Welcome to the Prepare for Success blog!

This blog is part of the Prepare for Success website. Through it, we will answer your questions about living and studying in the UK. As well as writing about topics of interest, we answer questions from international students about living and studying in the UK on our blog.

If you have a question, please post it on the Question Wall. One of our team will then answer it through a blog post.

Guest bloggers: from time to time we include posts written by guest bloggers. If you are interested in contributing a blog post on a topic of interest to international students, please contact elang1@soton.ac.uk.

Latest Questions and Answers

23 September 2016

Accommodation Choices for International Students in the UK

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Amy Hirst, a writer for The Student Housing Company:

Once you have secured your place at university in the UK, it is time to start thinking about your accommodation options. It may seem like a daunting task, but if you follow our advice, you will find the accommodation you need.

The Property

When you are thinking about the type of accommodation you want to rent, consider the following points: does the accommodation provider offer property management or security? Is there an en-suite bathroom or will the bathroom facilities be shared? Is there a good communal space? Will there be a good mix of students to socialise with?

The Location

Location is a very important thing to consider when choosing your accommodation. Use a map to check that you are within easy walking distance of your lecture rooms. Does Google Maps show that you are within walking distance of your lectures? If this is not the case, it is important to look into methods and cost of transport to the campus. Try to find out about the average cost of a bus fare to the campus. Many transport companies offer seasonal ticket deals for university students.

Rent and Other Costs

It is very important to consider your budget when you study abroad. There are costs that you may not think about initially. For example, if you are not a full-time student you may have to pay some Council Tax. You should also consider the cost of insuring your items abroad, whether your bills are included in your rent, and if you will need to pay for any new furniture.

Your Contract

When you enter into a contract it is legally binding so take care to read it in full. For example, if you sign a joint contract and one tenant drops out, the remaining tenants will often be liable for the rent due. It is important to be aware of these details.

Contact Your Accommodation Provider

Once you have chosen your accommodation, get in touch with your university if you have decided to go into halls of residence. If you have chosen to rent private accommodation, contact your future landlord or letting agent to secure your new place. If you are an international student looking for accommodation in the UK and are unsure about the next step to take, you can browse the nationwide accommodation options from The Student Housing Company.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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10 August 2016

How do UK universities fare on the world stage?

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Adam Maidment, a writer for Pure Student Living, which provides luxurious student accommodation for students across London:

In May, the annual Times Higher Education (THE) University World Reputation Rankings list was revealed. It aims to highlight the world’s most prestigious universities and highlight those that are doing the best in terms of providing successful candidates ready for the workplace.

The UK was well-represented with ten placements in the hundred-long list. The UK was the second most-represented nation, after the US, which had forty-three placements. Two UK universities – the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford – appeared in fourth and fifth place respectively. With the UK taking up one tenth of the THE list, just how well do the UK’s universities compare to other countries?

Individual treatment

Comparing the top two nations on the list – the US and the UK – it seems that if you want a more individual and one-on-one learning experience, then the UK is the better option.

In most UK universities, students will be assigned into smaller class groups after regular lectures. These seminar classes enable students to discuss and debate ideas and key points from the lectures in depth with dedicated members of staff and other students in their class. The knowledge gained from these sessions is then useful throughout the rest of their studies.

It seems that such discussion groups or seminars do not really figure in most US universities until the very last year of the degree programme. This means that for most of the course, students studying in the US will have to depend on lectures as the main source for the majority of their knowledge. Nor will they have the same number of opportunities to have designated one-on-one discussions. In some cases, postgraduate students are assigned to run discussion groups but as they are not members of staff, their knowledge can be somewhat limited.

Specialist subjects

It’s not uncommon for students in Australia to take double or combined degrees, whilst many university students in the US will be asked to take on a broad range of subjects in their first year: these are one they wish to major in, and another, which can be totally unrelated, that they want to minor in. Some US universities won’t even require students to decide on their major subject until the second year.

