Earning an Undergraduate Degree in the U.K.


U.K. colleges can be a good choice for prospective international students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years.

By Anayat Durrani | Nov. 8, 2021, at 5:30 p.m.

Deciding to move to a foreign country to live and study may not be an easy decision for most students. But for Blake Makuuchi from California, the United Kingdom was the perfect choice for her undergraduate academic journey.

“I have traveled to many countries and knew I wanted to study abroad for college. Choosing to go to university in the U.K. was easy,” says Makuuchi, who is pursuing a bachelor of science degree in criminology at the University of Bristol.

The U.K. is the second-largest host of international higher education students after the U.S., according to the British Council. In the 2019-2020 academic year, U.K. higher education institutions hosted 574,890 students from outside the U.K., according to Michael Peak, senior education adviser for the British Council.

“With over 160 universities to choose from and over 50,000 undergraduate courses, there is much on offer in the U.K., from city center universities to institutions in the Highlands of Scotland,” Peak says. “U.K. universities have strong connections to their local communities, to business and to industry.”

For prospective international students considering options overseas, here are five things to know about earning an undergraduate degree in the U.K.:

“UCAS is cheap,” says Gary Coulter, international market development manager for North and Latin America at the University of Bristol. “It costs $36, exchange rate dependent, for five program choices. In the U.K. you apply directly to a program and not a university as a whole.”

He says UCAS has four main sections to complete and is entirely self-reporting, which means students do not need to upload documents as part of the application process.

A Major Must Be Declared at the Start

Unlike U.S. universities that allow students to declare a major after two years, U.K. schools require students to choose their major right away.

“Students must declare their major from the start and the application focuses on knowledge and interest in that subject, rather than being tailored to a particular university,” says Neil Green, head of international student recruitment at University College London. “This makes the U.K. a great choice for those who know what they want to study and who can demonstrate their academic motivation within the application.”

Green says there are thousands of courses of study available across U.K. colleges and that UCL, for example, has more than 450 programs to choose from. As part of the process prior to applying, students should research the various options and identify which program to apply to, he says.

American universities usually require four years to complete a bachelor’s degree, which can be more costly.

Coulter says tuition at U.K. colleges is often cheaper than many private or out-of-state options in the U.S. and that the average tuition is $30,000 to $35,000 per year in the U.K. He says the cost of living also can be more affordable depending upon location, with average living costs ranging from $12,000 to $16,000 a year.

Queen’s University Belfast is one of the oldest universities in the U.K.,” says Margaret Topping, pro-vice-chancellor for internationalization at the school. “Our beautiful campus, academic heritage and contemporary ethos blend well with the buzz and vibrancy of Belfast city which, importantly, has the lowest cost of living in the U.K.”

“The student visa allows up to 20 hours per week work during the semester and an unlimited number of hours in the vacations,” Green says. “In the U.K., international students are not restricted to working exclusively on campus, so employment in the wider economy is also an option.”

Being able to get work experience while an international student has been an advantage to Vaania Kapoor Achuthan from India. She is earning a bachelor of science in politics and international relations at University College London.

“Studying in London has been apt for me as it has opened a lot of internship opportunities within my field,” she says. “I have been able to explore London’s vast political history and find bridges between what I learn in my course and real world situations.”

“Undergraduate degrees from U.K. universities offer international students the opportunity to focus on their chosen degree subject, work while studying and have a multicultural experience,” says Ivona Alizadeh, founder and director of EducAd Consulting in London.

Green says U.K. universities tend to have a much higher percentage of international students than other countries, particularly in cosmopolitan areas such as central London. At UCL, he says, over 50% of students are from outside the U.K.

“This, combined with a diverse mix of nationalities amongst our academic staff, makes for a rich learning experience,” he says.

Coulter says students can develop strong cross-cultural communication skills at U.K. universities, schools that in a competitive age produce “multilingual graduates with multicultural experience – attractive for future employers.”

Now in her second year, Makuuchi, says studying abroad has significantly enriched her college experience. She strongly encourages students to step out of their comfort zone and study in the U.K.

“I meet students from all over the world and explore beautiful towns in England,” she says. “I wanted a challenge and an adventure, and my experience here so far has been just that!”