The UK is the second most popular destination in the world for international study. In 2019-20, over 500,000 international students chose to study here. The UK also has an unparalleled range of universities and higher education colleges – from large multi-faculty universities through to small specialist institutions and performance arts colleges. 

This guide has been created to help international school college counsellors advise your students on their study options in the UK. The questions answered below are those that we know many college counsellors have asked in the past and we hope you find them useful.

Studying in the UK - frequently asked questions

With so many universities and courses on offer, where do I start?

There are many factors that need to be considered when choosing what and where to study in the UK. Things such as the cost of tuition fees and living expenses, the city where the university is located, the course curriculum and the university ranking are the most likely to influence a decision. Read UKCISA’s advice on how to choose a course and university 

There are a range of study options in the UK including: 

  • foundation and pathway programmes, which are designed for students from countries whose school or degree qualifications are not recognised in the UK for direct entry to an undergraduate degree programme;
  • undergraduate programmes, typical awards: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Education (BEd) and Bachelor of Engineering (BEng). A degree with honours is usually taken over three years but may occasionally be completed in five years depending on the subject and in Scotland, courses are on average four years in length.
  • joint honour programmes at undergraduate level: it is becoming more popular to combine subjects so giving students the opportunity to study more than one discipline;
  • postgraduate taught programmes, typical awards: Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc) and Master in Business Administration (MBA). These programmes are usually taken over a 12-month period and include the completion of a project or dissertation;
  • doctoral research programmes, typical awards: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Doctoral research programmes typically last three to six years with individual study and the support of a research supervisor.

You can use our University Finder tool for a full breakdown on the courses on offer across all the UK’s higher education institutions.

How safe is the UK?

  • The UK is one of the safest countries in the world, with low crime rates and a trustworthy police force. We have strict laws on gun ownership and gun crime is rare.
  • Many institutions have their own security services who patrol university campuses, and the British Council will provide you with additional pre-departure information on campus safety and the welfare services available to students. 
  • Most universities have staff who are trained to offer specific advice and support to international students who have concerns or are experiencing personal problems. See our advice and support page for information on safety and student welfare.

Is it expensive to study in the UK?

  • Studying in the UK is good value for money – costs here are lower than in both the USA and Australia. According to research by HSBC in 2013, the average annual costs for international students were:

     $30,325 in the UK

     $35,705 in the USA

     $38,516 in Australia

  • Additionally, since this research was published, exchange rate fluctuations have made the UK even better value for many international students.
  • Students in the UK are offered a range of discounts on everyday purchases through their International Student Identity Card. The key task is to stick to a budget and UKCISA has created an International Student Calculator to help students do just that.
  • Universities normally charge two levels of fee: a lower 'home' fee and a higher 'overseas' fee. Whether you pay a 'home' or 'overseas' fee depends on whether you meet certain criteria. This is a frequent question of international school college counsellors who may have British expatriate students living overseas and applying to UK universities. A general rule is you will need to be resident in the UK, and not in full time study, for three years prior to the start of the course. To better understand how a ‘home’ or ‘overseas’ fee status is decided read UKCISA’s guide
  • While scholarships are very competitive, a whole range of UK universities offer them. Read more about scholarships and financial support on our scholarships page.

EU students in the UK

What are the key dates for students to apply to a UK university?

  • Students applying to study for an undergraduate course should do so via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)
  • Applying for an undergraduate degree via UCAS is simple. It is an easy online process and the website enables counsellors and your students to research courses, to complete an application and to check the progress of an application. Each step has supporting information. 
  • Applications should be made between the beginning of September (prior to the year the student wishes to start their studies) and mid-January, which is the deadline for most undergraduate courses. Students can still apply up to 15 June or go through UCAS Clearing but it is advisable to apply early as the most popular programmes will fill up fast.
  • It is worth noting that for some subjects, such as music, medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences, the deadline for applications is in the October (prior to the year the students wishes to start their studies) so applicants should apply as early as possible.
  • For postgraduate courses and research degrees, applicants will need to check the deadlines at each university that they are applying to.

Can international students work in the UK after graduation?

Yes, international students who successfully complete an undergraduate or master’s degree at a UK university can now benefit from two years’ work experience in the UK upon graduation through the new Graduate Route. For students who complete a PhD, this period extends to three years.

The Graduate Route gives students an opportunity to gain experience in their chosen career, building their experience and connections in the UK that will impress employers all over the world.

  • The Graduate Route opens for students graduating from 1 July 2021
  • It is open to all international students who hold a valid student visa at the time of application and who have successfully completed a degree - at undergraduate level or above - at a Higher Education Provider with a track record of compliance.
  • Successful applicants will be available to stay and work, or look for work, in the UK at any skill level for a maximum period of two years if they have successfully completed an undergraduate or master’s degree. PhD graduates can stay for three years.
  • Graduates will be able to switch into skilled work as soon as they have found a suitable job.
  • The route will require a new visa application, this includes the payment of a visa fee and an Immigration Health Surcharge.
  • The UK government has confirmed that students will not be penalised for beginning their courses online, and will still qualify for the Graduate Route provided they complete the final semester of their studies in the UK.

You can find out more details on our Graduate Route page

What is campus culture like in the UK?

  • Freshers' Week is a time for making new friends, preparing for the year ahead, collaborating with new course mates, and discovering the campus and location. It's also a good time to join social and special interest clubs hosted by every university to meet like-minded undergraduates. 
  • Some of these clubs have a cultural focus and a number of the most popular clubs are aimed at volunteering, both locally and internationally. There are many special interest clubs and something for everyone so no one should feel isolated.
  • Drinking is not a major part of campus culture in the UK – although many students at UK universities do drink, there is a huge range of activities and social events which do not involve alcohol.

What entry requirements do students need and is the IB accepted in the UK?

  • Entry requirements will vary depending on the course and the university. 
  • While the A level is still the benchmark against which most universities set their entry requirements for courses the International Baccalaureate (IB) is recognised across the UK higher education system. At some universities in the UK, up to 15% of students are admitted with the IB. 
  • The IB score needed will vary between universities and within a university depending on the subject area. The IB score needed is listed on the Entry Requirements area of each university’s website. 

How are courses taught at UK universities?

  • Universities use a variety of teaching methods in order to deliver each programme that include: lectures; seminars; tutorials; laboratory-based work; workshops; self-study and peer-group learning. Universities often list the hours of contact time a student can expect for the duration of the course on their website under the individual course profiles. Alternatively, you can search Unistats, the official website for comparing UK higher education course data. 
  • With such a multi-cultural mix of students studying within the UK’s universities new students gain a cross-cultural understanding both within the classroom via group work, and on the campus.  
  • Students in the UK have access to a comprehensive support system that assists and encourages them in their studies. They receive feedback on assignments to enable them to understand how they are progressing. Students also have a personal tutor who can help with both academic and welfare problems.

What is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)?

  • The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) is a government led initiative that assesses the teaching quality at UK universities and higher education colleges. 
  • The results can help those considering higher education to choose where to apply.
  • It's good to remember that the TEF results reflect the institution as a whole rather than subject level teaching, so should be read alongside other, more detailed, rankings. 
  • Universities are graded into three categories based on their TEF score: Gold, Silver and Bronze. 
  • Regardless of their TEF rating, all UK Universities are subject to rigorous quality assurance systems and so teaching has to be excellent at all institutions. 
  • A more detailed overview of the TEF can be found on the Office for Students website 

See also

External links