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5 Study Abroad in the London Tips: Everything You NEED to Know

Are you thinking about studying abroad in London? I’m here to spill the tea with these Study Abroad in London Tips so that you can make the most informed decision possible!

I completed my master’s in July 2017 with a Masters in Science (MSc) from SOAS, The University of London. My MSc was in Development Studies because I want a good foundation to continue to work abroad in underdeveloped countries because life is just too short to be normal.

Most SOAS graduates go on to work in the public sector, government, and international NGOs – I’m a radical neoliberal (not really) so I currently work in the private sector, much to the disappointment of my peers.

I’ve taken to the web to tell my not-so-special story of how DIFFICULT life was as a post-post-grad to be a heedful tale for those with dreams of grandeur… i.e. anyone interested in higher education and living abroad.

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5 Tips You Need to Know Before Studying Abroad in London

Although you can never prepare entirely, I think it would have seriously helped me to know these tips before I studied abroad in London.

If you’re anything like me, then hopefully this will help you out as well!

Here are the four most important things you need to know: 

  1. Your Application to Study Abroad in London Will Be a Bit Different
  2. You are at the mercy of the Home Office (Immigration)
  3. You will struggle with the UK style of education
  4. You will be poor (unless you aren’t)
  5. You’ll never want to leave

1. Your Application to Study Abroad in London Will Be a Bit Different

Since you are studying outside of the USA, you’ll need to take a few extra steps to make sure your application is ready for the UK.

For instance, the grading systems in the UK are different than in the USA, so you’ll need to get your grades translated.

Most applications also require your SAT scores, so if you never took that test or only took the ACT, you’ll need to take an SAT test to apply.

Of course, each University has its own specific requirements, but the main things will most likely all be the same.

An obvious thing that you’ll need is a valid passport. This means that you need to have more than 6 months left on your passport before it expires and you need to have at least 2 empty pages.

If you are staying for longer, it would be best to get a new passport even if you have a year before it expires.

PRO TIP: When you order your new passport, ask for the 52-page one so you don’t run out of pages!

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2. You Are at the Mercy of the Home Office (Immigration)

I put this as my #1 concern to warn everyone about because the Home Office will treat you like a criminal no matter who you are or where you’re from.

If you’re studying abroad temporarily (<6 months), it’ll be a lot simpler to enter and go as you please than if you’re studying in the UK full-time.

Those looking to reside in the UK for longer than 6 months will need to apply for a Tier 4 General Student Visa, which requires you to complete several steps (listed below) just to be considered.

I go into that process and what you need to do in order to get that visa in this post about moving to the UK as an American.

student visa to study abroad in London

For more information, go directly to the website, but here are the main elements:

  1. You can apply for a visa 3 months before you start your course.
  2. It costs £335 to apply for this visa from outside the UK.
  3. You must prove your knowledge of the English language when you apply
  4. You must pay an NHS healthcare surge charge
  5. You must have:
    • an unconditional offer of a place on a course with a licensed Tier 4 sponsor
    • enough money to support yourself and pay for your course – the amount will vary depending on your circumstances

And even if you make it through your course with flying colors, pay your social dues, AND have a sparkling personality/CV… you only have 6 MONTHS after you graduate before they tell you to leave.

Other countries (like France and Spain, for example) tend to give their graduates a year or more to find a job. But unfortunately for us, the UK expects you to find a job right away.

a girl graduating from the University of London

3. You Will Struggle with the UK Style of Education

This is 100% what shocked me the MOST about studying abroad in the UK because I really underestimated how much day-to-day reading the professors expect from you.  Let me break down the math for you:

  • I had 4 modules (classes) per semester
    • Each module was 2 hours long
    • Each module also had a 1-hour tutorial (class with tutors)
  • Each module required 25 pages of reading per week

When I wasn’t spending 12 hours a week in (so very long and dry) lectures, I was spending another 12 hours trying to sort through the DENSEST reading material of my life.

It was 50% theory so if you’re not familiar with the writings of Foucault, pack your bags and call it a day.

I spent half the year just trying to catch up to my peers who were far more familiar with classic literature and theory.

So if you were expecting to head to Europe for your study abroad and just have a fun time messing around and traveling, you might be in for a rude awakening.

Whenever you aren’t in class, you’ll be reading or studying.

Call me Neggy Peggy but I warned you!

On top of all that, classes are usually organized by having 1 to 2 big lectures per week, then you get together with your classmates in smaller groups.

If you don’t show up to those smaller group meetings, your grade will be impacted.

And those big lectures? They’re super boring and way too long.

All of your tests will also most likely be essays, there aren’t many standardized tests. And those essays need to be written in a very specific way.

It’s a bit hard to explain, but here I go. Basically, you need to frame your essay with a thought framework put forward by a respected professional in the industry.

Then, you need to back up that framework with case studies and research that is published by think tanks or universities.

So these essays you are writing are NOT your own thoughts and opinions.

4. You Will Be Poor (Unless You’re Not)

This is self-explanatory for most people, but I feel like it can’t be stressed enough.

Unless you have a trust fund or some other ridiculous source of income, your student loan won’t go very far in London.

