The UK might be a small country, but when it comes to international students, it has a big appeal.
The United Kingdom is the second largest host country for international students behind the United States, according to Project Atlas from the Institute of International Education. The country attracted 480,000 international students in 2012-2013 – the most recent year for which data was available – with most students coming from China, India and the United States.
This makes sense, experts say, as the UK is home to some of the best universities in the world, only rivaled by the US in terms of quality and prestige.
Prospective undergraduates should realize that while the UK shares a common language with its US, Canadian and Australian counterparts, many aspects of its higher education system are distinct. Here are five facts prospective international students should know about universities nationwide.
1. The UK is a good choice for students who know what they want to study. Before students commit to a UK bachelor’s degree, they need to know if they want depth or breadth in their studies, says Loren Griffith, Director of International Strategy at the University of Oxford.
While in the US, students are encouraged to take a variety of courses before moving on to a major, the UK requires students to immerse themselves in their subject early on, he says. “There are a lot of students who come to the UK or Oxford with a passion for a particular subject. They spend their entire undergraduate career focusing on that.”
As a result, students apply for a specific subject at college, rather than college in general, as might be the case in the United States, says Kevin McCarthy of London & Partners, the official London promotion company. “If a student wants to switch to a completely different subject than the one they applied for, they will usually have to apply again for the new subject,” he said via email.
Although some universities accept direct applications from international students, this is not the norm, McCarthy said. He notes a many UK universities also accept the joint application, allowing international students to apply simultaneously to US and UK universities.
All UCAS applications will require grade information and a personal statement explaining a student’s motivation for choosing their subject, says Tim Sowula, spokesperson for the British Council, an organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities that provides international students with information on studying in the UK Schools have minimum English proficiency requirements, and some will require additional exams or interviews, he says.
Before applying, Sowula says that potential students should check an institution’s website or prospectus for the requirements of the chosen course.
3. UK universities can save students time and money. Tuition fees in the UK range from 9,000 to 15,000 pounds in British dollars – around $ 14,000 to around $ 24,000 – per year, depending on the college and excluding room and board, says Tamsin Thomas, head of the higher education for the US offices of the British Council.
While this may not sound like a good deal, the figure may be lower than many private US institutions.
Another plus: Many programs in the UK, with the exception of Scotland, award bachelor’s degrees after three years, says Thomas. This means that international students can save a year of tuition fees.
4. International students can work while studying. International students studying full-time in an undergraduate or postgraduate course at a recognized university are allowed to work part-time for one term and up to 20 hours per week and full-time during holidays with a visa student, McCarthy said.
And unlike in the United States, where international students face strict guidelines governing when it is allowed to work off campus, in the United Kingdom they can work anywhere they find a job, says Thomas.
5. Studying in the UK is not just a UK experience, it is an international experience. âThe UK is more globally connected than the US, in part because there are more international students here,â says Griffith, of Oxford. “You come to the UK and you have a European experience because you’re with a lot of European students – it’s a train ride from dozens of countries.”
The presence of so many international students is an attraction for Renee Tonkin, a 22-year-old from north Wellington, New Zealand, who studies at Imperial College London.
âThere are lots and lots of international students, and I think they’re well supported,â says Tonkin, a major in biochemistry. “I certainly felt that way.”
Tonkin chose the UK because it seemed like a good cultural fit and because London seemed full of opportunities.
âI really wanted to study in London because of the big city vibe,â she says.