Complete guide to studying in London

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Gaurav Mehrotra - May, 16 2024

8 min read

About the author

Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Prodigy Finance - helping international students gear up to study abroad

London is without a doubt a cultural hotspot for everyone - from foodies and fashionistas through to football fans! And if you have your sights set on getting a big break in the city’s business hub, you can expect opportunities and adventures.

It’s little wonder then that ambitious international students flock to the city. There are several institutions that offer world-class programmes, great job prospects, and an attractive quality of life.

Sounds like what you’ve been aiming for? Read on to find out everything you need to know to study in London.

Colleges in London for international students

First things first… which school is going to be most rewarding for you?

It’s important to research the best schools that will equip you with the skills you need to achieve your career goals. To give you a head start, these are the top 10 universities in London in 2021, based on QS World University Rankings:

#1 - Imperial College London

#2 - University College London (UCL)

#3 - King's College London

#4 - London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

#5 - Queen Mary, University of London

#6 - Royal Holloway, University of London

#7 - Birkbeck College, University of London

#8 - School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

#9 - City, University of London

#10 - Brunel University

But there’s no need to limit yourself to this list. A few other top universities that are worth exploring include (in no particular order):

  • London Business School
  • City, University of London
  • St George’s, University of London
  • Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Middlesex University
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • University of Greenwich
  • University of East London
  • Kingston University
  • University of Roehampton
  • University of Westminster
  • London South Bank University

One of the advantages of studying in London as an international student is that you can expect to learn in diverse classrooms. Not only is this a massive benefit to develop socially and grow a global network, but it very practically helps students prepare for careers in almost any part of the world.

London Business School MiM graduate, Yannis Chatzilakos, says that the year he spent studying abroad was one of the best of his life. He says that although it was an intense year, he developed in so many different ways. "You're in a class with people from all over the world and you have discussions about real-world problems."

Want a study location outside of London? There are also a number of universities in the UK that are popular among international students. Oxford University, University of Manchester, University of Southampton, Bristol University, University of Buckingham, and University of Nottingham are just a few on the list for international students.

Try to research as many schools as possible before making your final pick. And remember that even if you choose a school outside of London, you can still quickly and conveniently experience the thrills of the city (lockdown-permitting!) thanks to the country's efficient transport networks.

UK visa application

If you’re older than 16 years, you can apply for a student visa to study in the UK 6 months before you start your course. This visa has replaced the Tier 4 student visa.

You can expect a decision on your UK student visa within 3 weeks. Be sure to stay updated on any important dates and deadlines, as these may shift due to the lockdown restrictions and closure of visa centres.

There are numerous requirements to meet when applying for your UK student visa: you must have a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) and enough funds to cover your tuition fees and living expenses. You must also be able to speak, read, write and understand English.

It costs £348* to apply for a student visa from outside the UK. And, if you need to bring your partner and children along to the UK, you’ll need to pay the visa fee for each person that joins you.

The length of your course and the studies you’ve already completed determine how long you can stay in the UK. With a UK student visa, you can study, work as a student union sabbatical officer, and may be able to work based on what you’re studying.

There are a number of restrictions that come with a UK student visa too: you cannot claim public benefits and pensions, or work in certain jobs. Note that a UK student visa is different from a UK work visa. Find out how to get a post-study work visa for the UK, and more about UK visas and immigration.

*Price at 26 April 2021. Please always check the latest prices, UK visa application and travel updates.

Studying in London

Student accommodation in London

The city is home to millions of locals, and coupled with thousands of international students, workers and tourists, it's no wonder that finding student accommodation in London can be challenging.

It’s advisable to opt for on-campus accommodation which is generally less expensive and more convenient. You don’t have to worry about commuting to class (saving you money and time), and most on-campus accommodation comes with meal options (at an additional cost), which saves you the hassle of shopping regularly for groceries and cooking. Plus, by living on campus, it will be easier to attend more campus events.

