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Choosing what to study

Top ten most popular courses for international students

What do international students study at universities in the UK? We count down the ten most popular course choices for overseas students

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Every year, thousands of students from overseas enrol at universities throughout the UK. If you're tempted to join the crowd, but undecided on what course to study, our list of the most popular subject areas for overseas students* may help.

*Based on data from HESA, showing first-year course enrolments for 2019–20.

10. Design

First-year non-EU international students: 7,855

As Steve Jobs summed up, ‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’ If you enjoy problem solving in a creative form, then perhaps you could consider one of the design disciplines – from Graphic Arts and Typography to Industrial Design, or Fashion and Textiles. You’ll learn applied skills in your field, get your finger on the pulse of new developments, and gain experience of working to client briefs. 

9. Accounting

First-year non-EU international students: 7,920

More popular with undergraduates than postgraduates, Accounting develops real-life skills that’ll always be in demand. The UK has tough accounting standards, and many degrees offer exceptions towards some elements of professional accountancy qualifications trusted around the world. You may also get overseas practice if you choose a course with a study year abroad. 

8. Marketing

First-year non-EU international students: 8,295

Modern marketing is a complex area that straddles many marketing streams to connect with consumers. Fundamentally it requires a good understanding of customer behaviour and needs, in order to build sales strategies and develop branding. Marketing is more popular with international postgraduates than undergraduates – perhaps because it can build on knowledge gained from studying another discipline at degree level, and can be applied across many sectors.

7. Economics

First-year non-EU international students: 8,460

From capitalism to doughnut economics, and from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations onwards, the theories of economic growth and development have shaped societies – and their politics – across the world. Combining skills in mathematics with a range of topics, you could study Economics and Finance; Politics, Philosophy and Economics; or Economics and Sustainable Development, among others.

6. Computer Science

First-year non-EU international students: 10,330

Computer Science is a broad field, exploring computing architecture, software and systems design through to the internet, e-business and the study of high-end computing with supercomputers. The UK boasts a number of highly regarded computer scientists, and a number of UK universities appear in the top 25 of worldwide rankings. Graduate prospects are likely to be high, as nearly all areas of life now rely on computer systems in some way.

5. Law

First-year non-EU international students: 11,495

English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Law – each of the UK’s jurisdictions has its own legal system. For international students, the interest may lie in British common law, which underpins over a third of the world’s legal systems, and English commercial law, which often governs international contracts. Students also gain skills in legal research and practice. Good English language skills will be essential to your success if you study a Law degree. 

4. General Business and Management

First-year non-EU international students: 12,075

Courses focusing on business skills are a popular option with international students – six out of the top ten feature the management of money or business. If you can’t choose between Business Studies or Management Studies, a general course will give you understanding of both the environment in which a business operates, as well as how it functions as an organisation.

3. Finance

First-year non-EU international students: 14,255

Frequently offered in combination with accounting, economics or business, a Finance degree is likely to give you insights into corporate finance, investments, financial markets and more. Some degrees include placements that will build your employability and gain you connections with businesses –while others may include modules on entrepreneurship, if you want to strike out on your own. 

2. Management Studies

First-year non-EU international students: 17,760

Management Studies focuses on the running of a company, both in terms of strategy, finance and marketing, and organisational aspects such as human resources. It’s more popular with international postgraduate students, who may be aiming to boost their chances of climbing the career ladder. The strategic skills learned can be applied across any sector and can also be used by those seeking to work in consultancy roles with business.  

1. Business Studies

First-year non-EU international students: 22,045

The number of international students choosing the UK as the destination for their business-related degrees reflects both the quality of higher education and the UK's position as a commercial world leader. Business Studies covers all aspects of business – economics, accounting, marketing and management. And if you take a course in business studies, you’ll gain a wealth of skills that can be used in most industries and sectors.

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