From legends of mystics dragons on the Isle of Arran, to a jaunt down the main street of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch (no, that’s not a typo), to the royal palaces of London, and the great wall of Londonderry, the United Kingdom has something for all types of students. Whether you want to adapt a chic accent, seep in history, or work with trendsetting technology, the vast diversity of this powerful island allows for endless study abroad possibilities. So stuff those textbooks and bagpipes into your suitcase, and get ready to have a “wale” of a time.
Why Study Abroad in the UK
With diversity in the classroom and a backyard full of natural wonders, there is no shortage of advantages to studying abroad in the UK. The extensive amount of study abroad program opportunities in the UK, the ease of travel, the high standard of living, and the access to cultural, historical, and scientific treasures is hard to beat. Then there’s the fact that, as the world’s first industrial power, the UK is still at the forefront of many economic races. In other words, start with study abroad in the UK to become part of the global workforce in almost any field.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland consists of Wales, Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland. Each country offers both undiluted nature and colorful cosmopolitan areas, and has more than enough to keep you busy outside of class. With so many options for study abroad in the UK, it is going to be tough to choose just one (but don’t worry, the UK’s excellent transportation network will let you explore all of the nooks and crannies on your free time)
Four of the six top-ranked universities of the world are located in England. So, for those that want truly world-recognized education, study abroad programs in England aren’t too shabby of a choice. If you are interested in attending classical studies at Hogwarts, seek out study abroad programs at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. In your free time, attend rugby games, skip across Abbey road, take a hike through the Lake District, or host tea parties with your new friends.
Scotland, with the unicorn as its national animal, provides many magical opportunities for international students to dip their toes into. University of Glasgow, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of St. Andrews have all been around for almost five centuries; like a fine glass of Scotch, they only get better with age. In-between classes, international students can attend the hundreds of music festivals, theatre shows, and sporting championships located in nearly any Scottish city (and the drastic countryside between them). No kilts required.
Fewer (but just as mighty) study abroad programs in the UK are found outside of the latter two countries, but that is not to say the following two aren’t worth considering. In Wales, Swansea University and Cardiff University both have excellent international universities and offer state-of-the-art facilities in natural settings that provide for endless hours of hikes between one paper’s deadline and the next. And if you’d like to leave the main island, opt for Northern Ireland, where you can bring your focus to the political realm while befriending leprechauns at the annual bog snorkeling competition.
Subjects & Courses
You can find anything subject and course you want in the UK, but knowing where to look can be difficult due to the sheer volume of study abroad opportunities. There are many specialized study abroad programs in the UK and obscure study topics in all of the cities mentioned above, but here is a very general look at the UK’s course options:
If you’re interested in English or history, Northern Ireland is seeping with opportunities to walk in the steps of C. S Lewis or to explore how the past continues into the present with political studies. A land of nature and art, Wales offers many art programs, but all of its main universities offer a very well-rounded curriculum. In Scotland, theatre programs are hailed worldwide, while business and medical degrees are the most popular among international students. England’s historical universities are well-associated with English literature (Shakespeare or Jane Austen, anyone?) as well as art and design, while sociology and law consistently rank at the top of the charts.
While there are three other languages spoken in the UK (Welsh, Gaelic, and Scots), all courses in the UK are taught in British English (not American, so be prepared for extra u’s and some words that have an old-fashioned ring to them). The focus on classical studies also tend to follow more classical methods of education: an increased emphasis on discussions and essays, instead of weekly tests and multiple-choice questions.
Scholarships & Costs
The impressive castles and gold-leafed palaces of the UK don’t exactly paint a picture of “cheap”. It’s true: the cost of living and the costs of study abroad programs in the UK tend to be on the more expensive side. However, this shouldn’t intimidate you and steer you away from study abroad in the UK; academic help centers are very efficient and the value for all educational services is very high. In addition, the UK is very student-friendly; there are significant discounts for events, admissions, transportation, and dining options with the flash of a valid student ID.
One good trick for getting a significant discount on tuition is to apply for a shorter term program. However, whether it is a summer program or a semester abroad, there are usually different prices offered for EU and for non-EU applicants. Double-check that you are reading the correct information, and be sure to ask what exactly is offered by every study abroad program in the UK.
There are a variety of options for international students in need of scholarships to study abroad in the UK, both from British institutions and American-based companies. Check out GoAbroad's Scholarship Directory to find financial aid options that you can apply to your study abroad program in the UK.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodation options in the UK are as varied as the countries themselves. From the gothic dormitories of famous universities to staying with families in the countryside, there is something for every price range and personal preference.
Within universities there are halls of residence, self-catered halls (for those that wish access to a kitchen), and university flats, all of which are the most common options. Some programs do offer homestays with local families, which tends to greatly reduce your cost of living. When applying for study abroad programs in the UK, you can usually opt to have your university or program provider secure accommodation on your behalf. However, if you opt out of the provided lodgings, be sure to start house-hunting as soon as possible; as throughout much of the UK’s history, housing demand usually exceeds supply.
Unless you come from the European Union, you will need some sort of visa to legally reside and study in the UK. For programs shorter than 11 months, you will need to apply for a student visitor visa (which is valid for six months, but can be extended for up to eleven months for English language courses). If you’re not sure yet about where you would like to study in the UK, you can enter the UK with a prospective student visa, which is also valid for six months and can be gained with proof of correspondence between you and any UK university.
Both of these visas need, to some extent, involvement of UK universities, and the process tends to take two to three months, so be sure to start planning in advance. For help, talk with your program provider or check out the international section of the school you’re interested in to learn more.
Benefits & Challenges
Regardless of where you decide to study abroad in the UK, you will always be blessed with transportation options. Buses, trains, ferries, and highways connect the UK with rapid efficiency, allowing for easy weekend trips. Furthermore, there is a higher concentration of airline companies (especially low-cost airlines!) in the UK than any other European country. So, in the case that you do get tired of the British Isles (which you won’t), it’s a mere hop to almost anywhere from Amsterdam to Zagreb.
Keep in mind that the UK is one of the most diverse countries, with thousands of immigrants from all nooks of the world moving there each year. While this presents you with a vibrant diversity and all sorts of culinary opportunities, don’t forget about the national cultures of each UK country as well, and do prepare to be surprised. Many students decide to study abroad in the UK because of the lack of a language barrier, however, sometimes this comes with false expectations and assumptions. The UK has its own set of customs, traditions, and jargon, and some of it might be just as strange to you as those of non-English speaking, developing countries!
It is not difficult to understand why the United Kingdom is the most-popular study abroad destination in the world. With the number of study abroad program options available, all of them coupled with a certificate of quality, there is a place for anyone, anything, almost anytime and anywhere in the UK. Just don’t forget to pack your Princess Diana beanie baby bear for the trip!