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Studying in Britain – Experiencing Culture and Building a Career Fit for the Future
Studentpad first year student guide

Introduction

Welcome to Studentpads’ Official Guide for International Students!

Coming to the UK for a university degree is probably one of the most important decisions in your professional and personal life. It will greatly enrich your knowledge, broaden your horizon and largely determine your future career path.

Why study in the UK?

The UK higher education sector provides you with many exciting opportunities for developing your career and to advance your language skills. It offers a great variety of courses and degrees to unfold your full potential. On top of that, British colleges and universities are world-leading in both teaching and research. Completing a British university degree can increase your career prospects considerably.

You will also have the chance to make friends from all over the globe and benefit from an international academic staff. In other words: come to the UK and meet the world! After all, British higher education institutions continue to attract thousands of students from more than 200 countries.

There is much to gain and the many advantages of studying in the UK easily outweigh the few bureaucratic efforts involved. However, there are some crucial aspects to consider before arriving and commencing your course. Investing some time in planning your arrival and stay ensures the smooth progress of your studies and time in Britain.

This guide will provide you with information on the most important issues you need to consider when you plan to visit the UK as an international student. Each of our categories provides you with brief yet comprehensive accounts:

Note: If you should have any questions specific to your personal situation you should contact the international office of your higher education institution. They should be able to provide you with individual advice.

You can also check our Official Freshers Guide and Housing Guide

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Before You Arrive

“Starting a new, exciting Chapter”

Before entering the UK, most foreign students have to go through a few important bureaucratic procedures. Depending on your personal situation, these can be a little tiresome, yet are absolutely crucial for ensuring that you’re not violating any laws. Every student should ideally be accepted by a British college or university before their arrival.

Which university or college should I choose?

The first step is to find and pick a university or college. Choosing the right institution depends on your personal preferences, future plans, and expectations. Finding the right course at the right place takes some time and you should apply for your degree of choice while you’re still in your home country. Most universities make use of online application processes –so students can apply from all over the world and make all the necessary arrangements prior to their arrival.

The majority of universities and colleges provide a lot of information on their courses and degrees on the Internet. You should spend some time thoroughly reading their websites and online brochures. Other good starting points are higher education ratings that are published on a yearly basis. They will give you an idea about the teaching and living quality at even the best UK higher education institutions.

Choosing the right course and university/college

When it comes to picking the right place and program to study, you should consider a range of important questions, regarding:

  • What career/future job do you aspire?
  • How long do you want to study? Do you consider postgraduate studies (e.g. MA or PhD)?
  • Do you have sufficient funds (for both fees and living costs)?
  • Would you like to study in a city? Or do you prefer the countryside?
  • Does the size and reputation of an institution matter to you?
  • Does the institution offer special programs for international students?

If you wish to enter the UK before you’ve been accepted to a university course, you have to apply for entry clearance as a prospective student and provide evidence for your application at a British higher education institution.

Applying for a Student Visa

One of the most important issues you need to check is whether you need a visa to enter the UK. This very much depends on your country of origin. Generally, there is a distinction to be made between EEA/Swiss nationals and international students.

EEA and Swiss Nationals

 If you are an EEA/Swiss national you usually have the right to enter and stay in the UK without a visa, no specific permission is needed to study here. You do not have to register or apply for any particular documents either. If you’re an EEA/Swiss national, you have the right to move freely and to take residence in the UK for up to three months.

However, you need comprehensive health assurance. For temporal stays, a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will suffice. If you plan to stay in the UK permanently, you will probably have to apply for additional health insurance. Find more information on the official UK Council for International Student affairs website http://www.ukcisa.org.uk/student/eea.php.

EEA countries include: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

Non-EEA-Students

If you’re a student whose country of origin does not belong to the EEA group, you will have to apply for a visa. This mainly applies for students from Asia, Africa, Australia, and the USA. If you’ve been accepted by a UK higher education institution, you can choose between two different types of student visa: Student visitor status and a Tier 4 visa.

For courses that do not exceed a total length of six months, you will be eligible for student visitor status. If you should attend an English language course, this period extends to a maximum of 11 months. Some students may enter the UK without entry clearance when they come as student visitors (“non-visa nationalities”, e.g. USA, Japan, and South Korea). However, the student visitor status has certain restrictions. Most importantly, you won’t be allowed to take up employment in any form; even if it is unpaid or part of your programme. Moreover, you cannot apply for an extended stay after you’ve completed your course, once you reach the end of your study you are expected to leave the UK.

