What you need to know about studying in the UK, that no-one ever told you

So you’re thinking about studying in the UK, you’re on your way, or you’ve already arrived?

The Study UK team joined up with some international students across the globe to come up with a few insights you may not have heard.

From delicious food to dressing for the weather and making the most of student discounts - we’ve got you covered.

Two young women sit with one young man at a spot outside eating vegan fast food and they have a vegan milkshake in the middle of the table.

'British food is not just the "traditional" food you might immediately think of'.

1. 'The food in the UK is delicious'

In the UK, you’ll be amazed at the diversity and quality of food you can find. You may have heard that the food in the UK is bad (or worse, terrible). ‘They are wrong’, according to Caroline from the US, an alum of the University of St Andrews in Scotland who now works as an executive pastry chef at a top kitchen in Brooklyn, New York. ‘Yes, you can have a “bad meal” anywhere, but in the UK you’ll never have to look hard to find something you’ll enjoy eating’, she says. ‘The food is delicious’.

'British food is not just the “traditional” food you might immediately think of', Caroline explains. Of course, you’ll be able to try fish and chips at the ‘chippie’, traditional fried breakfasts of all sorts for all dietary requirements at an array of cafes from ‘greasy spoons’ to ‘bougie (upmarket) brunch places’ or home-cooked pies with anything and everything in them (have you ever tried haggis before?) from local bakeries, supermarkets or even your neighbour’s kitchen. But there is so much more to it than that.

Middle Eastern platter at a UK restaurant containing pitta bread, chickpeas, a salad with peppers, beans and olives and a yoghurt dip.

'In the UK, you'll never have to look far to find something you'll enjoy eating'.

‘I would get so frustrated when people say the food in the UK is bad. There’s such a rich culinary tradition throughout the UK, not just from within but from the diverse immigrant community who have made the UK their home. The reality is the food in the UK is delicious. It’s local. And it’s diverse’, says Caroline. London alone is home to 270 nationalities, 300 languages, and countless national cuisines from all over the world, not to mention fusions.

International food market stall in London, UK.

Asian, African and other ‘ethnic’ foods are widely available across the UK.

So, whether you want to sample delights at a local food market, go out to a restaurant or grab a takeaway to share in the comfort of your student accommodation - you can enjoy it, and... if you do decide to try something more ‘traditional’, salt and pepper (and maybe some chilli sauce) are never far away.

Man wearing a rain coat looking out over the Three Sisters in Glencoe, Scotland.

'If you dress for the weather, you might even enjoy it'.

2. 'There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing'

You may have been told that the weather in the UK is bad (or even terrible) and constantly rainy, cold and grey. Though the country does experience rain, cold and grey skies throughout the year, it is not constant or consistent. The reality is far more diverse. Even discussing the weather in ‘the UK’ is unhelpful as it comprises four nations and has a varied climate with distinct regional differences. For example, the west tends to be wetter, and the east tends to be dryer. The north colder, and the south warmer. And the UK has four fairly distinct seasons, which bring their own joy.

'Autumn in the UK is when the temperature gets cooler and the leaves turn orange, red and yellow'.

‘I recommend just dressing for the weather from the start and not waiting for it to teach you how to dress for it’, says Irene from Kenya. When she moved to Scotland for her master’s at Robert Gordon University, she quickly learned the age-old phrase, ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing’. Despite growing up in the highlands near Mount Kenya, where she had been used to cold weather - sometimes to the surprise of her coursemates - the weather in Scotland was just ‘different’. And, to her, falling snow came as a real excitement.

Three international students huddled together in warm jackets, hats and scarves with a snowman in a snowy scene.

'Have you ever experienced snow before?'

Although it may go against your senses, do not fall into the trap of waiting for ‘good’ weather to make outdoor plans. There is no harm in consulting the weather forecast for a rough idea of how the day might look - but the best tactic is just to prepare for all possible weather and dress in layers. In the UK, you will find that layers are your friend. If you leave the house and it’s sunny, warm and dry, that does not mean that it will stay sunny, warm and dry. Do yourself a favour and always bring a raincoat and/or an umbrella, as well as a warm jumper or even a scarf. Not because you will need them but because you might. Even for a few minutes. And you will never regret bringing them with you. It’s like insurance - you’d rather have it just in case.

