Updated 9 months ago

London is a thriving global and multicultural city with an exciting social life and international network of friends. Sure, living in London is expensive, but for many students and expatriates, it’s a lifetime experience.

There is always something new to explore; from historical landmarks, beautiful parks, world-class art, and music events, to its pub culture. On top of that, you can get almost anywhere in the world from London and it makes a great base to explore the rest of Europe.

Why study in London?

  • High-level education: Did you know that four London colleges rank among the top 40 worldwide on the QS World University Rankings? There is an outstanding depth of academics and a wide range of higher education programmes, some of which you wouldn’t find at home. Degrees from top London universities are recognized by employers around the world.
  • History: From the Romans to medieval castles, there is a lot of history in the UK and some of London’s universities hold their fair share.
  • London city never sleeps and its diversity of cultures, languages, and cuisine is enriching.

The academic environment

London is home to more than 40 universities and higher education institutions with over 370,000 students in total. In 2016, almost 30% were international students from over 200 countries of which one third came from other EU countries such as Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and France. The other two-thirds were from Non-EU countries such as Malaysia, China, Pakistan or Nigeria. London hosts more international students than any other city in the world!

Unlike in other European countries or the US, all UK universities are independent institutes and non-government owned. “Public” universities usually receive funding from a funding council for teaching and research, while “private” universities are financed by tuition fees only. Most British universities are charities.

The teaching culture

Teaching methods vary depending on the university and degree programme you choose. As in most European countries, you’ll attend lectures that will guide you through the subject introducing you to new theories and concepts, while seminars and tutorials are small classes with room to debate and discuss specific topics. You’ll get the opportunity to ask questions and get feedback; often you have to prepare presentations. Teachers generally encourage student participation and interaction. Many courses in the sciences, law, or arts fields may include practical classes or workshops to develop your skills or require a placement to gain practical experience in a professional working environment.

Classes can be challenging and you will be expected to study independently. Courses are often evaluated by one exam or paper at the end of each semester. You can also participate in group study sessions and connect with fellow UK students to fully understand how the system works.

Language requirements

The teaching language will be in English and you’ll need to comply with the university’s English language requirements as part of the application process. There are usually a number of ways how to do this; check with the university of your choice:

  • Pass the university’s pre-session English programme
  • Take a language proficiency test such as IELTS. Check in advance which certificates are eligible at the university of your choice.
  • Provide proof of previous qualification to confirm your level of English or that you meet English language exemptions.

London’s main universities

University College London

University College London (UCL) is one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary research universities, with an international reputation for the quality of its research and teaching. Established in 1826 as London’s first university institution, it is now England’s third oldest university. UCL is a public research university with world-renowned research credentials and a constituent college of the federal University of London.

About 38,000 students of which 47% have an international background, attend 11 faculties in the heart of London. UCL offers a highly academic experience in subjects from medicine, languages, engineering, law, and history to astrophysics. Its teaching excellence and prestigious faculty guarantees fantastic graduate prospects; graduates rank among the most employable in the world. Among UCL alumni are at least 29 Nobel laureates and three Field’s Medallists. To find out more about their programs, check out the UCL website.

Imperial College London

Imperial College London is a world-leading research university with faculties of science, engineering, medicine, and business. Imperial’s contributions include discovering penicillin, holography, and fiber optics; and research work to improve global health, develop sustainable energy technology, tackle climate change and address security challenges.

Academic excellence in teaching and research, as well as its focus on practical application, attracts students and staff internationally. The college is home to 14,270 students and 8,000 staff, with over 52% internationals.

Graduates have very high chances of being employed, both the highest in London and the whole of the UK. Thus, places at Imperial are highly sought-after. Alumni and Staff include 14 Nobel Prize winners, including Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin, and two 2 Field’s Medallists. Don’t hesitate to find out more directly on the Imperial College website.

According to the QS World University Rankings, UCL and Imperial both ranked among the top 10 worldwide.

King's College London

King's College London – ranks among the top 25 universities worldwide (2016/17 QS World University Rankings) and is also one of the oldest in England. King's was founded in 1829 and is a public research university and constituent college of the federal University of London. It has an excellent reputation for cutting-edge research and world-class teaching.

Its strengths are in the humanities, law, sciences including medicine, psychiatry, nursing, and dentistry, as well as social sciences. There are nine faculties including six medical research council centers. King’s College is a founding member of the King’s Health Partners academic health science center, MedCity, and Francis Crick Institute. Thus it counts as the largest European center for medical teaching and biomedical research and it hosts the world’s first nursing school.

It is home to some 27,600 students and 6,800 staff from 150 countries worldwide, of which about 38% are of foreign origin. It is London’s most central university, with four riverside campuses. Graduates are highly sought after by companies from around the world. Among staff and alumni are 12 Nobel Prize winners, researchers who contributed to the discovery of the DNA structure, Hepatitis C as well as advancing radio, television, and mobile phones. Alumni also include heads of governments, states and intergovernmental organisations and even recipients of two Oscars, three Grammys, and an Emmy. If that catches your interest, check out their website.

