Are you dreaming of studying in Scotland? With universities that look like Hogwarts, world-leading academic programmes and exceptional club and social structures across Scottish universities, who could blame you! If you plan to move to Scotland as an international student, this article is here to answer all your questions.

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In 2020, guest blogger Jessa Frances moved to Scotland to study for a postgraduate degree at the University of Aberdeen. In this article, she shares everything you need to know to if you want to attend a Scottish university as an international student.

From choosing the best university for you to sorting out your visa and living situation, and what it’s like to actually move to Scotland for uni – this article answers all your questions about studying in Scotland.


Growing up in a small town in northern Indiana, I dreamed of one day travelling the globe. For me, there had always been something special about Scotland, in particular, that called to me. So, when I got the opportunity to study in Scotland for my master’s degree, I jumped at the prospect with enthusiasm. 

I wanted to get my master’s degree in creative writing and found many universities all across the United Kingdom that had creative writing programs.

I had some work to do to figure out which school I wanted to attend the most. Although, if I had it my way, I would probably just go to school for a year at every single one of them.

But not just that – moving to Scotland to study at university came with a lot of questions and challenges. 

In this post, I am walking you through the entire process. From choosing a university to preparing my stay, settling into a new country and what it was like for me to study in Scotland.

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Choosing A University

Choosing which school to attend was one of the most difficult parts for me. I knew I wanted to attend a school that was particular to my degree so I started by focusing on how the programs worked and which school I thought would benefit me and my future as a writer the most. 

I had gotten my undergraduate English degree with a minor in Creative Writing from the University of Mount Olive in North Carolina. While there, I had befriended many British students who had shared their experiences with me and told me what schools were like in the UK. I felt somewhat prepared for my move there. I was nervous but excited! 

First, I listed out the universities.

Bell tower of Glasgow University peeking out above the trees

Universities in Scotland that take International Students

Aberdeenshire – Northeast:

  • University of Aberdeen
  • Robert Gordon University 

Highlands – Northwest:

  • University of the Highlands and Islands

Dundee

  • University of Dundee 
  • Abertay University

St. Andrews 

  • University of St. Andrews

Edinburgh – Southeast

  • University of Edinburgh
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Queen Margaret University

Stirling

  • University of Stirling

Glasgow

  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Strathclyde 
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Glasgow School of Art
  • University of West Scotland

Criteria for choosing a university

Next, I separated them by program. I knew that I wanted a program that could be tailored to me and my desire to focus on creative nonfiction specifically. 

Then, I sectioned them out by tuition fee (even though I was using my GI Bill, I couldn’t go over a certain amount). I also needed to consider the cost of living in each area. 

Finally, I went even further by cutting my options down by start date. Due to personal reasons, I was desperate to leave as soon as possible. So, I needed to find a uni that allowed a January start date. 

In the end, the University of Aberdeen ended up being just the right school for me at the time. It was highly ranked and had everything I was looking for. Plus, it was gorgeous and located on the sunnier side of Scotland in the city of Aberdeen which I believe would be the perfect fit for me.

I was ready to study in Scotland!

The Cost of Studying in Scotland

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees at British universities vary greatly from school to school and even among different programs. At Scottish universities, undergraduate tuition fees for international students fall between £10,000 and £26,000 per year. Postgraduate fees are between £15,000 and £30,000 per year. Compared to programs in the US where you could easily pay upwards of 60,000 USD per year, this is actually quite reasonable.

As a veteran of the United States Air Force, I had paid into a GI Bill which I had used to get my undergraduate degree. I had one year left available for me to use – the perfect fit for a one-year graduate degree program in the UK. I was beyond excited for the chance to not only travel to Scotland but to live there for a whole year. My GI Bill not only paid my tuition but also paid for my living expenses.

Getting your Tier 4 Visa

The only thing that I needed to come up with was the money necessary to prove I would be financially stable while living there. 

When applying for your Tier 4 Student Visa, you have to show that you have the funds necessary in advance – even if your GI Bill pays for living expenses. 

As of December 2020, the UK wants you to show that you have at least nine months worth of living expenses saved. They have already estimated those costs for you and say that you will need about £1,334 per month on average.  £1,334 times the 9 months they want you to have saved equals £12,006.

That’s 16.747.23 USD – that is a big chunk of change! 

I had saved up money for a year prior but still didn’t have enough. I was fortunate enough to have family members who vouched for me by providing copies of their bank statements and letters of consent stating that they would pay my way if I ever needed it. 

Luckily, I never needed that though, because my GI Bill came through as expected.

You can find all the information you need on the UK government website here.

Finding Funding to Study in Scotland

There are several opportunities available to those who are seeking out higher education abroad. There are grants and scholarships available through many different avenues. You can apply for student loans as well. Depending on where you want to study the program fees fluctuate. 

The United Kingdom has higher rates for international students than a lot of countries, but if your heart is set on Scotland the way mine was, don’t be discouraged. Do your research and remember where there is a will, there is a way. Studying in Scotland can be done!

There are many international organizations, private organizations, student loans, and tons of opportunities to apply for scholarships and grants that will give you the money you need. 

Top tip: Reach out to the admissions office of your chosen university and check if they can direct you towards any scholarships or grants you may be eligible for.

Living Expenses

Living expenses are generally cheaper in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, and if you know how to budget well, you can live quite well for cheap.

The government estimate of £1,334 per month is actually very generous in Scotland and you are most likely to get by on less.

