Choosing where to go to university can be a difficult decision to make for students. The many different options to consider can be overwhelming. One thing to consider is how many other students there will be. Some students prefer being in a big community, wheras others may prefer a smaller university which is less popular overall.
In this article, as a student who has applied to university, I will list the 10 most popular universities in the UK ranked by enrolments, as well as key details about each, to help you make the right choices for you. I will also explain the most popular subjects at each university in the ranking, as well as some other key metrics to know before you apply.
This is a graph showing the 10 most popular universities in the UK, based on the total enrolments (for both undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications). This means the number of students who were taking degrees at that university when the data was collected in 2021.
1. The Open University
|Total amount of enrolments||151,140
Male: 55,710 (37%)
Female: 96,125 (63%)
|Most popular subjects||Combined and general studies – 24,825
Psychology – 23,580
Social sciences – 16,420
The Open University is the most popular university in the UK both overall and for undergraduate studies. It is also 10th in the UK for postgraduate studies.
The Open University is dedicated to widening participation in higher education and provides all of its degrees online through distance learning. Three quarters of their students study alongside work, making the OU a great choice for those who want to study while still keeping a job or balancing other commitments.
The most popular courses at the Open University are combined and general studies, where students study multiple disciplines or areas throughout one course. The second most popular courses are in Psychology, the study of the brain. The third most popular courses are in social science, such as sociology and criminology.
The Open University has over 200 courses available to students. More information about the open university can be found from their website, here. Think Student has a helpful guide to the Open University here.
2. University College London
|Total amount of enrolments||46,830
Male: 18,355 (39.2%)
Female: 28,455 (60.8%)
|Most popular subjects||Social Sciences – 5,460
Medicine and Dentistry – 4,890
Education and Teaching – 4,525
University College London is located in central London and is second most popular in the UK overall. It is also the most popular university in the UK for postgraduate studies.
UCL is considered to be a top university for research, rated 2nd in the UK. It gives students a chance to work alongside some of the most cutting-edge projects in the world as part of their studies. Furthermore, it is ranked 8th overall in the QS World University Rankings for 2023.
Again, social sciences is a top subject at UCL, closely followed by Medicine and Dentistry studies. Education and teaching is the third most popular subject at UCL at all levels of study.
University College London has over 400 degree programmes available for undergraduate study, and a wide range of postgraduate opportunities both taught and research based. More information about UCL can be found on their website, here.
3. University of Manchester
|Total amount of enrolments||46,410
Male: 20,095 (43.3%)
Female: 26,305 (56.7%)
|Most popular subjects||Business and Management – 6,300
Social Sciences – 5,820
Subjects allied to Medicine – 5,265
The University of Manchester is located in central Manchester and is third most popular in the UK overall. It is 3rd most popular overall for undergraduate study, and 4th most popular for postgraduate studies.
UoM is ranked 28th in the World by the QS university rankings, meaning it competes on a global level for research and teaching quality. It is also one of the top universities in the UK for social and environmental impact, meaning that it focusses on creating positive change for the future, and inspires its students to do the same.
Business and management are the most popular subjects at Manchester, ideal for future entrepreneurs. Again, social sciences are an immensely popular subject. Third are subjects allied to medicine, including pharmacy.
The University of Manchester has over 400 degree programmes available for undergraduate study, and a wide range of postgraduate opportunities both taught and research based. More information about the University of Manchester can be found on their website, here.
4. University of Glasgow
|Total amount of enrolments||42,980
Male: 16,800 (39.1%)
Female: 25,825 (60.1%)
|Most popular subjects||Business and Management – 5,725
Education and Teaching – 3,910
Social Sciences – 3,860
The University of Glasgow is located in the Scottish city of Glasgow and is fourth most popular in the UK overall. It is also 2nd in the UK for postgraduate study.
University of Glasgow is a top 20 in the world university for sustainability, meaning a focus on environmental concerns at the university in student life is key. They have partnerships across the world, making studying there a truly global experience.
Business and management are again the most popular subjects at Glasgow, with the university ranked in the Times University top 15 for that subject. Education and teaching comes in as the 2nd most popular, and social sciences are 3rd.
The University of Glasgow not only provides in person degrees, but also digital and short course options. More information about the University of Glasgow can be found on their website, here.
5. King’s College London
|Total amount of enrolments||41,490
Male: 14,355 (34.6%)
Female: 26,455 (63.8%)
|Most popular subjects||Subjects allied to medicine – 8,055
Social Sciences – 6,285
Medicine and Dentistry – 4,205
King’s College London is part of the University of London collection of schools and is fifth most popular in the UK overall. It is also 3rd in the UK for postgraduate study. It is found in central London, with 2 campuses and many accommodation blocks spread throughout the city.
King’s College’s status as part of the wider University of London means students have access to a huge range of resources, libraries, and museums across the city. It is ranked 10th in the world by the QS university rankings and offers opportunities such as studying abroad to its students.
Subjects allied to medicine are the most popular at KCL. They are followed again by social sciences. Medicine and dentistry are the 3rd most popular subject at the university and have world leading research centres within King’s College.
King’s College London has over 180 courses available for undergraduate study, and a range of postgraduate options. More information about King’s College can be found on their website, here.
6. Nottingham Trent University
|Total amount of enrolments||41,465
Male: 18,990 (34.6%)
Female: 22,435 (63.8%)
|Most popular subjects||Business and Management – 7,960
Design, and Creative, and Performing Arts – 5,625
Social Sciences – 4,390
Nottingham Trent University is the sixth most popular in the UK overall. It is also 3rd in the UK for undergraduate study. It has campuses across Nottingham, with accommodation nearby creating a feeling of community within the university.
