Who is the guide for?
This guide is aimed at international students who are interested in applying to study for a bachelor’s degree in the UK. The guide offers basic advice on choosing what and where to study, the application process, immigration and finances, as well as information on costs, living well and making the most out of your time at a UK university or college.
There are links to sites that provide further and more in-depth information at the end of each section to enable you to fully research everything you need to know before you apply. Although this guide is aimed primarily at undergraduate students, if you are interested in studying for a postgraduate or professional qualification, you will find useful information and links to further resources.
Why study in the UK?
Each year more than 110,000 international students choose a UK university or college to study for a bachelor’s degree. Studying abroad and learning about a new country gives students a fresh perspective on their own culture and background, and can be a life-changing and enriching experience. The UK - made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is a welcoming and multi-cultural place in which to study, build relationships and improve your English language skills.
UK universities and colleges are consistently ranked among the best in the world, with the quality of qualifications recognised by employers, universities and governments globally. In fact, three of the top ten universities in the world are in the UK.
As a practical consideration, courses in the UK are generally shorter than in many other countries (usually 3 years) helping to reduce living costs and tuition fees.
UK universities are globally recognised for research excellence. Five per cent of the world’s scientific research is undertaken in the UK, producing 14 per cent of the world’s most frequently cited papers.
Your English skills will improve vastly, and having studied in English will often better your employment prospects internationally.
The UK is a fantastic place to study, boasting a diverse culture and innovative industries. There are around 300 universities and higher education colleges in the UK. So whether you are looking for a rural campus or a bustling city, there is plenty of choice.
International students are well supported in the UK. Many universities and colleges have international offices and student societies as well as counsellors and advisors to help you feel more at home.
UK students often move out of their family home to attend university or college, which means that many universities have on-campus or college owned accommodation available, particularly for the first year. By living in university accommodation, international students may find it easier to get to know their peers, and ease into college life.
2. Choosing the right course
With around 35,000 undergraduate courses in the UK, there is a wealth of choice, in a wide range of subjects for you to choose from. You are going to need to spend time researching not only which courses interest you, but also you will probably want to understand how beneficial they will be to your chosen career path.
Beginning your search
A good place to start is by browsing the British Council’s education website that includes information on undergraduate and postgraduate courses, including MBAs, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
In the UK, undergraduate applications are managed by UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) and you can search all bachelor’s degrees by course, provider or location on their website. Some course providers do accept direct applications but the vast majority of applications go through UCAS. You can apply to up to five different courses or course providers when you make your application through UCAS.
Most institutions have details of their courses on their own website, or you can request that they send you a prospectus.
Full-time undergraduate degrees usually take three years to complete, though in Scotland they typically take four years. Some courses can be taken part-time with completion time varying from one course to another. If you are considering a part-time course you will need to ensure that your immigration status will allow you to do so.
Most undergraduate degrees are structured so that you can choose modules at the beginning of each academic year, allowing you build a personalised course. If you are interested in more than one subject, it may be possible to study a combination e.g. International Business and French. A ‘joint’ honours course is split between the two departments equally, whereas a ‘major with a minor’ course means that the time is usually spent 75%/25%.
You can check which institutions award recognised UK degrees on the UK Government website.
To find out about student satisfaction, how courses are taught and assessed, course accreditation and student destinations on finishing their course, visit Unistats where you can compare course data from universities and colleges.
UK qualifications are widely accepted around the world, but it is a good idea to check with professional bodies and employers in your own country, or the country you wish to work in, to see if they accept the course and qualification you have chosen.
An important factor for many when choosing which course to apply for will be the cost of tuition. Tuition fees vary depending on the course and the course provider. For more information on fees see Chapter 5 - Financial Costs.
Check entry requirements
Check university and college websites to find out what standard of English is required for their courses. Some universities or colleges will require you to take an English language test.
You need to check the minimum entry requirements as a guide to the kind of qualifications, subjects and exam grades needed. If you are unsure if your country’s qualifications are equivalent to those in the UK, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre.
