Applying and studying in the UK
What it’s like to study in the UK as an international student, and how to apply to a UK university.
The UK is one of the world's most popular destinations for international students. More than 485,000 EU and international students enrol in the UK each year. Of these, 143,000 are from the EU.
You have a choice of over 140 universities and other higher education institutions. Each offers a range of tertiary qualifications recognised around the world.
Tuition fees vary between institutions. After Brexit, from August 2021 most EU and EEA nationals won't be eligible for home fee status unless they're from Ireland or are already living in the UK and registered under the EU Settlement Scheme.
You’ll need to be aware of visa conditions, English language requirements and work permit restrictions.
Use this guide as well as other information and advice found across our website. Our UK university rankings are a good place to start.
Undergraduate applications to UK universities are usually made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
Postgraduate applications are normally made direct to the university, usually via the university website.
International students should make sure you get your application in well before the deadline, particularly if you want to study at one of the UK’s top universities. Check individual university website course pages for details of how to apply.
If your qualifications were gained outside the UK, you’ll need to find out how they compare to the course entry requirements of your chosen university. Some universities have details about this on their websites, or you can contact them for guidance. If you need a ‘statement of comparability’, you can contact UK NARIC (there will be a fee for this service).
How to apply on UCAS
Register your details on the UCAS website. Make sure to input all your information correctly.
Choose a course you’ll be happy to commit to for the next three or more years. International students can also read our advice on choosing a course, and you can use our course chooser to search through over 100,000 courses. Once you've found a course, take note of its unique UCAS code as you'll need this when you fill in the application form.
Find a university that’s right for you. Our advice on choosing a university can help you decide. Think about league table position, location, accommodation and facilities. Once you've made your shortlist of universities, make a note of their unique UCAS codes.
Fill in the application form. You only fill in one UCAS application, but with it you have five choices. You can apply to five different universities for the same course or five different courses at the same university – it's up to you. You only write one personal statement for all five choices.
Send and wait for replies. Once you've submitted your application, universities will take the time to consider and you'll receive either offers or rejections.
A lot of students forget that a UCAS application costs a fee. For 2020 entry, the costs are £20 for a single course, or £25 for multiple course choices.
As of 2021, the application cost will rise to £26 for multiple choices, with a single choice remaining £20.
UCAS deadlines apply to all applicants, whether they’re UK, EU or international students.
Applications can be accepted by UCAS from early September the year before the course starts. There are October deadlines for applications to Oxford and Cambridge, most medical, dental and veterinary courses, and some conservatoire courses. For the majority of degrees, you need to apply by mid-January – although many institutions will continue to accept applications from international students after this date. Some art and design courses have a later deadline.
If you apply after the end of June you’re entered into Clearing, where you’ll need to contact institutions directly and any spaces remaining on courses may be highly sought after. Most international students apply well before this date. This also allows them plenty of time to make immigration, travel and accommodation arrangements.
As well as the UCAS application, remember to check your eligibility for any possible scholarships, loans and grants. Many universities have scholarships especially for international students, whether at undergraduate or postgraduate level. Find the details on our university profiles.
If you’re thinking of studying a degree as an international student in the UK – whether as an undergraduate or postgraduate – you’ll need to get your visa sorted out as early as possible.
You'll need a valid and up-to-date passport for the duration of your planned stay in the UK.
International students need a visa with sponsorship from their institution to study in the UK. Your visa should allow for multiple entries into the country. Postgraduate students may also bring dependent family members (your spouse and children under the age of 18).
The Student route visa (from 1 January 2020) is a points-based system where you’ll need to satisfy three key criteria:
- Evidence of a place offered on a course from the university (sponsor) where you plan to study – this is known as a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS)
- Proof that you have enough funds for you (and your family if applicable) to live in the UK
- Proof of how well you can speak, read, write and understand English
International students may need to show they have enough money to study in the UK without needing access to public funds. You’ll need enough money to pay your course fees for a year, plus £1,334 a month for the first nine months if studying in London, or £1,023 per month if you’ll be outside London. Postgraduate students bringing their family will need to prove they have enough funds for them. Many countries are exempt from this requirement, although some students may still be asked by UK Visa and Immigration to give evidence of their finances.
English language skills usually need proof such as a Secure English Language Test (SELT). There are a number of approved centres that offer suitable tests. Many universities have specific language requirements, so check for details of what’s needed for your course of study. If you’re from an English-speaking country or studied at degree-level in an English-speaking country, you may be exempt – be sure to check the visa guidance.
As well as paying for a visa, international students must pay a health surcharge for each year they’re granted leave to remain in the UK. This amount is paid up front as part of your visa application. It'll also need to be paid by any dependent family members accompanying postgraduate students.
You should apply for your visa at least one month (but no more than six) before coming to the UK. If you're already in the UK, the earliest you can apply is three months before your course starts. Guidance on Student route visas is available on the UK Government website. For more information, see UKCISA.
