Top tips for students thinking of studying in the UK
Royal Holloway, University of London | Source
Alright? Fancy a brew? Now that A Levels are over, it’s time to put on your thinking cap and start considering different options for higher education. If studying abroad has been on your mind for a while now, then put the UK on top of the list! Popular with Singaporeans, the UK offers a broad range of universities with a wide variety of courses to suit all needs.
To help you decide on a study experience in that part of the world, we’ve created a personal cheat sheet with budgeting tips to get you through the uni years in Blighty! With this ultimate British guide, you’ll feel like a local student even though you’re studying abroad.
1. The UK region you choose will determine your living costs
Depending on your finances, choosing a region can make you either live very frugally, or like a king. Generally speaking, the more North you go, the cheaper it can be. For example, student accommodation in the North will be around £70 per week, while student accommodation in the South will be around £80. If you’re living in London, expect to pay around £170. As it’s the capital of the country, everything is more expensive.
Although accommodation in London soars compared to other cities and regions, groceries and going out will be around the same.
2. Choose wisely between a campus-based and city university
University of Warwick (Campus Uni) | Source
Before you lock yourself into a university for the next 3-4 years, you’ll first need to decide if a campus or city uni life is for you. If camaraderie and team spirit is what you’re all about, then a campus based university is what you need in your life. Designed to function like little villages, you’ll find everything you need in daily life including gyms, libraries, restaurants and clubs.
University of Manchester (City Uni) | Source
On the other hand, if you want to feel more immersed in your area, then a city-based university is more appropriate for you. You’ll feel more like a local, as you’ll experience how the city “truly lives”. You’ll also have more access to a wider variety of venues, so you aren’t stuck in the same student-themed clubs and bars.
Note: Universities are happy for students to stay on campus, although priority will be given to first year students (freshers) and new international students.
3. Decide if you’re more suited for a Hall of Residence room on campus or sharing a rented house
The option to stay in a university room on campus in a Hall of Residence, or share with friends in a rented house is entirely yours.
If you bloom in social situations, then stick to renting a university room - you won’t need to worry about walking to lectures or clubbing alone because there’s bound to be someone heading in the same direction as you. There'll be rules and regulations to abide by, but at least utilities like water, electricity, and internet connection are are pretty much covered.
On the flip side, you may love the independence that comes with living out on your own, but with a smaller group of mates you’ll foster friendships that last a lifetime. You’ve just got to budget for transportation to school, and don't expect campus aid to come your rescue should something go wrong in the middle of the night!
4. Purchase homeware from Primark
While it’s tempting to move the entire contents of your bedroom to the UK, you can easily and cheaply furnish your room on campus or student flat (apartment) with all your college essentials like blankets and hangers, thanks to Primark.
With memory-foam pillows at £8 (~S$13.95) and single duvets going for £4 (~S$6.97), you can save your luggage space for the more important things like your bolster - because for some reason, you can’t seem to buy them in the UK.
Tip: And with an extensive inventory of products from homeware to beauty products, and even confectionary, it's good to plan your shopping list with the help of Primark's website. Online shopping is not available, but it's still better to head in there with a purpose.
5. Save ⅓ of your train fare by getting a Rail Card or a Young Persons Coachcard
One of the first things you should do in the UK is to pick up a Railcard. I like to think these travel discount cards were created specifically with students in mind to make it easier for us to uncover UK’s greatest locations. The card has an annual fee of £30, but will let you shave off ⅓ of the cost of any standard train ticket and save up an average of £187 a year
If you don't intend to return to Singapore until you graduate, this is a worthy investment that’ll let you soak in the beauty of stunning national parks like The Lake District and historical cities like Durham.
There’s also a coach alternative - a Young Persons Coachcard - which will get you ⅓ off all standard fares, plus 10% off travel to events and festivals. This option is only £10 for a year or £25 for three years.
6. Have secondhand textbooks delivered to you for free
Unless you’ve got money growing on trees in your backyard, you don't want to be buying brand new textbooks from your uni bookstore or stores like Waterstones - they'll set you back anywhere from £20 to over £100, which is pretty outrageous. You can get first- or second-hand versions for less on sites like Amazon. And if you're in a hurry, sign up for Amazon Prime - students get a 6 free months of one-day delivery (worth £47.94)!
Or if you're really buay paiseh, then ask your uni department or senior student if they've got any leftover textbooks on hand. These sell for much lower prices or sometimes go completely free. Some might even come with free notes! But be quick, cause they’ll be snatched up really soon.