In addition to the high cost of rent and food coupled with the fact that the exchange rate isn’t in our favor right now, you can expect to spend at least £1,300 (~$1,700) per month while living in London as a student.

That doesn’t include travel costs or any other activities/excursions you may want to do while in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

And it also doesn’t include your tuition costs.

As an international student (outside of the EU), you’ll also be hit with extra fees and duties.

For my university, the following applied for my Master’s program. In 2015, I actually paid LESS than for 2018 incoming students soooo good luck to y’all.

International Student programs for studying abroad in London

If the student fees don’t get you, you’ll also have to PROVE that you have enough money to support yourself whilst you complete your studies to the Home Office during your Visa application process.

If you’re studying in London, I would recommend budgeting the following:

  • £800 for rent (Zones 2-5)
  • £300 – 400 for food
  • £200 – for living costs (phone bill, utilities, travel, etc)

That comes out to a MINIMUM of £1300 GBP per month. I’ve seen it done for maybe a few pounds less, but it is the living costs that are going to get you.

Even if you cycle to school, don’t go out much, etc – there’s just SO MUCH TO DO in London that it’ll easily suck you into the vortex.

PRO TIP: Whilst you are looking for somewhere to live (you have loads of choices) I would recommend staying within Zone 1-3. As I mentioned in another post, London has the #1 most expensive public transport monthly pass.

The amount of money you save on an Airbnb or hotel will immediately be canceled out by the costs associated with travel. Commuting from Oxford into the city every day will run you up to £600 eeekkkk.

5. You’ll Never Want to Leave

Even with my constant complaining (and I mean constant), I would never ever give up my uni experience in London.

I honestly ‘found myself’ – (so original) – and made friends from all over the world.

At SOAS, there’s such a beautiful exchange of ideas, voices, and backgrounds that it was truly a microcosm of the world I hope to see in the future.

Studying abroad in London truly changed the trajectory of my life and I wouldn’t be where I am now without that experience.

So if you’re even considering doing it, you should! Have you ever heard of someone regretting studying abroad?

Okay, maybe there are a few, but I’m guessing that it’s pretty rare.

a group of people graduating from their study abroad program in London

So there you have it! Just a few things to keep in mind before making the decision to study abroad in London.

It truly is an amazing experience, but be prepared for some of the challenges that come with it.

If you can manage to overcome them, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best memories of your life.

Tips About Living in London

Now there are a few things to consider when you’re studying abroad, but there are also a few things that you’re going to know about living in London in general.

By and large, London universities and colleges don’t have a fixed campus. Instead, there are several buildings and lecture halls spread across the city, so you are going to have to deal with traveling around this beautiful capital.

In London, traveling around means just one thing – The Tube.

Tips for the Tube

The Tube is the underground train network in London and it’s the lifeblood of the city. Buses and cabs get stuck in traffic, but the Tube is pretty much the essential way to get around the city and you’re bound to be near one of the many, many stations. 

So, as with everything in London, there are very specific rules when it comes to the Tube. There’s etiquette to consider that definitely sets apart the locals from the tourists, and if you’re going to be living in London, you’re going to want to behave like the former!

Here are my top five tips for the Tube so you can be ready to roll as soon as you arrive in London. 

Stand on the Right

If you take just one thing from this section, make sure it’s this. On the Tube, there is an unwritten rule that everyone seems to know. Stand on the right-hand side of the escalators at all times.

The left-hand side is for people who are walking or running down for their train, so don’t get in the way! Even if you’re in a group, stand one behind each other and keep right at all times. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Have Your Card Ready

Next up is a personal pet peeve of mine at any train station, but especially at Tube stations in central London which are normally super busy at pretty much any time of day or night. When you approach the ticket barriers, make sure that you have your card ready and raring to go. 

You can either buy physical tickets, have a QR ready to scan, tap an Oyster card, or just tap your contactless payment card. Whichever payment method you’re using, make sure that you have it ready before you get close to the barrier.

Otherwise, you end up blocking the barriers and annoying a ton of people. Also, remember to tap back out on the way out so you don’t get charged for a full-day pass! 

Small Talk is a No-Go

Now, this is a bit of a stereotype, but it is there for a reason. It’s not that Londoners aren’t friendly people, it’s just that everyone’s got their own things going on and no one wants to chat with strangers on the Tube.

There are some unwritten rules about prolonged eye contact, small talk, and just generally being loud and disruptive on the Tube.

Essentially it just comes down to being respectful of the random people around you!

Avoid Peak Times if Possible

If you can, stay away from the peak working rush hours. 8 am and 5 pm tubes are absolute hell, so you’re going to want to avoid them like the plague. Depending on the station, you might have to wait two or three trains-worth before you can actually get on a train.

Honestly, sometimes it’s quicker to walk than try and wait around for a train at peak times. Unless you love standing in other people’s armpits, try and move your schedule around to avoid these trains!

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Tips for Finding Accommodation in London as a Student

If you’re looking for a place to live in London as a student, there are a few different avenues that you can go down. From house sharing to renting your own place to student accommodation, there are a few options to consider all with their own pros and cons.

