10 essential things to prepare before pursuing university in the UK

With enough planning, you can settle into university life with ease.

Tricia Kuan

A tiny coffee addict with a really weird frog obsession.

Published: 22 February 2023, 2:39 PM

Pursuing your studies overseas is a daunting endeavour that requires a lot of forethought before you fully commit to the decision. 

You might even find yourself feeling overwhelmed with all the different matters to consider and figure out before you embark on this new and exciting journey in a foreign country.

Having gone through all the necessary preparations before beginning my studies in the United Kingdom (UK), here are ten essential things you should know before making your choice.

1. How to decide what and where to study

Of course, the first thing that you need to be certain of is what exactly you want to study. In the UK, you might find yourself spoiled for choice as there are many interesting courses that the universities have to offer. 

That’s why research plays a key role in finding out which university is the best option for you.


What might be helpful is to compile all your research into a spreadsheet for easy comparison. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/TRICIA KUAN


Some things you might want to consider include the rankings of the university you’re looking at on a global scale, as well as within the UK itself. 

With sites such as QS World University Rankings, an array of information is made available, including employment outcomes and international students ratio, based on analysis conducted by the system. 

The Guardian also ranks the top UK universities with a list that is updated annually. The results can also be filtered by course and region. 

Besides this, be sure to look further into other aspects such as the content of the modules offered in the university and the cost of the course. The location of the university also makes a big difference, as each city has varying levels of activity, and will make a difference on your overall cost of living.

2. Enlist the help of an agent

Once you’ve selected the university of your choice, you can move on to the next step, which is the application process.

There are many agencies in Singapore that are sponsored by UK universities to help students looking to study overseas. They offer a plethora of services, such as providing guidance for filling up your university application, writing your personal statement and university administrative matters.


As the agencies are sponsored by the universities, Singapore students are able to get help at no additional cost. PHOTO CREDIT: JOHN SCHNOBRICH VIA UNSPLASH


Upon confirmation of your place in university, your agent will also be able to aid you in your UK visa application process and administrative tasks such as registering for your course. 

This is especially helpful if you happen to encounter unexpected issues or have any queries, as schools can take up to a week to respond to any emails you send. 

Having an agent who is not only experienced in the administrative processes, but is also able to liaise directly with a representative from your university, will guarantee you a smooth-sailing experience.

However, some agencies are only sponsored by specific universities and will only be able to help students who apply to these schools. 

So do your research before reaching out to the agencies, or contact them to find out if you are eligible to engage their services. You can easily find agencies by doing a quick Google search.

3. Get your visa

Once your place in university has been confirmed, you will receive a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) number. This number will enable you to begin the application process for your student visa.

You can apply for your visa through the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) website. There are a few details you will need to submit, such as your personal information and travel history. 

You will also need to pay a healthcare surcharge amounting to $641, called the International Healthcare Surcharge (IHS). The IHS entitles students to use the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), before you can submit your application.

Once you’ve submitted your application, you can make an appointment at the UK Visa Application Centre, which is located at 135 Cecil Street. There, you get a picture taken for your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP).


The visa centre will issue a vignette to be placed into your passport, which will grant you temporary access to the UK until you collect your BRP. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/ ERNEST CHENG


Be sure to bring all of the necessary documents with you when going down for your appointment.

If you wish to hold on to your passport while the visa is being processed, an additional fee of Unless you’re willing to pay an additional fee of $114 to keep your passport while your application is being processed, it will be taken by the visa centre.

It can take up to three weeks for your visa to be processed, so be sure to plan ahead of time. A good gauge would be at least a month before your flight, or three months before the start of your course date.

4. Sort out your finances

If you’d like to open a bank account in the UK, there’s no need to wait until you actually get there to set it up. Through banks such as HSBC, you can open accounts in both Singapore and the UK, which will allow you to transfer money internationally for free.


Most of the steps to set up your UK bank account can be easily done online. PHOTO CREDIT: RUPIXEN VIA UNSPLASH


You will likely be required to make an in-person trip down to the bank for verification purposes. Also, be sure to have documents such as your passport, identification card and the start and end date of your course on hand.

It will take about a month to open both accounts and receive your card, so take that into consideration when planning your timeline.

As mentioned earlier, you would have paid for the IHS once you’ve applied for your visa. The NHS is a government-funded medical and health care service available to everyone living in the UK, and is mandatory for all international students to purchase.

Although you can start using the NHS upon paying, it doesn’t cover services such as prescriptions, dental treatments and eye tests.


If in doubt, you can consult your existing insurance providers to check if you are properly insured. PHOTO CREDIT: SCOTT GRAHAM VIA UNSPLASH


You can purchase some insurance locally which will cover you in these areas when you’re studying. You can contact any insurance agency to check if they offer these plans.

