This guide/article was written by Alberta Kelly Ansah–who is currently a postgraduate student from Ghana studying in the UK at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle.
Every year, brilliant students from all over the world, young and old, apply for Student Visas with the high hope of gaining the golden opportunities to travel abroad to study and gain different life exposure and experience.
The focus of this article will be on studying in the UK. Unfortunately, most students or student visa applicants easily gain admissions into their various university of choice but they mostly fail the dreaded student visa interview conducted by the Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) to ascertain whether you are a genuine student or not.
This article springs out of my personal experience–from how I went about with my admission and acquiring my student visa to study in the UK. I will talk about how I prepared for my visa application and other tips to enable you the future applicant to apply to the University of your choice and also pass the visa interview.
PART 1-Pre University Application
Let’s start with the pre University application. Before anything else have a think about:
The course of your choice and why? Ask yourself what course would I want to travel thousands of miles away from home to study. Is this course available in my country? Is it cheaper or worth the money involved?
I was a history teacher in Ghana and before my application, I held a Bachelor of Education (Art: history) 4 years study Degree from Ghana so I applied for a Masters in Education ( Leadership and Management) which is a 1-year postgraduate degree in the UK.
Having done my research from the university’s website, I realized I qualify for the course mainly because of my previous degree and my current professional experience in education. Some common courses for African international students worth looking at are Nursing, Business, Social Work, Public Health, International Relations, IT, Management and Education. Some of these courses are more than a year so make sure you have the funds available or choose courses with free scholarships.
Spend hours on the various university websites and do an intensive research about the university, the courses available and more importantly employment after University. You don’t want to pay thousands of pounds and then not benefit from the certificate after University.
The university of your choice, location and why? Are you ready to live away from home and alone in a foreign country? Do you want a well-known university to give you a better chance of employment after University or just any university will do? My advice is that choose an affordable university if you are paying your fees or choose a university with palatable scholarship funding and available resources to you. Remember most UK University applications are free so you can apply to as many universities and scholarships as you want.
I chose my university because it’s a research-based university with state of the art facilities, they offered a 20% discount for applying from Ghana and the location of the university appealed to my social life The city is one of the cheapest places to live and the nightlife is the best in the country but it can get very cold and brace yourself for cultural shock and subtle racism here and there. I chose my university out of 4 others I gained admission to because of the above reasons.
Funding: Do you have the resources to pay for the entire duration of the course or you will be applying for scholarships? Remember you can either be a self-funding student ( either you are paying your fees in full or your parents are paying) or a scholarship student ( it could be full or partial, start applying for hundreds of scholarships now). Some scholarships pay both school fees plus accommodation and allowances. Remember it is imperative that you already have the funding before you make the University application because you will have to pay a portion of the fees before you will be issued a CAS (a certificate) to use for the visa application.
Accommodation: Are you ready to live in shared accommodation on campus or live away from campus to save costs but spend hours on the bus or trains every day to classes?
Consider the costs involved and make an informed decision because this can make or unmake your stay abroad. Luckily there is a free service in Ghana where I am from, called UKEAS GH, they offer a free consultation, and they organise a yearly study abroad program where most Universities abroad come and give professional and face to face consultation to interested applicants. They also help with the university application process. This process is free and the best you can get so go on follow them, contact them, try them.
Part 2-The University Application Process
UK universities accept applications from both home and overseas students from January, February, April, June, July, September and October depending on your interested course, readiness and future goals. You will need the following documents in the free application process:
- A personal statement: This is an important one-page document introducing yourself to the university, explaining who you are, your current profession, interests, why you chose the school, the course and your future ambitions as well as how the course will benefit you. This is not a CV.
- Previous University certificates or diplomas: If you are applying for masters you will need your degree certificate, diploma or relevant university certificate.
- WASSCE certificate. Most universities will ask you for a WAEC results checker card so buy 3 different ones and send each university you apply to the serial numbers and codes for them to check online for themselves.
- University Transcripts.
- English Proficiency letter: Go to your previous university or college and ask for a letter that states that all courses are taught in English to prove your knowledge and command of the English language.