House shares are the most common way to live in London as a student, especially if you’re a Master’s or PhD student.

The average house share in London costs around £800 without any bills or utilities, so it’s by far and away the cheapest option. It does also have the least amount of privacy and you have the Russian roulette of who you’re going to be sharing and bathroom or kitchen with.

Student accommodation can be pretty expensive, especially in the capital, but it does immediately put you in contact with other students at your university, and they’re normally close to the main uni buildings.

The upside is that they’re normally pretty new, most have an ensuite bathroom and will have handymen and security on-site.

Student accommodation rents tend to include utilities and bills so it’s always good if you don’t have to worry about those extra payments. Those are pretty great perks, but the rooms are fairly small, and again, you’re going to have to deal with the roulette of people you don’t know. 

Finally, if you have the cash, or you’re moving to London with a partner, friends, or family members, you can maybe rent your own place.

An average one-bed flat costs around £1,600 per month without utilities, so all in, you’re looking at around £2,000 per month at a minimum. It’s not cheap, but you have your own space which is a huge bonus in the city.

However, if you’re new to London, you might miss out on some socialization that you’d definitely get with a house share or student accommodation.

With that in mind, here are some tips for getting accommodation as a student in London.

Set Up Alerts

There are a few sites that you can sign up for when you’re looking for a place in London. The most popular ones are Spare Room, Rightmove, and Zoopla, and you can set up property alerts on the site.

This way you don’t need to manually check each day and you can have first dibs on the newest properties. You can pick your boroughs, your roommate preferences, your budget – the whole nine yards. 

Be Quick

Honestly, to get the best places at the best prices, you need to be quick. Most of the great rooms and places go within a day, so you have to be quick off the draw. That’s why the alerts are so beneficial. As soon as that email alert hits, you need to be on it.

It’s kind of scary, but a lot of people don’t even see the room or house in person before committing. If you need the reassurance of seeing it in person you need to have a really flexible schedule or go for more expensive or less aesthetic places that are on the market for longer.

At Least have a Phone Call or Coffee with New Housemates

Look, even though things move quickly in the world of London budget real estate, if you can, make sure you can have a chat with the existing housemates. Go for a coffee, have a video chat with them, and text some questions back and forth.

You want to make sure they’re not a serial killer and you want to make sure that you can at least gel a bit. You don’t need to be instant BFFs but you do need to be able to get along.

A quick chat helps you to get a feel for the people you’ll be living with and gives them a chance to get to know you too.

Check the Closest Tube Stations

I don’t know if I’ve impressed the importance of the tube quite enough yet (I’m kidding, I know!), but when you’re looking for places to live, check the tube stations that are nearest to your new place. 

Not only do you need to find the nearest tube station to your accommodation, but you need to make sure it’s on a line that works for you. You want to make sure you can easily get to all of your lectures, favorite pubs and stores, part-time jobs, or any other specific places that you need to access.

Getting on the right line and making sure that you don’t spend all of your time on public transport is always a good idea! 

Work Out What You Can Afford All In

Many of the places in London don’t include utilities or bills, so you need to work out what you can afford with bills all in. Gas, water, and electricity cost around £160 per month, but you also need to add in contents insurance, WiFi, phone packages, Netflix subscriptions – anything like that.

As a student, you don’t need to pay council tax, which is a huge saving (you’ll need to get a form from your university saying that you’re a registered student to avoid having to pay).

You also need to add in monthly costs for things like transport, groceries, entertainment, books for university, and more. Work out how much you can afford including bills and utilities and set that as a cap, rather than looking based on the cost of rent alone.

Otherwise, you might have a rude awakening when those monthly direct debits come out!

Make Sure You have a Deposit Saved

When you get a place in London, you need to pay the first month’s rent in advance plus the same amount again as a safety deposit. As long as you don’t trash the place or damage your room, you should get your deposit back at the end of your tenancy.

Of course, when you move in, take note of any scratches, damaged paint chips, scuffs, or anything that you can be blamed for in the future that’s not your fault.

You need to have this ready to spend as soon as you accept the tenancy, so make sure you have it accessible. It’s a big chunk of change, so I’d keep it in a separate account from your general day-to-day spending account, so you don’t accidentally spend your rent, bills, or security deposits!

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A Final Word About Working While You’re Studying Abroad in London

If you’re studying in London and need to work alongside your studies to support yourself, you absolutely can do that. A standard student visa allows you to work up to 20 hours per week in addition to going to school.

This means you can easily get a part-time job at a bar, restaurant, store, or at the university itself. There are plenty of options available to you, but you have to make sure you don’t exceed the 20 hours per week maximum.

If you do this and get caught, you’re violating the terms of your visa and you can get kicked out of the country and, of course, kicked out of school. It’s not worth the risk, trust me! 

So there you have it! Just a few things to keep in mind before making the decision to study abroad in London.

It truly is an amazing experience, but be prepared for some of the challenges that come with it.

If you can manage to overcome them, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best memories of your life. So, get packing, and let’s go!

Read More About Life Abroad:

Elena Gilbert

Wednesday 17th of August 2022

Amazing blog, has been really helpful.