It’s only once those steps are broken down that the true magnitude of applying comes to light.
Never fear! It’s still not very difficult.
Below are the six steps to studying in the UK from Application to Arrival. It’s enough of an overview that anyone feeling confident and adventurous can read it and start working. For anyone else, there will soon be links to more posts about specifics, just like I promised in the intro.
Disclaimer: Some applications, like for research masters or doctorate, might have more/different steps.
Always trust the website(s) for your school(s) over me. They have a lot of information, and it usually only takes typing “University Name Topic” into Google to get results specific to the school. I’ve done that dozens of times since my application process began.
And on that note….
Step One: Application
This requires deciding on a school first. The actual application needs recommendations (1-3 from people that can attest to your scholarly acumen and future goals), a transcript (up-to-date for when you apply), a copy of your diploma (if you have it), a copy of your passport (if you have one, which you should if you’re applying for university in another country), and a personal statement (post pending on that one, since it’s a bit tricky for US students).
Every application I filled out had a checklist of things I needed, and yours will, too. Play Santa and check the list twice. Or thrice. Or ten times. However many times you feel comfortable. And you’ll rock it.
Apply relatively early (by the end of the year before you wish to start) so you can hear back in time to apply for scholarships available through the school. I didn’t do that, and I definitely regret it.
Step Two: Accept, Defer, or Decline Offers
If you haven’t received an offer for admission, I’m sorry to hear that. However, don’t give up. If you want to study in the UK badly enough and have the ability to do so, you can look for study abroad options through a US university or apply again for the next year. There’s nothing wrong with taking a year off to work, if that’s what needs to be done.
However, if you’ve received a conditional or an unconditional offer, congratulations! If you have more than one offer, this is where you do more research about the schools, their accommodation, the city they’re in, and the programs you applied to. Compare and contrast them. Look at clubs they offer if those are important to you. Research the professors and their publications and see which group of profs fits your interests. If it’s a conditional offer, prepare to fulfil the conditions so it becomes unconditional.
Embrace your research persona, because you’re going to need it. Be prepared to spend hours doing research and making charts to compare. That’s what I did, anyway.
If you already know what your top choice is and know you have the finances figured out, then fantastic! Your choice is made.
When you’ve made your decision, accept the offer, or defer it if you need to take a year off to make some money. Then rejoice! You’re in.
Step Three: Loans, Visa, and Accommodation
These three things happen almost at the same time. Loans should come first. I received an email from someone handling my account that made sure my loans got through correctly, and you probably will, too.
UK universities accept federal loans, so Sallie Mae is an option for loans bigger than Stafford and Perkins.
Your Visa, if you need a Tier 4, requires a passport, information from your school (including a CAS number, which they should supply), and your ability to state truthfully that you have the money to cover your tuition, cost of living, and accommodation.
The United States is considered a low risk country, so you don’t need to send in the documents to prove you have the finances to cover it, but they will ask for them if they think they need to, so be honest and have the records on hand. If you need to wait a week or two or three before you have them, then do it.
Visas also require Biometrics (fingerprints and a picture), which you’ll schedule as you pay for the application. Once that’s done, you can send it in, and then 99% of applicants know within ten days if they’ve been accepted or not. As for the payment, I(aka my parents) forked out a total of $850 for the privilege of applying for the Tier 4. It’s not cheap.
If you don’t need a Tier 4, and your university will tell you if you do, then you just need to bring confirmation of your acceptance into a program and funds to pay for your living while you’re there to the airport to get a temporary student visa in customs. However, that’s really only useful if you’re studying abroad, in which case most of what I’m saying is not relevant since your US school or an organization will handle that.
Accommodation depends on the university. Glasgow has residences off campus, but Stirling has residences on campus. Your university’s website will have all the options and the prices, and you’ll have to apply for them. When you apply, you should know exactly what you want (the building and type of room) and have multiple options.
Unlike most/all US schools, accommodation in the UK is often paid for like an apartment, with rent each month. Be prepared for that to be how your university is set up, since it can’t be covered by loans.
