these requirements or fall beneath them, then your academic past will probably go under the microscope, and you should really consider revisiting and brushing up on any past grades which are sub-par. Another option could be retaking one element of your degree (an exam with strong weighting or your dissertation) to improve your overall grade. 

Also note that for some courses, candidates who do not meet the academic requirements listed but have substantial relevant industry experience may exceptionally be admitted. So, if your grades are lacking, check if this is the case for your chosen course and if so, you might want to collect as much valuable experience as possible!

Something else that you can do to boost your application (either as well as retaking or instead) is completing an extra higher-level qualification or course. UCL offers many courses at their Summer School, which could drastically improve your application. Also, many of the postgraduate courses that do not require the GMAT/GRE still favour students who have taken it. Hence, depending on your subject of interest, completing this test could make you stand out as an academically robust candidate. Moreover, there are a bunch of reputable online courses that you can take as well.

Consider what’s best for you:

Whilst it is easy to get carried away with the mentality of “I must get in”, take a moment to stop and reflect. If you’re really struggling to meet the requirements for UCL, are you sure this is definitely the university for you? And if your history of grades for this subject are far below expectation, are you certain that this is the course for you? It might be worth taking some time to mull over whether this course and UCL are suited to you and whether you’d be able to keep up. Your mental wellbeing and happiness are important!

However, if you’re dead set on UCL then you can play the numbers game. It is not recommended to try to set your sights on a university and its name above a specific course or department, but if there’s no other university for you, then you could look at less competitive courses with fewer applicants and higher acceptance rates. You can always do your Master’s in your preferred field.

4) Consider your options

Here at The Profs, we have a dedicated, experienced, and friendly team of: 

Anything you need, no matter how niche, we can help. We also provide application assessments, where we can tell you your chances of getting into UCL, and where you need to improve. Getting students into university is our speciality! That’s why we have a 95% success rate in helping students get admitted to their first or second-choice university. 

Finally, if you find that you meet none of the entry requirements mentioned in this article and you do not want to invest a year into getting everything up to scratch, or maybe a year couldn’t fix everything, then it might be worth considering a different course or a different university. Here at The Profs, we can help you establish your options and make a decision that is right for you.

We can help

Triple your chances of success with an expert UCL admissions tutor! At The Profs, we know exactly how to help you get in.

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