This is ‘studying in England week’ here at Gloriously Dismal so prepare yourself for a week’s worth of posts all about Old Blighty.
I receive emails from people wanting to get a degree in England about once a month. The latest email came from Ava who is interested in studying in the UK but is unsure about the financial aspects. She says:
Hi! I was just wondering how you paid for/afforded studying in England. I really want to go to university somewhere in the UK but I’m not sure how to pay for it. It’s surprisingly cheaper than a lot of US schools, and it’s less than it would be for me to go to an out-of-state 4 year college. I’ve noticed scholarships/grants aren’t really available. It seems like loans are the only option. I’ll need to take out loans regardless of where I go, but it is a little scary.
Any information would really be a huge help. Thank you! (:
I’m going to attempt to answer Ava’s question along with some other ones that I’ve received. This is going to be one massive post so if it’s not information you need then you’re probably going to want to skip it.
First off, congratulations! While you’re taking a different route than a lot of people by deciding to get your full undergraduate degree abroad you’re definitely in for a great life experience.
As I’m an American I can only really help out my fellow yanks as I have no clue what the schooling systems are like in Canada, Australia, South Africa, etc. and therefore can’t make the generalizations that I have below for everyone.
As a caveat, I would give you ‘tips & tricks’, but there are no tricks because you really do need to follow the process laid out by UCAS, your chosen university, and the UK Border Agency (more on this later).
In we go.
UCAS —- Most of the information you need is here and this is also where your application process will take place.
British Council USA —- Sometimes useful, sometimes not. They used to have really great bloggers which they have since gotten rid of. For shame, British Council!
University of London —- If you’re considering universities in London.
Guardian university rankings —- These will help you sort through which schools are best for your academic area/needs.
FAFSA —- That’s right folks, you can use federal loans at UK universities.
UK Border Agency —- Information you should be familiar with on student visas.
Please note that attending university in the UK forces you to jump into your major straight away which means you need to be 100% certain of what you want to study. If you decide half way through that you want to switch majors you will have to start your entire course over. If liberal arts is more your thing then going to university in England probably isn’t the right option for you.
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Money: The truth is that you afford, or don’t afford, to go to university in England the exact same way you do here at home. You can use FAFSA (federal student loans) at universities in the UK. This is great but those loans don’t even come close to covering tuition let alone living expenses, which means you’re going to need family to help you out or, at the very least, be in a good enough financial standing to be able to co-sign any other loans you need. Pretty please try to stay away from private loans as best as you can. They’re horrible, especially if you’re getting a degree in something vague like history or International Relations as opposed to nursing or chemical engineering. Loans certainly suck, but don’t let the media hype scare you, they’re not the end of the world as long as you’re smart about it.
My cost of attendance (COA) which included all tuition and living expenses calculated by my university for FAFSA was $28K per year x 3 years. If you’re going to a school outside of London then the COA will be slightly less than that as living expenses, especially in some parts of the country, plummet once outside London.
My tuition was £9K GBP per year which comes out to around $15K USD. Compared to schools in the US that is really quite a bargain. That being said, you get what you pay for. I had about 8 hours of contact time per week which included four one hour lectures and four one hour seminars. In his first year, my boyfriend had about 3 hours per week, all on Wednesdays, which is pretty laughable. One time he skipped class (to hang out with me obviously!) and so he had a little two week break in the semester by skipping class only once. If you compare the contact time to places in the US it’s a lot less. I knew this going in but I was definitely not quite prepared for it. You will have a lot of free time.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, the main expense with going to university in England is living expenses, especially if you’re going in London. I kinda feel two ways about this: 1) it was incredibly stupid of me to go to university in such an expensive city, 2) I’m incredibly grateful that I was so stupid and had the opportunity to live in London for 3 years as I’ll probably never live somewhere so expensive ever again. London is, hands down, my favorite place in the world and I’ll always be thankful that I got to experience life there. If I had gone to school in the US I would have studied abroad, probably multiple times, as that was really the main draw of higher education for me, so by just getting my whole degree abroad, even in an expensive place like London, I saved myself many, many years of loan payments.
With regards to scholarships and such, there are none. I know it sucks, it really does but when you decide to do something a little out of the ordinary there generally isn’t a whole lot of support available. Just console yourself with the fact that since your degree will probably be 3 years instead of 4 you’re saving a load on that 4th year.
Money also comes into play with immigration and the UK Border Agency. You need to have your finances sorted out before you enter the UK or you won’t be able to get in. In fact, when you’re applying for your visa you need to prove that you have the cash or loans already lined up through sending in a bank statement or letter from your loan company, so don’t delay in looking into all your options.
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Entrance requirements: In the US you can get into a lot of schools with advanced and honors classes, but for an American to get into most schools in the UK you’re going to need AP classes, specifically AP classes relevant to what you want to study at university. For example, I knew I wanted to do International Relations so my AP classes and tests were: U.S. History, World History, European History, English Language, and English Literature. On my UCAS application I submitted my AP scores and my SAT II scores, not my ACT. Focus on the relevant subjects (AP classes, any electives you can take) and not so much on things that show you are well-rounded (ACT, SAT, taking Calculus even though you want to major in English, sports, etc.).
