An increasing number of international students are choosing to study at universities in the UK. UCAS reports an increase of 9% in the 2019 application cycle, with over 63,000 students making applications from outside the UK and EU. These students will be coming from different countries, cultures and curriculums, so how best can they prepare to make a successful transition to studying in the UK? We share our top tips to ease the transition.
Be certain you understand the application process
The first point in a successful transition to higher education is understanding the application process and the time line. For all universities in the UK applications are made online through UCAS. The system allows an aspiring student to apply to study at up to five universities. The application requires a personal statement (explaining the motivation and suitability for studying the chosen course), a teacher reference, predicted exam grades and proof of English language ability, e.g. IELTS. Different universities have different entry requirements and it is important to be clear about these expectations. The application window starts in the September prior to entry and closes for the majority of applications in 15th January in the year of entry. Students have until May to make a final choice of two universities, a Firm and Insurance choice. Being clear about this process can help avoid disappointment.
Make sure you pick the right course
British universities are well known for their academic rigour and their subject based degrees. Therefore, it is very important to research course choices thoroughly before making a final selection and to understand how the degree works at different universities. With 37,000 different degrees on offer at over 350 different HE environments, it can be overwhelming for many. For the students we work with, we recommend Student Profiling as a valuable tool for identifying their most suitable degree choices.
Choose the best fit university for you
There are so many universities to choose from but it is key to work out the best fit for you. A campus university suits some with a community feel whereas a bustling city environment will suit others. Studying at a smaller university like St Andrews (6,000 students) will be a different experience to being part of a larger one like Kings College London (27,000 students). Some universities are known for their research in certain areas and others are better known for offering courses more tailored to current employment opportunities.
Gain vital study skills in advance
Studying at university requires students to be self motivated and inquiring learners. For every hour of lecture time there is an expectation that a student will do four hours of independent study. In seminars students will be expected to debate ideas and put forward ideas based on their research. Students also need to be able to work independently and collaboratively. Encouraging students to ‘own’ their learning at school is a key step in supporting them to make this transition.
Ensure you have the language proficiency
An adequate level of English is going to be vital for a successful transition to studying in the UK and all universities publish their IELTS requirements for each course. If a student does not have a sufficient level of English many universities offer pre sessional language courses or International Foundation courses which give both academic and language instruction. Even students who have been educated in an English-medium school can struggle with the language when they arrive, they may be fine in the lecture theatre but socially it can be harder as they are not used to colloquialisms and the many nuances of the English language. Reading in English and engaging with English-medium media can be helpful in understanding some of these differences.
Get familiar with the culture
For many students, even those who have been educated in an English speaking international school, actually studying in the UK can still be a culture shock. The student demographic can feel very monocultural after studying in a diverse international environment. The accepted levels of behaviour can be quite different from the expectations in their home country. We encourage families to send their children on summer schools in advance of university to gain some experience in this area. Plus, making sure you connect with the university international society can be a great way to find like-minded peers.
Sort your accommodation early!
Whilst this may sound a minor issue, it actually has a major impact on any student’s university experience. It is important to consider the location of the accommodation, how far it is from the university, how easy it is to access transport etc. Accommodation varies hugely across each campus with everything from self-catering studio flats, en suite catered apartments, to sharing a room on a corridor with 20 other students with shared bathroom facilities. It is important to book accommodation as soon as possible to secure top choices. More and more international students are opting to move into high quality privately provided accommodation with concierge style security and high spec rooms such as Vita Student.
Encourage independent living skills
For many students this will be their first experience of living independently and for them to do this successfully they will need to have some basic living skills; shopping for themselves, cooking their own food and washing their own clothes. It is also important that they understand about managing their money and how to budget so they can avoid getting into financial difficulties. Parents have a large role to play in this aspect of preparing their child to make this transition.
Be mindful of wellbeing
Once a student reaches the age of 18, the university’s relationship will be directly with the student not the parent. This can be a shock to parents who are used to regular contact with a school to check on their child’s wellbeing and academic progress. The pastoral care system at this level can be quite light touch. Therefore, it is important to make sure that students know how to access medical care, pastoral support and mental health services as well as knowing where to go for help with academics or learning support. It is also important to have regular communication with your child to check in with them and make sure all is well.
Secure the visa in good time
Securing a visa to study in the UK is dependent on securing the conditional offer made by the university. Once this is confirmed the university will issue a CAS number which can be taken to the local embassy to start the tier 4 visa application process. In advance of this it is important to make sure the IELTS test has been taken, and that the recommended amount of money can be demonstrated as available. Study visas come with a variety odd conditions and further informal on this can be found on the gov.uk website.
Read more about why studying in the UK could be right for you here.