Nottingham Trent University was rated the modern university of the year by the Sunday Times rankings, meaning that it has very high student satisfaction levels, as well as leading research and academic facilities. They also have excellent student support, including financial and mental health guidance from their advisers.
Business and Management subjects are the most popular at Nottingham Trent, followed by design and creative subjects, including drama and music. Social sciences again rank highly at the university, coming in as 3rd most popular.
NTU has a wide range of both undergraduate and postgraduate opportunities for students. More information about Nottingham Trent University can be found on their website, here.
7. University of Edinburgh
|Total amount of enrolments||41,250
Male: 15,510 (37.6%)
Female: 25,550 (61.9%)
|Most popular subjects||Social Sciences – 4,600
Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies – 3,840
Biological and Sport Sciences – 2,820
The University of Edinburgh is the seventh most popular in the UK overall. It is 8th in the UK for undergraduate study, and 5th in the UK for postgraduate study. It is located centrally in the Scottish city of Edinburgh.
University of Edinburgh is one of the biggest universities in Scotland, and has a huge range of degree programmes available, including option for online study. Their connections within the city and focus on local development mean that the community at the university is strong, and part of the wider city.
Social sciences are the most popular at Edinburgh, followed by historical, philosophical and religious studies in second place, including theology and world history degrees. Biological and sport sciences come in third and include physiotherapy and coaching qualifications.
Edinburgh University is a world-leading university with many different options for students, and excellent opportunities for both postgraduates and undergraduates. More information about the University of Edinburgh can be found on their website, here.
8. Coventry University
|Total amount of enrolments||38,190
Male: 19,235 (50.4%)
Female: 18,880 (49.4%)
|Most popular subjects||Business and Management – 13,015
Subjects allied to medicine – 5,665
Engineering and Technology – 4,340
Coventry University is the eighth most popular in the UK overall. It is 6th in the UK for undergraduate study. Coventry is considered one of the best cities for student life in the UK, with vibrant and diverse opportunities due to the university’s central location.
Coventry University have locations not only in Coventry, but also in London, Scarborough and Poland, giving their students a global outlook and opportunities for study in many different locations.
They also have opportunities for online learning, allowing students to fit study around their lives.
The most popular subject at Coventry is business and management, followed by subjects allied to medicine. Third comes engineering and technology, including electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as computer science degrees.
Coventry University has a vast range of degree choices for students in both postgraduate and undergraduate studies. More information about CU can be found on their website, here.
9. University of Birmingham
|Total amount of enrolments||37,990
Male: 16,165 (42.6%)
Female: 21,785 (57.3%)
|Most popular subjects||Business and Management – 5,225
Social Sciences – 5,140
Engineering and Technology – 3,685
The University of Birmingham is the ninth most popular in the UK. It is 7th in the UK for postgraduate study. The university is located on the green outskirts of Birmingham, one of the biggest cities in the UK.
Birmingham has achieved awards for public engagement, showing how their work is always linked with their local community. This leads to the university having a strong sense of connection with the city and allows them access to excellent resources for research and funding.
The most popular subject at Birmingham university is business and management. This is closely followed by the ever-popular social sciences. Finally, engineering and technology is the 3rd most popular subject.
Birmingham University has over 350 different courses available for undergraduate study, and many postgraduate opportunities. More information about the University of Birmingham can be found on their website, here.
10. University of Nottingham
|Total amount of enrolments||37,260
Male: 16,640 (44.7%)
Female: 20,495 (55.3%)
|Most popular subjects||Engineering and Technology – 4,455
Subjects allied to medicine – 4,375
Social Sciences – 3,470
The University of Nottingham is the tenth most popular in the UK. It is 5th in the UK for undergraduate study. It has its main campus in Nottingham, on the outskirts of the city.
The University of Nottingham is rated 2nd in the UK for employment, meaning that students there are well prepared for life after university and have great job prospects. It also has campuses in both China and Malaysia, giving students global opportunities for collaboration and research during their studies.
Engineering and technology subjects are the most popular at Nottingham university. They are closely followed by subjects allied to medicine. Social sciences are the third most popular. Students at Nottingham benefit from interdisciplinary connections, meaning that many subjects work together to create research with wide ranging implications and benefits.
The University of Nottingham is ranked 18th in the world by the QS world rankings. More information about the University of Nottingham can be found on their website, here.
What rankings are used in this article?
The main rankings used in this article are from the HESA database, which collects information about student numbers and subjects for all universities in the UK. The information can be found from this link.
Also referenced are the QS World University Rankings. They rank top institutions based on 8 key factors, including student satisfaction and research quality, of universities from many different countries across the world. More information, including their whole ranking, can be found here.
Some other ranks referenced include the Times Higher Education awards, and the Guardian education supplement. These can be discovered in the links to universities above and give a lot of helpful information about universities in the UK. Ranking systems can be very helpful when deciding where to apply to in the future.
What should you consider when applying for university?
Applying to university can be an incredibly stressful time, and not knowing what to base your decisions on makes it even harder. There are some key things that you should look at, including rankings as suggested above. Look at both subject and university rankings, as these will give you an indicator of how your chosen university performs compared to others.
However, ultimately rankings are not the most crucial factor in choosing a university. Make sure to attend open days, visit accommodation, and see course tasters at your chosen university. These will give you the best idea of what you want, and which places you prefer to be.
Consider both campus and city universities, as well as universities both close to and far away from where you currently live. Your opinion may change when you visit, and each person’s university choice is personal. Make sure you decide based on how you feel, rather than prestige or where is ranked first for any subject in a ranking.
The UK Government has helpful advice on their website Discover Uni, which can be accessed here. It shows a lot of key information about each university, and each course, to help you make the right decision on where you want to go.
Furthermore, Think Student have a helpful guide to the transition to university, including information on student finance and accommodation, which can be found here.