Studying in the UK: the Ultimate Guide for International Students 2023

Chloe Sweet
12.05.23 – 06 Mins Read

With over 600,000 international students in the UK, the choice of subjects and prestigious universities makes it a great destination for those looking to further their education.

British universities are recognised globally for their high standards and teaching styles. If you’re studying in the UK or are thinking about it, you’ll be aware that the social and cultural aspect of living in some of the UK’s largest cities is as enticing as the plethora of courses on offer.

With so many benefits to studying in the UK, it’s not surprising that so many international students apply to courses. If you’re one of those applicants or you’re thinking of applying, we’ve compiled this guide to help you understand everything you need to know about studying in the UK.

Here, we outline how to apply to study in the UK, what living in the UK is like for international students, and more. This is the ultimate guide to UK universities for international students.

The UK education system

Kids in the UK are legally required to attend school after their fourth birthday until they turn 16. During this time, children will attend two schools – primary and secondary. Primary schools cater for children aged between 5 and 11 and secondary schools are for ages 11-16

Primary and secondary schools are split into two sections each, known as key stages:

– Key stage 1, primary school, age 5-7 years old
– Key stage 2, primary school. age 7-11 years old
– Key stage 3, secondary school, age 11-14 years old
– Key stage 4, secondary school, age 14-16 years old

To determine their progress, UK pupils are assessed at the end of every key stage – with the key stage 4 assessment being GCSEs.

Once pupils have completed their GCSEs, aged 16, they will have the choice of finding employment, taking part in an apprenticeship, or extending their education by completing A-Levels or similar qualifications at a sixth form or college. These courses normally take two years to finish. Students must complete further education to be eligible to apply for university.

Preparing to study in the UK

Now you know a little bit more about what it’s like to grow up and go to school in the UK, let’s see what studying in the UK is like. Before applying to study in the UK, here are all of the things you need to know:

1.   Finding a university and course

One of the main reasons UK university courses are so well respected worldwide is because they’re usually more specialised than other nations’ – allowing students to focus on their chosen subject from the outset.

When you’re looking for a course to apply for, ensure it’s right for you by reading up on the course and the topics/areas it covers.

Once you’ve found a course that you like, you need to find the best university for you. One thing you could do is find out how many international students from your country attend the university and even reach out to some of them to see if they enjoy their course.

There are lots of prestigious universities in the UK, including in cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Sheffield. We recommend researching the city and area you intend on studying in to see what life there is like.

2.   Learn about admission requirements

As well as needing to have the right qualifications to study in the UK, you’ll also have to demonstrate that you can speak and write English to a good level. In fact, you may need to take an English language test to be eligible for the course.

Student visas

Additionally, it’s likely that you’ll need a student visa if you want to study in the UK. Since leaving the EU, anyone who has moved to the UK after 31st December 2020 has required a student visa.

If your course lasts for longer than six months (or less than six months, but you want to work while studying), you’ll need a student visa. If you’ll be studying in the UK for less than six months, you’ll need a standard visa, but you won’t be able to work if you have this visa.

A student visa costs £363 to apply for from outside the UK or £490 to extend or switch to a student visa from inside the UK.

3.   Explore the application process

Typically, most international students apply to UK universities independently, but you can apply via UCAS. UCAS is the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which UK students apply to universities through.

When you apply to study in the UK, the required qualifications may be written in UK terms, e.g. A-Levels, so you’ll have to make sure you have your nation’s equivalent qualification.

If you come across this while searching for a course, don’t worry. Most universities will accept equivalent qualifications.

As we have previously mentioned, you’ll likely need to take an English language test to prove your proficiency. Any certificates or registration numbers should be added to your application to allow universities to verify that you have passed the relevant tests.

Next, you need to prepare your personal statement – this should explain:

1. Why you want to study in the UK
2. How good your English language skills are, including mentioning any English courses or tests you’ve passed
3. Why you want to be an international student as opposed to studying in your home nation
4. Why you want to study the specific course you are applying for

Once you have written your personal statement and compiled all of the necessary information, it’s time to apply and wait to hear back from the admissions committee.

4.   Discover financial aid opportunities

Before you can properly start dreaming of studying in the UK, you need to make sure you have the money in place to fund your degree, because you won’t be eligible to apply for a student loan.

Students from outside of the UK will have to pay higher fees than UK students, with degrees costing anywhere from £10,000 to £35,000 per year, depending on the course and university.

You may be able to seek financial support from your chosen university in the form of a bursary or scholarship. Explore the universities that offer scholarships on the British Council website.

Sorting out your student accommodation

At Vita Student, we know a thing or two about what makes great accommodation for students, so here are five things to consider when picking your student accommodation.

1.   Book it early

Leaving your accommodation to the last minute is a bad idea as it means all of the most cost-effective and best places will have been snapped up.

2.   Does it have everything you need?

Wherever you choose to stay, it’s important you have a quiet place to study, somewhere to relax, good cooking facilities, and even somewhere to exercise. You’re likely to be living at your accommodation for at least 8 months, so it needs to be perfect.

3.   Is it secure?

Ensuring you and your valuables are safe is one of the most basic needs when you’re looking for somewhere to live. When you’re looking for the perfect accommodation, check what security measures are in place. Do they have cameras? Will staff be on-site at all times?

4.   What’s the Wi-Fi like?

You’ll likely not notice if your internet connection is good, but if your Wi-Fi is slow and unresponsive you won’t be able to ignore it. Whether you’re streaming something online, staying in touch with family back home or just trying to revise, a slow internet connection is painful.

5.   Where is it?

Location is key to having a good time and making the most of university life. If you want to get out and enjoy the nightlife, living far out of the city isn’t going to be helpful to you. Make sure you have a look at what’s near to your accommodation before moving in.

All Vita Student accommodation is located centrally, so you can immerse yourself in the city you’re studying in. We also have superfast 250MB internet to help you keep up with work and catch up with family and your favourite shows, 24-hour service to keep you safe and sound, and private study areas for those late-night revision sessions.

Interested in living with us? Discover what life at Vita Student is like here.

Living in the UK

Once you have been accepted and you have your visa and finance all sorted out, it’s a good chance to get to grips with what living in the UK is like.

With such a large number of international students in the UK, universities are keen to help people integrate into their new home and city. We recommend going to any events for international students as it’s a great way to meet new people and get to grips with studying in the UK.

It’s a good idea to seek out any Facebook groups relating to your course and university too as these are an excellent way to meet new people before your course starts.

Studying abroad and adapting to a new environment and culture can be difficult, but there are things you can do if you’re feeling homesick or anxious about studying in the UK. Explore our Managing Stress When Studying Abroad blog for more tips on coping as an international student.

For more information and advice on studying in the UK as an international student, take a look at our dedicated international students page.