How to apply to uni in the UK as an international student

filling out application form

Thinking about coming to the UK to study? Here are the things you need to know

Before we get into the detail, here's some reassurance: UK unis are very good at offering guidance and support to international applicants, so you're not going to be on your own.

You will, however, need to sort some stuff out. The most important thing is knowing when all your application deadlines are, and not missing them. Not even by a little bit. Everything will be much easier that way.

Researching your course

Start here. This is the fun bit, where you get to decide on the course that interests you and where you'd like to study it. There are lots of online tools at your disposal to help you learn more about UK unis – like our applying to uni hub and university reviews – so mine them all.

For specifics about individual unis and courses, head to the official websites. That's where you'll find details on degree programmes and, vitally, what qualifications you'll need to get a place. Many unis also offer virtual tours on their sites, which is great if you can't travel to an open day.

As for finding out what current students really think of a place, that's where our university forums come in. You can chat to current or future students to get info on everything from accommodation to where the best place is to get a beer/free WiFi /both.

Applying to universities

Applying to a UK uni really comes down to just one word: UCAS. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service handles all applications to unis and conservatoires in the UK and you deal with them instead of individual unis.

The UCAS process is pretty straightforward (you've done most of the hard work already by going to school for most of your life) and the site will walk you through it, but here's a mini-guide:

  1. Decide on the unis you want to apply to. You can apply to up to five institutions through UCAS, but the good news is that you submit a single application for all of them. Nice.
  2. Prepare your application, including your personal statement. Your personal statement is your chance to explain who you are, why you want to study your course and why you'll offer the uni something special. TSR users choose words like ‘nightmare’ for this stage, but don't worry, we’ve got stacks of personal statement help.
  3. Submit your application. Chew your nails a bit.
  4. If your application is successful and a uni offers you a place, then – provided you meet all the other entry requirements listed below – you're all set to come to the UK and study.

There, easy.

The official stuff

Currently, if you come from outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland you need a visa to study in the UK. To study for a full degree in the UK you need a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa, which you can apply for online.

If you need to get a visa, you'll need a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS), which your uni will send you once you accept a place with them. You'll also need a valid passport, proof of funds, certificates for your academic qualifications and English language qualifications, and your healthcare fee. You might also need to attend an interview and – depending on where you live – be screened for TB.

What it costs

Here are the main costs, excluding uni fees:

  • UCAS: £18 (applying to a single uni/course) or £24 (applying to multiple unis/courses)
  • Immigration Health Surcharge, covering your healthcare for one year: £300
  • Visa: £348 for a Tier 4 (General) student visa

You'll also need proof that you have the funds to both live in the UK and cover your tuition costs. This can be in the form of bank statements or letters from a sponsor.

English language

You'll need to provide proof of your English-speaking abilities, to show that you'll be able to keep up with the requirements of your course. That's normally in the form of an IELTS test, which you can take before you apply and which consists of a few different written and spoken elements.

However, as TSR member Admit-One pointed out on our forums: “You don't need one to apply, universities will include it in your offer if you receive one.” You may also find that your existing qualifications – like an English language GCSE/IGCSE are accepted.

Um, Brexit?

Fair question, without a definite answer. If you're an overseas student wanting to come to the UK (please do, we love you), chances are very little will change over the next year or so. But at the time of writing (February 2019) there's no way of knowing for sure. Keep an eye on the UKCISA site for updates.

The other stuff

If you're in doubt about any stage of the process, ask the uni you're applying to. Finally, for the questions you didn't even know you wanted answers to, head to our applying to university forum – and good luck with your application!

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