BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
1. Be sure to research your university before applying and handing over any application/tuition fees. It’s the age of the internet! Check if the university you intend to study at is officially recognized by the UK government. If you end up at a university that only exists online, you really only have yourself to blame!
2. Your chosen university may look enticing on paper but what is it really like to study there? Don’t just read the testimonials on the university’s official website. Read reviews of what other students have to say here, here and here. If that’s not enough there’s always The Student Room to fall back on.
3. Whilst lurking on UK university student forums, you might be lead to believe that university rankings and Russell Group universities are the be all and end all of everything. Don’t let that be your sole deciding factor when choosing a university. Take note that league tables and rankings change every year. Consider instead the modules on offer, contact hours, class size, lecturer’s credentials, tuition fees, graduate prospects, scholarships on offer and even location -more on that later!
4. Being an international student, your accommodation will be sorted by the university. Sometimes it’s cheaper to live off campus than on campus. (Not applicable if you’re in London)
5. We know applying for a UK Tier 4 student visa can be so many levels of confusing! Save yourself the hassle and headache by getting an authorized education agent to help you. If you choose to go it alone, this super simple guide will be your lifesaver!
WHILE YOU’RE HERE
6. Not all your lecturers/professors will be white, British. Some people are genuinely surprised they’re being lectured by academics from Eastern Europe, the States and even China. What! This isn’t the proper British experience I signed up for!
7. Don’t be surprised if up to 80% of you class is made up of international students like yourself – in case you’re expecting a class full of quintessential British students.
8. Also, if you think your postgraduate classes will have a better student teacher ratio, you’ve got another think coming. Those doing popular postgrad courses like business/marketing/accounting and finance can expect their average class size to run up to 100 students in a lecture hall.
9. Brace yourself! You might have come hoping to meet and mix with other internationals and local students but unless you constantly make an effort and go out of your way to talk to others, a good number (not all!) of ethnic groups tend to stick to themselves. Give it some time. Most students are away from home for the first time and find comfort hanging out with their own kind.
10. Reason for #9 might be because some (strong emphasis on the word SOME) international students barely speak English beyond the basic introductional phrases, despite having done the IELTS test. Hard to believe but it’s true. You probably don’t give a toss about this – except when, horror of horrors, you’re paired with them to work on a group assignment!
11. If you’re coming from America, you’ll find British lectures and seminars more impersonal and subdued in terms of class participation compared to American colleges.
12. If you’re coming from Asia, you’ll find that you’re expected to contribute to class discussions in seminars. Speaking up and vocalizing your thoughts is highly valued here.
13. You might be tempted to bunk lectures and tutorials (re: horrible weather, sleeping in, CBA to put on pants today) but you should be forewarned that your university will be monitoring your class attendance and making reports to the Home Office if you fail to meet the requirements stipulated in your Tier 4 Student visa. And then….well, do you really wanna find out what will happen to you?
14. It should be noted there isn’t much hand-holding in the British education system. You’ll find contact hours (especially for postgrad courses) very limited. You’re an adult now and you’ll be expected to sort your own study time.
15. Having said that, don’t be afraid to email your lecturers and ask for help when needed. You did pay INTERNATIONAL STUDENT FEES after all!
16. But don’t be that student who’s only found at the library! Take the time to join societies and student groups in your student union. That’s the best way to meet students outside of your academic course.
17. On that note, you’ll find that a lot of social events and activities on campus will have booze on board. This is because the legal drinking age is 18 and not 21 like in the States. This is your chance to go crazy!!!!!! Or not…..
18. Research your university’s location. The UK isn’t just London folks!! If you’re studying in, say, Buckingham, don’t expect the place to have the same hustle and bustle of bigger cities. Refer to point #2.
19. But don’t dismiss universities in quieter parts of town just yet! You’ll be presently surprised to find that, although you may be studying in a quintessential English village, the place will usually have everything you need (Tesco’s/pubs/pharmacist/GP/banks) within walking distance.
20. Oh yes, you read that right. Walking. Expect to be doing a lot of it in the UK. Especially if your university is very campus central.
21. Studying for a degree in the UK does not guarantee you a job in England/Wales/Scotland/Northern Ireland or any part of Europe when you graduate. In fact, the British government has made it really hard for international students to stay on after graduation. Be prepared to pack up and leave as soon as your course is over. Or your visa expires….. 🙁
22. While you may find it super difficult to secure a job in the UK after graduation, as an international student you are allowed to work part time to fund your studies. To do so, you’ll require a National Insurance Number.
23. Unlike in the US where you’re only allowed to get jobs on campus, the UK does not limit where international students can work.
24. But beware of limitations! The number of hours you’re allowed to work depends on your Tier 4 visa (usually up to 20 hours per week) and it’s best not to flout this rule unless you want to get deported by the UKBA.
25. Make sure your part time job is legal and you’re being paid the minimum wage. If you’re being exploited, you probably didn’t bother to give this a proper read.
AFTER YOU GRADUATE
26. At #20, we spelled out how hard it is to stay on in the UK after your student visa expires. It IS tough, but not entirely impossible. If you graduate from one of the top unis and have a decent 2.1 in a sought after field ie: finance, engineering, nursing, you just might be able to find an employer who’s willing to sponsor your Tier 2 visa.
27. But to get that nigh impossible job offer, you’ll definitely want to start applying at least 3 months before you graduate, if not earlier. The UK job market is competitive enough as it is, you can forget about being called in for an interview just because you blasted out your resume to the top recruiters in town.
28. Whatever you do, please, please, pleaseeeeeee do not PAY for an internship. Work for pay, don’t pay to work. London and most big cities in the UK have plenty of internship opportunities (paid and unpaid) that constantly need fresh grads like yourself. To pay for an internship in an SME is the definition of dumb. Don’t be that gullible international student!
29. Most, if not all universities in the UK will have a career department. Work with your university’s career counsellor to secure an internship or job, because again, your hefty international student fees already paid for this service so UTILIZE it instead of paying a third party “internship organizer” to secure internships for you.
30. If you can’t secure a proper job that lets you stay on in the UK, there are other alternatives. But this depends on your nationality. If you’re from Australia, Canada, Japan and Monaco, (see full list here) lucky you because you’re eligible for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa Scheme. What this means is you get to stay for TWO whole years in the UK – whether you choose to find work or travel the country is entirely up to you.