If there is a particular subject that you know you really want to focus on, studying in the UK might be your best option as there is there is much more scope for specialisation. In most UK institutions, there is the option to take on such a degree.

If you’re still wanting to take on a combined honours course, these are also available in the UK, but they usually involve subjects that relate to each other in some way.

One of the best places to study

In December, the UK HE International Unit found that student satisfaction amongst international students in UK universities was at 91 percent, which was massively higher than any other major English-speaking destination.

With internationally recognised qualifications and ten places within the THE list, the UK really is one of the best places to study. UCAS reports that as many as 430,000 students from over 180 different countries choose to study in the UK.

As a multicultural country, studying in the UK opens up opportunities to experience new cultures and backgrounds. With English being one of the most-recognised languages around the world, being fully immersed in the language will only help international students develop their careers even further after their studies.

What you get out of your university experience depends on what you put into it. Wherever you choose to study, if you don’t work hard then you’re not going to reach your full potential. Choose a degree programme that suits your interests, career prospects, and optimises your own learning.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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27 July 2016

How To Avoid Colds And Flu In The Autumn

This month’s guest blog post offers guidance to students about applying to study in the UK and is provided by Gemma Burns:

The UK has many things going for it, but its climate is not always one of them. The island of Great Britain has one of the most unpredictable weather profiles in the world, prone to lightning, fast changes and baffling about turns. You can indeed have four seasons in a single day – sometimes in a single hour. However, while it’s really lovely while the sun shines, cold, damp weather is something you’re definitely going to experience a lot of. And you’ll get more than average during the autumn. With everything perpetually soaking wet and the climate turning colder, viruses like the common cold and flu find it easier to take hold. Autumn can be a test of your staying powers in Britain – and you can pass this test with far greater ease if you protect yourself from colds and flu! Here are a few tips which might help:

In a study environment, viruses can spread with lightning speed. Lecture theatres and classrooms become giant petri dishes, ideal locations for colds and flu viruses to incubate, gather strength, and infect multiple people. This effect is exacerbated if you’re living in communal dwellings or engaging in communal activities. It tends to be the case that if one person goes down with a virus in these situations, they take a good chunk of their friends, neighbours, and classmates down with them. There is no sure-fire way in which to protect yourself from germs – they move quickly, and pass easily from person to person. In order to completely preserve yourself from colds you’d have to seal yourself off from your fellow students (which wouldn’t be particularly friendly). However, you can minimize your risks of succumbing to infection by practising good personal hygiene – disinfecting your hands regularly, always using clean utensils and so on. Always be careful when touching your face in cold season, as it’s through your airways that the viruses take hold. If you really want to avoid colds, you could try wearing a surgical mask – but be warned, many British people will consider this at best strange and at worst rude.

Vitamin C
There are lots of ways in which to improve your immune system – some better than others. Eating healthily and keeping fit will give you a far greater chance of staying virus-free as autumn advances than leading an unhealthy, couch-potato lifestyle. However, if you really want to fire up your immune system, eat plenty of foods containing Vitamin C. Contrary to popular belief, this will not help to cure you if you do come down with a cold. But it can make your immune system a lot stronger, meaning that you’re more able to stop colds in their tracks. Don’t leave it until you start feeling sniffly to chug the orange juice – up your Vitamin C intake as soon as you can in order to prevent colds from getting a hold on you.

Stay Warm And Dry
One of the reasons why people get colds in colder weather is because the human immune system is weaker when we’re colder. Another is that the common cold and flu viruses prefer cold noses in which to gather their strength. Staying warm will boost your immune system, and discourage cold viruses from using your nose as an incubation chamber. And staying dry will help you to stay warm. Now, typically, Britain in autumn is not a warm, dry place and, while you can hopefully keep your accommodation pretty warm and dry, you have to step out into the chilly damp sometimes. What are you to do on these occasions? Well, it’s all about clothing. Umbrellas and waterproof outerwear can help to keep you dry. To stay warm, wear multiple layers – these trap warm air and help you to maintain a comfortable body heat. Wearing a waterproof hat or hood is also advisable, as wet hair does not dry as quickly as wet skin, and will insinuate cold and damp throughout your body. Curiously, it’s also very important to keep your feet warm and dry, as your body takes a surprising amount of temperature cues from your feet. So invest in a good pair of waterproof boots, and learn the fine art of layering socks!