3. Where to study?
If your chosen course is specialised and only offered in a handful of institutions, then you are going to be fairly limited in considering where to apply. If, however, you are choosing a traditional or mainstream course, then you will need to thoroughly research the course provider, taking into consideration what type of university you want to apply to, the reputation, as well as the location and lifestyle on offer.
You may find it useful to research which UK universities are leading in your chosen field. It is important to consider what matters to you- Is it the prestige of the university? Quality of research? Student satisfaction with teaching quality? Average graduate salary?
If at all possible, it is a good idea to visit universities and colleges before applying. Most hold open days but you will need to book a place beforehand. You can view a list of college open days online. For many international students it may not be possible to attend an open day, so you will instead have to rely on your own remote research.
It’s important for any prospective student to think about factors such as environment, amenities, local transport links and so on when considering where you might want to spend three years studying. But for international students you may have additional considerations, for example, are there other people from your country studying at the college or university? If you are religious, is there a place of worship on campus or locally? What does the college or university do to support international students in particular?
4. How to apply?
Deadlines for applications
The university and college academic year begins in September or October and most applicants, apart from mature students or those who have taken a gap year, are usually still at school or college when they apply. For most applicants this means that they will receive a conditional offer i.e. they will be accepted to the course if they achieve the grades set by the university or college, or rejected.
If you do not receive any offers, are late in applying or do not obtain the grades required, then you can go through Clearing. Clearing is the process in which vacant places on courses are offered before the term starts. Available courses that have not been filled are listed on UCAS from mid-August until late September. If you are going through Clearing, you will then need to contact the universities and colleges directly to apply.
It is important that you are aware of the application deadlines for your chosen courses. The deadlines fall on the same date each year:
You can apply online through UCAS. There are six sections to an application:
In your Personal Statement you should include a number of things such as, why you are interested in the course, what you hope to do after your studies and why you wish to study in the UK. For further guidance and tools to help you write your statement visit UCAS.
If you are applying through a UCAS centre (this may be your school or college) then they will complete the reference section of the form once you have submitted your application. If you are applying as an individual then you will need to include a reference from a suitable person, such as a teacher, as part of the application.
UCAS do charge a fee to apply. It is currently £12 for one choice or £23 for more than one choice. They offer guidance on how to pay.
5. Visa requirements
EEA and Swiss applicants
If your passport is issued by a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, then you do not need a visa to study, you can enter the UK freely.
Applicants from outside ofEEA and Switzerland
If you are from a country outside of the EEA or Switzerland then you will need to apply for a Tier 4 (General Student) Visa. This visa is specifically for students over the age of 16 who are planning to study a course that takes more than 6 months to complete.
UK visas and immigration are managed by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and you will need to visit their site to ensure you are eligible and then apply. They advise that you can apply for a visa up to 3 months before your date of travel to the UK. The requirements vary considering which country you are applying from. You may have to have certain vaccinations or, if you are coming from a tuberculosis high-risk area, a chest x-ray. You must show that you have the required financial backing. You will have to produce documents confirming your qualifications. You may be required to attend an interview or biometric test.
It currently costs £310 to apply to the Tier 4 (General Student) Visa. Depending on your circumstances, you may be allowed to bring family (dependents) with you, and you may be entitled to work alongside your studies.
6. Financial costs
The UKBA figures ask international students applying to the Tier 4 (General Student) Visa to budget £1,020 in living costs (not including tuition fees) per month if based in inner London, and £820 per month for outer London or anywhere else in the UK.
It is worth researching and setting a budget at the beginning. There are plenty of student budget sheets available online to help you manage your finances.
If you are an EEA or Swiss national student then you will pay the same rate as a UK student. If you are from a country outside of the EEA or Switzerland, you will pay more. According to a recent HSBC report the average annual cost of tuition fees for international students is £11,933 (US$19,291). This does not take into account living costs and is payable at the beginning of each year of your studies. You can find the tuition fees for most courses on the UCAS site, or on the university or college’s website.
