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Thursday 17 December 2020

International Student: Funding Accommodation and Living Expenses in the UK

Last week, we looked at how to write a winning scholarship essay. While some students will get scholarships covering all their tuition, accommodation and living expenses, others will have to find ways to fund accommodation and living expenses and probably, part of the tuition. 

As at December 2020, when applying for your visa for a Masters in the UK, you are required to show proof of available funds for your maintenance, estimated at £1,023 per month (£1,334 for London residents) plus any outstanding tuition fees. As such, you are expected to show evidence of possessing £9,207 (or £12,006 for London) maintenance fees in your account prior to your visa application. You must hold this amount in your account for 28 consecutive days, the date of the closing balance being within 31 days of your visa application.

Finding this amount of money could prove difficult for many non-sponsored students. Some people borrow money to show proof of funds and have to pay it back before the start of the programme. This means that they still have to figure out how to survive in the UK. Let me show you how.

10 Ways to fund your accommodation and living expenses in the UK:

  1.  Work while studying. A masters degree programme in the UK is intensive but you can find time to work. The Tier 4 (student) visa allows students to work for a maximum of 20 hrs a week during term time and full-time during holidays. Common student jobs include caterers, open day volunteers, student callers, etc. There are off-campus jobs like mail sorters, carers and factory workers (e.g. in food production companies). From my experience, it is wise to have your living expenses for at least the first semester available before coming to the UK because the time runs so fast. Also, since you are still adjusting to the new environment, you do not want to be distracted and get poor grades. In addition, you have to apply for a National Insurance number before you can begin to work and this can take a few weeks.                                                  
  2. Bring your spouse alongYour spouse can support your study expenses by taking up a job. They have no limit to the number of hours they can work. Minimum wage is currently at £8.72/hr. If your spouse is able to work 40 hrs a week on minimum wage, they would earn about £1,395 per month. This goes a long way. Remember that you have to show proof of funds for any dependent you are bringing along.                                                                                                                             
  3. Keep your home country job. If your job is the type that allows you to work remotely, you could ask for a study break while you continue to work part time. Check the exchange rate of your country's currency to see if this is worth it as your expenses will be in Pounds.                                                                                 
  4. Get a loan. 20 hrs a week work might not be enough to meet your need especially if you have outstanding tuition to pay. You might need to obtain a loan to offset that. International students do not qualify for UK government loan. You could search for student loans from banks in your country or ask family or close friends. Alternatively, there are private loan companies that offer loans to international students. But be careful with this option as you are not certain where you would be after your studies.                                                                                                                   
  5. Reduce expenses by living in shared flat/house or with family. If you have family in the UK, you could take advantage of that. If not, you could live in a shared house/flat with fellow students. You would not have to pay for council tax if all residents are full time students. University halls of residence usually are more expensive than the off-campus houses by private landlords.                                                                                                                                          
  6. Make good use of student discounts and coupons. Many stores (including clothing shops, cinemas and restaurants) have student discounts. Always go with your identity card and ask at the counter if there are student discounts.                                                                                                 
  7. Make your own coffee. There is a huge coffee culture in the UK. You will be presented with several coffee breaks during your study. There is a temptation to buy coffee from the cafĂ© every day, especially during the cold seasons and that could cost you up to £5 a day. Alternatively, there will usually be a student's kitchen around with a kettle or microwave and fridge. So you can easily make your own coffee. By doing this, you can save some money towards your accommodation and more important expenses.                                                                                    
  8. Call home through WhatsApp. Phone calls to your home country, especially if in Africa,  can be quite expensive. To save this cost, make good use of  Wifi for WhatsApp calls.                                                                                                                                                                                 
  9. Buy stuff from discount stores. Patronize the discount supermarkets and stores around you like Aldi, Lidl, Poundland, Poundstretcher, OneBelow, etc. Avoid convenience stores except when absolutely necessary. Buy in bulk.                                                                                                                        
  10. Wait for clothing sales. Do not be tempted to buy all your clothing as soon as you arrive. Many shops have end of year sales. So if you start in September, you can take advantage of December sales. Why buy a pair of shoes for £80 when you can get it on sale for £10?
In conclusion, you can achieve your dream of a postgraduate study in the UK. First, try to get a scholarship; then consider the above steps to cater to your accommodation and living expenses if need be.

