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5 key things to do before starting studies in the UK

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

5 key things you need to do to better prepare yourself for starting university as an international student in the UK

Moving to the UK for your university studies is an exciting and exhilarating journey that can lead to many excellent opportunities in the future. However, it's also riddled with its unique challenges.

From planning funding and arranging your student visa to finding accommodation and getting familiar with the British way of life: here are 5 key things you need to do to better prepare yourself for starting university as an international student in the UK.

Learn more about funding opportunities out there

This is an important place to start. Normally, students from outside the EU have to pay higher fees than UK students pay - from £11,000 to £38,000 a year. However, there are plenty of funding options for international students with all kinds of backgrounds and abilities. They include financial assistance which covers programme fees, living expenses, and even return flights to the UK.

Various institutions, universities and the UK government offer different types of scholarships, including academic, merit and excellence scholarships, performance-based scholarships, and disability scholarships. For example, you can browse through scholarships on The British Council's Study UK website which also has tons of useful information, student stories, tips and advice on UK education for international students.

Apply for your student visa

All international students, including EU and EEA citizens, need a student visa to come and study in the UK for longer than six months.

You can apply for your visa as early as six months before your course’s start date, and you'll likely receive a response within three weeks.

To apply, you'll need:

  • a valid passport

  • Confirmation of Acceptance (CAS) number from your university

  • and other documentation such as evidence that you have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course.

You'll also need to pay a fee for the student visa application (£490 if you’re applying from outside the UK) and the healthcare surcharge (£470 a year) which gives you access to free medical services (including hospital care) during your stay here.

You can find out more about the application process and apply for your visa on the UK government website.

Find accommodation

Most first-year students stay in purpose-built student accommodation provided by their university (in the UK it's called 'halls of residence') where it's easier to meet other students and make new friends. Halls of residence are usually closer to campus and can be cheaper than other options.

You'll need to apply for a place through your university accommodation office, and you can usually do this online. However, you might not be put in the halls you personally prefer because they're usually in high demand.

Another option is to rent an ensuite room or a studio from a private landlord. According to the latest numbers, the average cost for weekly rent in purpose-built student accommodation is £166, while private sector accommodation averaged £155 a week for an ensuite room and £228 for a studio. The cost also varies greatly between regions: for example, studying in Wales rather than in London can save you over £2,000 a year.

Learn how to save on the essentials

There are different ways to save money as an international student living in the UK. For example, you can buy a 16–25 Railcard or a 26–30 Railcard, which saves you 1/3 on rail fares throughout Great Britain for a whole year. The card costs just £30 per year.

If you live near the university, you can sometimes benefit from bicycle loan schemes run by universities and students' unions. For example, the students' union at UWE Bristol offers a limited number of bikes (including a D lock and a set of lights) to use for the year for free.

There are great opportunities to eat and shop cheaper as well: students can benefit from various discount schemes such as The More for Students scheme by Morrisons, one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK (student-only offers and discounts are offered to everyone signing up with a valid university email address).

You can also save a lot by using a TOTUM student card, a popular student discount card and app that gives its owner access to great offers on food, essentials, tech, and much more.

Prepare yourself for life in the UK

British universities in general have large and vibrant international student communities. You can learn a lot and make new friends even before arriving in the UK by joining Facebook groups related to your university and students' union.

And, of course, culture shock should and can be avoided! One great way to familiarize yourself with the British way of life is to watch legendary TV shows such as The Office UK, Blackadder, The Thick of It, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Doctor Who. And if you want to dig deeper into modern Britain and the issues it faces today, you can check out TV series and shows like Happy Valley, Black Mirror, Top Boy, Bodyguard, and I May Destroy You.

Want to know more about what it's like to study as an international student in the UK and how to become one? LEO International Online School offers a diverse and intensive two–year A-Level programme designed to prepare students for entry to universities in the United Kingdom. Learn more about this programme and our other courses here, and don't hesitate to contact us at

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