The UK is an extremely popular destination for international students. And, understandably so. The UK is a country with a rich history and tradition in education, with some of the oldest and most respected universities in the world. Take the University of Oxford, for example, which was established way back in 1096.
If you are wondering how to become a student in the UK, this guide is for you. We explain the full application process including all the requirements you need to fulfil.
If you want to become a student in the UK, this is the guide you need.
What is the UK Student Visa?
There are two student visas in the UK: Tier 4 (General) student visa and Tier 4 (Child) student visa. The Tier 4 (General) is the main student visa for those aged 16 or older. This visa will be the focus of this guide.
In order to be eligible for the Tier 4 (General) student visa, prospective international students must:
- Be from a country that is not in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland
- Have been offered an unconditional place on a course with a licenced Tier 4 sponsor
- Be able to speak, read, write and understand English
- Have enough money to pay for the course
- Have enough money to support yourself whilst you are in the UK
As with all UK visa applications, the applicant will also need to prepare a portfolio of documentary evidence and submit it to the Home Office. (More details on this below).
What you Need to Know About Eligible Courses
The course which you have been offered a place on must be of a certain type. As mentioned, the course must be offered by a licenced Tier 4 sponsor. The list can be found here.
If the course fits into one of the following categories, it will be a permitted course for the Tier 4 (General) student visa:
- Full-time course which leads to a qualification that’s at least level 6 on the Ofqual register
- Part-time course which leads to a qualification that’s at least level 7 on the Ofqual register
- Full-time course requiring at least 15 hours per week of organised daytime study, leading to a qualification that’s at least level 3 on the Ofqual register
- A recognised foundation programme as a postgraduate doctor or dentist
- An English language course at level B2 or above on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
- An overseas course which is at a degree level of study that’s equal to a UK higher education course and is being run by an overseas higher education institution
If you wish to study in the UK on a recognised foundation programme as a postgraduate doctor or dentist, you must have finished a recognised UK degree in medicine or dentistry which was from a registered Tier 4 sponsor. Also, you must have spent you final year and at least one other year in the UK during your studies.
What is the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies?
Your education provider will send you a reference number when they offer you on a place on the course. This reference number is called a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS). You must keep your CAS safe as you will need to enter this number on your application.
You will only be able to get a CAS in certain circumstances if you are completing an application from within the UK.
If you are looking to start a new course in the UK, you can get a CAS in one of the following circumstances:
- The course is at a higher academic level than the previous course
- The course is related to the previous course or career aspirations of the person, and is at the same level as the previous course (degree level or above)
- A course which is intercalated to a medicine, dentistry or medical science course which you started studying under a Tier 4 (General) student visa
If you are continuing your studies, you can get a CAS in the following situations:
- You’re resitting an exam or repeating certain modules
- You are applying for the first time at a new institution to complete a course which was started at a different institution which subsequently lost its Tier 4 sponsorship
- You are applying to extend your stay to complete your studies because you partook in a work placement or study abroad programme
- You’re completing a PhD or other doctorate which you started studying under your previous Tier 4 (General) student visa
- You are continuing your medical, dentistry or medical science degree
- You are applying after working as a student union sabbatical officer to complete a qualification which you started studying under a Tier 4 (General) student visa
It is also possible to receive a CAS if you are working as a student union sabbatical officer or wish to stay in the UK to look for work after completing a PhD or doctorate.
What is the English Language Requirement for a UK Student Visa?
You must prove your knowledge of the English language when you apply for a UK student visa. Your knowledge of English must be at the level of B2 as set out by the Common European Framework for Languages.
In order to prove your knowledge, you will need to pass a SELT English language test at B2 level (unless you are exempt). More information about the SELT English language test, including the exemptions can be found here.
If you are not an exempted person you will need to pass a SELT English language test at an accredited test centre.
There are slightly different requirements based on the level of course and where it is being offered.
|Where studying||What studying||Required knowledge of English||Required level|
|Higher education institution (HEI)||Degree level or above||Reading, writing, listening and speaking||Equivalent to Common European Framework of Languages (CEFR) level B2|
|Institution which is not HEI||Degree level or above||SELT in reading, writing, listening and speaking||CEFR level B2|
|Any institution||Below degree||SELT in reading, writing, listening and speaking||CEFR level B2|
Required Documents for a UK Student Visa Application
The documents which any international student will need to provide are:
- A current passport or other valid travel document
- Proof that you can support yourself financially
- Proof of the parental or legal guardian consent if you are under 18
- Proof of the relationship between you and your parent/s or legal guardian if you are under 18
- Evidence of your B2 level of English (if applicable)
- Tuberculosis test results if you are from a country where you have to take the test
Depending on your individual circumstances, you may need to provide additional documents in addition to the ones mentioned above.