- Current employment letter or Appointment letter to prove your current profession if it’s a requirement to the course of your choice.
- Reference Letters: You will also need 2 reference letters from your previous lecturer and from your current profession. This letter should be a letter to back you up as a genuine person, hardworking, intelligent and all those cliché attributes.
- CV: Write an eye-catching CV that makes you stand out from the other one hundred applicants.
- Passport and Passport Pictures.
- Any Previous Visa Refusal Letters If You Have Been Refused Before. Yes, the universities will ask you about it
- National Service Certificate.
- Any other specific documents the course or university will ask will be on the course requirements, Read, Read and Read them.
Please scan these documents as pdf on your phone or computer to access them easily after filling the online university application. It shouldn’t take that long.
Remember to start the application early to avoid any delays or unnecessary pressure. If you want to start University in September, start the process around May by collecting all the necessary documents and information and apply to the university immediately because the visa application process can be daunting and unpredictable especially now that we are in unprecedented circumstances. You don’t want to be late for University or pay thousands of pounds to a foreign university and end up doing online lectures in your home country. Start prepping early, apply to as many Universities you want, as many courses you want and it will pay off.
Depending on the university, you should receive feedback in about a week or 2 or a month during peak times. Remember as an international student you should receive an UNCONDITIONAL OFFER from the university to be able to apply for the student visa. It is imperative to stand out from the crowd, let your documents do all the talking for you, that might get you a scholarship recommendation or even a discount on your school fees. Go for the gold.
When you receive a conditional offer, make sure you meet all the necessary conditions and to change that to an unconditional offer before you start the visa process
After receiving an Unconditional offer from the university you can now accept the offer and you must pay half or the recommended school fees to the university for them to issue you a CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) to use in your student visa application. Remember that, if you fail to get the students visa this money might not be refundable if the reasons for the visa refusal is not related to the University, each university policy is different so ask or research.
Some University will ask you to pay 5,500 pounds out of 15,000 pounds school fees for a year masters degree.
Part 3-The Visa Application
While you can make the student visa application yourself, I used an expert Immigration lawyer/solicitor called Vincent Agyapong Febiri of Adukus Solicitors.
I have visited the UK in the past and I handled my application myself but the student visa was new terrain and I didn’t want to play around it so I went in for the expert.
And Vincent Agyapong Febiri of Adukus Solicitors handled the application smoothly for me. Of course, at a fee.
Ask yourself this, would you rather do the application yourself and risk a refusal or would you rather pay a professional to apply on your behalf to achieve your dreams or even represent you for review when necessary?
Remember the visa application fee is NON REFUNDABLE and the paid fees may also be subject to some conditions, so choose wisely.
Part 4-The Student Visa Interview
This is a very important aspect of the visa application process and if you fail this 15 to 60 minutes interview you WILL not receive the visa. While using a lawyer/solicitor will increase your chance of getting the visa, the lawyer/solicitor does not do the interview for and if you fail the interview, your visa will be refused irrespective of the good work the lawyer may have done already with the application.
I say the lawyer’s work is to ensure that your application meets the requirements of the student visa rules and you have to handle the interview.
Here are some common questions to prepare for.
The Home Office has introduced credibility interviews into the Tier 4 visa application process. However, if you are a low risk national you may not be called for an interview.
There are two types of credibility interview. The first type will take place at the same time as your biometrics are taken at the Embassy or designated agency. This initial interview will only take around five minutes and will be via video link with the Home Office in the UK.
The purpose of the interview is to check your credibility as a genuine student and the focus of this interview will be your reasons for choosing the UK, the University and your programme of study as well as questions on the content of your course. The Home Office will record the interview and send a summary to the Entry Clearance Officer who will decide if a second more detailed interview at the Embassy is needed.
The Home Office expects most applicants to be able to prove they are genuine at the first stage and that this will in fact speed up the decision process on applications because fewer documentation checks will be required.
You will be asked questions about why you chose the UK, the University and your programme, also how this fits into your career aspirations.
Typical questions may include (from my experience and preparation):
Q: Tell me about yourself
Answer preparation: sell yourself genuinely to the interviewer.