Step Four: Flights and Preparation
Once you have your visa and your loans and your accommodation, you should book your flight. Look at the academic calendar and book your flight home for Christmas, too, if you’ll be returning (the earlier you book it, the cheaper it is).
If your parents want to come and see where you’ll be for the next year or four years, let them. They won’t be there long, and if you’re worried about seeming like an adult, remember that I’m 22 AND have studied in Scotland already and my mom is still coming to help me settle in Glasgow. Wanting to make sure you’re okay is a side effect of your parents loving you, so give them peace of mind and it’ll give you some peace of mind, too.
Preparation includes signing up for international student orientation if you want to. I would recommend it, if you can swing extra days in the UK. If all orientations are anything like Glasgow’s, there will be information on places you need to register (like with the police or a doctor), what sort of bank accounts to open, and might even have a panel of students that you can ask questions.
It also includes knowing if you need to/can buy a packaged set of linens and kitchen supplies if you need them, or if you’ll get there and go shopping. Make sure you have luggage and look at the types of clothes you’ll need to bring with you and what you’ll need to buy there (like a raincoat and rain boots built for the weather).
Packing for the UK is just like packing for a US university, only you can bring less things and have to get it through airport security.
You’ll also need to exchange money, at least enough to get to the UK, open a bank account, and have some left over. Once the bank account is open you can work it out with your parents to transfer more money into it to cover what you need. More details on this are much more useful coming from your bank than me.
Be sure to mentally prepare, too. Follow the weather, practice using the 24-hour clock if you’re not used to it, look at Celsius for a while, and look at when the sun rises and falls throughout the year in the place you’re going. Unless you’re from Alaska, the amount of daylight throughout the year will be quite a change.
Step Five: Registration
As with most things, registration is different for every university. One thing to remember: it is much later than it is in the US. During my undergraduate years, I was registering for classes in April for September and in October/November for the end of January.
For my masters program, I’m not even supposed have any information on registration until August 10 and the official start date listed for my program is September 12. However, there is the added advantage that the website will tell me what is required for my program and then give me the additional options and make sure my credits add up correctly. It will also show me who my adviser is so I can contact them if I need to.
There is also a financial registration and a visa registration to confirm that I can pay for my program and that I have my visa.
I haven’t done any of these things yet, so I’ll update with more details when I do.
Step Six: Arrival
With all the previous things done along with anything you’ve come across in addition to them (in which case, please tell me about them so I can add them to the list), you’re ready to pack and hop on your plane.
Upon arrival to the UK, you’ll have to move into your accommodation at the specified time as well as finish your visa by going to your BRM (biometrics) pickup, which can be a post office or university (you specify the location during the visa application). You’ll need to get your student ID when you can, attend any of the orientation you decided to, open a bank account (if you’re staying long enough to need a Tier 4 visa, you’re going to need one), get a local UK phone, buy your books, and become familiar with your campus.
This may seem like a lot of time and a lot of money, but remember: this will all be happening over months, and yes, it costs a decent amount of money, but if it means that much to you, there’s a program that’s worth it, and you’re lucky enough to be able to swing it without risking your parents’ house or happiness, I think it’s okay to go for it.
And for me, all this is cheaper for one year than it would be for a two year masters in the US, AND I’m getting a program I want. Celtic Studies doesn’t have a lot of options in the US, after all.
Let me know if there’s anything you think I’m missing or anything you want to know more about. Some things I won’t be able to comment on until I go through them over the next month, but I promise to get to them and do a lot of research, and I appreciate your comments and questions.
Your Bonnie Celtophile,
PS-Check your email every day. And I do mean every day. During term, check it twice a day. Maybe even three times. You don’t want to end up missing anything important, but also, don’t let email take control of your life, so don’t let it notify you every time an individual email comes in. If it’s on your phone or tablet, sync it manually.
PPS-This should be the longest post of this series, so if it seemed like a lot to take in at once, never fear! Information will come in shorter tidbits from now on.