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Want to study abroad in the UK? Our guide has all the information you'll need to get started at a university in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
In terms of popularity with international students, the UK lags only behind the considerably larger US. So: what exactly is the appeal of the UK?
An obvious starting point would be the universities, one of which – the University of Cambridge – you may just have heard of, seeing as it is currently ranked the second best university in the world, according to the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings (it was first in 2010 and 11). You'll also probably know of Cambridge's historic rival, the University of Oxford.
But there’s a lot more to higher education in the UK than Oxford and Cambridge. Four UK universities currently rank among the world's top 10. There are a total of 30 institutions in the top 200, and 55 in the top 700. A shortage of options, then, will not be an issue for the UK-bound international student.
Search universities in the UK >
But while finding the right university should be very high up on an international student’s checklist, it will not be the only consideration. So in what else does the UK have to offer? Quite a lot...
All four of the UK's constituent states (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) enjoy areas of outstanding natural beauty, and the nation’s storied and colorful past means that there’s no shortage of history – also evidenced in the idiosyncratic customs and traditions you’ll almost definitely encounter. And wherever you’re stationed, the country’s relatively diminutive dimensions mean you can easily hop on a train or in a car (just remember to drive on the left…) and be somewhere completely different in less than an hour.
There’s plenty going on culturally too: the contemporary live music scene is vibrant and varied, London is one of the world’s fashion capitals, and there’s no shortage of higher cultural activities should that be more up your alley.
If you fancy something a little less taxing on the mind, you can embrace the national passion for sport (football, rugby, cricket, boxing, motorsport, and tennis amongst others) or the classic British pastime of just going to the pub. And even the traditionally questionable British cuisine has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, so you need no longer fear the tough meat and boiled vegetables of yesteryear.
Studying at master’s or PhD level? Read our graduate-level guide to the UK >
Discover the UK's top student cities...
No discussion of life in the UK would be complete without a reference to its capital city. Home to 10 million people, London is the beating heart of the UK. Life in the city, which is the financial, cultural and political center of the country, is extremely fast-paced, and if you don’t like crowds or noise, it might not be the place for you. It is also one of the world’s most expensive cities.
However, if you can get past all that, there are few places which can guarantee you as exciting and intense – academically and otherwise – an experience. It also helps that its home to several of the world’s best universities, including two in the top ten of the QS World University Rankings (UCL and Imperial College London).
A student's guide to London >
Manchester is famed for its music – few cities have produced as many prominent acts in the past 30 years. Resultantly, it is a bit of a party town, so if your social life is important to you, Manchester should be on your shortlist. But it’s not just about the drinking and the dancing. The city is also home to two universities, including the University of Manchester (also home to the Manchester Business School), which stands at the lofty position of 32 in the QS World University Rankings.
If you’re a fan of football, Manchester will also hold a special appeal. Manchester United is the most decorated club in the country, while local rival Manchester City is the richest. On top of this, the area around the city is awash with smaller clubs, which form an indelible part of the area’s character.
More about Manchester >
The UK’s second city is home to the respected University of Birmingham (ranked 77 in the QS World University Rankings), as well as two other smaller universities, and two university colleges. The city came to prominence during the industrial revolution. Today, though, it is a thriving commercial hub, and is home to largest shopping area outside of London (which, in the local branch of Selfridges, is home to one most striking buildings in the country). Brum, as it known affectionately by the locals, is also one of the most multicultural places in the UK, and resultantly, few cities can offer you as varied and colourful a cultural experience.
More about Birmingham >
It may have lived for many years in the genteel shadow of Edinburgh, but Scotland’s largest city has in recent years shaken off its former gritty reputation to emerge as one of the UK’s most dynamic up-and-coming cities. With historic architecture, distinctive local traditions and museums to rival any city in the UK, Glasgow now also has enough trendy bars, restaurants and gig venues to keep even the most hardened hipster entertained. Following the upward trajectory of the city, the University of Glasgow has improved its ranking performance in recent years and now stands at 54 in the QS World University Rankings, while the University of Strathclyde ranks at 254.
See where these UK cities rank in this year's QS Best Student Cities >
Okay, they’re two separate and distinct cities with their own history and character, but these two cities are bound together in the collective imagination as semi-mythical academic enclaves with a profound historic affinity, as well as an ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek rivalry. Both are old medieval towns, built on rivers and situated towards the south of England (a stone’s throw from London), both are relatively quiet and peaceful, and both are completely dominated by their universities – the two oldest in the Anglophone world.
Oxford and Cambridge are both collegiate, and their constituent colleges loom large over the cities’ town centers, which you’ll also notice are teeming with the bright young attendees. These, as you know, are some of the most prestigious universities in the world (Cambridge is 2nd and Oxford is 6th in the world), and to list their notable alumni would have an effect somewhat akin to snow blindness.
Oxford or Cambridge? How to choose >
The UK employs a centralized admissions service for students through which you will need to go if you want to apply to a British university. Universities, of course, decide on their own intake, and any questions that do not directly pertain to the technicalities of application should be directed to the institutions concerned.
The application itself, and all communication regarding it, however, will be handled by UCAS (the University and College Admissions Service). Deadlines and the technicalities of your application (such as the number of institutions to which you can apply) differ according to where you’re from, so do your research as soon you’ve made up your mind to study in the UK.
Students from the EEA are subject to the governmentally determined caps on numbers imposed on local students, while students from outside are excluded from these limitations.
Fees and visa requirements will also differ according to whether or not you’re from the EEA.
• Fees are the same as local students, averaging at around US$13,200 and capped at US$14,000 per year• Automatic right of residence if accepted onto a recognized university course (you can apply for an optional Residence Certificate)
• Fees set by universities, averaging at around US$20,000 per year, with no maximum cap• Must apply for a Tier 4 visa through UK immigration authorities in your home country• To gain a visa you must have been accepted onto a course, and have enough money to cover living expenses – your tuition fees plus £600 a month, rising to £800 in London (US$940 and US$1,250). You will need enough money for nine months. Rent paid to the university in advance can be deducted but private rent cannot (though you can spend the money on private rental afterwards)• If you are not from an Anglophone country, you will also need to prove your proficiency in English. The required level at present is B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Language• Residents of some countries may be required to register with the police, and others may have to provide a certificate to prove they are free from tuberculosis• Your visa will be valid until four months after the completion of any course longer than a year (and for two for a course shorter than this)• You will be allowed to work for 10 or 20 hours per week in term-time, depending on where you are from• You may also apply for entry as a prospective student. To do this you must prove you have been in touch with some universities. It will be valid for six months, during which you may study – though it’s advisable to upgrade sooner rather than later.
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