According to data from the Institute of International Education, the United Kingdom is the world's second most popular destination for international students, behind only the United States. World class universities, a fantastic social environment, and the country's diverse culture make the country a desirable destination for students.
The United States, alongside China and Germany, are the top "source" nations for students looking to study in the UK. If you'd like to become one of the over half a million international students taking a university or other higher education course in the UK, then this guide will help you to plan both your studies and your move.
Finding the Ideal Course
First things first. What course are you looking to study, and at which university?
Take some time to make your decision as it could shape your career, at least in the short to medium term.
Your high school might have a careers counselor who can help you get started on finding the right course. There are also many good websites that can help identify your talents and skills, particularly if you aren't sure what you should study.
Check out useful websites such as
- UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), which provides information on UK courses and careers.
- WhatUni.com, which provides tips on choosing a degree subject
- The Muse, which contains a wealth of information on different career paths.
When it comes to choosing the right university, The Times provides an annual ranking of UK universities which is a great place to start. You can also see how UK universities rank globally, including rankings for different courses.
You should also visit the websites of the universities you are considering to learn more about them, the courses on offer, and find forums and Facebook groups to hear from current students. Speaking to international alumnae could prove invaluable too!
Apply to Your Chosen University
The process of applying for a place at a university in the UK is relatively straightforward.
Normally you will apply through UCAS, although in some cases it is possible to apply directly through the university.
Deadlines and application requirements can vary depending on your chosen course. Generally, the application process starts a year before the course commences and ends in January of the year when you want to start studying. For example, for courses starting in September 2020, the applications can be sent from 4 September 2019 onwards and up to 15 January 2020.
Always check each specific university website that you are looking at, along with UCAS guides, to find the exact deadlines for your chosen courses. As mentioned previously, these can vary from university to university.
Applying to a UK university will generally involve:
- Filling out the application form, including information on your grades and previous degree, if you have one;
- Writing a personal statement, explaining your reasons for choosing the specific course; and
- Proof of language entry requirements, if there are any.
The UCAS website has plenty of information to help you through the application process.
Covering Your University Fees
UK universities charge annual course fees. While UK and EU students are able to apply for a student loan to cover the fees, this option is not available for US or international students.
Tuition fees are higher for international students and they vary depending on the university, with certain courses costing more than others.
In 2018/2019, annual tuition fees for international students were:
- For undergraduate degrees, between £9,000-£26,000 (approximately $11,400-$33,000 according to June 2019 exchange rates).
- For postgraduate degrees, between £5,880-£55,000 (approximately $7,464-$69,800 according to June 2019 exchange rates).
You can find tuition fees for your chosen university course online either on the UCAS website or the university's website.
Although you can't apply for student finance, there are other ways you might be able to fund your studies. US students can apply for international student loans, which can be accessed from many US student loan providers. In some cases, you might even be able to use federal student aid to help pay for your study abroad, especially if you're only spending a short period in a UK university.
You can also apply for a scholarship. These are on offer at most universities but there are also numerous organizations offering scholarships to international students wishing to study in the UK.
Understanding the Visa Application System
Now you've got your place lined up, you'll need to sort out your student visa before you can move to the UK. The correct visa will depend on how long you're planning to stay.
Short-Term Student Visas
If you're coming to the UK to study for less than six months, you can apply for a short-term student visa. The visa costs £97 (approximately $123 according to June 2019 exchange rates) and it typically takes 3 weeks to get a decision once you've applied.
Please note that you won't be eligible to work, even part-time, with this type of visa and you cannot get public funds. This visa also cannot be extended.
Tier 4 Student Visa
If you'll be studying in the UK for more than six months, you'll need to apply for the Tier 4 student visa. The earliest you can apply for a visa is 3 months before you start your course and it'll cost £348 (approximately $441 according to June 2019 exchange rates).
During the visa application process, you will need to:
- Provide your Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) number, which you'll receive from your university once you accept an offer.
- Show proof of finances, which include your ability to cover the whole cost of tuition fees and prove you have £1,015 (approximately $1,288 according to June 2019 exchange rates) per month to cover the cost of living. This is £1,265 (approximately $1,605 according to June 2019 exchange rates) if you're planning to study in London.
- Meet the necessary English language skill requirements.
As part of the application process, you'll also have to pay a healthcare surcharge to enable you to access the UK's National Health Service (NHS). You can find out more about UK healthcare for international students in one of our previous posts.
This visa also enables you to work in most jobs. Take a look at our Finding Work as an International Student in the UK guide to find out more about how to get a part-time job while you study.
Organizing Your Accommodation and Healthcare
Next up you need to arrange your accommodation to help you settle into student life smoothly.
The best option is to look for accommodation with your university. Most institutions offer both self-catered and catered accommodation, and they may even have special accommodation for international students.
Living in university accommodation can be especially helpful during your first year, allowing you to make friends, explore the area, and get more used to life in the UK in a safe and friendly environment. This also gives you time to get to know the area before looking for private accommodation in your second year of study.
If you do choose to rent from a private landlord, visit The Save the Student website for valuable information about what to look for and how to find good quality accommodation.
Another important aspect of student life to plan for is how you will access healthcare in the UK. As mentioned above, you will have to pay a healthcare surcharge as part of your visa application to access treatment on the NHS.
You may also wish to consider taking out private health insurance. This may cover the cost of some treatment which is not free on the NHS, such as dental treatment, and also allows you to access private medical providers which are likely to have shorter waiting times for an appointment.
If you're planning to travel back home frequently, you may also want to consider an international health insurance plan that will cover you for treatment both in the UK and abroad.
Studying in the UK as an International Student
Use this guide as well as others on our Now Health International blog to help you plan your studies in the UK, as well as navigate your way through life once you have made your big move!