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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10 June 2016

Student questions on the Prepare for Success Question Wall

The Prepare for Success Question WallThis month’s blogpost addresses three questions posted recently by international students on the Prepare for Success Questions Wall:

The first is from Mehmush. Mehmush is an Iranian student, who is currently living and working as a nurse in Italy and who wants to apply for a Masters degree programme in the UK.

The first step in applying for any postgraduate degree programme is to inform yourself about what is available in the area you are interested in. There are some online search portals that can be a useful starting point such as the Masters Portal or Masters Compare. However, you should always follow this step by searching for more detailed information on the university websites of the Masters programmes you are interested in and/or by contacting their Admissions office to request a brochure about the courses you are interested in. Once you are in contact with the university’s admissions office you can also ask about costs, possible scholarships and the exact procedure to apply for the course you choose.

The second question is from a student planning to study in Glasgow and who is wondering where the best place to live is – in halls of residence or in the city?

This is a dilemma that many international students have as there are pros and cons for both living in a university hall of residence or sharing a house or flat with others in the local community. Many universities will offer international students a guaranteed place in a hall of residence to save you the trouble of searching for private accommodation. Others will have an accommodation office, which can help in the search for private accommodation. The situation will be different from one city to another but here are some points to help you consider which is best for you.

In a hall of residence:
• You have the opportunity to meet other students, including those studying on different courses.
• You may pay less rent than in private accommodation of a similar size and location.
• Halls of residence are generally situated close to main campuses.
• Utility bills (e.g. for gas, electricity etc) are generally included in your rent.
• Staying in a hall of residence can help you to feel part of the university community.

In private accommodation:
• You have the opportunity to live and share with friends.
• You may feel more independent and more in touch with the local community.
• You will have to pay utility bills (e.g. for gas, electricity etc), which are generally not included in your rent.
• You can choose an area of the city that you would like to live in and look for private accommodation there.
• You won’t need to leave your accommodation during vacation time.
• You will be able to search for a more competitive rate for rent.

Lastly, there is a question from Peter from Nigeria. He is concerned about certain kinds of advertising (‘Come Along With A UK Study Abroad Programme With Free Visa’). Is it genuine or is it a fraudulent attempt to obtain money? Should he require proof even if it sounds real?

This is a very important question as every year there are numerous scams involving false promises, to extort money from students. You should always be very suspicious of anything that sounds too good to be true as it probably is, and NEVER send money or bank details in such cases. Reliable Information about how to obtain a study visa is available from the UKCISA website or from the student admissions section at the University you are applying to.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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19 April 2016

BYOD – Bringing your own device when studying in the UK and getting connected

A student using their own deviceThis month’s guest blog post is by Andrew Davey, Technology Specialist in eLearning from the University of Southampton. In it he looks at some of the steps international students may need to take when bringing their own devices, such as personal laptops or tablets (iPads or Android), to use at a college or university in the UK.


Most UK institutions have on-site computing facilities. These provide support to students and staff across campus in getting networked and using the institution’s online services and licensed software. Some of the instructions for getting your own device networked will often be online, so once you have an institutional username and password (usually the same as your email login details), you will be able to log in and follow instructions to access services. Students often bring their own devices to classes or lectures in the UK to support their studies and use them to work online also when not being taught. For these reasons, it is important to get your device connected as soon as you can after you arrive.

Accessing University resources off-campus

You may wish to access resources such as a personal filestore when you are away from your institution. It is important to have access to this and other services such as the library while off-campus and studying at home. This will usually be possible through a ‘Virtual Private Network’ or VPN, which allows you access to systems as if you were using an institutional device. Your institution may provide an app for ease of connecting to the VPN, or a set of instructions may be available.


