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Dispatches from London: The London Grad School Process – Applying, Scholarships, Housing & Visas

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A pin on a map showing the location I’ll be living in London.

It is my theory that universities accept most international students, with the thought that only a small percentage of them will actually go through with the entire procedure and end up attending their school. At least, that’s how it has to be, because I know at many points through the application process, even after getting accepted, that I was ready to drop it and go another way with my life. This is not to scare anyone away from going to grad school abroad, but just being truthful in how it’s not this smooth course of action that magically falls into your lap.

Applying was actually the easy part, but still a rough process. After taking weeks to write my personal statement, and having multiple people proofread it, I finally sent in my electronic paperwork and was done with that aspect, only to be completely surprised with what was to come next. I heard back from the schools I applied for quickly and was quite satisfied with getting into the programs I had gotten into, but when I received my acknowledgment to join the creative writing program at the University of Westminster, I was extremely relieved and logged into UKPASS to accept my offer.

The barrage of work to do next came super fast. I had to start my scholarship application, and also go through FAFSA with my dad to make sure I was putting the correct information so I could actually afford to go to the University of Westminster. Once my financial aid went through, I had to go online and do entrance counseling and take some quizzes to make sure I understood that I would have to pay back a lot of money. This was the first big roadblock in my journey. When I saw the amount it would cost to attend, I freaked out a bit.

There was a lull in the work to be done around March and April and during this time, I actually went back on my plan to attend grad school. I started doubting myself in being able to pay back the loans I was going to be drowned in, and I was also horrified at the thought of losing my boyfriend after I moved to London. I tried to find as many reasons as I could to justify why I shouldn’t actually go, and it was getting ridiculous. After announcing to everyone that I wouldn’t be going to grad school, and instead traveling around Europe for a few months before trying to move to New York City, I received a message from an English friend, who told me I’d regret this decision if I was doing it for the wrong reasons. She talked some sense into me, and after mulling it over for a couple weeks, talking to my boyfriend about our future and realizing that I couldn’t give up my dreams for him or over the fear of loans, I decided that for once in my life I would do something for me, and I made sure I was back on track to prepare for my postgraduate studies.

Shortly after this decision, I got some amazing news that proved my choice was the right one. I got a letter in the mail from a local women’s non-profit telling me I received the $2,500 grant I had applied for. And then a month later, I got an email telling me that I got the Writing the City full-fee tuition waiver scholarship from the University of Westminster and I almost cried. This meant that my loan amount would be lowered by almost $22,500, and that was going to make a huge difference in how I felt about my impending student loans. Of course, I knew my living expenses would still be high (especially living in London), but I was a little more okay with my decision to go abroad.

I applied as early as possible for accommodation and was thankful to get a spot in a postgraduate student dorm. Once I knew my spot was confirmed, I purchased a bedding, kitchen and bathroom pack to be delivered to my room in time for my arrival. I also had to sign up for the international student welcome programme, apply for early-arrival housing for that, as well as sign up to get a bus ride from Heathrow airport to the dorms. Now I at least won’t be homeless in London, and am glad I got that out of the way so early in the process.

Ignore my horrible photo and focus on my shiny Tier 4 UK Student Visa.
Ignore the horrible photo and focus on my shiny Tier 4 UK Student Visa.


The last big hurdle in the preparations was getting the Tier 4 UK Student Visa. This was the most bothersome part of everything I’ve done so far. To do it, I had to fill out a long application online, which asked me terrifying questions (I’m assuming to weed me out from any terrorists trying to get a visa). After I finished, I had to pay an excruciating amount of money ($527) to send it off. I chose a biometric fingerprinting appointment at a government building in Seattle, drove over an hour and a half to get there, and then it took only 5 minutes to complete. I then had to mail all of my paperwork and additional material to New York City and hope it wouldn’t take too long for it to return. I was lucky to get it back in my hands in 10 days, and it was amazing to finally have proof of my legal entrance into the UK.

Now it’s just down to the little things left to do before I go. I’m waiting on my phone to get unlocked, trying to narrow down my belongings so I can pack in a few weeks, making sure I get plenty of time with the people I care about, and making sure I’ve covered everything I need before I get on my flight next month. I am now very ready for this journey, paperwork-wise (emotionally is another story). This process is not for the faint of heart, but entirely worth it for those willing to fight to make it happen.

Samantha O'Brochta
Author: Samantha O'Brochta

Samantha was formerly an expat in London in 2014/15 before moving to New York City, where she can be found blogging and taking photographs for her site Some Call Me Adventurous. Samantha has an affinity for traveling the world, watching BBC shows, making people laugh, dancing alone in her room, dressing fashionably, and attempting to make Pinterest crafts with disastrous end results.

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  1. I wish you great joy in my country…I am sure that if you have a slightly wicked sense of humour & a ready smile, you will do just fine.
    If you get stuck, anywhere, anytime….just talk to people….most of us are more than happy to help.

    ,,,& I hope long after you have finished your studies here in England, you remember your time with us with great affection.

  2. Your chronicles came into my life at just the right time, right when I made the decision that I would study abroad for my next degree. I thank you for your insight, and I wish you well on your studies and travels!

  3. Enjoy your time here. It’s hard for many to come, and next to impossible for non-EU folks to stay. But, in the meantime, have the time of your life. You’ve earned it.

  4. Still sounds easier than applying for undergrad school in the US Nd I’m not even talking as a foreigner since although I am British, my son was born here so was applying as a US citizen. I’m glad to say he will be going to university in the UK in September!

  5. I’m going through the same process myself for grad school and it has been a nightmare. Like you said, I think it’s their way of weeding out the people! But it’s nice to know I’m not the only one dealing with this.

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