Tier 4 (General) Student Visa Application Process
The earliest you can apply for the student visa is three months before you start your course.
The UK student visa fee is £348, and the application must be completed online.
You will need to have your fingerprints and photograph taken (biometric information) at a UK Visa Citizenship Application Services point in order to get your biometric residence permit (BRP). It costs £19.20 to have your biometric information taken. You need to collect your BRP within ten days of the date you anticipate arriving in the UK.
You will receive a decision within three weeks with standard applications. If you need a decision sooner, it is possible to choose the priority or super priority service.
With the priority service, you will receive a decision within five working days at an additional cost of £500. With the super priority service, you will receive a decision within one working day at a cost of £800.
An interview is not compulsory for the UK student visa. However, you may need to attend an interview if immigration officials deem it to be necessary based on your application or circumstances.
If your application is successful, you can travel to the UK up to 1 week before your course starts if the course lasts 6 months or less, and up to a month before your course starts if the course lasts more than 6 months.
Will I Need to Pay the Immigration Health Surcharge?
Ordinarily, you will need to pay an immigration health surcharge as an international student in the UK. At the time of writing, the cost is £300 per year.
Can I Bring Family Members with Me to the UK?
Family members who are classed as a dependant might be able to join you in the UK. Dependants include spouses/civil partners, unmarried/same-sex partner and children under 18-years-old (including if they were born during your stay in the UK).
You will be able to apply for your family member to join you if you are:
- Sponsored by a higher education institution on a course which is at least at level 7 on the Ofqual register, and lasts 9 months or more
- A Doctorate Extension Scheme student
- New government-sponsored student on a course which lasts longer than 6 months
You must be able to show that you have the financial means to support both yourself and your family dependent members.
The specific amount which you need to prove that you have depends on the length of your course, where you are studying in the UK and whether you have finished a UK course or are currently studying.
You can prove your financial status by showing that you have had the required money available in your bank account, or you family member’s bank account, for at least 28 days before the application is made.
The family member must apply online and must also have their biometric information taken.
Each family member will need to pay £475 for the visa, and you will receive a decision on the application within eight weeks with a standard application. Again, you can opt for one of the priority services if you require a quicker decision.
If the student wishes to extend their student visa or someone wishes to switch to the student visa, they will need to apply for their dependents’ visas at the same time as they extend or switch their own visa.
Can you Work on a Student Visa?
As well as being permitted to study in the UK you can also work in most jobs, depending on the level of your course and what kind of sponsor you have. However, you will not be able to work as a professional sportsperson or sports coach under this visa.
Can I Stay in the UK After my Student Visa Expires?
As long as you are in the UK, still have a sponsor and still meet the eligibility requirements for a student visa, you will be able to extend your visa. You could also apply to study a new course.
The sponsor must be one of the following:
- Higher education institute
- Overseas higher education institute
- Embedded college offering pathway courses
- Independent school
You must apply for the visa extension online and do so before your current visa expires. You will be able to stay in the UK until you receive a decision.
It costs £475 to extend the student visa, and you will usually receive a decision within 8 weeks with a standard application. You can also use the priority service as mentioned above should you need to do so.
Can I Switch to a Student Visa from Another Visa?
If you are currently living in the UK under another visa, you might be able to switch to the Tier 4 (General) student visa.
You could switch to this visa from one of the following visas:
- Tier 2 (General)
- Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer)
- Tier 2 (Minister of Religion)
- Tier 4 (Child) student visa
You will need to apply to switch the visa within six months of receiving the CAS and before your current visa expires. However, you cannot apply more than three months before your course starts. As with student visa extensions, you can remain in the UK until you receive a decision.
You will need to pay £475 to switch to this visa. Also, you will need to provide biometric information (fingerprints and photo) at a UK Visa Citizenship Application Services point if you haven’t already done so, at a cost of £19.20. In most cases you will need to pay the immigration health surcharge too, which is £300 per year.
You will receive a decision within eight weeks of submitting the application in most circumstances.