Why do UK Universities have Entry Requirements?

For students who are looking at university options in many different countries, one key difference can stand out when comparing the UK to options such as the US, Canada or Europe: UK universities set out, in detail, the grades they are requiring for students to study that course.

For example, a student looking to study Mechanical Engineering at one university might need to be predicted by their teachers to go on to achieve AAA at A level, or 38 IB points, as well as As or 6s in Maths and Physics, to be considered for the course. No Physics, or significantly lower predicted grades, and there’s little point in applying. The same applies for most subject at most UK universities, with the more selective universities able to ask for higher grades.

Why is this the case, when in other countries there’s not the same process?

The key reason is that, in the UK, students are being admitted directly to a pre-defined course of study. At some point in the admissions process, an academic – a professor – will have been involved in setting that entry criteria, working out the grades in various qualifications that students need to have as a minimum in order to be able to step straight from school onto day 1 of the course, and cope with the material being taught them.

This is quite different from other systems, whereby some first-year classes – the 101 options – are introductory level courses, with students not expected to have mastery of academic content, but in the UK there are no 101 level courses.

To flesh this out, let’s take one popular example: BSc Economics at the LSE, the London School of Economics. Economics at most UK universities requires you to have a pretty high level of Maths, but LSE ask for more, the highest possible grade you can get in Maths (be that IB, A Level or something else). Behind this requirement lies a point that many students miss, which is that the academics at LSE have worked out that if you aren’t that good at Maths – not just at the content, but at doing it at high speed – then you will likely fail their course. LSE aren’t asking you to have an A* at A Level Maths (and ideally have taken A Level Further Maths as well) for their own amusement, but based on their own assessment of the skills you need to have proven you have in order to be able to cope with the course from day one onward.

It is for this reason, replicated across the UK, that entry requirements are set. Though there can be flexibility in these (as universities know that asking for high grades can be seen as a badge of quality), with students being made offers below the published requirements, or taken despite missing their offers come results time, there’s a point where there has to be a cut off; when the university believes that with that grade (and no mitigating circumstances), the student just won’t be able to last the course.

If you want to know more about this process, we have a great podcast on this topic: listen here.

UKDavid Hawkins