If you want to study in the UK but aren’t sure where to start, we can help you find out everything you need to know – from choosing where to study to applying for your student visa.
Home to some of the world’s most prestigious universities and renowned for its unique blend of culture and tradition, the United Kingdom is the ultimate study abroad destination. However, whilst the decision to study overseas is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding you will ever make, the amount of red tape it involves can make the process seem a little daunting at first.
To save you time and make your first steps as stress-free as possible, we’ve researched everything you need to know about studying in the UK, and condensed it into one easy-to-read article.
1. Choosing where to study
The first step to studying abroad is deciding where you want to study. The UK is home to well over 100 universities and university colleges, ranging from rural polytechnics to iconic institutions located in some of the world’s most vibrant cities. With so many options to choose from, finding the right university for you can be like hunting for a needle in a haystack – but luckily, there are resources that help make the search a little easier.
The official website for data on UK university courses is Unistats. On this site, you can compare courses according to a wide variety of different factors, ranging from the cost of the course to the level of course satisfaction experienced by current students. With so many factors available for comparison, Unistats can be slightly overwhelming – so for a quick-glance guide as to how well a university performs in your subject area, take a look at league tables like as those published by the Complete University Guide.
It is crucial to make sure that any university you’re looking at is listed on the Register of Tier 4 Sponsors. Only those universities listed on the register are eligible for a student visa.
2. Applying to university
After choosing your preferred destination, it’s a good idea to pick several backup options – especially if your top choice is a popular course at a competitive university. Once you’ve decided on your shortlist, you’re ready to start the application process.
For undergraduate degrees at publicly-funded universities, you must apply through the UK’s central admissions system – the University and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS). On the UCAS website, you’ll find detailed information about applying as an international student. After paying a small application fee, you can submit online applications to up to five universities. You will need to submit your personal information, your education history and a detailed personal statement.
For most universities, the application deadline is January 15th, although some institutions have earlier deadlines for their more competitive courses, so it’s always a good idea to check well in advance. Others accept direct applications, while private universities have their own application process. If you’d like to apply directly, check with your chosen university to find out whether or not that’s possible.
3. Getting a student visa
Unless you’re from Switzerland or the European Economic Area (EEA), you will need a Tier 4 visa to study for more than six months in the UK. You can find out about short-term visas for study periods of less than six months here.
If you do need a Tier 4 visa, you can find out more about the application process on the UK government official website. The key to a successful visa application is having the right documents, so although you can only apply for your visa a maximum of three months before the start of your course, it’s a good idea to start preparing as soon as possible. Certain applications may require further documentation, so here is a brief outline of the essentials you’ll need to submit:
Offer of a place
You will need to prove that you have been given an unconditional offer of a place at a registered Tier 4 sponsor university. Upon receiving your offer, you will be given a reference number known as a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). You will need this number to complete your visa application.
Proof of English-speaking proficiency
In some cases (depending on your education history and your country of origin), you may need to complete an English language test.
A current passport or other valid travel documentation
You need at least one page in your passport that is blank on both sides. You will also need to submit one passport-sized colour photograph.
Proof of financial support
You will need to prove that you have enough money to pay for your course and to support yourself during your time in the UK. The amount that you need will depend on your specific circumstances.
Tuberculosis test results
If you are applying from any of these countries, you will need to provide proof that you are free from tuberculosis before entering the UK.
Once you have all your documents ready, you can begin the application process online. You will then need to travel to your nearest Visa Application Centre to have your photograph and biometric data taken. Once you’ve applied for your visa, you will receive a decision in approximately three weeks.
4. Find accommodation
With your university and visa applications approved, the next step is finding somewhere to live. There is an incredible range of student accommodation options in the UK, ranging from shared dorms and university halls to private apartments.
5. Fees and funding
Overseas fees for UK universities depend on several factors, including the university you choose, the course you choose, and the location of your university (fees for English universities may differ from fees for Scottish universities, for example). Generally, you can expect to pay anything from £3,500 to £18,000 per year. You can find detailed information about overseas fees here.
If you need help meeting the costs of your university course, there are a number of different scholarship programs you can apply for. Generally, these are highly competitive, but it’s always worth checking to see which ones you’re eligible for. For further information about available scholarships and funding, check out the Education UK page dedicated to international students. If you’re studying a postgraduate course in the UK, check out our guide to funding your studies.
6. Working alongside your studies
If you want to earn a bit of extra cash to help fund your overseas adventures, it is often possible to get a job whilst studying in the UK. The rules and regulations concerning work whilst studying are complicated though, so it’s important to make sure that you don’t overstep the limitations of your visa. If you do, you could find yourself deported home. The UK Council for International Student Affairs provides some valuable information about working in the UK.
If the conditions of your visa do allow you to work, you are eligible for most jobs. There are some jobs that are prohibited though, including being an entertainer or a professional sportsperson. There are also limitations on the number of hours you can work per week, depending on the specific terms of the visa you have been granted. Once you have determined whether or not you can work in the UK, check here for details on how to find a job.