10 Tips For International Students Applying To UK Universities

Studying overseas as an international student is enormously exciting and exhilarating but it can also be a little nerve wracking.

Our top ten tips on preparing for life at a UK university are a must read.   

1. Apply for your university course early

You need to apply for your degree course via UCAS, the central admissions system for all university courses in the UK.

You need to submit your application by the 15th January, if you want to start your course in September that year (you can also apply earlier than this, usually from early Septemeber onwards the year before).

As well as your application, you’ll also need:

  • references
  • proof of finances
  • English language test scores (see below) and
  • a personal statement on why you want to study your university course.

2.  Take your English language test(s)

For your degree course it’s likely you’ll need to demonstrate your level of English is sufficient to complete the course.

Your university will stipulate the exact requirements but be prepared to take at least one English language test in your home country via an approved test centre before you start your course.

This test might be:

But you will need to check which one the individual university wants you to hold.

3. Get a visa

Studying for a degree means you’re be staying in the UK more than 6 months and current immigration rules mean you need to apply for a tier 4 (general) student visa in your home country up to 3 months before your course start date.

You’ll need to show you have the funds to pay for your course and cover your living costs. The British Council has more details.

However, you're currently exempt from needing a visa if you live in an EU country, although this might change once the UK leaves the EU on 31st January 2020.

4. Open a bank account

The great news is that UK banks do open bank accounts for international students.

This can take several weeks to arrange though, and you will need to take:

  • your passport
  • your university course enrolment letter and
  • evidence of your UK address.

It’s wise to talk to your local bank before you leave your home country on how they will transfer money to a UK account for you and how you can access cash in the meantime.

Depending on your home country bank, they may be able to link with a UK bank and start the process early.

5. Secure your accommodation

It’s really worth organising this before you arrive as the best accommodation always goes quickly. There are several fantastic options:

  1. Halls of residence are large buildings with single or shared rooms provided by your university. They have a canteen where food is served and communal social areas.
  2. Self-catering halls are similar to halls of residence but with communal kitchens you can cook your own food.
  3. Student flats and houses can be more expensive than halls of residence but they give you the freedom to live where you like, with other students and experience UK culture. You’ll need to sign a tenancy agreement with a private landlord so please read the small print carefully.

It's important to investigate each option carefully before deciding which one is best for you. First year students will often be allocated halls of residence, but you may want the freedom of self-catering halls or a student house/flat.

6. Stay healthy

To obtain NHS health treatment as an international student you must pay the migrant health surcharge before you apply for your visa.

If not, please consider private medical insurance before you leave your home country to cover you as private health care in the UK is extremely expensive.

7. Find a student job

As an international undergraduate student on an official tier 4 student visa you’re permitted to work up to 20 hours a week during term time and full time out of term time.

It’s not always easy to find a job by yourself so ask your university student services or your local student union about jobs they know about from bona-fide local employers.

8. Manage your money carefully

Living costs in the UK differ enormously depending on whereabouts you’re going to be living but are still relatively expensive when compared to other countries.

For example, food and drink can cost about £30 per week in smaller cities and towns but in London could be £50-60 per week as a minimum.

It’s a great investment to spend time before you leave working out what budget you’ll need to cover your living expenses.

This should include: food, drink, mobile, internet, bills (heating, water, electricity), travel, study materials, prescription charges, banking, and don’t forget having fun and socials!

When you first arrive in the UK, it's important not to go mad and buy everything you see. Save your money for your budgeted essentials, and splurge on souvenirs later when you know you've got some money spare!

Any leftover cash can also be used to try new restaurants, going to the cinema or other experiences you may wish to try.

9.  Apply for scholarships

Tuition fees and living costs in the UK are quite high so applying for scholarships can help with your finances.

Individual universities, charity and non-profit organisations offer scholarships to international students, though it does depend on what subject you’re studying.

Some of the most well-known ones include:

However, there are many more available, some of which can be found via the British Council, which showcases potential scholarships.

Alternatively, you can search online via the individual university or comparison sites such as scholars4dev, or top universities.

10. Explore and make friends

Once you start your university course, you will find most UK university towns and cities have good public transport i.e. buses plus numerous dedicated cycle lanes.

A few cities have trams e.g. Manchester. Trains and coaches are usually for longer journeys to explore other cities, travel to and from airports etc. Please be careful using taxis as these can be quite expensive and make sure you only use those with authorised licenses.

It can be a culture shock moving to a different country with new food, language, dress and social skills to grasp.

Give yourself time to adjust; its ok to feel everything is new and strange. Make friends with other international students and you can help each other. This means joining clubs, societies, and talking to your classmates, flatmates, etc.

You'll then find you soon settle in and start enjoying your time in the UK.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying to university in the UK as an international student, please see:

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