How to study in the UK as an international student is something thousands of undergrads and graduate students ask every year. Studying as an international student in the UK can be a rewarding and incredible experience and continues to be a popular choice for those studying abroad. For those who are ready to take the plunge, or are still uncertain, talking to an can be a good first step on your journey. In this blog, we’ll learn more about the advantages of studying in the UK as an international student, what you need to know about the UK grading system and university exams, and some study tips to help you succeed.
International students have some notable advantages when choosing to study in the UK. Some of the best universities in the world are located here, and they offer a top-tier higher education. The UK is one of the top destinations for international students and continues to be a popular choice overall. It is also slightly easier for international students to get accepted at top universities than domestic students in the UK, even though the UK has some very competitive programs, in particular .
Another great part of studying in the UK is that it is a very multicultural place, and international students will have no trouble fitting in and finding their niche. It is likely they will meet people from all over the world and the experience of studying in the UK can be very enriching socially, academically and culturally. It’s also a good location to learn or improve your English language skills, as you’ll be immersed in the language.
Living and studying costs in the UK can be high for international students, but tuition costs are typically lower than universities in the US, and students can use resources like to help offset the costs of studying abroad. Health insurance is usually more affordable as well, and it’s advised that students share living costs or live on campus if possible. But there are many government-funded programs that offer aid to international students as well, which can help cover a portion or all of the costs of studying in the UK.
All students applying to universities in the UK will need to submit their application through the UCAS system. This is the UK’s unified college application system, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the UCAS timeline and deadlines that apply to you and your chosen program. On the upside, applying through UCAS means you only need to write on application, which includes all your academic history, work experience, personal statement and .
UCAS is also used for all graduate programs, too, so as an international graduate student you’ll apply through this system as well. So if you’re planning to apply to one of those prestigious , it’s a good idea to take a look at some to start generating some ideas.
Universities in the UK typically 3-year undergraduate programs and 1-year graduate or master’s programs. There are also plenty of excellent programs offered in medicine, law, business administration and more for graduate students. If you’re still researching your study abroad options in the UK, you can turn to for help. These kinds of services can also help you navigate your UCAS application and steps you need to take before living and studying abroad.
If English isn’t your first language, you will also be required to submit, through UCAS, a proof of language proficiency. Universities in the UK will typically ask you to complete the IELTS or Pearson Test of English (PTE).
Want to write a killer personal statement? Watch the video below.
The UK grading system is likely unfamiliar to you as an international student, but its easy to familiarize yourself with it. Its essential to do this as you’ll need to compare your current academic performance with the entry requirements to the UK schools you’ve chosen, and you’ll need to be able to convert the grading system. You’ll also want to measure your academic performance in the UK once you start taking classes.
Firstly, its key to understand that the grading system in the UK, comprised of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, varies a bit by country. England, Wales and Ireland use a similar grading scale, whereas the grading system in Scotland is quite different. We’ll take a look at both systems below.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland grading system
The usual grading system in the UK employed by universities classes student performance according to “degrees”. Each rank of degree has a corresponding percentage grade, letter grade and definition to specifically evaluate a student’s performance. Although it may vary by school, the degree classes are normally First Degree (70% and above), Upper Second Degree (60-69%), Lower Second Degree (50-59%) and Third Degree (40-49%). Anything below 40% is considered a failing grade. Students can also achieve an Honours Degree with a score of 80% or more, depending on the school.
The table below illustrates the UK grading system compared to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System.
For international students coming from the US, the conversion from UK academic grades to the US letter grade system looks like this:
As you can see, the UK grading system considers anything over a 30% a pass, so it is more forgiving than the US letter grade system. It can, however, be tougher to get a good grade depending on school evaluation criteria. So even if you’re used to scoring high marks and you aren’t getting the high grades you expect, you may still be an excellent student in the eyes of your UK professors.