Has this been useful to you? What else will you like me to write about? Please leave a comment below.

Radiant ~ December 2020

Contact me at chidiogoradiant@gmail.com

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Thursday 10 December 2020

International Student: How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

Last week, I wrote about why you should pursue your Masters degree in the UK.  A common question I got asked was how to obtain scholarship or funding for the Masters programme. I've given bits of advice regarding this in the past. But today, I've decided to just pen down all I say to people for easy access.

I'm a beneficiary of a few scholarships. First, I attended secondary school on a full scholarship by the Federal Government of Nigeria covering tuition, boarding, feeding, uniforms and exercise books. Then in 2016, I won the Developing Solutions Masters Scholarship offered by the University of Nottingham. This scholarship covered my full tuition which was £21,200. 

My husband has also benefitted from scholarships. He was a recipient of the Total Nigeria National Merit Scholarship award at undergraduate level and The Global Scholarship Award worth £10,000 which covered part of the tuition for his Masters programme. 

Some scholarships require that you write exams - my secondary school scholarship and husband's undergraduate scholarship. Others require short essays. For my Masters scholarship, I answered the following questions:

  • Why have you chosen to study this academic programme?
  • Why the University of Nottingham?
  • Why should the panel select you?
  • How will it benefit you and your country?

And a question about my future career ambition.

Before I get to the tips on writing a winning essay, let me give you some general advice on getting a scholarship for your study.

1.  Do not put all your eggs in one basket. Apply to as many scholarships as you can find. Don't only apply for the popular scholarships like Commonwealth and Chevening, apply to the unpopular ones as well. Check the funding page of the school you want to apply to study for any scholarships you might be eligible for.

2. Start early so that you can meet up with deadlines. Many scholarships have early closure dates. Apply to the school early. Many of the scholarships require you to secure an admission before you are eligible to apply. Since you are not sure how long the admission process might take, apply early so that you would have obtained your offer letter before the scholarship deadline.

3. Find out the application requirements early and begin to gather them. For my Masters scholarship, I needed to write IELTS because some of the scholarships required it. Also, I needed to obtain the transcript for my undergraduate degree. These processes could take their own time, hence the need to start early.

Now to the tips that helped me write my own essay.

How to write a winning Masters scholarship essay 

1.  Do your research. Read about the school, the course you want to study, look at the modules, talk to students of the school. Your reason for choosing the school is not just because they offer scholarships. Think about why you would choose that school if you got the same scholarship opportunity in two other schools

2.   Tell a personal story. This appeals to the emotional side of the judges. My approach to my essays was not just academic. I told the story about how I am really passionate about public health because of the lack of health information and proper health seeking behaviours, saying for instance, how during the Ebola epidemic in Nigeria my own mom advised me that a salt bath would prevent infection. Be authentic though.

3.  Show passion through your experience. Start building your portfolio now by getting involved in significant events happening around the area you want to study. I had applied and got into the Regional Leadership Centre in Accra, Ghana for the Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI). When I attended YALI, I had not yet planned on applying for a Masters but when I started applying, I used that experience to show my passion for Africa, development and leadership. So before you even start thinking of a Masters programme, you could get involved in projects, seek volunteering or leadership opportunities, or fellowships in the area of your passion. I know a colleague who had done some community development projects during his National Youth Service year and had pictures where he received award for this. This was what he used in his application to get a 100% tuition scholarship. In my husband's case, he used to run a career mentoring organisation for secondary school students alongside his regular job.

4.    Show passion through education. I had done some free online courses on global health and public health. If you have not studied the course at undergraduate level, show your interest by taking courses and attending conferences.

5. Understand the goal of the scholarship body and answer in those lines. For Developing Solutions it was to make a difference in the development of your home country. So I had to show passion for development of Africa.

6.    Proofread. Having errors in your essay does not speak of excellence.

7. Get other people to read. If possible connect with people who have previously succeeded in getting that scholarship.  

I hope these few points are useful for you in your journey. Do not let the lack of finances stop you from pursuing your educational goals. Scholarships are largely available and you CAN win.

