Applying to University in the UK: Tips For International Students

The UK is renowned for its world-class higher education institutions, and every year nearly half a million students travel from abroad to study in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.  

If you are based outside of the UK and are dreaming of one day pursuing a university degree here, this guide is for you

Our higher education experts have gathered together all of the essential information that international students NEED TO KNOW before and during their application, so you can improve your chances of success and feel fully prepared for your university experience. 

Let’s get started! Here are our top international application tips:

The information in this guide is correct as of March 2021

UCAS is there to help you 

UCAS (The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) is a UK-based organisation whose main role is to operate the application process for British universities.

Any student who wants to apply for a university place must do so via the online UCAS platform. It’s very easy to create an account, but you’ll need to spend some time on the application, entering personal details, and making your course selection.

 Some international students prefer to enlist an agency or advisor to support them with their application (although this is not essential). Be careful to only use registered, official services, and be aware that some may charge fees. 

Read the course specifications carefully

At UK universities, courses vary between each institution. That means that an Engineering course, for example, could be very different depending on whether you pursue it at Leeds, Loughborough or Lancaster! 

You need to look very carefully at the course description on each university’s website before making up your mind. Important things to look out for include whether students are offered a year abroad, a year in industry, or any compulsory work placements. 

You should also check whether the qualifications you will receive at the end of the course can be used in your home country, if you want to work there in the future. 

For information on choosing a university course, head here

It’s also worth mentioning that most UK university courses are very specialised right from the first term. This sets them apart from US university courses, which tend to begin with a broad focus. However, choosing a joint honours course (two subjects together) will give you more flexibility.

Check the deadlines

For Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and for medical, veterinary and dentistry courses, you’ll need to have submitted your UCAS application by 18:00 (UK time) on October 15th

The deadline for other courses is usually later and more flexible for international students. Check them and make a note of the last acceptance date, as you don’t want to miss out! 

You’ll also need to be aware of the deadlines for any language tests and visa applications (more on this later). 

Tailor your Personal Statement

Every student applying to a UK university has to write a Personal Statement explaining their motivations for applying to that particular course. 

However, international students should include a few sentences in their Personal Statement about why they want to study in the UK as opposed to their home country or another country. 

Reflect on exactly what attracts you – perhaps the research opportunities, the world-renowned academics or the unique course structure? 

Your qualifications count!

University admissions departments have their own methods of evaluating and converting international qualifications. This means that even if you didn’t study A Levels or the International Baccalaureate, you will not be discriminated against in the application process, and your qualifications are still important

You may be asked to submit proof of your qualifications directly to the universities either before or after your application is accepted. 

The lowdown on fees, loans and grants

Your ‘home’ country is the main determiner when it comes to fees and loans for university study. Another factor is which country in the UK your chosen university is based, as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have slightly different regulations. 

Fees for UK-resident students are capped at a maximum of £9,250 per year in England and Northern Ireland, £9,000 in Wales and £0 in Scotland. 

If your home country is not the UK, you’ll be looking at an average annual tuition cost ranging between £12,000 and £19,000. However, some universities (such as Oxford and Cambridge) charge a much higher average rate, and some subjects (including medicine) can be dramatically more expensive on account of the practical elements of the course.  

EU students and students from the EEA-EFTA or Switzerland who start a new course in England, Scotland or Wales after August 2021 will no longer be eligible for home fee status. Instead, each UK university will set its own fees for EU students.  Northern Ireland will announce arrangements in due course. If you’re thinking of starting a course in the UK from August 2021 onwards, you will need check with the university you are applying to for more information about fees they will charge.

Furthermore, students from the EU, EEA-EFTA or Switzerland who start new courses in England, Scotland or Wales after August 2021 will no longer be eligible for student loans (Northern Ireland will announce arrangements in due course).

Possible sources of funding for international students could include: private loans, scholarships, university-based grants and scholarships, and funding from your home country. For more information, get in touch with your chosen university or visit the UK Council for International Student Affairs website

Part-time work is allowed

Many students often pick up a part time job whilst at university, and full time jobs during the holidays to help top-up their bank accounts. From working as a library assistant to pulling pints behind the student bar, you’ll find plenty of employment opportunities both on and off campus. 

For international students, your Entry Clearance Vignette (sticker in your passport) or BRP (Biometric Residence Permit card) will state your working entitlement. It should state either 20 hours or 10 hours per week during term time.

This allows you to work part-time for up to 20/10 hours (as stated on your visa) per week during term time and full-time during holiday periods (holiday periods vary according to your course of study).

Don’t forget about hidden costs

It’s not just tuition fees which you’ll need to budget for when attending university in the UK.

Students are expected to pay for their accommodation (including bills), transport costs, course materials (including text books and laptops), leisure and sports activities, and of course their food and drink.

These costs can vary dramatically depending on which university you attend, where you choose to live, and your lifestyle choices!

As a rough guide, the average student rent is £126 per week, or £547 a month, however, students in London can expect to pay an average of £182 a week, or £640 a month. The average annual cost for students is £4,914 (based on a 39-week contract)

You’ll also need to budget for flights to and from your home country, as well as extra costs which you might incur from sending luggage, changing your mobile phone contract and even buying UK weather-appropriate clothes! 

Plan ahead for your visa and language test

If English is not your first language, you’ll have to prove that your skills are up to the demands of a university course.

Universities will state their English language requirements in various tests: IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic or Cambridge English Advanced (also known as the Certificate in Advanced English/CAE or Cambridge ESOL). They give the minimum grade overall, and usually the minimum grades required in writing, speaking, listening and reading.

If you are not a British resident, you’ll need to apply for a visa to study in the UK 3 months prior to beginning your university course. 

To do this, you’ll need to have been accepted onto a course, have proof of funding (private or from scholarships), and pay a fee

When you apply for your student visa, you’ll also need to show proof of your English language skills by submitting your test scores

You can find more information about visas on the UK government website.

Any further questions for our higher education experts? Ask away!

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If you’re looking for further advice and support with university applications, head to our blog

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