In the UK, email underpins much of the communication between tutors and students on their courses. You will need to check your institutional email account on a daily basis in case there are any important messages from your teachers, department or the university in general. Spam emails can be a problem in most institutions so when using email accounts, avoid opening attachments from unknown sources. Some emails may contain a virus or spyware, which can help give hackers access to your accounts. Always make sure you have an up-to-date virus scanner installed on your device. You may be able to obtain one for free as part of an institutional licence, or you may have to purchase one separately.

The institutional VLE

Your institutional VLE (virtual learning environment) will be an important place to locate module and course information. Find out which VLE our institution uses and familiarise yourself with as soon as you have your institutional login. Blackboard and Moodle are both popular VLEs used in the UK. To find out more about how VLEs are used by course teachers, look at this learning resource: Preparing for Online Study.

Social Media

If you have any social media accounts, you may also wish to connect with these to your department or University by ‘following’ them on Twitter or ‘liking’ them on Facebook. For study tips and academic guidance you can follow @PfS_website on Twitter or Prepare for Success on Facebook. For general advice about life and study in the UK you can also follow @UKCISA.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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23 February 2016

Different ways of being taught on your course

Ways of being taughtThis month’s blog post considers some of the different ways you can expect to be taught during your studies in the UK.

Traditional ways of being taught on a university course in the UK include through a mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials and possibly workshops, depending on your discipline area. Some of these may be unfamiliar to international students, especially if they have been taught in a different way in their home countries. Even a teaching method such as a ‘lecture’ may be delivered differently in different academic cultures, so it is important to know what you should expect as a student coming to study in the UK. For a basic introduction to these four ways of teaching have a look at Ways of being taught on your course first.

Lectures generally last between 30 to 50 minutes and traditionally involve students in listening and note-taking. The lecturer may use visual aids (usually presentation slides) whilst speaking. These, along with a recording of the lecture, may or may not be available afterwards for you to refer to. It is useful to take notes, even if they are available, to add to your understanding. You may find that some of your lectures in the UK are quite interactive. There will usually be an opportunity for one or two questions from the audience at the end but some lecturers also use other polling devices to engage students in the topic – these allow the student audience to participate more actively, by thinking and voting on issues or predicting the outcomes of research mentioned during the lecture itself.

Some lecturers might even ask you to watch a pre-recorded lecture and then use a seminar for discussion of the key points or extension activities to deepen your understanding. Seminars are a typical way of teaching found in most UK universities. Usually groups of up to 20 students discuss an academic paper, a presentation or a topic with their tutor. It is expected that students speak as well as the tutor, and it is an opportunity to develop your critical thinking skills as well as to explore different opinions or perspectives on a topic. Small group tutorials may also serve some of these functions.

A tutorial in many universities involves a one-to-one meeting with your tutor. The meeting might typically focus on your academic progress, feedback for an assignment or negotiation of an assignment or dissertation topic if you are a postgraduate student.
In science and applied science, lab sessions and workshops often take the place of seminars and these may involve following a practical set of instructions or carrying out an experiment.

Lastly, blended learning practices can now be found embedded across UK universities. Although much of your course will probably take place in a face-to-face context, you may also find that part of it is delivered or undertaken online. You will be expected to use a range of technologies, not only to support your independent learning but also possibly to receive some of your teaching. Technology is likely to have an impact at all levels of your study, from contacting your tutor (by email) to even doing part of a taught module online with other students.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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20 January 2016

Studying in the UK: Guidance for Indian Students

Indian students

This month’s guest blog post offers guidance to Indian students applying to study in the UK and is provided by Sophia Harris from Stunited:

Indian students who are planning to pursue studies in higher education in the UK often face a dilemma in terms of choosing the right course to suit their educational background and meeting entry requirements for the UK. Typical courses that attract Indian students include science, engineering, art and design, law, finance and business management, and help in choosing the most suitable course can be found on the British Council India Education website. The UCAS website also helps with the process of finding courses that match your profile. Most universities provide details of specific courses on their official websites, and students can also request a prospectus from them. Some local British Council offices may also be able to provide a copy of a prospectus, as well as more general information about studying in the UK.

