Going to University in the UK: A Complete Guide for
to international study
Immigration rules: getting a visa to study
As of right now – and up until 31 December of 2020 – anyone from the EU currently studying and residing in the UK won’t need to change their living situation.
That could change after that date as a result of the impact of Brexit. Currently, there’s no clear legislation in place. That means there is a good chance EU nationals will need to follow the same visa application process as other foreign nationals.
In those instances, you’ll need a General Student Visa (Tier 4) to be able to study in the UK full-time. You can apply for one of these visas as long as you:
- Have already been offered a place on a course
- Are able to read, speak, write and fully understand English
- Have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course
- Are (currently) not from a country in the European Economic area and Switzerland
The visa itself runs on a points-based system, taking all of these factors into account. You need 40 points to be accepted. Let’s take a look in more detail at how you can accrue points to make yourself eligible for a Tier 4 visa, as well as the rules for applying.
You’ll need to show you have a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). This is often electronic, and will be sent by your university once you have a confirmed place on a course.
A CAS will contain information like your personal information, course of study length of study, and your unique CAS number.
If your university or college is on the Tier 4 sponsor list, you’ll receive 30 points towards your overall total. This constitutes most of the points you’ll need, so is very important.
You’ll need to provide clear evidence that you have some form of funding to pay for your course tuition fee and monthly living costs.
This can include bank statements, as well as proof of loans you’ve taken out to afford the costs. This is worth the final 10 points you’ll need to be allowed to apply.
Filling out the visa form is relatively simple for the most part. The only slightly exceptional circumstances are the need for fingerprints and a photograph. These can be taken from you at a visa application centre.
All students from outside the UK are expected to pay an unspecified amount to be eligible for healthcare from the NHS.
This will vary depending on your course and length of stay. Usually, students staying for longer than six months can expect to pay around £150, while those staying for less will need to pay about half of that.
The rules for students from Australia, China, the US and the rest of the world
Let’s now take a closer look at what a foreign student needs to be aware of before, during and after you apply for a Tier 4 visa.
When should you apply?
While you might want to start your application process as early as possible, you won’t actually be able to until three months before your course is set to begin. You’ll typically hear back about your application within three weeks.
How much is an application?
You will have to pay exactly £348 for a Tier 4 visa. You’ll also need to pay a further £348 for any dependents you bring with you (such as children or other family members).
As we’ve discussed, there will also be a healthcare surcharge. This will vary depending on your exact circumstances. To find out how much you have to pay, you can use the calculation tool the government provides.
When can you arrive and how long can you stay?
The amount of time you can spend in the country before you begin your studies depends on the length of the course itself. Currently, the visa states you should arrive:
- No earlier than one week before your course starts, if it lasts less than six months
- No earlier than one month before your course starts, if it lasts more than six months
The amount of time you can stay afterwards depends on the type of course you’re studying, as well as how much of it you’ve already completed. This will all be determined as part of the application process, and you’ll be given a specified date when your visa is granted.
What can and can’t you do during your stay?
There are certain regulations in place to prevent people from exploiting the Tier 4 visa. Currently, anyone who’s granted one is allowed to:
- Study full time
- Work as a student union sabbatical officer
- Apply for a Tier 4 visa from within or outside the UK
- Apply to extend the length of a visa
- Work in most types of jobs
However, there are also some restrictions. While these are few in number, they’re still worth considering before you travel. You won’t be able to:
- Get public funding
- Work in certain types of jobs (such as a professional sportsperson)
- Study at an academy or locally funded school
Make sure to check with the conditions of your visa before you apply for anything work or funding-related.
When can you arrive and how long can you stay?
If you’re concerned about the status of your visa, you’ll need to contact UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). They should be able to answer any questions you have, or point you in the direction of the people who’ll know.
In the case of anything which is related to your actual course, you should turn to your place of study. Universities will be able to help with any concerns you have regarding your education.
Now you have a better understanding of what’s required of you, you can apply online for a visa.
Finding and applying to
If you’re worried about affording the cost of a UK university spot, you could look to exploit scholarship opportunities. These allow you to effectively earn your degree for free – although you may still have to pay for accommodation.
These will vary between initiatives set up by the government, to those offered from individual universities. Some of the best scholarship opportunities currently available for foreign students in the UK include:
Commonwealth masters scholarships
This is one of two government-funded scholarships offered to students. It’s been set up for anyone who’s from a commonwealth country, looking to study a master’s in the UK.
The DFID (Department for International Development) offers financial support for a number of things, including tuition and exam fees, airfare cover and a personal maintenance allowance.
The second of the government-backed scholarships sees a similar level of funding, assuming you meet the Chevening eligibility criteria. Arguably the hardest of these is to have already received an unconditional offer from one of the unis you’ve applied to (with a requirement of applying to at least three).