Q: Why did you choose this University?
Answer preparation: Think about why you chose the UK and the particular university rather than your home country, other English-speaking country or country which other students of your nationality choose to study in. You may find it useful to refer to information about the University on their website.
Q: Why did you choose your programme? Or Tell me about your course
Answer preparation: There may be many programmes in the same subject area as the one you plan to study at the university. What is it specifically about the programme you have chosen which you prefer? You may find it useful to look at your programme of study again on the University on- line prospectus.
Q: How do your studies fit into your career plans?
Answer preparation: Think about what your plans are after you graduate –how will the knowledge and skills you gain from your programme of study help you with the type of work you hope to do. Does your course lead to any professional exemptions or qualifications and are these recognised in your country? Do you know what others graduating from the course you will be following went on to do? If the course you plan to study is at a similar academic level to previous studies be prepared to explain how it represents progression and whether it has a vocational focus?
Q: If the costs of pursuing your course of study are higher in the UK than in your home country, why have you decided to incur the extra costs involved with studying in the UK?
Answer preparation: Think about the advantages that a degree from the UK might give you and why you and/or your family are prepared to make this investment. Have you made a realistic assessment of all the costs involved and how you plan to pay for them? You should note that these cost include accommodation and costs of living.
Q: You have previously studied in the UK – why have you chosen to return?
Answer preparation: Think about how the new programme relates to previous studies and how it might build on your previous learning.
Q: You have had a long break in your studies, why are you returning to study now?
Answer preparation: Think about how you explain your decision in the context of your long-term career plans.
Q. Where would you stay during your course?
Answer preparation: Do your research with the university about student’s accommodation, look for private accommodation to share with other students and mention these accommodations searched. Do not give the impression that you will be living with family or friends.
Q: Do you plan to work in the UK?
Answer preparation: You cannot rely on funds from working to pay your course fees and living costs so you need to be aware of this. The main purpose of being in the UK is your studies so, if you do hope to work, think about how this would enhance your academic studies. You also need to demonstrate an understanding of the hours you are allowed to work (maximum of 20 hours per week) and typical rates of pay.
Q: How will you fund your studies? (you should not be asked this unless you are called back for a second interview)
Answer preparation: The purpose of this question is to check that your funds are genuinely available to you for your studies. As part of your application, you will have submitted proof of your finances – ensure that you are very clear about the source and availability of these funds, also how you plan to pay for subsequent years’ fees if your programme is more than a year in duration. If you have official financial sponsorship make sure you are aware of the amounts and exactly what is covered. If you have a loan, how will you afford to pay this back? How much will your accommodation cost and are you clear about the cost of living in the UK?
If you are a self-funding student ( parents paying) find out about your parents’ job, contract hours and monthly pay.
Q. What is your future plans or aspirations
Answer preparation: If you have aspirations to do further studies after the course tell them about it, do not give the impression that you want to live permanently in the UK. Give the impression that you will return to your home country to impact the knowledge you have received.
The interviewer will also be checking your ability to converse well in English, if there is any issue with hearing them clearly eg via the video link, you should ensure that you raise this so that they are aware that it is a technical issue not one of comprehension.
This is not an exhaustive list so make sure you do other research on the university website for international students, study abroad YouTube videos, google and articles such as this.
Over the years, I have helped several people to secure visas to come to the UK for their British Army Assessment to join the Army.
I am a UK-trained and based qualified lawyer/solicitor. I help in legal representation for those coming to the UK to study–by representing them in their applications for their student visas.
I do not deal with making admission application to universities. The above article has almost all the information you need to help you with your student application.
Once you have received your CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) that is when you contact me, or when I can be of legal assistance.
If you are applying from abroad, the earliest you can apply is 3 months before your course starts.
Importantly, you must demonstrate that you have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course – this will vary depending on your circumstances–this money must have been held in your own bank account for at least 28 days or that of your parents,
If you have any question, you can leave it under this post.
If you have received your CAS and you need legal representation in securing a visa to come to the UK to study or overturning a refusal, contact me via Whatsapp/Direct Call: +447837576037 or E-mail: [email protected]