Prospective students should try to estimate the cost of studying and living in the UK before they come. They should take into account accommodation costs (e.g. halls of residence) as well as fees for the course that they intend to study. In order to get a comprehensive idea regarding accommodation facilities, choice of course, availability of scholarships etc, students can register to use the Stunited (Students United) website. Some universities offer a guarantee of housing to international students for at least one year of study, while a few of them extend this to the full period of studies. Students must identify whether or not they qualify for such guaranteed housing from the university.

When planning to study in the UK, students must ensure they have sufficient money to pay for course fees and living costs. For the necessary financial planning, students can visit the UKCISA website to find out more about course fees, living costs and financial support. The International Student Calculator is also a useful site for this.

Students should gather enough information about the specific institution or university where they are planning to study. It is essential to know whether a student visa, i.e. UK immigration permission, will be granted for study. Before making an application for this visa it is important to check whether the chosen university is listed in the Register of Tier 4 Sponsors. Any application to an unlisted institution will be refused. Students are advised to check the university website for its policy on refund of deposits and fees in case of an immigration application being refused; the university course not running or the university losing its Tier 4 Sponsor status.

Students should note that they must not make any payment until they are clear regarding the university’s policy on refunds, and complaints handling. If a student is interested in an undergraduate degree course at a UK university, it is advisable to apply through the central admission system known as Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). This website provides the necessary information for international students who wish to apply online.

If an Indian student wishes to travel to Europe whilst studying in the UK, he/she will have to apply to the Schengen Visa Scheme before travelling. This provides a permit to travel in countries belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) and/or between countries with the use of only one visa.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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15 December 2015

Spending Christmas in the UK

Mince pies and crackers

This month’s guest post is by Matt Powell from Broadband Genie and describes what a traditional Christmas in the UK is like. Matt also discusses how the internet can help you stay connected to your family at this time of year.

Christmas in the UK comes with many well-loved traditions. Children open their Advent calendars (who doesn’t love getting to legitimately eat chocolate first thing in the morning?), families put up trees and decorate their houses, schools perform nativity plays and people gather in town and city centres to watch the Christmas lights being switched on.

Many children will leave out a plate of mince pies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer on Christmas Eve; it’s also traditional for their parents to eat them once the children are asleep so that in the morning it looks like Santa really has been! Many people will also attend Midnight Mass at church on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning (the 25th December in the UK) generally begins with excited kids waking early and opening the stockings that have been filled with presents for them; the kitchen downstairs, meanwhile, will soon start to get busy as the turkey goes in the oven and people help peel potatoes and carrots.

The presents under the tree are usually shared out and opened, new toys are played with and later everybody sits down to Christmas lunch. Turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy are the traditional items on the plate but every family has its own favourite extras that will be added too.

Afterwards there might be Christmas pudding (complete with flaming brandy), Christmas cake and, if you’re still not quite completely full, mince pies. And Christmas lunch wouldn’t be the same without everyone pulling crackers, wearing paper hats and groaning at the terrible jokes inside.

At 3pm you might find people gathered around the television watching the Queen’s Speech being broadcast and on Boxing Day (26th December) everyone takes part in yet another British tradition: eating up all of yesterday’s leftover food!

Christmas in the UK is very much about being together with family and friends and if you’re living overseas at this time of year it can be hard. Obviously, nothing is the same as actually being with your loved ones but if you are unable to cross continents to spend Christmas at home then the internet can certainly help you feel closer.

Emails are great for sharing news and writing long messages. Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or your country’s preferred social media site can be used to share photos and updates of what you’ve been doing / seeing during the Christmas break from your studies. You can also use apps like WhatsApp to send free text messages across the world in real time.