Specific uni scholarships
Aside from the opportunities the government provides, there are also a series of university-specific scholarships which fund the studying of certain degrees. Just some of the most prominent in the UK are:
- Gates Cambridge scholarship
- Oxford’s Rhodes scholarship
- Edinburgh Global Research scholarship
- Bristol University International office scholarships
- University of Westminster International scholarships
The key is making sure to research the universities you’re looking to apply to, in order to see if there are any scholarship chances.
How to apply
We’ve already taken a scattered look at a lot of what you’ll need to do to apply to a university in the UK. Let’s now run through the whole process from start to finish, in full.
That doesn’t mean the entry requirements for your uni of choice. You’ll first have to make sure you pass the requirements needed to be admitted to the country.
We’ve already discussed what some of that means. For example, ensuring you have an IELTS qualification. But it may also mean finding proof of your ability to afford living in the UK, or even getting a medical test.
Find a course
Ideally you’ll already have an idea of the kind of degree you want to do. From there, it’s a case of narrowing down your options to a handful of select unis. If you’re struggling to do that,you can use online tools which help make your search easier.
Think of this as your pitch to your universities of choice. You’ll be restricted to 4,000 characters (not words), so everything you say has to count. No waffle.
Mention what you love about the course, and explain why you feel it would be the perfect option for you. Don’t exaggerate, but also don’t be afraid to praise the course as much as you can.
Apply through UCAS
As we’ve discussed, this is where any UK uni applications are made. You can enter the course codes for your chosen subjects at this point, and then apply individually to each which interests you. You’ll be charged £13 if you’re applying to one course, or £24 if applying to multiple.
Apply for a visa
It’s at this point you can begin applying in earnest for your visa. You’ll need to follow the steps we outlined above, such as paying for your healthcare in the UK and providing proof that you’re allowed to move.
Your visa interview could take place at either an application centre, or over a video chat. Make sure to have any legal documents ready, including proof of your identity, financial situation and application.
After you’ve applied (for both your Tier 4 Visa and your universities of choice), it’s a case of waiting to see if you’re accepted. Once you know where you’re headed, you can begin preparing for your new life in the UK. But what does that involve?
Moving to the UK to
How to have a stress-free move
It’s hard to imagine anything more stress-inducing than picking up your current life and moving it to a totally new country. Yet despite that, thousands of students do it every year.
But how? Here are a few simple tips for anyone looking to migrate elsewhere for their education.
Break down what you’re intending to take into essential and non-essential items. Sure, you might want to bring your full record collection with you, but do you actually need it?
Work out what you’re going to need with you in the UK, then find somewhere safe to leave the rest behind. That could be in your existing property (if you don’t intend to move for good) or in a storage unit.
Make sure you have all your legal documents in order and with you. That means things like:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage license
- Insurance policies
- Any utility bills
Any legal information which identifies you as who you say you are can come in handy. It’s also important to have this stuff on you, in case of an emergency.
Pack in advance
The worst mistake you could make is leaving all your packing until the last minute. Make sure you begin a slow, but gradual process of moving things into boxes well in advance of your date of travel.
That means even a month or two prior if necessary. Give yourself as much time as possible. Start with the things you want to take, but won’t immediately need.
Use an international shipper
You may be wondering exactly how you’re going to transport a series of moving boxes from one country (or even continent) to another.
Luckily, there are fantastic overseas shipping services (such as our very own) which make it possible for you to pack up and move your entire life to another country – even if it is just for a short period.
All the legwork is taken care of for you. Movers will come directly to your door to help shift your items. Often, the materials needed to pack your items will even be sent to you, free of charge.
Advice for surviving freshers week
If you’re new to UK culture, you’ll soon discover social drinking is a huge part of it. That’s especially true if you’re surrounded by younger students during “freshers week”.
This is the name given to the seven days prior to your courses officially starting. Technically, it falls before the beginning of the academic year.
Students use this week to either get to know their new roommates, or to reacquaint with old friends. But not everyone is up for a seven-day party. Here’s how to get through this loud, expensive and exhausting week.
Make the most of deals
All throughout the week you can expect clubs, bars and even the student union to be running a series of promotions. These will help you save on funds, so be sure to stock up on as many coupons and codes as you can.
That also means taking on loads of (non-alcoholic) fluids. It’s going to be a busy period for your body (especially your liver), so do your best to support it with a fully lined stomach. If you don’t find yourself with much time, try to stock up on fruit, veg and healthy carbohydrates like brown rice.
Don’t skip initial lectures and seminars
While these won’t be “vital” to passing your course, they will be fantastic opportunities to meet new course mates and professors. It’ll also be handy to know what you can actually expect to study on your course.
This is probably the most important snippet of advice. While binge drinking is something of the norm at UK universities, make sure you limit yourself. Have fun, but don’t try to keep up with other people if you feel they’re overdoing it.
Challenges, Guidance, and Support
for International Students during COVID-19
With exams unable to be completed, a new approach was adopted for entry requirements – both for domestic students, and those doing the International Baccalaureate (IB).
