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Overseas university spotlight: University College London (UK)

University College London, or UCL, was founded in 1826 as the first university in London and third in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge.


Jeremy Bentham, a British philosopher, was quite a radical thinker at the time, and his ideas actually inspired UCL's foundation, which was based on the principles of inclusion.


UCL was the very first British university to admit women as well as students from any religious background (in contrast with Oxbridge).


University College London main building

UCL became the secular alternative to Oxbridge, with the symbolic center of campus being the library as opposed to a church.


Interestingly (or weirdly--you decide!), Bentham's skeleton is actually dressed in his own clothes and is on display in a box on campus!

The only part not on display is his actual head (instead you'll see a wax replica).


Jeremy Bentham skeleton and wax replica

The real head was once stolen by King's College London students and held at ransom; supposedly it's now located in the archaeology department across the road.


Here are a few other highlights from my visit in May 2022!


University College London main square

University College London - Academics


UCL is the largest college within the University of London system (the umbrella organization that performs centralized functions such as finances and appointing professors, shared libraries and intercollegiate housing).


Second in UK research power to only Cambridge, UCL has a long list of notable graduates that includes the likes of Mahatma Ghandi, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Ricky Gervais, David Attenborough, Alexander Graham Bell, Christopher Nolan and more.


Some of the most popular and highly-regarded programs are law, medicine, economics, psychology, neuroscience and biological sciences, along with collaborative, interdisciplinary programs such as the Arts & Sciences, which allows students to build their own bespoke program.


These programs emphasize communication, problem-solving and global cultural skills.


Campus


While there's definitely a campus feel to UCL, more so than other London-based unis, it's still a relatively compact campus for being the largest uni in the UK with about 44,000 students.


Incredibly, approximately 53 percent of students are international, which means it has a truly cosmopolitan classroom environment.


UCL campus
UCL campus

There are 17 libraries, plenty of gardens and green space (including the Japanese Gardens named after the first prime minister of Japan who studied there and returned to found the country), various cafes, student eateries and a student centre that's open 24/7 with showers.


Sustainability at UCL
Inside the student centre
Inside the student centre
Popular student pizza place that normally has a long line
Popular student pizza place that normally has a long line
University College London campus
UCL Print Room Cafe
UCL campus courtyard
UCL Japanese Gardens
UCL Japanese Gardens
UCL food hall
Bookstore
Bookstore
Street food outside UCL campus
Happy Bones coffee shop, recommended to me by a student
Happy Bones coffee shop, recommended to me by a student

There's also a makerspace on campus open to all students regardless of program.


UCL Institute of Making (makerspace)
UCL Students' Union
UCL Students' Union
UCL engineering building

Housing can be found across the city as well as a couple blocks away, and there is a farmers' market that takes place every Thursday.


UCL Residence Halls
UCL Residence Halls

The Bloomsbury Theatre nearby also happens to be an official West End theatre but is reserved for UCL students 12 weeks out of the year.


Bloomsbury Theatre
Bloomsbury Theatre

When it comes to admissions, however, it is extremely competitive; students from the U.S. should expect to have at minimum 3-5 AP exams with scores of 5 to be considered.


Summary


UCL main building
UCL main building

UCL is located in the heart of central London within a few blocks of a number of other University of London institutions, such as Birkbeck and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), in addition to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).


It has an outstanding academic reputation and a history of welcoming top students regardless of background, while also having some of the highest academic requirements in the UK for admission.


London city centre

 

Interested in applying for college or grad school abroad?


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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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