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Pick your 5 schools: The nice thing about applying in England is UCAS. UCAS is the portal you use to apply to universities and usually you don’t have to do anything above and beyond, although if you’re applying to Oxbridge you’ll have to submit more stuff. You can apply to up to 5 schools and I highly recommend you don’t leave any spaces empty. I was originally pretty dead-set on attending the University of Leeds, but then I decided being in London was probably a better fit for me (it was!). QMUL was definitely not my first pick when I applied, actually I think I just put it on there to fill up the last space, but in the end it was where I ended up going.
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Apply early: The deadlines (January 15th/earlier for certain courses) for schools in England tend to be way earlier than places in the US (unless you’re doing early application) so make sure to have everything in order. I applied in October of my senior year and found out on Election Day in November that I had got into the first of my schools. The schools all respond at their own rate so if you’re #1 pick is taking a while you just have to wait it out. By February I had responses that I had been accepted to all of them. Applying early is also key since you’re going to have to deal with a visa application and immigration stuff, none of which can be done 2 weeks before you need to leave, which brings me to….
DON’T GET ON A PLANE WITH OUT A VISA! This one seems like common sense but you’d be surprised. Betsy left DC to start her postgraduate course without a visa, got detained at Heathrow for 10 hours, and had to fly all the way back to DC. Don’t think you’re smarter than the immigration officers. If you’re entering the country to study you need a student visa, not a measly little tourist stamp visa. In fact, your university won’t even let you enroll without proof of a visa so don’t waste your time trying to pull a little stunt. You will get caught and have to spend a lot of money to fix your mistake. The UK border is, hands down, the strictest border I’ve ever experienced (even compared to ones in the Balkans!), especially now that David Cameron is in charge.
And on the flip-side, never overstay your visa. Always take your immigration status seriously. Have you seen that movie that came out pretty recently called Like Crazy? Well if not, then you should go watch it because it really shows how overstaying your visa can mess up your future plans. I can count 3 Americans that I know of that have overstayed their visas in the UK in order to hang out with their boyfriend/girlfriend a little longer. Don’t do it, it’s so freaking stupid I can’t even tell you. Immigration is not a game.
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Relationships: Speaking of Like Crazy, this will most likely become your life. I know, I know you’re not interested in meeting someone you just want to study and travel for goodness sake! I said the exact same thing. All the lovely American ladies I talked to who had gotten degrees in England and had acquired a little baggage in the form of a boy with an accent along the way tried to warn me, but I just could not have been less interested so I didn’t listen. Which is why I’m going to try my best to make you listen (or, um, read).
While there’s nothing wrong with acquiring a boy with an accent it does make life a lot more complicated. Particularly after you graduate when there are no visas for either of you to live in the other’s country. That’s the beauty of being from two different countries both with very strict immigration policies. You’ll probably talk about the M-word before you’re even able to legally drink at home.
While I’m not saying you need to pimp yourself out as a child-bride in order to get a visa, au contraire, it might be wise to poke around a little bit and make sure that your significant other isn’t, say, an uber-radical feminazi who is morally, theologically, and ideologically opposed to the institution of marriage. Because if they are that’d probably be a good thing to know before you get yourself into a long-distance relationship. Just something to keep in mind while your tottering home from the pub. Slip it in to the conversation whilst totally smashed and you’ll be fine.
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Be prepared to change your plans at the drop of a hat: The UK isn’t as international student friendly as it was back in 2009 when Labour was in government. I’m saying this to make you aware that things don’t always go as planned. I always counted on Tier 1 (post-study work) being an option for me and it disappeared right before my eyes. It was pretty upsetting. I cried. It’s hard when you invest a lot of time and money (and your family’s money!) in getting your education somewhere, following all the immigration rules, to have this little carrot on a string dangled in front of you and then have it just disappear, to be told that you can’t stay in the country that you’ve lived in and made a life in for the last 3 years.
Living in a country where you’re not a citizen and have absolutely zero rights definitely makes you more compassionate for people who don’t have a decent country or situation to go back to. It’s easy for me to complain that wah wah wah I couldn’t stay in London even if I wanted to and had to come back to the USA wah wah wah, but really, there are millions of people affected by immigration policies everyday who are worse off. I just wish politicians would realize that they are playing with people’s lives when they’re making immigration laws. After being on the receiving end of it of a Prime Minister that can’t decide what he is doing when it comes to immigration, I have a lot more compassion for people dealing with immigration issues.
All that being said, I’m highly skeptical that the Tories will get elected again which means if you’re heading to uni in the next couple of years you might just be right on the cusp where Labour will get elected again while you’re there and reverse all this nonsense that has been instituted. And if so, you’re a lucky bastard because Labour instituted some really lovely visa options for international students last time they were in office!
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Learn to be patient: I’m like the least patient person in the world, but this is important because things and life in general in England tend to move at a different pace than here in the US. I can’t believe how many times I let myself get worked up my first year over there about how incompetent some of the people working in the university system were/are. I think by the end of my time there I had gotten pretty used to it but it was super annoying at first.
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What to tell the family: Stick with the pros to getting your undergrad abroad which are (in case you need reminding): 3 years instead of 4 (this was a big one for me!), generally more cost effective, and if you’re planning on studying abroad anyway (I sure was!) this is a much better way to do it. Whenever Americans would study abroad at my university I would realize how happy I was that I was getting the real experience instead of staying in a little isolated bubble of fellow Americans on the study abroad program.
This was a pretty brief introduction, but if you need to know anything else please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or drop me an email and I can direct you to some more info or write another post. Or I can tell you the stereotypes about the universities you’re applying to. Either way.
Next post up is a reading list of helpful books if you’re considering studying/moving to England so stay tuned!