A student guide to finding support at university in the UK

Settling into university life in the UK can be both exciting and challenging. As you begin your journey in the UK, remember you are not alone. A huge amount of support is available to help you overcome any difficulties you might face, succeed and thrive during and after your studies.

Much like finding the best places to eat, making friends or joining societies, discovering the support services at your university is an essential part of making the most of your time in the UK.

Join us as we take you through the support available, from career guidance to on-campus counselling, academic support and more.

Sabbatical officers are the student voice within the university, advocating for student issues.

1. Student unions

Student unions play a crucial role in enhancing the student experience at universities in the UK. Within these unions, you'll often find sabbatical officers who serve as elected representatives, including positions like an international student representative. These officers advocate for student interests, represent their concerns to the university administration, and actively work to improve various aspects of student life. They are your voice within the university, addressing issues and striving to create a positive and inclusive campus environment.

In addition to sabbatical officers, student unions typically operate advice centres that offer specialised support for all sorts of problems students may encounter during their academic journey. These designated teams are well-equipped to assist with housing, financial matters, academic appeals, visa inquiries, and more. If the advice centre doesn't have the specific expertise to address your issue, they will guide you to the appropriate department or service within the university. In essence, the student union, its officers and the advice centre serve as valuable starting points for students seeking help and support, ensuring that you receive the assistance you need to thrive during your university experience. Additionally, if you want to find out about clubs or societies - or set up your own - these are the people to speak to.

The international office's role extends far beyond pre-arrival assistance.

2. International office

University international offices are a comprehensive support hub tailored to meet the unique needs of international students. Even before you embark on your journey to the UK, you will likely have already been in contact with their dedicated staff members who offer a wide range of support services. These services often include expert advice on immigration matters, helping you navigate visa requirements, travel logistics, and accommodation options.

However, the international office's role extends far beyond pre-arrival assistance. Throughout your time in the UK, they remain a reliable source of support. Their expertise covers a wide spectrum of issues that international students may encounter during their studies. Whether you're facing academic challenges, adjusting to a new culture, or seeking guidance on personal or administrative matters, the international office is a great place for all kinds of support, including signposting to other services if you're unsure who to contact.

They can provide insights into adapting to the UK's education system, connecting with local communities, addressing cultural or language barriers, and much more.

Two adults talking animatedly in front of a wall sign that says 'Student Wellbeing'

There are dedicated professionals on hand to support you through any personal challenges.

3. Student wellbeing services

All UK universities offer wellbeing services to support their students through a wide range of challenges, from stress and anxiety to low mood, among many other things, whether they relate directly to your studies or not. These services provide a safe and confidential space for students to discuss their personal concerns, explore feelings and develop coping strategies in a one-on-one setting with a trained counsellor or in a peer-to-peer support group where students facing similar challenges can share in a facilitated environment.

Some international students worry that going to see a professional about their wellbeing or mental health is 'weak' or a sign of 'not being able to handle the pressure'. While others worry they might be judged for opening up about their issues or that there will be a stigma attached to them. It might be your first time talking to a professional, but wellbeing services exist to support you and are non-judgmental spaces.

You can access these services by contacting your university's student support or counselling service. In most cases, they will invite you to an initial meeting with a professional to understand your needs, offer initial advice and support, and, if appropriate, refer you for further care. Depending on your situation, you may be entitled to receive up to six or eight sessions through your university per year, though this varies. All support services will be able to signpost you for any further support you may need.

Young woman with a visual impairment smiling and wearing a denim jacket with a man in the background who is slightly blurred and wearing a blue shirt and a black turban.

Before you arrive in the UK, reach out to your university's disability support service to discuss your needs.

4. Support for students with disabilities and special needs

UK universities and colleges are deeply committed to inclusivity, offering dedicated support teams for students with disabilities and long-term health conditions. These teams support students with many conditions, including dyslexia, ADHD, physical health issues, sensory or mobility impairments, autism spectrum conditions, and mental health challenges.

Ideally, before you start your course, contact your university's disability support service—they exist to ensure your academic success. They work closely with students to create personalised learning plans, which may include reasonable adjustments such as note-taking assistance, alternative course materials, assistive technologies (like screen readers and voice recognition software), travel support, and financial aid such as Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA), which can help cover study-related costs for various disabilities.

Contact the support team for guidance if you suspect you have an undiagnosed issue, like a learning or developmental difficulty. Even without a formal diagnosis, you can communicate your challenges to professors, and the disabilities centre may provide support and accommodations to help you thrive in your studies and even help you seek a formal diagnosis. Remember, these services are here to support you on your unique academic journey.

