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

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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14 July 2015

Keeping study safe – security advice for international students in the UK

A police helmet
Image courtesy of Robin Hutton (Flickr).

This week’s blog post is provided by freelance writer, Gemma Lovell, and is about staying safe whilst studying in the UK. With crime rates in England and Wales at their lowest level since 1981 (Crime rates UK – The Guardian) it is clear that the United Kingdom is on the whole an extremely safe place to study and enjoy life. According to an official survey conducted in households across the country reductions in thefts in particular led to a considerable decrease in overall crime of some 7 percent during the past year. Despite these encouraging developments it is important to remember that crimes are still committed in the UK, as in other parts of the world, and every individual needs to make personal safety a priority. Here is a condensed guide to keeping safe and feeling confident in your new surroundings.

In any country there are areas people feel comfortable in and those that are better avoided. Getting to know which areas are which is all part of the learning curve when arriving in a new study destination. University support services provide information (British Council: Creating Confidence) and advice on all aspects of life in the UK and this includes guidance on safety issues in their particular area. The police, who are generally regarded as friendly and approachable, are also a useful resource in terms of locational information. Some international students still need to register with the local police within seven days of arriving in the UK – this provides an ideal opportunity to ask any specific questions you may have. Even those who are not subject to this requirement often have the chance to meet the police at briefing sessions delivered as part of university induction programmes.

When going out at night it is important to always have a plan (Student Safety – Suzy Lamplugh Trust). Decide where you intend to go and share that information so a friend is aware of your intended location. Tell them who, if anyone, you are planning to meet and what time you expect to return home. Devise a route and method of transport for the journey to and from the place you plan to visit. Ideally avoid travelling alone but if you have to then use a taxi or use public transport – walking by yourself at night is not advisable. Use a taxi company recommended by the students’ union and always pre-book. Public transport is very safe but at night its use is limited so always sit near the driver (if on a bus) and in a carriage with other people (if on the train). Try not to wait at bus stops or train platforms alone. Most students carry a personal alarm and this is to be encouraged. Nowadays a mobile phone is a standard piece of kit for the majority of the population but make sure it is charged and in credit.

If you do not live in a student hall of residence, it is likely that you will be renting a house or flat. Crime prevention is an important part of protecting yourself and your belongings, wherever you live. Remember to close windows and lock your door if you go out and never leave spare keys in an outside location as burglars are likely to find them. Keep your own keys in your pocket – this means that in the unlikely event your bag is stolen you still have your keys. Mark belongings using an ultraviolet pen with your name and student ID number as well as the college or university name – this will help reconnect you with property should it be taken. For high value items such as jewellery and passports consider installing a small personal safe. Taking out adequate contents insurance either before you travel to the UK or with a suitable insurance provider (see e.g. Quotezone) is also important and yet is often overlooked by the student population. Students in rented accommodation sometimes think that they are covered by their landlords insurance but this is not the case. Each student needs to make their own arrangements in order to protect their property.

If you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being a victim of crime then the first step is to report the crime. In an emergency where someone is at risk of getting injured or a crime is in the process of being committed, call 999. If the crime is of a less serious nature, for example, vehicle theft or property damage then 101 is the number to call. For more information, see Police emergency numbers. Store these numbers in your phone and use them appropriately. If you are the victim of crime and are unable to communicate with the police and other emergency services they will need to contact a family member or friend. Although they may be able to use your mobile phone for this purpose it can be difficult for them to know who to call. A useful tip is to decide who you would ideally like to be contacted and store their number in your phone under the name – ICE – which stands for ‘in case of emergency.’ This can save time and confusion in emergency situations.

Studying in the UK is exciting and rewarding – taking these sensible security measures ensures it is safe as well.

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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09 June 2015

Getting online when you arrive on campus

Apps on mobile phones
Image courtesy of jfingas (Flickr).

This week’s blog post considers how to make the most of the online environment at your university or college.

When you arrive in the UK and begin your course of study at a UK college or university you will need to get used to going from one place to another on a daily basis, between buildings, across campus or even between campuses if your place of study is a large one. The teaching timetable will require that you quickly get to know the location of lecture theatres, seminar rooms, computer workstations and possibly labs, and of course, administrative offices, the library and student union facilities (including shops and restaurants) as well. Don’t worry! Even if at first you get lost, you can ask other students for directions and it won’t take you long to learn.

However, for some aspects of your study programme you will be able to save time and effort by using your institution’s online facilities. Your library will almost certainly have an online website and online catalogue which you access from anywhere, log in and use to search for course books and other materials that you need to read or reserve to collect later.

Setting up and regularly checking a university or college email account is very important and one of the very first things to do after you arrive. Your lecturers will often contact you by this means to make you aware of important dates and events for your course diary. Your institution’s administration will also use it to contact you. You may be able to arrange an appointment to see your tutor by sending a polite and clear email (although some tutors prefer to use a signup sheet on their door to show when they are available to see students individually).

It is very likely that your college or university will have a downloadable and dedicated institutional app for your phone. This can be customised by you, and may provide information while your are on the move about your timetable, the library, campus maps, local bus times, your modules, student news and social events and much more. Find the computer support service on your institutional website to find out how to download the app.

So after you have physically arrived on campus, don’t forget to get yourself online!

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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30 April 2015

What are Pre-sessional courses?

Pre-sessional PathwaysThis week’s guest blog post is by Linda Hurley, Assistant Director of Pre-sessional Programmes at the University of Southampton. In it, she addresses international students’ questions about university Pre-sessional courses:

Being an international student on a summer Pre-sessional course in EAP (English for Academic Purposes) is a positive introduction to the academic life and culture at a UK university, and many former Pre-sessional students say how valuable it has been when they move on to their future courses. Courses may vary in length – at the University of Southampton they range from 16 weeks to 6 weeks, depending on students’ entry point (usually reflected in their IELTS grade). There may even be a pre-arrival online component to a Pre-sessional course. Most of the students who participate in Pre-sessional courses are required to do so in order to improve their academic English skills; however, some participants, who have already met their university’s entrance requirements, may choose to do a Pre-sessional course to improve their readiness for their future studies. Each university will have a website outlining their Pre-sessional provision for their own international students.

Pre-sessional courses provide an opportunity for students to work intensively on all their linguistic skills within an academic framework and their university environment. While IELTS is generally the recognised exam taken by most students when applying for entrance to their chosen subject area, it does not prepare students for the demands of academic study. On a Pre-sessional course, students will practise researching, preparing and writing long essays, and using academic sources to support their arguments. They may be required to practise giving presentations based on aspects of their research too. Reading journal articles, attending lectures and participating in seminar discussions are also key components of most university courses so a Pre-sessional course is a very useful ‘dry run’ for the real thing! Students’ progress and achievements are made clear both during and at the end of a Pre-sessional course, and tutors will always want to ensure that students are moving on to their future courses with the skills they need to do well. This means that ‘yes, the learning curve is steep’ and a significant amount of student work is produced during the course, but by the end, students will feel that the rewards and sense of achievement are definitely worth it.

Pre-sessional courses are also a great way to meet and make new friends and are, hopefully, a time to experience some of the best British summer weather! It’s a busy time and an opportunity to really focus on getting ready for your future studies.

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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