Guide to accessing the best universities in the UK and the Netherlands

Gaining admission to the world’s top universities is becoming increasingly complex and, depending on the destination country, the requirements and expectations differ. Furthermore, universities generally no longer settle for just good results; they expect to find elements in the student’s application that stand out from those of other candidates and demonstrate a genuine passion for the intended university course.

University admission in the United Kingdom

In 2022, there were 757,000 applicants for full-time undergraduate places through UCAS (the portal through which all applications to British universities are centralised), of which 563,000 were accepted.

This represents an acceptance rate of approximately 74%, reflecting the high competitiveness of British universities. Despite the pandemic, Brexit, and global challenges, the interest in higher education in the United Kingdom remains very strong, underscoring its global reputation for educational quality.

The total number of applicants to UK universities has increased substantially over the years. Following Brexit and the rise in tuition fees, the number of EU applicants decreased, but this was offset by a significant increase in applicants from outside Europe.

On the other hand, the total number of acceptances has also increased relatively proportionally. This is because universities have been able to introduce new degree programmes, thus expanding their offerings and increasing their global recruitment reach.

University degrees in the United Kingdom

We can also observe a trend of increasing applications for degrees related to sciences, medicine, veterinary studies, and architecture. Conversely, there is a decline in interest for degrees related to history, philosophy, linguistic studies, and, surprisingly, technology.

This change reflects an evolution in educational preferences and priorities, possibly influenced by labour market demands, technological advances, and current global challenges.

The prestige of universities in the United Kingdom

When analysing the number of accepted candidates at UK universities based on the prestige of the university, we observe that the most prestigious universities (higher tariff) accept significantly fewer students each year compared to medium tariff and lower tariff universities.

The classification by tariffs relates to the average results of students entering a university. That is, higher tariff universities are those that require high A-Level grades, typically around AAA-ABB.

This differentiation not only reflects the high competition for places and the selective nature of the most renowned institutions in the UK, but also highlights the wide range of opportunities available for students with diverse qualifications and aspirations.

University admission in the Netherlands

The number of international students at Dutch universities has grown rapidly, doubling over the past ten years, from just under 54,000 in 2011 to around 122,300 in 2022.

This increase has not been accompanied by a proportional rise in the number of Dutch students, as the proportion of international students has significantly increased, from 5.5% in 2006 to around 15% in 2022.

The University of Amsterdam hosted the highest number of international students, with nearly 13,800. Maastricht University hosted the second largest number of foreign university students, with nearly 12,100, which is approximately 57.2% of all its students.

This remarkable growth underscores the attractiveness of Dutch universities for students from around the world, driven by the quality of education, the wide range of programmes taught in English, and an open and welcoming society.

The best universities in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands

According to the Times Higher Education ranking, one of the most reliable indices for evaluating the quality of universities, these are currently the best universities in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, ranked by their position in the global ranking.

This internationally recognised ranking provides a detailed comparison based on various performance indicators, including teaching, research, research citations, international outlook, and industry income.

The presence of universities from these two countries in prominent positions underscores their commitment to academic excellence and cutting-edge research. Moreover, it reflects the attractiveness of these institutions for students from all over the world, seeking top-tier higher education in stimulating and culturally rich environments.

The ranking of these universities in the global index not only highlights their international prestige but also serves as a valuable guide for future students in making decisions about their university education.

How to access the best universities in the UK and the Netherlands

The conclusions drawn from the data are clear:

  1. There are increasingly more students applying for places at universities in the UK and the Netherlands.
  2. The most prestigious universities accept fewer candidates than those that are less renowned. Therefore, we know that there is a lot of competition and it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd.
  3. Finally, in the UK and the Netherlands, two of the foremost English-speaking destinations, we can find some of the best universities in the world.

So, how do I prepare to access the best universities?

Start by understanding what degree you want to study

Choosing the degree you want to study cannot be based solely on your interests; it must be an informed decision.


  • Seek guidance from experts: Consult with university guidance and career orientation experts.
  • Gather information: Absorb the information available on university websites and in rankings.
  • Visit universities: Attend their Open Days, whether in-person or virtual.
  • Engage in related academic experiences: Participate in activities related to your chosen field such as summer programmes, shadowing programmes, conferences, and unpaid internships.

Start preparing early, in every sense

At the beginning of Year 11 (the final year of IGCSE), you should already start researching different degree courses.