If you have a visa under the previous system (Tier 4, which ran until October 2020), these are still valid. If you have a valid Confirmation of Acceptance from before 5 October 2020, when the new Student route application system opened, it can be used for applications under the Student route.
From 1 January 2021, EU students arriving in the UK will need a visa (details above). They'll also need to pay a health surcharge for each year they’re in the UK. Students from EU/EEA countries or Switzerland are normally exempt from the requirement to prove they have enough money to support themselves.
EU, EEA and Swiss citizens – plus others – who are in the UK by 31 December 2020 can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (deadline 30 June 2021). This will give them continued access to education, the NHS and more on the same basis as UK residents. They won't need a visa.
Irish students don't need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and don't need a visa.
EU students who were already on a course but have left the UK temporarily because of the coronavirus pandemic may be able to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme from outside the UK. For more information, see guidance from the Office for Students.
Once you have a student visa
You can arrive in the UK up to a month before your course starts if it's six months or longer. International students are expected to study only at the institution that has accepted them. If you want to change university, you’ll need to make a fresh visa application.
The university will be responsible for keeping your personal details up to date and reporting international students who don't arrive, don't have a satisfactory attendance record or leave before completing their course.
Work permit restrictions
International students on full-time degree-level undergraduate or postgraduate courses are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week during term, or full-time outside of term time. This is only if they’re studying at a higher education provider that has a track record of complying with immigration and educational requirements.
Extending your stay
If you’re over 18 and studying at degree level, your visa normally allows you to stay in the UK for up to five years. You may be able to extend your visa, for example if you need more time to finish your programme, or you're studying a new course at a higher level.
From 1 January 2021, postgraduate students will no longer have a study time limit as long as they’re progressing academically. Other international students may be able to make an in-country application for further leave.
Post-study work visa for international students
From summer 2021 a new Graduate route visa will enable international students to remain in the UK to work (or look for work) for up to three years following a PhD, or two years after completing an undergraduate or master’s degree. Work can be at any skill level, and there’s no sponsorship required. After the visa expires, if you have eligible skilled work you may be sponsored by your employer in a new work visa application, otherwise you’ll need to leave the UK. International students due to graduate in summer 2021 are eligible and will need a valid student visa to apply.
A range of accommodation options are available to international students. It’s important your accommodation is right for you as it'll be difficult to change part way through your stay.
If you’re living away from home for the first time, university halls of residence are a good place to meet other students. If you want greater independence, you could choose private accommodation such as a studio or one-bedroom flat, or a flat-share.
To get to know what family life is like in the UK, you can board with a host family. This makes it easier to interact with locals and is a great way for non-native speakers to improve their English skills.
Support at university
Studying abroad can be a little scary, especially if it’s your first time away from home. It’s common to experience culture shock and homesickness. Universities have counselling services and international student support officers who can help you adjust to UK student life.
The UK’s universities date back to the ancient universities of Oxford (1096), Cambridge (1209) and St Andrews (1411). There are now over 140 universities and other higher education providers in the UK.
They share a worldwide reputation for the quality of their courses, teaching and research. A degree from a UK university is a well-respected qualification throughout the world, partly because of the increasing emphasis on employability alongside knowledge and skills.
External examiners are appointed by all universities to ensure educational standards are met. These are reflected in high entry requirements, short and intensive courses of study, and good completion rates (which suggests strong student support). Universities have careers service networks to help with deciding what to do after graduating.
EU students or international students who’ve paid the health surcharge get free medical and subsidised dental and optical treatment and advice from the NHS.
UK degree courses are intensive and shorter than in many other countries. This has a strong financial advantage, not only in study and living costs, but also because students can enter the employment market sooner.
The UK is made up of four countries – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – where more than 66 million people live. Around 14% of the population were born overseas. This has created a diverse and multicultural society that represents countries from all over the world.
People from the UK are known for being very polite. Being on time for an appointment is expected, and being late for a lecture or a doctor's appointment is considered rude. The British sense of humour is subtle and sarcastic, so can be difficult to understand.
The UK has a reputation for tolerance and there's a strong belief in justice, law and order. The media is independent and frequently critical and outspoken.
National holidays are typically:
- New Year’s Day: 1 January
- January Bank Holiday (Scotland only): 2 January
- St Patrick’s Day (Northern Ireland only): 17 March
- Good Friday: March or April
- Easter Monday: March or April
- May Day: early May
- Spring Bank Holiday: late May
- Summer Bank Holiday: late August
- Christmas Day: 25 December
- Boxing Day: 26 December
If a bank holiday is on a weekend, a ‘substitute’ weekday becomes a bank holiday, normally the following Monday.
The UK’s climate is fairly easy to adjust to. It tends to have low humidity, warm summers and mild winters. Days are long and bright in June but short and grey in December.
It’s good to budget for the following items in preparation for your stay:
- Winter coat, hat, scarf and gloves for use from late November to March
- Shorts, t-shirts, sunhat, flip-flops and sun cream for hot summer days
- Suitable shoes for walking through the UK countryside
- Appropriate clothing for wet weather