You will need to factor in additional study costs such as course materials (including books and equipment) and in some cases fieldwork costs. There should be guidance on this on the university or college website.
After tuition fees, your greatest expenditure will be accommodation. If you are planning to live in accommodation arranged by your college or university, usually called Halls of Residence, then you will need to apply in advance. Halls are sometimes catered, though more often not, and vary in costs. Visit the university or college website to assess the options and apply in plenty of time.
Cost of accommodation will vary widely depending on where your university is. Unsurprisingly London rent is the most expensive. A recent investigation by The Guardian found that the cheapest accommodation offered by London universities ranged from £4,258 to £5,500 for the year 2012-13. The average cost students pay for the budget accommodation offered by universities was £3,301. It is important to understand that in most cases you will only be contracted to stay for 38 weeks in the year, and if you need accommodation over the summer vacation then you will need to make separate arrangements.
Ordinarily you will pay your accommodation fees to your university or college at the beginning of each term. If you are planning on renting privately then often you will be expected to pay each month in advance.
If you’re relocating overseas for a 3 to 4 year period, one of the main things you’ll need is for your personal belongings and house contents to be shipped safely and reliably to your new home.
Removals to Europe are often done overland. Outside Europe, the most reliable and cost-effective means of shipping larger volumes of household effects is by sea in freight containers. Transportation by sea can take several weeks. This is why it’s very important to plan your move well in advance so you can allow sufficient time for shipping.
Where smaller volumes of items are to be shipped that may only partially fill a freight container, it may be more cost-effective to consider ‘shared’ shipping, which happens to be particularly convenient for students. This is where a number of separate, smaller consignments for shipping to the same destination are consolidated into a single freight container. However, you should make sure to start planning the shipping as early as possible, as finding enough consignments may take some time.
Food costs will vary per region but many universities offer a guide on living costs so you should be able to get an idea of how much to budget by visiting their website.
7. Income and financial support
For all other international students (on a Tier 4 Visa) you may be able to work for up to 20 hours a week but you will have to check your immigration status with the UK Council for International Student Affairs.
Thousands of scholarships are listed on the British Council’s website and it is a good place to start looking. Check with the university or college to see if they have any scholarships, bursaries or grants that you can apply for. You may also consider approaching your country’s Ministry of Education, or local British Council offices in your country.
8. Living well
The following services are free to anyone in the UK, including all international students:
Emergency treatment (but not follow-up treatment)
As a full-time bachelors student you qualify for NHS (National Health Service) treatment for the duration of your stay on the same basis as a UK resident. Some services are free and some you have to pay for, for example you will normally be charged for prescriptions.
On arriving at your place of study you should register with a doctor (often called a GP or General Practitioner) as soon as possible. You will need to book an appointment and take along a letter from your university or college to prove that you are a student. If the doctor accepts you then you will be sent a medical card.
9. Making the most of university life
The National Union of Students (NUS) is a voluntary membership organisation with 600 student unions present in 95% of all higher education institutions. As well as campaigning on issues that affect and interest students, student unions offer advice and guidance on a number of welfare issues.
Your college student union will also organise social events and nights and is often a great place to make friends. As an NUS member your membership card can unlock discounts on shopping and entertainment.
It may be important to you to get to know your wider community and get off campus. If you are religious then researching local places of worship may be important to you.
Volunteering locally might interest you, as a way of meeting non-students, offering your services and building up skills on your CV. There are different organisations for volunteering in each country:
Choosing the Right Course
How to Apply?
Making the Most of University Life
Types of universities
Universities come in all shapes and sizes. From the ancient, most famously Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews, through to the new (post 1992), formed from polytechnics or colleges of higher education. Generally the older universities will do more research and offer traditionally academic courses, whilst newer universities may offer more vocational courses.
They can vary in size from less than 2,000 students to more than 30,000. Some comprise of a number of campuses, are divided into colleges or are located on small sites in city locations.