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Moving abroad to study, if university is the path for you, will be one of the most exciting experiences of your life. And the scariest! If you find a course you’re passionate about, and a place that’s lucky enough to have you, this will be your one way ticket to independence, freedom and invaluable personal growth.
The UK is home to some of the best universities in the world, with classes taught by professionals leading the way in their respective fields. London is a powerhouse city, an ever thriving, ever growing metropolis of finance, culture and the arts.
Studying in London for the past three years has been both thrilling and terrifying. It has challenged me, inspired me, pushed me to my limits and made me stronger both as a pursuer of knowledge and as a human in the process of being.
I remember clear as day how teeth grinding the application process was and how many questions I had while preparing to study abroad, which is why I’m here for you now.
Everything you need to know about applying to study abroad in the UK
The pros and cons of studying in London (applicable to most of the UK)
Picking a degree
(Hi, I’m Vadz), I studied for three years for an undergraduate law degree at Queen Mary University of London. I’d always had my heart set on this degree and school, so this section was a no brainer.
Before you start applying for anything, you’ll have to pick a degree. And then you’ll have to pick a school. There are several lists that you’ll come across, ranking the best universities based on various criteria. But just because the university you want to go to doesn’t rank high on a certain list, does not necessarily mean as much as you would think.
Some of the top universities in London for example are only ‘top’ in specific fields like Law and Medicine, but they don’t offer extensive courses in the arts or fashion.
Even if you think you know what you’d like to study, it’s a good idea to do a some research on what else is available, because you never know if something else might tickle your fancy. Be sure to read as many prospectuses as possible, visit university websites (including social media pages), book open days if you can and read course descriptions in detail.
A prospectus is a booklet that universities provide on their websites or in printed form which advertises the school or university to potential students and parents.
Remember of course that your degree of choice will depend on your ALevel (or ALevel equivalent) results and some universities will require higher grades for the same course than another university.
Applying through UCAS
Most applications for UK universities are processed through UCAS, which is the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. They’ve got a wealth of resources on their website to walk you through the whole process, including video tutorials.
When you’ve picked your university, you can apply to up to 5 schools at a time in a year on the UCAS platform. If you’re applying to Oxford or Cambridge, it’s actually not possible to apply for both of them in the same year, so you will have to pick one if you believe you have the grades to meet the entry requirements.
You’ll be able to rank your choices starting with your first to last preference. UCAS will then process the applications for you and then it’s through the website that you will receive your confirmation or otherwise.
Note: it is possible to apply for a course directly through the university but this can get a bit complicated to keep track of. Using UCAS keeps all your information in one place and they send everything out for you when you’re ready. Most university websites will probably redirect you to UCAS anyway.
When to apply
If you’re applying for courses that start in September, you need to apply by the latest January of that year. The specific dates for each year will be given on UCAS, with earlier dates given for Oxbridge (Oxford or Cambridge Applications).
Writing a personal statement
One of the steps to applying to the university of your dreams is writing a personal statement that will let them know a little bit about you and why they should welcome you into the family of their institution.
This is often the most time consuming part of an application, and you should probably start planning it well in advance. You need plenty of time to create a few drafts, have some friends and family read it over, and rewrite it a several more times until you have the perfect letter.
A personal statement is meant to showcase you as a person, your values, achievements, and what you will bring to the university. Remember that most universities are looking for people who will be part of the community, who will be involved in student life and who will reflect positively on the school.
But don’t worry if you don’t have an endless list of extra curricular activities or work experience. Tell them why you want to do your chosen course, what it is that you’re passionate about and what it is in particular that attracts you to this university. This is where it’s important to know details about the school you’re applying to, yes you can do a general statement but schools want to know that you’re interested in them.
Are you good are making friends? Are you a natural born leader? Are you passionate about something quirky? Have you performed in theatre since you were 5? Did you once lead a volunteering project at your school that helped people in some way? Tell them! Your hobbies, interests and special quirks are what will make you stand out. Yes, it has to be professional and formally written, but don’t be shy to let your authenticity shine through.
Your personal statement should be no more than 4000 characters. If you’re still unsure what to write, UCAS has some tools to help you get started.
Once you’ve been accepted, now you need to start planning your big move!