7. Get discounts just for being a student
The NUS Extra card, which costs £12 a year, offers significant discounts. However, you can also consider Unidays, a similar discount programme for students that does everything the NUS Extra card does and more - and it’s completely free! Once you sign up, you’ll have access to perks like 10% off ASOS, 50% off Spotify Premium and a free Cheeseburger, Mcflurry or Mayo Chicken when you buy any extra value or wrap meal at Mcdonalds.
It takes just a few steps to sign up to Unidays. Just use your university e-mail address, and then follow the steps to activate your account. As Unidays is an online app, that means you won’t have to carry around an extra card in your wallet.
8. Score the cheapest phone plans for international students
While Giffgaff charges you £20 for unlimited 4G data, other networks can charge up to £25 for just 20GB of 4G, which obviously isn’t the best deal. I like Giffgaff cause not only is it the cheapest plan out there, but it’s also convenient because everything is operated online. This means that there’s no awkward phone calls with customer service, yay.
Simply order your free SIM card here and follow a few instructions to activate it. Once you’ve done that, choose between a ‘goodybag’ plan and pay as you go, and you’re set. Btw, it’s a monthly plan that you cancel at any point, so you won’t be tied down.
9. Marks & Spencer is a proper supermarket there
Adapted from source
While Singapore’s Marks & Spencer only stocks frozen and dry goods, the UK’s M&S is a proper supermarket with lots of fresh produce. Try out some of their chilled ready made food - it’s a proper treat.
But for more affordable options, head to Tesco or Sainsburys instead, which is like NTUC. Or you can go for Aldi or Lidl, which is like Sheng Siong. For each of these supermarkets, you can get a loyalty card which’ll give you some perks; just ask an assistant in-store for more details.
10. Stock up on thermal inner layers
The UK can get pretty cold, and temperatures dip into the minus degrees in the winter, so you’ll want to wrap up warmly. Stock up on thermal inner layers as it will definitely save your life - and extremities. You’ll be surprised how a single long sleeve innerwear shirt can provide more warmth than a normal wool sweater.
Most buildings in the UK have central heating, but if that still doesn’t warm you up, it’d be wise to invest in an electric heater. You can get a cheap one from Argos that will warm you up in those freezing, numb nights.
11. Pick up British phrases and slang to avoid miscommunication
‘The gig at the students’ union was blinding.’
If you don’t know what that means (and it means fantastic by the way), it’s time to get learning. Just like Singaporeans have Singlish, UK people have many of their own dialects with specific terms that creates a stronger bond between locals.
Certain terms which most of the UK uses include ‘quid’ which is used interchangeably for the British pound and ‘cheers’ for thank you. Also, when a Brit says ‘how are you?’ when they see you, don’t spill your heart out - it’s just a greeting!
12. Join university clubs to make friends
University of Kent Singapore Society | Source: @ukcsingaporesociety
If you wanna pick up a new skill, and socialise with fellow students, join a uni club. Most unis have ‘fresher’s fair’ in the first week, so head along and see what you’re interested in. However, most require a signing up fee of around £5 so unless you have money to waste, don’t go splashing that pound if you don’t think you’ll attend the club’s events regularly.
With more than 8,000 Singapore students in the UK, you should also be able to find a Singapore Students Society where you’ll be amongst friends who can understand the difference between your lahs and lohs or your craving for chai tao kway.
All you need to know about studying in the UK
As one of the most historically rich and culturally exposed countries in the world, the UK is a fantastic place to study in. With 154 recognised universities, it’s impressive that 71 of them made it into the QS World University Rankings. And with such a variety of courses offered, students are able to properly tailor-pick their course, and sculpt their university experience to their preference in this quintessential part of the world.
Undergraduate courses (with honours) are also a great value as they can be completed in three years, which means you can save money and time.
If you’ve set your sights on completing your degree in one of the UK’s many prestigious universities, drop by the Education UK Exhibition organised by British Council which is happening on the 11th of March 2017, Saturday from 11AM-6PM and load up on all you need to know about a UK qualification.
Here, you’ll be able to speak to representatives of each UK schools, colleges and universities about the hundreds of programmes that are available. If you want more information, you can also attend seminars that’ll provide you with valuable info and tips for applying and studying in the UK.
And even if the cost of studying abroad is more than you can afford, you can still explore the possibility of getting a similar UK qualification with an approved partner institution in Singapore.
Find out the full list of participating UK institutions here.
Education UK Exhibition
Date: Saturday 11 March 2017
Time: 11.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.
Venue: Suntec Convention Centre, Level 3, Summit 1 and 2
This post was brought to you by British Council.