However, the best way of feeling connected to your family has to be a video call. It can make you feel much closer to people far away and it’s perfect at this time of year if your family are celebrating Christmas so you can really feel part of the festive fun. Even if you are not celebrating Christmas, a video call home at the year’s end is a great way to stay in touch.

Apple users can talk to each other via FaceTime on their iPhones and iPads. Then there’s Skype, Google Hangouts and Viber (for example) for people using other devices. And using the group call function on these services means that even if your family are spread out across the world you can all join in the conversation at the same time, with everybody talking at once. Just like being at home!

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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17 November 2015

Part-time work as an international student

A student working in a food outlet
Modified image courtesy of Emasmeso
(Wikimedia Commons).

This month’s blog post concerns international students and doing part-time work at the same time as studying. Many students work while studying on their courses in their home countries, and the most common reason for doing this is to gain some extra income to help with the cost of living while studying. As an international student, first of all you will need to confirm that you can work in the UK.

So as an international student thinking about finding a part-time job, the first important question to ask yourself is ‘am I allowed to work during my studies and if so, how many hours am I permitted to work?’ To find the answer to this question, check your passport or identity card for stamps received on entry to the UK. Short-term visitors to the UK are very unlikely to have permission to work whereas Tier 4 students can generally do some work whilst studying. The UKCISA website offers some detailed information and helps explain this rather complicated area so that you can ensure you are staying legal.

If you are allowed to work whilst studying in the UK, the next question is what kind of work can you do. As a student, it will be important for you to put your studies first and ensure you attend classes and manage your course assignments. These are crucial to passing your course and obtaining your qualification at the end of it. However, there are some kinds of work which will not interfere with your studies but will enable you to earn a little to help with everyday living costs. Some universities and colleges have a Temp Bank where students seeking part-time work can register their interest. Work may be administrative, publicity-related, or in catering or cleaning. These jobs may be associated with the Students’ Union or the University more widely.

Alternatively, if you live in a town or city you could look out for part-time jobs advertised in newsagents’ windows, in employment agencies, local newspapers, local online recruitment websites or in shop windows and food outlets themselves. If you are asked by a potential employer to attend an interview for a job, you may need to provide an up-to-date CV (Curriculum Vitae) in English which includes your contact details in the UK and the name and address of someone who can act as a referee. He / she may also ask to see evidence of your entitlement to work.

Finally, for further advice about seeking part-time work in the UK, try speaking to staff in the Careers Centre at your college or university. They can also help you with preparing a CV in English if you need one.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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28 September 2015

Learning about administrative procedures at your new place of study

Submitting an assignmentThis week’s blog post introduces some of the new administrative procedures that you may need to learn when you arrive at your new place of study.

Many international students are now arriving at UK universities and colleges and waiting expectantly for their course to begin. Learning how the administrative system works in your new place of study is an important aspect of settling down and making a good start on your course. These news procedures which you will need to follow for such things as submitting assignments or organising a meeting with your tutor may be very different from what you have done in your previous place of study.

Universities are increasingly adopting an online submission system for students’ assignments. This may involve uploading an electronic version of your finished assignment online to an area for your particular course by the submission deadline and not taking a physical copy to your tutor’s in-tray. If your institution uses an online submission system like this, you will probably then receive a confirmation email detailing the date and time of your submission. Similarly, your assignment grade and feedback may only be made available to you electronically. Many institutions will require students to confirm online at the time of submitting that they have not plagiarised in their work and institutions automatically use plagiarism detecting software such as Turnitin on all student work.

Because your tutor will be in many places other than their office, if you need to see your tutor it’s not a good idea just to go to their office expecting to see them. The normal practice in most UK institutions is either to sign up for a meeting in advance on an appointment list, often pinned up outside their office, or to email and request an appointment.

Universities and their faculties and departments increasingly use social media as a way of informing their students about what is going on. Subject-related events, subject-specific student group meetings and news are often communicated through blogs or Twitter. It can be useful to set up a Twitter account when you arrive in the UK and find and follow them.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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