Destination UK

The lockdowns and restrictions of 2020-21 had us all looking forward to even the most ordinary activities. But this extended down-time also had our minds wandering. Dreaming of far flung places and adventures awaiting. The challenges of this past year reminded us that you really do only live once. So, perhaps there’s never been a better time to take a leap of faith – grab the opportunity to broaden your horizons- and move to a new country to live and study. 

Whether it’s a coastal town in Scotland, the lively capital of London, or something in between, the UK and its universities have so much to offer. A mix of academic excellence, exciting student life, and doorstep access to Europe. Studying in the UK might just be the option you were looking for.    

Our universities offer world leading teaching and learning. In fact, many of our higher education institutions feature at the top of national and international league tables. In 2021 Oxford and Cambridge both ranked in the top ten universities in the world according the Times Higher Education and QS World Rankings and 26 of the top 200 universities are located in the UK. We are home to the Russell Group, a selection of research-intensive universities who pursue a better future- dynamic economies, strong communities- through world-class research. This feeds into the UK’s teaching. At an undergraduate level students are almost always taught by Drs and Professors. Experts in your field who are undertaking their own research and may have even authored a textbook (or books!) on your reading list. Access to university instructors in the UK is unparalleled. Academics will hold office hours, and universities like Cambridge and Oxford go a step further, teaching via the Supervision, or Tutorial systems. 

An important factor when studying here is deciding on the course structure that’s right for you. Whether you’re choosing a full-time undergraduate program, or study abroad exchange from your home university, educational models vary across the UK. For example, Scotland has a four-year undergraduate degree structure more similar to programs in the USA, which encourage a well-rounded experience learning outside your chosen degree subject. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland courses are typically focused on one particular subject area (or two if you opt for Joint Honours). The rationale being that it gives students the opportunity to take a deep dive into their studies and engage at the highest level with materials. Although, many universities will offer first year students the opportunity to take a module outside their main discipline. Typically undergraduate degrees in these home nations are three-years in length, so have the added benefit of being one year shorter (and so in many cases, cheaper!).   

Exceptions to this would be courses in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland with study abroad, year in industry, or similar opportunities which are likely to be four-year programs. This offers many opportunities for growing beyond your ‘home’ campus experience. University partnerships and initiatives like Universitas 21 or the Turing Scheme provide opportunities to compliment majors with new courses and travel. Most students who study abroad will tell you that it is a transformational experience. Study abroad can open doors, allowing you to connect to new networks and personal or professional development opportunities. It changes the way you see yourself, the way others see you, as well as your perceptions and understanding of the country or countries you come from, and those you’re visiting. 

Of course, University is a complete experience, and student life – things happening outside of the classroom – is important. Diverse and tolerant student bodies come together across the country to create a vibrant student life where there are plenty of opportunities to make friends. Hundreds of clubs and societies exist across universities. Everything from the quintessentially British, think: tea drinking and Harry Potter societies, to other food and cultural societies, student media like newspaper and radio, as well as fun groups like Pokémon or laser tag. Students Unions work to campaign, advocate and represent the interest and needs of all students across their institution.  Universities are epicentres for driving social justice and allyship including on issues such as the climate emergency, LGBT+ and Trans rights, and anti-racism. In the unlikely scenario that you can’t find a group that meets your interests, most universities offer the option to start your own!  

Sports clubs can also be a huge part of a student’s university experience. Universities will all offer casual sport for beginners or those who use sport more recreationally. For those looking for competitive options, leagues like BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) allow students to compete at the highest level against other UK universities. Although somewhat different from US campuses, UK Universities are still awash with school spirit. From rowing to rugby, students get behind their teams. There’s even no shortage of American football or ice-hockey if you’re looking for a taste of North American sports in the UK. Or try attending a British football (soccer) game at one of our world renowned stadiums like the Emirates (Arsenal) or Anfield (Liverpool). Sport is a big part of UK culture beyond university. Not just football though, we host many national and international competitions annually for sports like cricket and tennis too. 

This opportunity to explore a new country or continent is a major perk of an international education experience. You can create a routine, and sense of home in your new town or city. Finding your favourite restaurants and spots to grab a coffee or pint. Exploring local highstreets and green spaces. Activities that build towards making a life in a new place, similar to your life back home but everything is a bit more fresh and exciting. New encounters include travel. The UK has fantastic road, bus and train networks which makes travel by car or public transport easy, and normally cheap. With many beauty spots to choose from – the Lake District, the Cotswolds, the Scottish Highlands, the Pembrokeshire coast – and interesting cities including Edinburgh, Cambridge, Brighton and York you’re spoilt for choice. That’s before you jump on the Eurostar train to explore the museums of Paris, or book a budget flight headed to Barcelona or Rome. The UK is fortunate to have mainland Europe and all it offers on our doorstep. Who knows, perhaps you’ll even like it enough to explore our great post-work study options such as the Graduate Route (eligibility dependant). 

Studying abroad can seem like a daunting prospect for students and supporters alike, but you’re certainly not alone. UK universities have whole teams whose main job is to support prospective international applicants. Once you start exploring the options for studying in the UK don’t hesitate to get in touch with the people who can advise and support you through any decisions or application.  

Aside from the academic excellence, culture and travel opportunities the UK offers, studying abroad allows students to stand out from peers at home institutions. By embracing a new culture, and meeting people from all over the world students gain invaluable insight and transferable skills while having so much fun along the way. To study in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland –whether that’s just for a semester or for an entire degree- might just turn out to be one of the best experiences of your life.  

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About the author:
Amy Roberson is a Regional Manager at the University of Cambridge and oversees recruitment activity for the Cambridge Admissions Office in North America and Australasia.