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How to apply to UK Universities as an International Student





Reading Time: 6 minutes

The United Kingdom features some of the world’s best educational institutions, located in both busy, exciting cities and iconic, historic towns alike. If you’re thinking of applying to one of the UK’s many, many universities from abroad, then we’re not surprised!

But the process of applying to a UK institution can be a bit complicated if you’re not sure where to start. There is plenty to navigate throughout the application process, with a series of steps and requirements that need to be met before making your move to the UK once term starts.

Here, we’ll walk you through the necessary steps of the application process to make sure things go as smoothly as possible once you’ve decided where to study.

Meet the initial requirements

It’s a good idea to start as early as possible with the application process. If you miss any deadlines, there’s little that can be done, which means you might have to wait until the following year to study in the UK. Additionally, make sure you meet the following requirements before starting any university applications. You’ll need:

  • An up-to-date passport
  • An English language proficiency qualification
  • Proof of how you will fund your studies
  • A tuberculosis test, depending on the country

passports and visas

It goes without saying that you’ll need an up-to-date passport. But in order to study in the UK, you’ll need to take the IELTS test or its equivalent to prove you have the proper English language skills to complete your course.

Likewise, proof of funding will be required to show you can adequately pay for your time studying. If you’re looking to study in London, then you’ll need to be able to prove you can pay the £1,020 per month for living expenses along with the means to pay for your tuition. Outside of London, the amount tends to be in the range of £820 a month.

Prospective students looking to enter the UK are required to have been cleared for tuberculosis too. Take a look at this list here; if your home country is included, you’ll need to get tested.

Also, it’s important that you stay up to date with application deadlines. Certain courses, such as medicine, veterinary science and others, as well as institutions like Oxford and Cambridge, have earlier deadlines, so make sure you know when these dates are.

Find a course and select your universities

In the UK, students choose their course before applying to university. Their interest in the subject then becomes the central point of their – and your – application. If you aren’t sure, then the Complete University Guide has a great resource that can help you choose your course.

Two men standing in front of a team of people as they sit and listen to her giving a presentation

Once you’ve decided on a course that’s right for you, head to the UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) website, search for your course and make a note of its unique code.

You can select up to five universities to apply to, so be sure to research their websites and course lists to get a feel for whether it’s somewhere you’d like to study. Again, be sure to make a note of these universities’ UCAS codes.

Write your personal statement

Next, you’ll need to write your personal statement, a document that details your interests, why you’re choosing that particular course, what you will add to the university and what you’ve done to show how dedicated you are to your chosen subject.

This is totally unique to you, and will set you apart from other students, so it’s important that it really sells you and why you want to study the subject. You only have a maximum of 47 lines, or 4000 characters, so it’s important to fit in the most significant points. Only one personal statement is required for each university you apply to.

Apply through UCAS

Once you’ve written up your personal statement, head to the UCAS website – here’s where you’ll start your application properly. You’ll need to fill out your personal information, the UCAS codes for your course and universities, and your personal statement.

A young woman is using a laptop at home.

Currently, UCAS charges £20 for a single university, and £25 if you are applying to multiple universities. Pay the fee and wait to see if your application has been successful. If so, you will receive a CAS form (Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies), which is a virtual document with a unique reference number sent to you by the university that has accepted you.

Make sure you keep this in a safe place since you need it when applying for your student visa. It features all the important information you need, including course details, start date, tuition costs and official confirmation of a place at university.

Pay for the Immigration Health Surcharge

In order to receive free healthcare for the duration of your studies, you need to pay the £150 Immigration Health Surcharge fee, which will cover you for one year. This can be done online via the portal.

Apply for your visa

Now you’ll need to apply for a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa if you’re studying for a full-degree in the UK. or a Student Visitor Visa if you’re studying for a period of six months or less, which you can obtain through an online application. You’ll need to have your fingerprints and photograph taken at a visa application centre.

Happy colleagues laughing in the office meeting

Timing is crucial here: the application needs to be done no less than three months before your course begins, but no more than six months after you have received your CAS form, so make sure you know your dates.

Attend the visa interview

If your visa application is successful, then you’ll be invited to a visa interview, either at a visa application centre or possibly through a video link. Here, you’ll be asked questions about your university, course and financial situation. Make sure you have your documents, and be prepared to speak in English about studying in the UK.

You’ll need the following:

  • Tuberculosis Screening Certificate from UKVI approved TB Test Centre
  • CAS form
  • Current passport
  • English language proficiency test mentioned in CAS form
  • Financial proof you can fund your studies
  • Two passport photographs
  • Academic certificates mentioned in CAS form
  • Original birth certificate (and translation if not in English)
  • Proof of payment for immigration health surcharge

Start planning your journey

Now you need to start planning your trip to the UK, including how you’ll get here. Speak to the university beforehand about accommodation if you haven’t already heard from them and make any arrangements for your arrival.

Young African-American couple doing check-in at airline check-in counter at international airport

If you’re studying in the UK for less than six months, you can arrive in the country up to one week before your course starts. If you’re studying for a longer amount of time, you can arrive up to 30 days beforehand.

Whichever it is, you’ll receive a temporary visa which allows you to be in the country for that period of time. Your actual visa will be your BRP which needs to be collected within ten days of when you said you’d arrive in the UK, even if you arrive at a later date. The location of where to collect your BRP from will have been arranged when you applied for your visa.

What else?

Once you’re in the UK, there a few other things you’ll need to sort, which you can find in our Ultimate Guide for International Students Moving to the UK. We’ve also got a guide on the essential things to bring with you and what to leave at home.

If you’re looking for a student living experience that offers more, head over to the NIDO STUDENT SITE to discover your new home away from home. We’d love to chat further, so please drop us a line on 0207 1000 100 for more information on our student residences.

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