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.
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:
- Your Application to Study Abroad in London Will Be a Bit Different
- You are at the mercy of the Home Office (immigration)
- You will struggle with the UK style of education
- You will be poor (unless you aren’t)
- 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!
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 more simple 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.
For more information, go directly to the gov.uk website, but here are the main elements:
- You can apply for a visa 3 months before you start your course.
- It costs £335 to apply for this visa from outside the UK.
- You must prove your knowledge of the English language when you apply
- You must pay an NHS healthcare surge charge
- 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.
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.
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:
- £600 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 £1000 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) but I would recommend staying within Zone 1-3. Like 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.
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.