Planning your visa
Coming from the Seychelles, I classify as an international student, so the process of application is a little bit different to UK and EEA students.
Now, take it from me, this is probably the most important part of getting you to university. You’ve got the grades, you’ve been accepted at the school, now you need to get into the country. I had a horrendous ordeal with applying for a visa because I was missing one important document which meant that the first time round my visa was rejected. It was then a very stressful last minute rush to apply for a second one to make it to enrolment in time. But thankfully, it all worked out in the end.
So, learn from my mistakes: start the process as early as you possibly can. Read your forms VERY carefully, and be sure to have all your necessary documents. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re unsure about something.
Most international students will apply for a general student visa (T4 student visa) in order to come for a course in the UK that’s more than 6 months long. There are certain eligibility criteria which are important to read but specific details will depend on which passport you hold. You can apply for this visa only 3 months before you’re due to start the course.
Seychelles: we don’t have a UK visa office in Seychelles, so several times a year, interviewers come over from Mauritius to conduct interviews for visas. You’ll have to contact the embassy and find out when these are taking place. If you miss your session, you might have to travel either to Mauritius or Pretoria in South Africa to process your application.
Once your visa is granted, you will be given a Biometric Residence Permit which you’ll need to keep safe and have with you every time you re-enter the UK. Your BRP will have your biometric details, as well as any eligibility to work during your course, if applicable. Usually, this will be a maximum of 20 hours per week during term time, which means you can engage in more hours during breaks and holidays.
Planning your accommodation
If you’re moving to the UK from far away like I did, you’ll be coming to a whole new country, and it will take some time to get used to the new way of life, the transport system and just getting your general bearings. Which is why I would definitely recommend applying for on campus accommodation during your first year of university.
In London itself, Queen Mary is the only university with an on campus student village. Other universities have student accommodation but these are not within the campus itself.
I lived in halls my first year and it allowed me to really get used to the new life. I was able to make friends very quickly, was close to all my classes and was able to explore London at my leisure. Universities usually give dorm priority to international students so it’s worth applying. For more about my first year in halls, check out this article, I think you’ll enjoy the little insights.
If you’re not going to live on campus or in halls, hopefully this will help with finding the perfect flat.
Planning your budget
People don’t really like talking about budgets and money because it’s a topic that makes people uncomfortable. But as students, organising our finances is something we have to figure out so that we don’t max out our bank accounts right off the bat.
You need to have a budget. Period. When you arrive in the UK you’ll be opening a bank account and every month, your student loans, scholarship money or allowance will come in and you have to plan how you’re going to not spend every penny within the first week of the month.
This is the big leagues now, the training wheels are coming off and adulthood is around the corner, if it hasn’t arrived already.
It will be hard to plan a budget before you actually get to university and start living life a little bit to see where your costs are. But once you’re a few months in, you’ll know where you stand.
Is that shopping spree at H&M every Saturday worth it? Do you really need to get your nails done every few weeks? Could you maybe start making some savings from that money you spend at the bar every weekend?
A couple of ways to supplement your funds would be to apply for a part time job with the university. They’ve always got opportunities in the campus cafes, or as a student ambassador. If you want to venture out of university, a lot of places are looking for part timers to do a bit of work, within the limits of your visa of course.
Set yourself a budget, and when you see yourself getting near the danger zone, cut back and be responsible with your spending. One of the ways that helped me with my budgeting and lifestyle was by discovering and embracing minimalism. Let me tell you it was a game changer.
Getting ready – 1 month to go!
In the month leading up to your big move, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got everything packed, planned and sorted. You’re going to be so excited for your new adventure, and I’m a little envious, because that feeling of excitement is special.
Some schools will send you a reading list beforehand so you can get your books ready, others will let you know what you’ll need once you’ve started classes. Everyone’s packing list will be different, but things like stationary you can get a few days before class, and as you go along you’ll realise what you may need for your flat or dorm room and you can always find some amazing student deals.
Most importantly, take a deep breath! You’re embarking on one of the most wonderful chapters of your life. It’s going to have it’s ups and downs, but it’s going to be YOUR big adventure.
I hope his helped make your journey a little bit easier. The world is waiting for you to make your mark, so go get them tiger!
I can’t wait to see what life has to offer YOU next.