'I cannot overstate how affordable it is'

3. 'Living costs in the UK are lower than you might think'

Studying in the UK is good value for money, and the average costs here are lower than in the USA and Australia. Seven in ten international students say they are progressing further, being promoted quicker, and earning more because of their UK education and what's more, most master's are only one year long.

'Not only did studying in the UK help me maintain my career momentum, but it was a lot more economical than going to the US due to the master's programme only being one year', says Nathan from Malaysia, who did an MBA at the University of Cambridge. 'It meant I only had to pay tuition fees for one year and have one year without receiving a salary', he says.

Beyond the course fees, the cost of living in the UK is a real consideration for many international students. Hannah from the US, who studied at Ulster University in Northern Ireland, says ‘I cannot overstate how affordable it really is’. ‘Housing in Northern Ireland is really affordable and you can live in a beautiful place for a good price. I have used a lot less of my savings than I had anticipated’. She was awarded a scholarship for her master’s and never looked back. Coming from the US she was amazed by the National Health Service (NHS). ‘It’s incredible’, she says. ‘As someone with a chronic illness, it’s life-changing’.

A group of GREAT scholars at a networking event in Manchester with Study UK.

'Many funding options are available in the UK. Just do your research and make sure you meet the application deadlines'.

4. 'Funding options are available and international students are allowed to work'

Many funding options are available for international students who want to study in the UK. They range from part-funding, for example, paying part of your course fees, to full-funding, which covers programme fees, living expenses (including stationary!) and return flights to the UK from your home country.

Additionally, many international students in the UK choose to take a part-time job, work placement or internship alongside their studies to gain experience and boost their finances. Most courses allow students to work up to 20 hours per week during term time, and you’ll be pleased to know that this is not restricted to on-campus employment, so you’ll have a lot of freedom in what you choose to do.

A display table at a charity shop in the UK.

'Buying second-hand items is a quick, easy and sustainable way to save money'.

Check out our 8 top money-saving tips for international students in the UK to get some ideas from shopping second-hand to buying split-fare train tickets to student discounts and cheap to free grocery giveaways. You can do so much to keep your living costs down during your studies while still enjoying everything that the UK has to offer.

Two students in a music room.

'The education system in the UK might be unfamiliar at first'.

5. 'Getting used to a new education system takes time'

The higher education system in the UK will likely differ from what you're used to in your home country or anywhere else you may have studied and getting used to a new education system takes time,' says Shilpa from India, who was awarded a Women in STEM scholarship to pursue her UK studies. 'When I first came from India, I found it difficult at first'. 'I didn't have to write academically before, so I didn't have much practice', she says. 'The first coursework I did was demanding', says Shilpa. 'I only got 54 per cent for it'. In the UK, the marking system does not typically award marks up to 100, which may come as a shock at first. Marks between 70-100 are considered excellent, with many universities only giving marks in this range to a relatively small number of outstanding pieces of work.

Male student in a denim shirt leaning on a desk with his hands clasped.

'If you need help, just ask'.

6. 'The lecturers are really supportive. Just remember to ask for help'

'The academic staff in the UK go the extra mile', says Irene from Kenya. 'When I was doing my thesis, my supervisor made sure that we met every week. He made it clear that he wasn't doing my project but that he would be with me every step of the way', she says. 'We planned things out step-by-step and the conversations that we had about it were so helpful. At some point, it felt like he stopped being just my supervisor or my lecturer, but he became my friend'. 'He helped me to make my own academic decisions and made it clear that no matter how I chose to go forward with my project he’d be there for me'.

Similarly, Shilpa from India went to her supervisor for support after receiving her first assignment back with a much lower grade than she had hoped. She says, 'She sat with me for an hour and went through my assignment, line by line, and told me how to improve. She made it clear that I could go and knock on her office door at any point if I had any doubts, and I'd do this without thinking twice'. 'I'd also ask my friends and coursemates if they could help me out'.

