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How to come to study at a UK university: step-by-step guide

How to come to study at a UK university: step-by-step guide


Have you been thinking about studying abroad but do not know where to start or what to expect? We have put together a guide for you that will give you a good idea of how the application process works and what other aspects you will need to remember about.


This article will guide you through everything you need to do from start to finish and help you to make a first step towards that life changing decision.

Choose the subject

Even though career prospects are important and they can vary greatly for different subjects, make sure you choose something you are truly passionate about. If the subject inspires you, you are much more likely to be successful in both your studies and future jobs.

Subjects in the UK are different from those in other countries and you might find new options that will pleasantly surprise you. Make time to look through the list of courses in different universities to find the ones that are most suitable for you. Every university will have a prospect you can look at with more detailed information about every course.

UK universities generally offer narrow specialisation making you an expert in your field but you will have a lot of flexibility with the choice of modules you can take each term.

Choose the university

Students sometimes make a mistake of blindly aiming for a prestigious university without doing the research on which university is strong in their discipline.

When you read university rankings (and it is highly recommended to do so), pay close attention to what they say about your subject of choice. Even though the general public might not have heard of a particular institution, but it is really good in your field, your future employer will be very aware of who prepares the best specialists, and this is what matters.

Entry requirements are another important factor to take into account. UK universities have a strict selection process and your academic records must satisfy the requirements. So compare your grades with requirements and choose the universities accordingly.

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Understand the costs

Once your mind and heart is set on the UK, you need to make sure you understand all the costs involved, such as tuition fees, accommodation, transport and everyday expenses. Bear in mind that these will differ depending on the area you choose: London, Oxford and Cambridge will be more expensive than other parts of Britain.

For example, if you are planning to study for a bachelor’s degree in London, you should expect to spend an average of around £12,000-£13,000 on your course fees and a similar amount of money on your living costs.

The tuition fees can usually be paid in two instalments, one before September, another one before January.

Most students in the UK have a part-time job in their free time. This can help you with your living costs. If you work regularly, you should be able to cover a good part of your daily expenses from your earnings.

Check your English skills

To be accepted on a university course you need to demonstrate a certain level of English by taking an IELTS test. The score you are required to show depends on how advanced the programme is. If 5.0 might be enough for a foundation course, for a master’s degree you are expected to get 6.5.

Are you confident about your language skills? If not, you might want to put a plan in place that will help you to get those up to scratch.

It is definitely worth doing an IELTS preparation course, even if your English is good. The length of the course can vary from 4 weeks to several months, depending on how much help you need. These courses are not only designed to improve your English, but to also familiarise you with the structure of the test and what pitfalls to look out for. There are English schools that aim specifically at preparing students for entry into UK universities and have programmes tailored for this purpose.

If, however, you don’t feel prepared enough and there is little time left before your programme starts, you may have an option to do an English course at your university. Once you successfully finish the course, you will automatically progress onto your degree of choice.

Prepare your documents and apply

There is a list of documents you need to submit on your application, including your previous academic certificates from school or university, results of your IELTS test, academic or work references, and your personal statement.

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The application form is usually filled in online and it will take a university anywhere from one week to two month to consider it.

Make sure you read the application instructions very carefully. By looking at your application form, the admissions committee will form an opinion about you: how passionate you are about the subject, your academic successes and how seriously you take this opportunity.

Personal statement is a short essay about your academic and other achievements, why you chose this degree and university and your ambitions for the future. This is a perfect opportunity to sell yourself, so don’t be shy, other applicants won’t be! No achievement is insignificant: small things can tell a big story about your abilities and talents, whether it’s leadership, sports, charity work or academic competitions.

You can find a short guide to what happens after the application here.

Get your offer

If the university is happy with all the documents you provided, they will make you an unconditional offer of a place and all that’s left to do is to pay the deposit to secure your place and apply for your visa.

However, if the university requires more documents, they might make you a conditional offer that will be finalised once you satisfy the condition. It may be that you haven’t graduated from school yet and thus were not able to provide your academic certificate at the time of application or you are still preparing for your IELTS test.

Accept the offer. Apply for a visa

Once you have the offer from the university, you need to confirm that you are happy to enrol for the course by paying a deposit of 20-50% of your first year tuition fees.

Your university then issues a CAS number as an evidence of your enrolment. Now you are ready to make your visa application. Don’t forget, that visa processing takes about a month, so make your application in advance to leave yourself enough time.

To eliminate potential problems when applying for a visa, take care to provide every bit of information the embassy requires, fill in every field on the application form and enclose every document. If your application is in perfect order, there is nothing to worry about and the application process should be very straight forward.

Book an accommodation

There are many different accommodation options including student halls, shared houses and flats. All of them have pros and cons, depending on your personal preferences.

If you are booking accommodation from a different country without looking at it first, it is highly recommended to choose student halls as the safest option. When booking with a university, you have a peace of mind, knowing that you will have full support with any problems you might have, which is not guaranteed with a private landlord.

As an international student, you are guaranteed a place at university’s halls of residence. The earlier you apply, the more choice you will have in terms of room type and location.

Read our accommodation guide to get an idea of what accommodation options in the UK are.

Pack your bags

Now all the serious matters are resolved, you can start thinking about what you might need for daily life. It is most important to remember to bring all the documents you used for the university and visa application, any correspondence you received from the university and your bank cards.

Forgetting anything else would not be an issue as you will be able to purchase it on your arrival. Make sure that your mobile phone is not locked to a particular network or you might have difficulties with your new simcard.

None of these steps are difficult but do require a little planning. With good organisation and help, you can make the process exciting and stress-free. Be clear about your aims and objectives and enjoy the journey!

If you have any questions about the application process, we are here to help.

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