There is a lot of support available to help you navigate studying in a new educational system.

5. Academic support and learning development

Your university's academic support and learning development service is a valuable resource, particularly beneficial for international students navigating a new educational system and studying in a language they may not be entirely confident in.

These services are designed to help you enhance your study skills, improve your academic performance, and align with the expectations of your lecturers. They offer a range of resources, including workshops, one-on-one support, and online materials that cover essential aspects of academic success, such as time management, effective note-taking, essay writing, proper referencing (while avoiding plagiarism), and efficient study techniques.

You can find these resources on your university's website or learning management system, allowing you to develop your skills at your own pace. To participate in workshops, you'll typically need to register in advance, either for in-person sessions on campus or virtual workshops held online, ensuring you have the support you need to excel academically.

Your personal or academic tutor is your go-to mentor throughout your academic journey.

6. Personal or academic tutors and supervisors

In UK universities, personal or academic tutors play a crucial role by offering tailored guidance and support to undergraduate and master's students. Typically, you'll be assigned a personal tutor within a few weeks of starting your course, and they become your dependable mentors throughout your academic journey. These tutors provide valuable academic insights, assisting you in navigating course requirements, selecting suitable modules, and grasping the intricacies of your curriculum. They can also help you enhance your study skills, prepare for exams, develop critical evaluation abilities, and support with longer-term projects like dissertation preparation.

Personal tutors aren't just about academics; they are also your allies when facing challenges during your studies. Whether you're striving to improve your grades or seeking solutions for coursework and assignments, they are there to offer advice and effective strategies for success. Beyond the classroom, you can turn to them for guidance on personal development, time management, and adapting to university life—a particularly valuable resource for international students, and over 20 per cent of teaching staff in the UK come from overseas, and those who are from the UK will have worked closely with international students over the years and be culturally sensitive and supportive.

Personal tutors serve as invaluable resources, providing unwavering support and reassurance to help you make the most of your university experience, both academically and personally. Their primary role is to empower you to thrive and excel in your educational pursuits. Additionally, should you decide to pursue further studies, personal tutors often become the go-to individuals for providing references. However, it's worth noting that if you are a PhD student, your main support contact will be your supervisor, and you won't be assigned a personal or academic tutor in the same way as undergraduate or master's students.

Your university careers service can help you succeed in your career.

7. Careers and employability

Careers and employability services at UK universities offer comprehensive guidance and resources to support you on your career journey during your studies and beyond. You are encouraged to take advantage of these services to help you develop your skills, build your experiences and boost your confidence to make you more employable wherever you want to work and whatever you want to do, whether through using online resources, doing one-to-one sessions or attending workshops or careers fairs.

Careers services will help you with the basics, from writing and tailoring your CV and cover letter for different job profiles and descriptions to doing mock interviews. Careers advisors will also be able to help you reflect on your existing skills and discover which ones you will need to work on to make yourself job-ready for specific positions and explore diverse career paths you may never even have considered or known existed. Careers fairs are also excellent platforms for connecting and networking with potential employers.

Additionally, many career services maintain connections with employers and frequently share internship, voluntary, and paid job opportunities on university job boards, in newsletters, or through mailouts. To maximise these resources, be proactive in your job search and stay engaged with the services, even before you complete your studies. This proactive approach can significantly enhance your employability prospects. And, if you're not on there already, sign up to LinkedIn and start building your connections. It's a great way to talk about what you're doing during your studies and find out about job opportunities globally and network with graduates from your universities - especially those who are working at companies you're interested in working for.

University libraries are not 'just a place to find books', and can open you up to a world of resources you never knew existed.

8. University libraries and academic resources

University libraries are vital resource hubs that offer extensive support to students. Beyond its shelves of books, libraries provide access to a vast array of academic journals and online collections, allowing students to tap into scholarly research across various disciplines that might not otherwise be available. They can also be a safe and quiet space to sit down and focus either with your laptop or university computers, and where you will easily find printing and scanning services. Many university libraries also offer bookable group meeting rooms for group study.

Librarians are readily available to assist with locating and navigating these resources, helping students refine their research skills and access the most relevant information for their studies. Additionally, libraries often offer workshops and tutorials on efficient database searching, referencing and citation styles, and information literacy, all of which are necessary for academic success. Whether you need assistance finding reliable sources for a research paper or guidance on effectively using digital archives, remember to make the most of your university library.

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Health and welfare

With one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world, as an international student in the UK you will be looked after.

Disability and special needs

There are a number of UK scholarships and financial support schemes for international students with disabilities and special educational needs.

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The Study UK blog is the home of real-life, personal stories from current international students and alumni.

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