Most foreign students thus apply for a Tier-4 student visa. You want to do this prior to your arrival at the UK border. If you enter the UK with a Tier 4 visa, you will have to prove that you have sufficient funds to cover both your course fees and living costs (i.e. accommodation and food). You also need to make sure that the institution of your choice has the permission to accept international students with a Tier 4 visa. Depending on your degree and personal plans, you can apply for an extended stay in the UK after completion of your course, in order to gather some practical experience in the private sector or to open a business.

You may have a family you would like to bring with you, especially if you are a mature postgraduate student attending a Master’s or PhD programme. You can then apply for a Tier 4 Family visa if you wish to bring your spouse or children to the UK. The actual procedure depends on your individual situation (degree, available funds etc.).

Find more details on visa issues and UK border legislation:

Remember: Overstaying your visa is a criminal offence! Make sure that your permission to live in the UK gets renewed before it expires.

At University

Registration

After applying and receiving your visa and entering the UK, the next “bureaucratic” thing you need to do is to register at your university or college. Most higher education institutions reserve the first week of each new academic year for enrolment. You should check the student office and institution website for the exact dates and location of registration. Make sure to bring all important documents and some form of ID with you. If you should receive some sort of grant or scholarship, you will probably make any necessary arrangements with the finance office at this point as well.

Many universities and colleges organise welcoming events for their incoming international students. This is a great opportunity for meeting new people, learning more about your new “academic environment” and to generally acclimatise yourself in your new surroundings. The respective international offices website is a good starting point for learning more about these events. You should also check your students’ union website for any information on Freshers’ week.

Organising Your Course

The success of any university degree largely depends on your ability to organise your workload and time efficiently. Indeed, you will probably have to get used to the “rhythm” at university or college. Studying is very different from going to school. There will be certain cultural differences as well. Some habits and customs might appear foreign to you, at least in the beginning.

However, a little foresight and planning can save you a lot of trouble right from the start. Check your departmental website regularly, so you won’t miss any important dates and events. It is best to mark them with a big red circle in your calendar. Ideally, you have the schedule for your first weeks of studying before registration. You should also try to connect with other first year students from your course. This increases your chances of not missing out on anything, since a lot of information at university is also passed by word of mouth.

Know Your Campus, City, and Region

If you have the time, you should walk around campus after registration. This is the best way to familiarise yourself with your new environment. The student office, the international office, your department and the library are likely to be the most important places for your time as an international student; so try to find them and memorise their location.

It is also recommendable to do a little sightseeing around your new town or city. You might have a particular interest in knowing more about shopping opportunities, cultural institutions such as museums and theatres as well as local nightlife. Many international offices organise short trips within both the local area and throughout the UK. They offer you options to travel around the country by bus and train at affordable prices. The actual schedule of trips and list of destinations depends on your local office.

Your New “Home”

Finding Student Accommodation

Another central issue for every student is finding and securing affordable student accommodation. There are many different options available, though one can generally distinguish between on-campus and private student housing.

Many universities that partake in student exchange programs will provide international students with some sort of university accommodation. However, your stay in one of these reserved student rooms is often limited to one year. If your program demands you to stay longer, you will often have to find alternative student accommodation on your own.

The Internet offers the most efficient solutions for finding such student accommodation both quickly and easily. This is apparent particularly on the localised, frequently up-dated databases provided by Studentpad: these serve as a fast track to the right student housing.

Studentpad’s accommodation websites allow you to search and secure student housing online within the area of your university or college. All of the listed properties and landlords have been approved by your university or college accommodation office, i.e. they all fulfil the qualitative standards set by your institution. Each listing provides detailed information on the location, costs, and the included fixtures and fittings of a property.

Studentpad also enables you to contact landlords and to discuss any further details; hence, you’ll be able to secure a student room before you even arrive in the UK. This can save you a lot of stress and money, as otherwise you might have to pay for a hotel room before finding and securing student accommodation that suits your needs.

Moreover, your local Studentpad website will enable you to access information on your new surroundings by providing maps and photographs. The latest software can also plot your campus and allows you to determine exact routes with details of both driving and walking times. You will be able to familiarise yourself with your new home before you even arrive in the UK.

TO search for student information Click here.

Renting Student Accommodation

Students can often choose between on-campus halls, private halls, student houses, private flats or studios. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages. It really depends on your personal preferences and the availability of student housing in the area you will be moving to. If you visit a UK higher education institution in the context of an exchange program, your options might be limited to the kind of student accommodation provided by the respective international office. However, most international students are generally free to pick their preferred type of student housing.