London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Located in Westminster, this research university was founded in 1895 and joined the University of London in 1900. Today it is one of the foremost social science universities worldwide and is renowned for its leadership in economics, politics, sociology, law, and anthropology.

It is home to more than 10,000 students and 3,300 staff, of which almost 70% are international students from 160 countries. Thus it maintains partnerships with Sciences Po in Paris, Columbia University in New York, Peking University in Beijing, the University of Cape Town, and the National University of Singapore.

In the 2016 edition of the QS World University Rankings, it was among the global top 10 for social policy, development studies, politics, communication and media studies, and ranked overall 37th. There are 16 Nobel laureates and 37 past or present world leaders among its alumni. Did you know that British Prime Minister Clement Attlee was an assistant lecturer there in 1912?

For admissions check the London School of Economics website.

Queen Mary University of London

The Queen Mary University of London is also one of the UK's top universities and ranking among the top 125 worldwide in the latest edition of the QS World University Rankings. It is renowned for its exceptional medical school and school of law. It is part of UCL Partners academic health science center and also offers postgraduate law courses in Paris as well as distance learning programmes in law, medicine and dentistry, and politics and international relations. Seven Nobel Prize winners are associated with Queen Mary's alumni and staff.

There are about 21,00 students attending its self-contained campus in east London and further campuses in the City and central London. Over 40% of the students are from overseas. Find out more on their website.

Entry conditions

EU-EAA nationals need to fulfill the same basic entry conditions as UK nationals, i.e. have a secondary school diploma (GCE A-levels or equivalent) and proof of a good command of English. Most universities take your final grades into account and may also require aptitude tests. As selection procedures and requirements vary according to the university and course of study, it is best to check with the university of your choice. A minimum UK/EU residency may be required, and for some subjects, you may have to attend an interview before being offered a place.

As a citizen from outside the EU-EEA, you must apply for a student visa at the embassy or British consulate in your home country. Note, that you must be offered a university place before you can apply for your visa, which usually is granted for one year or the duration of your studies.

Scholarships and exchange programmes

EU-EAA nationals can also benefit from the Erasmus student exchange program at an affiliated university or college of their home university, for up to one year. Find out more directly through your home university or the British embassy or consulate.

Many host universities offer university specific scholarships or grants; so definitely check with them. As UK education isn’t cheap, funding opportunities and scholarships are very much in demand. Thus the universities seek the most competitive students, and there are a growing number of government-funded and non-governmental scholarships being offered to international students, for example, the British Chevening Scholarships, Commonwealth Shared Scholarship Scheme at UK Universities, Euraxess UK or CastleSmart Scholarship.

French students may benefit from the Entente Cordiale scholarships for one year or postgraduate studies.

Living in the UK

The cost of living in London

Depending on the university and degree programme, tuition fees average £12,000 per year while starting at around £8,000 for EU-EEA nationals. Students from outside the EU will pay overseas fees, which tend to be even higher.

Food and rent prices are equally expensive with shared rooms ranging between 500 £ and 800 £ per month. Note that rent is often paid weekly and that charges also include council tax, although many universities also provide student accommodation some of which may also include catered accommodation.

Thankfully, there are many ways to save some pennies with student discounts. You can apply for a student Oyster card and also get discounts in restaurants, cinemas, and shops with your ISIC card or NUS card (Nation Union of Students), which you will receive when enrolling at a university in London.

During the semester, students may work for up to 20 hours per week.

Things to do

London’s is one of the most visited cities in the world and offers endless places and things to discover, from cultural and historical landmarks to diverse music, film and sports events throughout the whole year. To name just a few, there are the London Film Festival, London Fashion week, carnivals, London marathon and plenty more. Did you know that most museums in London are free?

Why not go for a weekend brunch after a night out in trendy East London? Enjoy a summer picnic in the park, shopping in vintage shops, or go for a stroll in the local markets like Camden or Portobello Road.

Local food you should try once in a lifetime

British cuisine may not seem too tempting at first, but you should definitely try some of these classics: Fish & chips, Sunday roast with Yorkshire Pudding, Pie and mash or Bangers and mash, Full English breakfast, Cockles, and of course Afternoon tea with scones.

Student housing

Yes, London is expensive and rent prices are likely to be pricier than in your home country. Thus living in a shared house is usually the cheapest way. To find shared flats, use SpareRoom, Rightmove or EasyRoommate.

Student halls provided through the universities or private companies are another option. The university student halls tend to be cheaper than the private equivalent and usually are conveniently in or near campus. Note that there are fewer rooms available than students registered, so it is wise to apply as soon as possible.

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