Some agencies go one step further and offer other optional benefits, such as providing coverage for cases where your belongings are stolen when you’re overseas.

5. Secure your accommodation


Some universities offer 360-degree virtual tours of their accommodation. PHOTO CREDIT: CITY, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON


Research is the key to choosing the right accommodation for you, and it’s imperative to apply for your accommodation early to land a spot.

Your school will likely provide you with a portal to check out the different accommodation options on campus. There, you will be able to compare cost, facilities and location. 

Another option would be private accommodation. While more expensive, these come with certain perks such as more relaxed rules – being able to have a pet and of course, the freedom of having your own personal space.

If in doubt, search for online reviews of the accommodations to get a better idea of what the environment will be like. The multitude of factors to consider might be overwhelming, but try your best to find what works best for you.

6. Find a community

When you’re applying for your accommodation you might be given the option to write a short description for your potential flatmates. You can put down your Instagram handle so that if your spot is confirmed, your flatmates can get in touch with you.


My school’s Singapore Society hosted a barbeque for the freshmen, where we could get to know one another and ask questions about school. PHOTO CREDIT: SHEFFIELD SINGSOC


Given that you will be embarking on a journey to a foreign place, it might be reassuring to make some friends ahead of time. 

Forging friendships with a group of fellow Singaporeans can also provide you with opportunities to celebrate occasions such as National Day, Deepavali or Chinese New Year.

7. Get to know the cities you’ll potentially study at in advance

There are a multitude of ways to learn about the place you will be spending the next few years. 

Besides consulting Google, you should also talk to people who have been living in your city for a while. This can be a great way to learn about the environment and whether there are any establishments worth visiting, or some that are best avoided.


Give yourself ample time to explore your city before school begins. PHOTO CREDIT: SHANE ROUNCE VIA UNSPLASH


If you can afford it, travelling to the city a few weeks before school begins can also give you the chance to scope out the area for yourself. Doing so will help you familiarise yourself with the environment, and make your overall experience much smoother as you settle in.

8. Familiarise yourself with student plans

As a student, you’ll be entitled to certain perks or discounts which you should make the most of.


A quick google search can be very helpful to learn about your options. PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM TECH ADVISOR


For instance, when purchasing SIM cards, you’ll have the option to choose from a variety of plans based on your personal usage. If you’re someone who uses social media frequently, there is a plan which lets you surf social media platforms without consuming mobile data.

If you plan to travel around the country frequently, there is also a railcard students can purchase to receive a third off rail fares, which will be valid for a year. 

9. Know what to pack

When packing, prioritise the essentials. You’ll most likely be on the go when you reach the UK, and having to lug all your belongings would be a hassle. 

As the UK school term starts during the fall and stretches on to winter, you should bring along enough heattech and other winter clothes to tide you over for a couple of days, and purchase more clothing to keep you warm.


You can save space by packing fewer shorts or short-sleeve shirts as you probably wouldn’t be wearing them in the winter. PHOTO CREDIT: SIGMUND VIA UNSPLASH


Items such as stationery can be expensive overseas, so you can consider bringing those from home. If you’re someone who loves local food, you can also leave some space in your bag for food which you can cook when you’re missing home. 

Most importantly, have printed copies of your passport, visa, identification card and other important documents on hand. In the event that you get mugged or misplace your original documents, you will have something to fall back on.

For bulky items that you probably won’t be able to bring with you when you first move over to the UK such as bolsters, room decor, or your favourite books, having your family ship them to your accommodation is definitely an option. However, do take note that this might be costly, and there’s always the possibility of your items getting lost in transit.

10. Shop before school starts

You probably wouldn’t be able to bring everyday items like toiletries, pillows or utensils from Singapore. When you reach the UK, it’s best to purchase these items before starting university to reduce the stress of doing so while having classes.

Once you’ve moved into your university accommodation, take stock of all the items you’ll need. If you have flatmates, you can make a trip down to the nearest department store together to get all of the necessities you’ll need.


Sometimes it takes moving to another country for you to realise how much you rely on these everyday items. PHOTO CREDIT: SHEFFIELD SINGSOC


In some cases, seniors who are graduating from university might also be giving appliances or other items away. Updates for such occasions are often posted on a university’s Facebook page, or groups for students studying at the university. It might be worth a shot to take a look and see if there’s anything that catches your eye.

Taking one step closer to the adult world and embracing your life of newfound independence is by no means an easy feat. But with this list, you might have an easier time of transitioning to your new phase of life. Good luck!

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