AS and A-Levels
Ofqual have been put in charge of assessing the grades of these and GCSE results in the UK. Headteachers will send predicted grades to them, which will then be standardised to ensure fairness across the nation.
Coursework will play a huge factor in the final assessment of the IB grades. The assessment expertise, rigour and quality control (which are built into the programme) will all also factor into the final score.
Vocational and technical
A calculated result will be given to all learners who were due to take a Functional Skills assessment this year. There will be no one-size-fits-all approach to this. Each vocation is different, with factors such as the teacher, trainer or tutor judgment the primary means of giving a grade.
Naturally, when it comes to international students (who aren’t doing IB), you’ll need to find out how your country is grading exams.
Supporting the British people
In this time of need, the educational sector turned their attention towards helping the national fight against coronavirus. They shifted focus on battling the disease.
PPE has been in high demand since the outbreak of the disease. The same applies for basic medical supplies like swabs and hand sanitiser. Universities have been helping to not only fund the construction of these, but also create them themselves.
Blocks of accommodation have been freely handed out to NHS workers who have non-intensive healthcare needs. They’ve also opened their doors to rough sleepers, as well as international students who initially could not travel home.
With fantastic testing facilities available to them, universities have done what they can to help speed along the process of developing a vaccine. On April 2, the government announced a new national testing strategy, which relied heavily on the facilities and expertise of universities in the UK.
Universities have a plethora of medical professionals on their books. Those who can have been asked to step in and help in whatever way they can. Clinicians and general volunteers who work at universities have lended support.
Ultimately, the response from the education sector was fast and effective. They’ve played a huge part in the fight against COVID-19, while also providing clear guidelines for everyone involved.
What international students can expect for studying in the UK during and after Covid-19
As we’ve discussed, international students have been one of the most affected groups in the education sector. Let’s discover what advice has been handed out to current and future students, as well as looking at what the upcoming academic year might look like.
There are currently visa extensions to anyone who’s Tier 4 student visa expired on January 24. All visas from this point through until at least July 31st will be automatically extended.
The government will assess whether this needs to be extended a further month (or longer) in the coming days. Their ultimate aim is to ensure nobody is unfairly trapped in the UK without legal permission to be here.
If you have already applied to extend your visa (either to the original May 31st or current July 31st deadlines), you don’t need to apply again. Your visa will be automatically renewed if there are further extensions.
The landscape of the education system will be slightly different when universities go back to normal. A hybrid system is likely to be adopted. This would see a blend of in-person and digital learning sessions implemented throughout the year.
Naturally, this will be beneficial to international students if they are awarded a place at UK universities, but are unable (or choose not) to travel overseas.
Universities are exploring the best ways to allow the semester to carry on as normal. Currently, some of their best ideas include:
- Exploring these blended learning opportunities
- Allowing people to start in January for key subjects
- Extending the way Pre-sessional English can be accessed by foreign speakers
While some see the re-introduction of face-to-face learning as a potential threat, a recent poll found as many as 97% of unis want to try and provide in-person learning opportunities when term commences in autumn.
The findings would go on to highlight the current mindset of higher learning establishments across the UK:
- 87% want to bring back in-person social events in some capacity
- Student support will be fully reintroduced (online and in-person) by 95% of unis
- 90% of unis have already informed students of their current plans for the next educational year
- 82% are working with bars, cafes and other communities in their local areas to help implement their plans
With the future beginning to look a little clearer for international students, it’s time to start considering your choices. Remember, you have until September 20th at the latest to have a chance of getting into a UK university.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions for current and prospective international students looking to earn an education in the UK. A lot is still up in the air, but some queries do at least have a resolution at this point.
Can I finish the course I am studying?
If you’re entering into your final year of university, there’s a chance your course will be completed via Ofqual assessment. While some unis are attempting to carry out remote testing, others have used the grades already available to them through coursework to find a grade.
What happens if I cannot finish a course I am studying?
If you’re unable to finish the course you’re on because you had to leave the country, you’ll be able to extend your Tier 4 academic visa. You should be allowed to come back and finish your degree the following year, or will be awarded a fairly assessed grade based on the aforementioned determining factors.
What happens if my immigration permission has expired?
If your visa expired between January 24 and July 31 of 2020, you were able to apply for a specialist extension visa until the point at which you were able to freely travel home. From this point on you’ll need to reapply to extend your current visa if you intend to return to the UK. This should be fairly quick, as your details will all already be registered.
If you have not left the UK, your visa may be automatically extended beyond the 31st July. This will depend on future updates detailed by the British Government in the coming weeks.
Can I still make an immigration application?
The ability to apply for immigration application is slowly starting to become available again to foreign students. Centres have been opening up since early June. It is unclear as of right now when new applications will be processed.
Do I have to self-isolate when I arrive?
You most likely will have to isolate for a period of two weeks, unless your country is one of the names included by the UK government on their list of air bridges. These regulations are in constant flux, so be sure to check the rules right before you travel.