The earlier you start, the more time you have to explore your options. Today, there are a wide variety of single and double degrees available!

You will have more time to prepare for entrance exams and/or interviews.

  • These exams can be prepared!
  • Our recommendation is to start preparing 2 or 3 months in advance.
  • Take them very seriously. Universities use them to filter candidates.

Cultivate knowledge and skills that excite you and help you stand out

Once you have decided on your degree, you should develop knowledge and skills related to it, beyond what is taught in school textbooks.

  • If you want to study engineering, why not learn to program? If you want to pursue a degree in finance, why wait to learn how to invest in different assets? Or perhaps you are interested in psychology and plan to delve into the relationship it has with human behaviour by participating in conferences or debates.
  • Take advantage of reading; it is one of the best ways to open your mind, discover new interests, and develop your ability to process information. This will help you in an interview and in your exams!

Don’t neglect soft skills

Critical thinking, communication, teamwork, creativity, and leadership are some examples of the so-called “soft skills” that are fundamental to your future.

There are many ways to develop these competencies:

  • Participate in debates or oratory clubs: Improve your public speaking skills.
  • Develop critical thinking: Undertake projects like the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification).
  • Work in teams: Join a sports or arts club. Universities highly value these experiences as well.

How do we prepare our students to access the best universities?

Virtus is a British school specialising in the A-Levels stage and university admissions. We understand the intricacies of the selection process for the world’s top universities and recognise that it involves much more than achieving good A-Level grades.

Vocational profile and roadmap

At Virtus, we stand out for the resources we employ in university and career guidance, starting from a very early stage.

We don’t wait until the student is in Year 12 to decide on the A-Levels they need to choose; instead, we begin working from day one, analysing each student’s profile and designing their Roadmap before the course starts to set personal, academic, and university goals.

The Roadmap aligns our educational programme with each student’s interests and strengths, as well as their professional aspirations. Having a roadmap means having a plan, and that is always an advantage:

  • You work with a clear objective from day one: you understand the reasons behind your subject choices and the grades you need to achieve.
  • Your university aspirations are aligned with your daily activities at school.
  • As part of the plan, you know you will enrich your profile with the skills and competencies necessary for your career, which universities highly value.

The Co-Curriculum

The Co-Curriculum at Virtus represents a core part of our educational model, designed not only to complement the traditional academic curriculum but to significantly enrich it, ensuring a comprehensive and holistic education for our students.

This Co-Curriculum focuses on acquiring tangible experiences that go beyond the classroom. These experiences are designed to foster skills such as leadership, collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity, all of which are crucial for success in academic, professional, and personal spheres.

At Virtus, we offer a variety of co-curricular clubs that reflect the specialisations and interests of our students:

  • Humanities & Media Studies: politics & IR, journalism, digital media
  • Business Finance & Entrepreneurship: finance, young enterprise
  • Engineering, Maths & Physics: coding, mathematics
  • Biomedical Sciences: psychology, medicine & biomedical sciences

Preparation at Virtus for admission tests to the best universities

As part of Virtus’s holistic education and our essence as a Sixth Form College, the preparation of motivation letters, admission tests, and university interviews is a priority each school year.

Over the past few years, we have prepared specific admission tests for more than thirty different universities around the world. Among them, we highlight the most popular:

  • ESAT (Engineering and Science Admissions Test) for Cambridge
  • Engineering and Science Admissions Test (ESAT) for Imperial College London
  • Bocconi Online Test
  • Admission Test for the University of Navarra
  • UCAT for Medicine courses at any university in the UK
  • Admissions Exam for Eindhoven University

It is important to remember that each test is different and requires thorough preparation, where time management and exam techniques are essential to exceed the required cut-off scores.

As part of the preparation we offer at Virtus, each student receives between 20 and 24 hours of preparation for the admission test(s) and, additionally, the interview, if necessary.

We say that there is no selection process in the world that we cannot tackle. If a student, as has happened in the past, wishes to apply to less common destinations (such as Japan or Italy), we thoroughly study the admission requirements and employ all our resources to prepare the application.

Written by

Virtus The British Sixth Form College

Virtus The British Sixth Form College

Virtus, The British Sixth Form College is an innovative Sixth Form College devoted to academic excellence and holistic education. We specialise in A-level with an average of 5 students per class.

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