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What Age Do You Go to University in the UK?

What age do you go to university UK
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Going to university is a significant life milestone that many young people across the world look forward to. For most students, going to university will be the first time that they move away from their parents and gain more independence.

But what age do you start and finish university in the UK?

Most students will start university at the age of 18. The majority of university courses last 3 years so you will finish university aged 21. However, there are exceptions to this, such as longer courses, taking a gap year between studies, or doing an industry placement.

If you are going to university in the UK soon or you are planning to in the future, let’s take a look at the factors influencing the university entrance age in the UK. We will also discuss the reasons individuals might embark on their academic journeys at different times.

What age do students start university in the UK?

Eighteen is the most common starting age for university in the UK. There are a few key reasons for that.

Firstly, most UK students finish their secondary school, typically with qualifications like GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education), by the age of 16. They then go on to study for two more years, often through A-Levels or BTECs, which are completed around 18 years of age. This makes starting university right after a smooth transition from their sixth-form colleges.

Alternatively, some students choose a further education college offering a diverse range of qualifications like BTECs, HNCs, and HNDs. These qualifications can act as equivalent substitutes for A-Levels, allowing individuals to apply for university later. 

Secondly, 18-year-olds can access financial support like a student loan and grants. Student finance or grants are crucial for many students. They make it more feasible to cover tuition fees and living costs while studying. Having this additional support available at 18 makes it a practical starting point for their financial journey.

Finally, commencing UK university studies at 18 means that students will find themselves alongside classmates of a similar age. This can help make friends and feel comfortable in a new environment. Sharing similar life experiences and academic backgrounds with their fellow students can provide a sense of belonging and support during this transition, especially during the first year.

Exceptions to the typical uni starting age

Although 18 is the usual starting point, some students may begin their university journey at different ages:

  • Starting younger than 18: In exceptional cases, gifted younger students with special arrangements or participating in specific programs might begin university before turning 18. Even in these uncommon cases, minimum age requirements are typically between 16 and 17.
  • Starting older than 18: Several reasons can lead individuals to pursue university at an older age than 18. Some choose to take a gap year to travel, work to save money or focus on personal development before diving into academics. Mature students (aged 21 and over), may be looking for a career change, seeking new qualifications to advance in their field, or simply pursuing lifelong learning. Interestingly, In the academic year 2021-22, 63% were mature students. Additionally, transfer students or international students may also join universities outside the average age.

While age plays a role, other factors also influence university entry:

  • Academic qualifications: Regardless of age, meeting the specific entry requirements for the chosen degree programme is essential. This often involves achieving specific grades in qualifications like A-Levels, BTECs, and passing entrance exams.
  • Personal readiness: Beyond academic qualifications, personal readiness is important. This includes both the academic demands of university and the ability to navigate independent living and the social and financial aspects of university life.
  • Individual circumstances: It’s important to acknowledge that individual circumstances can also influence the ideal university starting age. Factors like childcare responsibilities or health considerations may impact when someone feels ready to commit to university studies.

What age do international students start university?

While the minimum age to apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa for UK universities is 16 years old, starting at this age is uncommon. Several factors contribute to this:

  • University policies: Individual UK universities typically have specific age requirements for their programs. Always check the university’s website to see if they have a minimum age limit for international students.
  • Academic qualifications: Meeting the entry requirements in terms of academic qualifications like high school diplomas and standardised tests is essential regardless of age.
  • Maturity and independence: Many universities expect international students, especially those under 18, to demonstrate a level of maturity and independence necessary for living and studying in a new environment.
  • Parental consent and support: For students under 18, universities often require written consent from parents or guardians. They might also need assurances of adequate financial support and arrangements for their well-being.

In some countries, high school education finishes later than in the UK, at around 19 or even 20 years old. This can impact the starting age for international students from those countries. Naturally, they might need to wait until they complete their secondary education before applying for a UK student visa.

The good news is that the UK student visa doesn’t have an upper age limit. This means individuals of all ages can apply for a student visa and pursue their studies at UK universities. Similar to UK students, you will just need to meet the specific entry requirements of the chosen program and demonstrate your financial stability and purpose for studying in the UK.

Therefore, while the typical starting age for international students at UK universities is after the 18th birthday, individual circumstances, university policies, and the education system of their home country all play a role in determining the appropriate starting age for their educational journey in the UK.

Related: How to save money as an international student in the UK

What age do students leave university in the UK?

Most university students in the UK finish their undergraduate degrees around the age of 21. This aligns with the standard university course duration of three years, which students typically begin after completing their high school education at around 18. However, this is simply a general guide; several factors can influence the actual age at which students finish their studies.

Exceptions to the typical uni graduation age

Several factors can influence the actual age at which university students finish their studies in the UK:

  • Course duration: Some degree programs, like medicine, veterinary, or dentistry, require longer study times. This will push the graduation age beyond 21. For example, veterinary degrees usually take 5 to 6 years of education.
  • Part-time vs. full-time education: Students enrolled in part-time programs will take longer to complete their degrees, extending their time at university.
  • Gap years or interruptions: Taking a gap year or experiencing interruptions due to personal circumstances can also delay graduation and ultimately impact the age at which students leave university.
  • Industry placements: Some degree programs, especially in fields like engineering, computer science, or business, may incorporate industry placements as part of the curriculum. These placements can last anywhere from a few months to a year, extending the overall program duration.
  • Postgraduate studies: Many individuals choose to pursue postgraduate courses like master’s degrees or PhDs after their bachelor’s degree. This extends their time within the university system further. Ultimately, the age at which individuals complete their university degree in the UK can vary depending on their chosen academic path and individual circumstances.


In a nutshell, most people leave sixth form college at 18 to start university and finish their university education at around the age of 21. Despite this general overview of most students, this can vary depending on an individual basis. For example, many students take gap years or simply choose to pursue further education later on in life.  

The “best time” to start university isn’t a singular answer, but rather a personal decision influenced by various factors. Gap years, work experience, and individual life circumstances can all shape unique academic journeys that might begin at different points in life. While 18 may be the most common starting point, the true picture of university entrance in the UK embraces individual flexibility and diverse educational paths.

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