Application process: UK Vs. Portugal

Hi Everyone!

Before I came to the University of Surrey back in September, I studied for a short period of time in a Portuguese University, and since making the move, I’ve noticed a significant number of differences between the higher education system in Portugal and the UK. Therefore, I thought I’d make a comparison between the two over the coming weeks covering all sorts of topics such as (but not limited to) Application, Finance, Student Life, Learning etc.

Before you attend any University, you need to go through the (at times daunting) application process. For this reason, if we are to begin somewhere I think this is where!

The fact of the matter is that applying to a UK University requires a bit more of an effort than applying to a Portuguese Public University, and there is no way around that.

In the Portuguese system, you can select up to six university courses to apply to, ranking them in order of preference. A database will then compile everything and rank all candidates in order of grades, automatically assigning you the best possible choice. An extremely “mathematical” process if you ask me – where the system will take into consideration nothing but your grades.

On the other hand, if you are applying to Surrey (or any other UK institution for that matter) you will be submitting your application via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). There are a few essential parts to your UCAS application. I’ve listed the main ones down below:

  • Personal Details

This includes your contact information, and more importantly your current and pending qualifications. This will allow institutions such as Surrey to see whether you are a suitable candidate for the course you would like to apply to.

  • Choices

You can apply up to 5 different courses within the system. Each institution will publish on the UCAS portal what their minimum or typical entry requirements (grades) are for every course. It is very important to take a look at these as you should aim to apply to choices where you meet these criteria.

Often candidates tend only to look at the grades, but it is also worthwhile taking a look at how you feel about the course details such as modules offered and the methods of learning that particular institution employs – as often, for the same exact course two different Universities might offer drastically different learning environments.

  • Personal Statement

Alongside the above-mentioned details, you will need to attach a personal statement (up to 4000 characters). This is your time to shine and stand out from all the other candidates! Your personal statement will tell the admissions staff why you are suitable to study at their institution and that course.

Some institutions are looking for particular things in your Personal Statement, so it is worthwhile taking a look at their website and searching for any mention of this. As a general rule of thumb, UCAS recommends you cover:

  1. Why are you interested in the subject
  2. Why you are suitable for the course
  3. Participation in extra-curricular activities or projects that demonstrate your interest in the course
  4. Other skills and achievements

If you ask me, this is where the UK application system differentiates the most from the Portuguese one. True, it can take a bit of time and effort to produce your final draft, however, it allows you to become “more than a number” based solely on your grades.

After you submit your application, the universities you applied to will hopefully then make you an offer based on your current and pending qualifications. After receiving your offers, you can select your firm (the choice you prefer) and an insurance choice (a sort of Plan B in case you don’t meet your firm choice’s offer).

Of course, this was a just a crash-course on how the application system works. I recommend taking a look at the UCAS website which has several videos (like the one i’ve attached at the end of this post) that explain all the possible variations and scenarios of the process.


Again, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to email or use the comment section. I will be more than happy reply!

Till next time,