Skip To Main Content

Standing Out From the Crowd: Tips for Successful University Applications

Standing Out From the Crowd: Tips for Successful University Applications

Sponsored post by Cambridge Immerse

It’s January, the temperature has plummeted, the skies are grey and the leaves from the trees have long gone. This can only mean one thing, it’s university applications season again!

After years of hard work studying for high-school exams, international students across the country are about to take their next big step: applying for higher education programmes in the UK. In a crowded field of universities vying for students’ attention, and thousands of students sending in their applications every week how can you help your students stand out from the crowd? Indeed, according to the Complete University Guide, more than 430,000 students came from outside the UK to study. 

With this in mind, for international students in particular, the prospect of applying to university can be a daunting experience, but there are lots of steps you can take to help your students feel excited, not afraid about the applications process. To this end, Cambridge Immerse has compiled a helpful list of tactics you can employ to boost your students’ confidence in their university applications, giving them the best possible chance of bagging a spot on their favourite course. 

Preparation is key!

First things first, as you will not be surprised to hear, it is important to encourage your students to fully research their universities of choice in advance. This includes their positions in the various league tables for their chosen subject (although this should not be taken as gospel), and the requirements needed for the course, whether it’s an English language aptitude test, written essays they need to send in beforehand, or certain grades in high school qualifications. If that seems daunting, never fear! To help you with this process, Cambridge Immerse has put together a university guide and recommended reading guides for many of the most popular university subjects, which you can find here.

In addition, familiarity with the applications process is of great importance for them to have a strong chance of receiving an offer further down the line, and to avoid making common mistakes students make when they apply for their university course. You can give them guidance about how to do this and all of this information will be easy to access online. In particular, if you have students interested in applying to Oxbridge, you might want to check out this guide we wrote about Oxbridge (and busting some pretty common myths about the universities!). 

Make sure you are up to speed

Vitally, too, you need to also make sure you’re up to date with important facts, like the current fees for international students in the UK and the deadlines for UCAS applications. In general, most courses have a deadline in the January of the entry year - so January 2018 for September 2018 entry - aside from courses at Oxbridge, and for medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine/science, when the deadline is October of the previous year.

If you are clued up on this information, you can give your students the best possible advice about what can be a daunting decision. A student sending in their UCAS form late might make them stand out from the crowd - although, as you won’t be surprised to hear, thousands of students do this every year - but probably not in the way you would like them to. For more information about UCAS, check out this unofficial guide to the applications process. 

Help them stand out on paper

Ah, the UCAS personal statement. Often considered the bane of many students’ lives, and the result of countless hours of frustration, this simple form actually offers them the opportunity to truly stand out from the pack by demonstrating their passion and drive towards studying a particular subject. Encourage your students not to read past examples before they write their own - tempting as it may be! - as this may encourage them to copy other examples without thinking of their own, especially if they’re not that confident with written English. 

Here’s one task you could do if students are completely stuck: ask them to explain why they want to study this subject, and what really inspires them about it, and write bullet points of what they say. If they use those points as a basis for their statement, and flesh it out with the books/museums/events that have led them to pursue this passion, they will be well on their way to crafting an excellent personal statement. For more helpful information about how to craft the perfect personal statement, head to this helpful guide.

Factors too such as where the university is based, and what kind of activities are available for the students should also be considered for inclusion within the personal statement. Including this kind of information will certainly make your students look well researched and help them to stand out from the crowd.

Consider a pre-university preparation course 

For many students, one of the main challenges about starting university is the major step-up academically that this represents from their high school qualifications. One really good way to make sure your students feel academically ready for the beginning of university is by encouraging them to consider taking on a pre-university preparation course, either just before they begin university or in the years leading up to their application.
These courses usually take place over the summer holidays and offer several weeks of top-class teaching from an expert in their chosen university subject. On top of this, these courses often offer excellent extracurricular opportunities, the chance to meet motivated students from around the world to learn alongside, as well as offering a truly fun way to spend a few weeks of their summer holidays. 
Although you, of course, want to do the best that you can for your students in their university applications, there is only so much you can do to boost their academic confidence: much of it has to come from the student themselves. By taking part in a pre-university preparation course, students will be challenged academically, all in a friendly, international environment: the perfect environment to increase their self assurance ahead of starting university.

Proof-read, proof read, and then proof-read again!

WIth UCAS forms, essays which students might need to submit for applications - this is common at universities like Oxford and Cambridge - and any other forms students fill in with their personal details and educational history, it is absolutely vital that the students proof-read these thoroughly, multiple times. There are few things more off-putting to an admissions tutor than a poorly written and edited form, and it will certainly set your students in good stead if theirs are immaculately proof-read. 


Consider running practice interview sessions 

For all applicants, receiving an interview invitation from a university can be both a blessing and a curse. Even if the student is confident under pressure, the added stress of an interview, especially at UK institutions which can, superficially seem pretty daunting, such as Oxbridge, Durham and Imperial College London, can add an extra level of pressure to the applications process. 

However, there are ways around this. Organising practice interview sessions for students, whether from admissions staff at local universities or even willing parents, is a straightforward and highly useful exercise: they will have a chance to receive feedback on their performance and make improvements before the real thing. For more interview preparation tips for students, check out this guide.

Encourage students to think outside of the curriculum

Although this may be surprising to some students, who are accustomed to the idea that academic performance must come before everything else, many UK - and especially US - higher education institutions really push the importance of being a well-rounded applicant who will contribute to the life of that university. 

Whether they have a passion for debating, badminton, knitting or mountain climbing, be sure to encourage students to mention this in their personal statements and interviews to show that they would benefit from, and appreciate, the campus facilities which are available. In addition, studying far from home can sometimes make students feel a little isolated and homesick, and informing them about the various international groups and societies is bound to be another plus!

Make sure they have a back-up plan

Not wanting to end on a negative note, but the truth about university applications is that sometimes things don’t go as you would expect. Making sure that your students are clued up about the system behind Clearing - which international students are eligible to use, as long as they have applied via UCAS - is vital. Many students now attend university via Clearing, and this is nothing to be ashamed of, so it is important that they are aware of what to do if they miss out on their preferred choices of university. 

So, all in all, as an education professional, I hope you can see that there are a lot of steps you can take to help your students stand out in their university applications. Reaching their university of choice represents the culmination of their education so far, and so they can be hugely proud of their achievements once they get there. All you have to do is give them a little nudge, and they’ll be on their way. Good luck!


Georgia Tindale works as a Content Writer for Cambridge Immerse.

Based in the historic city of Cambridge, Cambridge Immerse offers two week residential academic programmes for 16-18 year old students which provide a taster of university level-study through diverse and enriching curricula. The programmes include academic sessions taught by expert tutors from the University of Cambridge, as well as providing a unique experience of the university city through a wealth of extracurricular activities.

To find out more about the programmes, visit or email

  • International Schools
  • Oxbridge
  • Student Life
  • Students
  • Universities
  • University Applications