The majority of students choose self-catered accommodation, mostly by sharing a student house or flat with a couple of friends. Size, prices, facilities and renting conditions vary from property to property. It is highly recommendable to read the respective tenancy agreement thoroughly and to ask for a second professional opinion. A potential point of contact is your university accommodation office; after all, a tenancy agreement is a legally binding contract and you can be held accountable for any violations of its regulations.

A New Home brings new Responsibilities

Moving in with a couple of people of your age can be a lot of fun, especially if your new housemates share your interests and agree with your attitude. You will meet many new people and friends, probably from all over the world. However, renting a student house comes with certain responsibilities. You should discuss every detail of the renting process in sufficient detail, in order to minimise the potential for future conflicts. This involves arrangements of rent and bill payments, the management of deposits, cleaning the property, stocking shared supplies and so on.

Find more information on renting student accommodation, along with further advice on legal issues, in our official Studentpad Housing Guide.

Items to bring when you move out

There are a couple of things every student needs when she/he moves out for the first time. The list below covers the most important ones. Wherever you may go, you should make sure that you have these in your suitcase; they will make your start at university much easier!

  • Important documents
  • Laundry box
  • Towels and bed sheets
  • Printer
  • Bag
  • Pad and pencils
  • USB stick
  • Student med kit (plasters, painkillers etc.)

Student Life

Coming Around

Studying at a UK university or college is a truly cultural experience, as you will meet people from all over the country and even the world. This accounts for both your fellow students and the academic staff. British higher education institutions remain among the top destinations for students, tutors and researchers who can be from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the USA. There are currently close to 500,000 international students, coming from 200 different countries. There is a lot of potential for establishing invaluable personal and professional networks that span around the globe.

As mentioned above: try to travel as much as possible! The UK offers many great places and sights to see giving you an impressive variety of cultural experiences. Whether it be England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland, there is always a lot to see and experience! Moreover, you might want to take the opportunity and visit some of the UK’s European neighbours, especially when you’re coming a long way from India, China, Africa or the USA. After all, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and many other countries are only a few hours away or even less by plane! The UK has many airports and different airlines that offer affordable fares to many European destinations.

Balancing Academic Duties and Student Recreation

Although you should indeed take the opportunity to travel and make lots of friends, achieving your academic goals should always be your first priority. We already said that studying and working at university is very different from going to school. You are expected to do a lot of work before and after lecture, without being told to do so. After all, you’re here voluntarily and should have a vested interest in learning as much as you can. Gaining solid knowledge of your subject is up to you. Most of the learning ideally happens outside of seminars and lectures. You will soon find yourself spending a lot of hours in the library and in front of your desk.

If English is not your first language, you might take the opportunity and attend English courses provided at your university. These are generally for free and prepare you for the daily requirements in Anglophone academia. Aside from that, you should try to speak as much English as possible with your peers and friends. Learning by doing, still, is the best way to improve your language skills. Check you department or international office’s website for more information on language classes and support for international students.

You can learn more about balancing work and fun at university or college in our Official Freshers Guide.

Completing Your Degree

A Successful Degree for a Distinguished Career

Successfully completing your degree is still the most important factor that determines your future career prospects. It reflects your ability to self-organise tasks efficiently and achieve precise goals within tight deadlines independently. A British BA, MA, or PhD ideally opens the way to the international job market.

In summary, studying in the UK might grant you access to a variety of career options that otherwise would have remained unavailable.

Returning Home or Staying a Little While Longer?

How much time you will spend in the UK as an international student mainly depends on the type of course you’re completing. Some might stay only for a couple of months, others for a full three-year degree. A few might add another year in the context of an MA program or even three more years as PhD students.

In any case, you may wish to stay in the UK for a little while longer after completing your degree. There are various options for gathering practical experience in the private sector or starting your own business.

You might have to apply for a visa if you plan to continue your stay. It is best to talk to your tutors and your international office about you plans for extending your stay. They might be able to help you with weighing the advantages with potential disadvantages and to reach an informed decision on the matter.

Enjoying Your Student Experience

Your top priority should be trying to get the most of your time at university, both professionally and personally. It will be a decisive chapter in your life, as your time as an international student may largely determine your future career path. The same applies to your development as a young, open-minded and creative adult. Spending some time in another country, studying in a language that is not necessarily your mother tongue and working with people from all over the globe will greatly enrich your skillset and intercultural competence. Both might prove to be decisive for the course of your professional career.

Indeed, various challenges lie ahead of you; not all of these concern your actual studies: managing visa issues, a household and a (tight) student budget can be as tough as completing an essay. However, none of this has to be stressful or in any way exhausting.

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