If you can’t or don’t want to live on-campus, then research other comfortable and affordable student accommodation options. Search for hostels, check out what’s available on airbnb, or split the cost of accommodation by sharing a place with other students. You can easily (and safely) find a flatmate on platforms such as SpareRoom. When deciding on a place to stay, opt for somewhere close to your school, and consider the room size and additional facilities such as laundry services.

Vishnu Chundi, an MBA graduate from London Business School, says: “Try to find a place near campus, but not too expensive. You do not want to be commuting a lot as you may miss the various events on campus.”

“I could have rented a room in a flat for anywhere between £800 to £1200 per month within my preferred radius from school. I always picked the lower end. This resulted in a saving of £3000-4500 per annum which is nearly 15% of my first-year loan principal amount.”

Once you’ve decided on your student accommodation in London, you’ll want to budget accordingly to cover your rent and living expenses, and perhaps start looking for a student job in London.

“Create a budget for rent, groceries, eating out, travel and more, and stick to it religiously. Minimise living costs without compromising the quality of life,” advises Vishnu, who started his own business while studying in London.

Student jobs in London

“I co-founded AssetVault in the third term of the first year, and was able to get an internship stipend for my work. You’re allowed to work 20 hours per week on a UK student visa. This means you can work part-time internships to create an income during your full-time MBA,” says Vishnu, who used his part-time income to help repay his student loan in 3 years.

“If you’re able to create a small but sustainable flow of income during the second year of MBA then you are well on your way to paying off student loans early. What you do in your second year makes a huge difference to your MBA student loan repayment,” he advises.

While you don’t have to start your own business like Vishnu, there are plenty of work opportunities for students and graduates in London. From corporate internships at companies like PwC and JP Morgan, to part-time customer service jobs in one of London’s many social spots - you’re bound to find something to make some cash while experiencing life like a local.

Some of your part-time and self-employment options include:

  • Waiting tables or becoming a barista
  • Office administration
  • Offering tuition to other students
  • Reselling books and other second-hand items
  • Making things to sell on creative marketplaces like Etsy
  • Offering your skills on a service marketplace or freelancer website
  • Start a website or YouTube channel

You can choose an option that suits your preferences and what you want to get most out of the city at the time.

Important things to know about London

There are a few important things you need to know about London that will help you navigate student life in London.

How cold does it get in london?

Bad news: London is cold - especially if you’re from a warm or humid part of the globe.

Great news: It doesn’t rain as often as you think it does!

What to bring to London

Be sure to pack warm clothes, an umbrella and items that are suitable for wet weather. Carry a few different types of jackets: light jackets for chilly summer evenings, layers and warm coats for the colder days. Check out this handy guide on what to expect each season and this list of things to bring to London.

How hard is it to move to London?

If you’re going to be studying in London for just a few years, you’re unlikely to move to the city with furniture or other bulky household items. So your move isn’t going to be as challenging as someone who is immigrating to the UK.

Based on your personal preferences, you’ll want to add gym membership, eating out, and other leisure activities to your research and budget. And if you’re not living on campus, then a few important costs that you’ll need to include are for groceries, internet, and public transport.

How to get around the city?

Transport in and around London is quick, easy and convenient. Take some time to understand how the different transport systems work (buses, London underground, and other rail services) and get familiar with your daily route.

Research getting a travel card, such as an Oyster Card, which allows you to pay as you go and easily navigate the city through various modes of transport. Be sure to check out special offers for students!

Download Citymapper, a convenient app that notifies you of tube closures and even provides alternate routes and the quickest options to reach your destination.

What you need to open a bank account

Get a UK bank account to save on foreign exchange. You’ll need the following documents to open an account at most banks in the UK: passport, proof of address from your home and your current accommodation (ask Student Housing if you’re living on campus), and proof of student status (university acceptance letter).

London is considered one of the best student cities in the world, based on its top universities, quality of life, and career opportunities after graduating. It’s important to balance work and play - and if you study in London, this is easy to achieve.

The city boasts a vibrant entertainment scene, and there are scores of London museums, art galleries, cultural experiences, and beautiful parks that make it an attractive destination for foreigners in London to learn, explore and make good memories.

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