It's worth being aware that lecturers tend to offer 'office hours' when you can visit them and talk to them about your academic work and ask for help and support - which can be especially useful if you have difficulty getting used to the new education system. You are not required to go to office hours as part of your programme, but many students do feel that they make a huge difference in their experience of the course and their grades.

If you need help, just ask. This is the number one piece of advice former students always give to new arrivals in the UK. You likely won’t be the first or the last person who wants to ask the question, and people will be happy to help. If they don’t know the answer, they might be able to pass you to someone who does.

Male student in a black T-shirt sitting on a bench at UCL with blurred pink flowers on his left and the university campus on his right.

'At university in the UK you will be encouraged to learn independently and think critically about your subject'.

7. 'Independent learning and critical thinking are at the heart of the UK education system'

'In the UK education system, there is a real focus on analysis and critical thinking', says Ijeoma from Nigeria. 'At university, my teachers and lecturers expect to hear my voice. They want to know what I think. And challenge me on why I think what I do'.

'There is one way to learn [in my home country], so you can't really get it wrong if you follow the structure of learning the module', says Dania from Malaysia and Iraq, who is currently studying at Newcastle University. In contrast, in the UK, she says, 'the structure is different while allowing for more individuality and creativity when you're answering questions, especially when you do assignment-based modules or write essays for your exams'. 'It can be tricky when you come from somewhere with such a set method of learning and answering questions'. It's worth being aware of plagiarism rules, as information you replicate or refer to from other sources must be referenced correctly.

Additionally, you'll likely have more of a focus on individual and independent learning, and much of your study time will be outside of class. 'It's not like you're in university all day long every single day of the week', says Leo from Indonesia. As a result of this and less regular testing or coursework, it can be easier to fall behind, so it's worth being aware of this, and if you need help or support from your lecturers, just ask for it - as they might not otherwise know you are struggling.

A  cobbled hill in the village of Haworth, West Yorkshire. There are Union Jack flags across the street and a bit green, leafy hill in the background.

'Travel within the UK to delight in the culture and history'.

A large group of international students in a halls of residence kitchen.

'Though you're here to study, remember to have fun'.

8. 'Student life isn't just about studying'

Though you have come to the UK to study, remember to take time for yourself to relax and have fun. No matter how demanding your schedule is with work, study or other commitments, try to prioritise regularly building in time for yourself. One person might need quality alone time listening to a podcast on the move or unwinding at home or in a park reading, painting or watching TV. Whereas someone else might prefer to get active, soak up some culture at a museum, concert or art gallery or enjoy some of the culinary delights and global cuisine which is so readily available. Make a habit of carving out time for yourself to feel good in your normal day-to-day life. Even if that just means turning off your phone for a few minutes, having a cup or hot tea or coffee and letting it warm you up as you look out of the window, watching the world go by.

Irene from Kenya doing peace signs in a big grey hoodie with a blue sky, green grass and a Scottish castle in the backgorund.

'Go on a day trip, and explore the area where you live, or beyond'.

'If I miss home or feel like I need a break, I cycle down the Old Deeside Trail and sit on my favourite bench to find the peace I need', says Irene from Kenya. 'It’s right next to the River Dee. To one side, there is a picture-perfect road not too close, but close enough that I can hear the cars passing by, wondering who’s in them and where they are going', she says. 'It’s like a representation of people going about doing their business and moving around. It’s far enough away for me to feel separate from it. And then on the other side, there is this beautiful green scenery. And a horse stable where I can watch the horses feed and graze. I love sitting there and watching the world go by'.

'There is so much history, culture and natural beauty here in the UK'.

'You never have to go far to find a beautiful place', says Rimsha from Pakistan. But, if you do want a bit of an adventure, 'there is so much history, culture and natural beauty here in the UK and travelling by public transport is so accessible and relatively inexpensive'. 'Some of the bigger cities are like a melting pot of people from many different countries and cultures, and it's an amazing opportunity to find out what you're passionate about and connect with all sorts of different people and cultures'.

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