Scotland grading system
Scotland uses a bit of a mix between the UK grading system and US letter grade system. Scotland universities will assign a letter grade similar to the US, but the ranking system is more akin to a UK university. The equivalent percentage grades and grade definition for the Scotland system look like this:
Since grading systems across countries and individual universities vary so much, it’s a good idea to look into what system your chosen school uses and how they evaluate assignments, coursework and exams. This is a general example of how the different grading systems look, but you can also check your school’s website for evaluation information.
Once you’re actually accepted and enrolled in a UK university, you’ll need to know how the education system works and the best strategy for academic success. Below we’ll take a look at the UK grading system and what to expect from UK university exams, but first we’ll outline some key studying strategies to use at the post-secondary level.
Most schools in the UK will have familiar exam formats, including multiple choice, short answer and essay questions in your final exams. It’s great to have a strategy for all these types of questions, as well as employing good learning and study strategies to give yourself the right tools to ace all your courses. First, we’ll look at some study strategies you can use for studying in the UK.
University exams in the UK may look a little differently than you’re used to. They tend to be strict on time and procedure, but with less of a focus on memorizing the entirety of your textbook and more on demonstrating your knowledge.
Some universities will provide students with detailed instructions on their final examinations, including assigned seat numbers, which room the exam will take place in and policies on tardiness. It’s best to adhere to these instructions to the letter, since showing up late to an exam, even by a minute, might forfeit your grade. University admins will typically send exam notices to students ahead of time, but keep in touch with your school administrator for any questions or clarification.
It's better to know exactly what you need to do come exam day and you may need to bring with you, be it a student ID card or other document. In some cases, you’ll also be allowed outside materials, such as one page of class notes, a dictionary or calculator, or a sample of course materials. While almost all exams will be closed book, depending on the course or subject, there may be concessions like this. Clarify with your professors or administrators when and where exams will take place and what key information you’ll need the day of.
UK universities have plenty of student resources international students can and should take advantage of. One of these key resources is counselling for exam anxiety. Many universities will have academic or guidance counsellors and exam anxiety can be a challenge for many undergrad students. If you’re struggling in your courses, seeking out help can be your best option. Often times, your school will also have resources to explain what elements your examiners are looking for in your exam answers and what to expect when completing your coursework. UK universities see thousands of international students every year, and they are committed to helping you succeed.
1. What are the requirements for international students to study in the UK?
Academic requirements may vary slightly depending on the school, but all international students will be required to apply through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and submit their academic history, work experience, a personal statement and proof of English language proficiency. Most of the time, an IELTS or PTE test will be required.
2. Is it easier for international students to get into UK universities?
Yes; most universities in the UK are very welcoming to international students and actually have a higher acceptance rate for international students than domestic ones.
3. How much does it cost for international students to study in the UK?
University costs are slightly lower in the UK than in the US, another popular destination for international students. Depending on the program chosen, undergraduates can expect to pay around £11,000 and postgrads will pay around £30,000 for programs like medicine.
4. Is studying in the UK expensive for international students?
Living costs can be high in popular UK cities like London, so it’s recommended that students share living costs and make use of excellent public transportation. Since programs in the UK are also shorter, you won’t need to cover student expenses as long.
5. How should I study for exams at universities in the UK?
For university exams in the UK, the best strategy is to focus on multiple choice or essay question strategies. You’ll also be expected to demonstrate critical thinking and analysis skills, so don’t just focus on memorization or using flashcards. Make good use of student study groups and practice exams!
6. What are the best universities in the UK for international students?
The top-ranked universities in the UK for international students are the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and King’s College, although the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the University of Manchester are also among the top ten.
7. Do UK universities accept international med students?
Yes. Medical schools in the UK see many international applicants, and it is one of the most popular choices for international med students.
8. What are my financing options as an international student in the UK?
International student scholarships and financial aid offered by UK institutions are the best way to go to help cover the costs of tuition and living in the UK.