Please leave a comment if this post has been useful to you and come back next week for a new post on funding accommodation and living expenses. 

What else would you like me to write about? Feel free to contact me at chidiogoradiant@gmail.com


Radiant ~ December 2020


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Thursday 3 December 2020

International Student: Why You Should Pursue Your Masters Degree in the UK

My Masters graduation day

When I decided to pursue a Masters degree, I wanted one that I could do in the shortest time possible, as cheaply as possible, yet with high quality. I knew I had to get a scholarship to make it possible. I searched the internet, asked questions, and shortly concluded I had to make applications to schools in the United Kingdom. 

Some international graduates might be in the same shoes as I was. So in this post I would like to help you answer the question - Why come to UK for your Masters programme?

The Pros

1. High quality world-class education. The UK is known for its high quality education. Just google "Top Universities in the World" and see for yourself. Degrees from the UK are highly respected by employers. Check out QS Graduate employability rankings.

2. 1 year programme. Unlike programmes in the US that require 2 years, a UK Masters degree programme is typically for 1 year. Also, being an English speaking country, I did not need to take up a foreign language class before my study as would have applied if I chose Germany or any other non-English speaking country.

3. Scholarships are available. This was key for me. Many would be put off by the humongous tuition fees associated with a Masters degree in the UK but there are scholarship opportunities. While some are sponsored by international scholarship bodies, many individual UK schools have a scholarship budget. I got a full tuition scholarship from my school. 

4. 2-year post study visa. A few years ago the UK government stopped issuing 2-year post study work visas to students on a Tier 4 visa. This discouraged some international students from pursuing postgraduate studies in the UK. Thankfully, it's been brought back this year. This means that you can apply for jobs and get some work experience in the UK after your Masters programme. The experience can boost your career prospects wherever you then decide to settle.

5. Application is easy. When I looked at the application process for USA-based schools, the process just seemed tedious and long 'cause I would have to write TOEFL/IELTS as well as GRE. With UK-based schools, I only needed IELTS to apply to certain schools. The school I eventually got in to, the University of Nottingham, did not require it because my undergraduate study was done in English.

6. You can bring your family along and they can work without restrictions. Unlike the USA, where spouses/dependents of students on F1 visas are not allowed to work, the UK allows dependants/spouses of students on Tier 4 visa to take up full time work (apart from doctor or dentist-in training) or be self-employed. This goes a long way in supporting the student. 

7. You can work and study at the same time. In the US, there are certain restrictions to working while you're a student on F1 visa, like only being able to work on campus, except in exceptional cases. The UK has its own restrictions - you can only work for a maximum of 20 hours per week but it does not have to be just on-campus jobs.

Most importantly studying abroad, in the UK, gave me much exposure. Exposure to a developed country, exposure to possibilities I didn't know existed. Exposure to effective systems, rule of law, order, a civil culture where customer service personnel are very polite, where there is dignity of labour, where merit is rewarded, where feedback for quality improvement is actively sought and accepted.

The Cons

1. It is expensive. The UK Masters tuition fees for international students vary depending on the degree and university but could range from £5,000 to well over £40,000. My tuition for a Masters in Public Health was £21,200 (around 11.4 Million Naira at the time). Giving my salary then, I would have needed to work for 10 years while scrimping to save up that amount of money. And that excludes the cost of accommodation and living expenses. If you are able to get a sponsor or get scholarship then this becomes less of an issue.

2. It is cold. Coming from the heat of Africa, it took a while to adjust to the UK weather. Summer was great; in fact, there were heat waves at times. Fall, spring and especially winter days were cold. But then it's not as bad as Canada. I learnt to dress for comfort, or in other words, dress for the weather and not for fashion.

In conclusion, I would say it was very well worth it and I am grateful to the University of Nottingham and everyone who supported me for making it possible.

Are you considering a Masters degree in the UK? What are you most worried about? Have you studied as an international student in the UK? What was your experience? Please leave a comment below.

Radiant ~ December 2020

Read my next post on how to write a winning scholarship essay.


TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language

IELTS - International English Language Test Score

GRE - Graduate Record Examination

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