Coming to the UK to study as an international student can be daunting. It’s a huge upheaval and will change the rest of your life - but don’t worry, this guide has got you covered. Sit back and have a read.
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International students - the facts
So you’ve decided to head to the UK, go to university, get a degree and give your future career a real kick-start. Well, you’re not alone; in fact over 430,000 international students head to the UK to study every year. Apart from a rich history, beautiful cities and all the tea you could dream of, the UK is a hub for international students because of how much choice there is.
There’s almost no limit to what you can study – or where. With around 130 universities and higher education providers to choose from, international students have a wonderful range to choose from.
In terms of the subjects studied by international students, again there is a huge range; some of the most popular subjects studied include Accounting & Finance, Art & Design, English, Economics, Law, Politics, Psychology and more.
But while a broad range of choices is fantastic for those unsure of what or where they want to study, it also means there is a large amount of research to do before committing.
*Sigh* it’s almost impossible to know where to begin here. There is so much research to do beforehand – into universities, courses, the cost, where to get funding, visas, applications… The list goes on.
We’ll introduce you to a number of useful resources for international students as we get into it (as well as provide some helpful tips of our own), so don’t get overwhelmed – everything we include is for your benefit. Let’s get into it.
The UK is known for high-quality teaching at all levels – but we really excel when it comes to universities. Oxford and Cambridge, anyone?
As stated previously there are around 130 universities in the UK to choose from, so knowing where to begin can be tough. Luckily, there are annual league tables of each university in the UK made available to the public that allow students worldwide to filter through the array of universities by overall ranking, subjects offered, student satisfaction and many more factors.
Now, this is complicated even more by the fact multiple league tables exist. Some of the most prestigious are the Times Higher Education, Complete University Guide and the QS guides. These are also released at different times of the year; this can range from the Spring through to September.
Most agree on the top ten universities in the UK with little fluctuation, but there are some differences between them all. It is important to research the different methodologies used and the release dates for each, so you can stay ahead of any breaking university news.
The recent introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) by the UK government is another new ranking system that ranks universities as either Gold, Silver or Bronze.
With the above being said, not everything can be concluded from stats and tables. Also ask yourself the following questions:
- Where would you most like to spend your time when in the UK?
- How easily do you want to be able to travel around and outside the UK?
- What kind of extracurricular activities do you want to partake in?
- What type of living situation would suit you best – campus life or a home-stay family?
- If you have friends also moving to the UK, how close would you like to be to them?
Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to look over the university league tables with fresh eyes and make a choice that best reflects what you want from this opportunity.
The next big thing to consider is, of course, what to study! And if you were confused about where to start with university choice, then get ready to get really lost – there are over 30,000 courses available to study at UK universities. Yes, 30,000.
Of course, if you know exactly what you want to study – that’s great; you can use the above university league tables to select a few top choices based on which is best for your chosen subject. However, if you’re unsure what course you want to take, there is a huge selection to wade through.
For a full-list of the various types of degrees offered by UK institution, you can visit the UK government website.
There is also information available on the most popular degree subjects (and the corresponding most popular universities to study each subject) available; fancy yourself an Architect? Liverpool is the most popular university for that. More interested in Computer Science? Manchester is the place to be. For those keen on English, most international Shakespeare fans head to Portsmouth.
But don’t feel you have to stick to the most popular subjects listed above – really think about what you want to achieve by studying in the UK. Do you want to…
- Work in a particular industry?
- Improve your English?
- Attend a specific university?
- Learn a specific set of skills?
Once you know your goal, you’ll be able to better focus in on the course best suited to you. Which then leads us onto…
Unfortunately, not many things in this life are free – and university degrees are one of them. Undergraduate degrees in the UK are costed at £9,250 per year for home/EU students.
For international students from outside the EU, however, this cost can go up significantly. Some universities may charge £10,000 per year for international students and some can charge up to £35,000+ per year.
It is vital to research how much each university charges international students, as it changes from institution to institution and between subject areas. This information will be available on the individual university’s website, so once you’ve made your final few choices for university and subject, cross reference everything to find the best value course for you.
When it comes to finding funding and support as an international student, there are also a lot of different avenues to take. Let’s break things down into the main 2:
Ah yes, the dreaded application process. Actually, this isn’t so painful – the majority of applications for undergraduate degrees in the UK are handled by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service – also commonly known as UCAS.
You can start an application and track its progress via the UCAS website; you simply need to register and have a clear choice of what course you wish to study and which institution you want to attend.
There are five stages to the UCAS application:
- Selecting your course
- Selecting your university
- Filling in the form
- Sending it off
With UCAS, you have two different application choices to make. You can either:
- Apply to study the same course (e.g. Medicine) at five different universities, or
- Apply to study five different courses at the same university
The choice is yours. UCAS also provides information on application deadlines. Here are some key facts to remember:
- The majority of courses have a deadline of JANUARY for applying
- However for international students from a non-EU country, you can apply to UCAS between 1st September and 30th June in the year preceding the academic year you wish to study.
- For international students from EU countries, you must apply by January still, otherwise you will be classed as a late applicant.
- Oxford and Cambridge universities, and most courses in medicine, veterinary science and dentistry have a deadline of OCTOBER for applying
- Some art and design courses have a deadline of MARCH for applying
- All these deadlines will be for the next academic year, which starts in September
Some universities also accept direct applications, so check with the admissions office.
For postgraduate courses, applications are also usually completed via the university directly – so again, check with the admissions office for information on the correct way to apply and deadlines.
Visas to study in the UK
In order to study in the UK, you will need to apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa. You can apply for this visa if you have the following:
- Been offered a place on a course
- Can speak, read, write and understand English
- Have the finances to pay for the course
- Have the finances to support yourself
- Are from a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland
You can apply for a visa as early as 3 months before you are due to start your course. You will usually receive a response within 3 weeks of applying.
In order to apply for a visa, you will need:
- A current passport
- Proof you have the financial backing to support yourself
- Proof of parental or legal guardian consent (if you’re under 18)
- Proof of relationship with your parent or guardian
- Have your fingerprints and photograph taken at a visa application centre
If you have all of the above, you can then apply!
So there you have it – a whistle-stop tour of everything you could need to know, including extra resources, about becoming an international student in the UK. We hope you found it useful…!
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