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Working as a Student

On a Tier 4 Visa, you are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week and this is something a lot of students do in the UK. 

Working a part-time job is also a great way to meet new people and involve yourself in the community you live in.

A woman standing in the forest in autumn

Preparing to Leave

Finding Accommodation

Before I moved to Scotland, I needed to sort out my accommodation. The university had several options for student accommodation but as a 34-year-old woman, I didn’t fancy moving into a dorm-style room and sharing a flat with up to five other students.

Instead, I looked up other student accommodations that were available within the city of Aberdeen. I ended up finding a studio flat with the company Hello Student which was just a 7-minute walk from the university campus. 

Even though I did end up being quite happy with my accommodation – the staff was fantastic and I made a lot of friends – private student accommodation is quite expensive. I talked to a few other students who had found regular flats to rent for half the price. One friend had actually rented a cheap room at an Airbnb for a few weeks in order to give herself time to find and rent somewhere else. 

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What to Pack for Studying Abroad

I am proud to say that I did a pretty good job packing clothes – plenty of layers. However, I definitely overdid it… I had way too many clothes and not all the essentials. 

The things I didn’t pack that I wish I would have:

  • At least one towel 
  • Toiletries 
  • More travel adaptors 
  • Shoes made for walking on cobblestone streets
  • A top sheet

Settling into Student Life

My room was completely empty when I arrived. I didn’t even have a single toilet roll. Luckily, my friends had sewn me a quilt that I brought, so I had a blanket for my first night, but it took a few trips back and forth to shops like Aldi and Asda before I had everything I needed. I also ordered a set of cookware and dishes for cheap off Amazon. 

I spent the first few weeks walking everywhere and trying to get used to the bus system. Everything was breathtakingly beautiful to me. That “dreary sky” that everyone had told me about came and went and most of the time the sky was bright and blue. The city of Aberdeen, known as the Granite City, lies along the North Sea. Aberdeen Beach was just a 10 minute walk from my flat.

I signed up at the university’s sports centre and began a fantastic morning routine that involved a quick workout followed by a calming stroll on the beach to enjoy the sunrise.

My first few classes at the University were engaging and I just couldn’t believe my luck at being there. I had three children in the states and leaving them was the hardest thing I had ever done, I was determined to make every single moment that I was away from the count.  

A vivid red sunrise over the ocean at Aberdeen beach

The Shock Factor: The Biggest Differences Between Life in the US vs Scotland

Now, as I said, I was quite prepared for a lot of the differences between life in America versus life in the UK. I already knew most of the lingo.

Words like:

  • Cuppa – a cup of tea
  • Tea – dinner
  • Chuffed – Happy
  • Knackered – Tired
  • Gutted – Sad
  • Skint – Broke
  • Daft – Foolish
  • Ken – to know

And there are many more that are particular to just Scotland. However, there were a few things that took me some time to get used to. 

Academics

  • You have less actual homework. The classes are often focused on lectures to allow independent work with two or three major projects due throughout the semester, but there are plenty of opportunities to share work and collaborate with other students. 
  • The grading system is a bit different. For example we get grades like A,B,C,D and F. In Scotland I got grades like A4 and B2. They are issued with the same mentality, of course, and it is easy to follow and understand. 

Living Space

  • The cook tops take some getting used to. I had to read the manual to understand it. I had never used a convection oven before.
  • Beware of the wattage! A lot of American devices, tools, and gadgets can’t go over a certain wattage 120 volts where in the UK it’s 230 volts. Make sure you are aware and use the correct adapters.

Public Transport

  • Learn the schedules for buses and trains
  • Download the right apps like, FirstBus and ScotRail
  • Learn how to drive on the left side of the road (and shift with the left hand!) if you want to rent a car. 

The other thing that I wasn’t expecting was the multitude of accents. You would think there would be one accent in Scotland – but the accents actually vary quite staggeringly from region to region. The local accent in Aberdeen is called ‘Doric’, and I love it!

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My Personal Experience

I arrived in Aberdeen in January 2020. We all know what happened soon after that… Covid-19 took over, stopping the world as we knew it in its tracks. All the plans that I had were halted. I couldn’t believe it. 

Before things got bad, I had been involving myself in different programs at the school, meeting new friends for lunch dates, writing my heart out for my classes, and had even started taking Cèilidh classes, a traditional Scottish dance.

On the Meetup app, there are so many groups in Aberdeen (and everywhere) that provide people with the chance to get out and try new things. I am part of an international running club that I was able to connect with. I recommend for anyone moving to a new place try and reach out into the community and environment around you. 

After the pandemic took over, we all ended up going in and out of lockdowns and being quarantined for long periods of time. We were still able to get out for exercise as long as we adhered to specific guidelines we were able to get out for exercise, but walking around Aberdeen soon wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted to see as much of Scotland as I could. 

I finally came to the conclusion that I was going to have to take the chance to get out and explore Scotland one way or another.

Whenever lockdown restrictions were eased – and there was a lot of back and forth – I got a rental car and loaded it down with everything I needed for a few days on the road. I packed blankets and pillows, food enough for days, spare socks and shoes, and my passport and id.

With all of my classes online, I spent Saturday through Monday in my flat working on school assignments and writing. But from Tuesday through Friday I took off on a new adventure!

In order to adhere to Covid-19 restrictions and to avoid public places, I ended up sleeping, eating, and travelling in my rental car. I drove all across Scotland’s gorgeous countryside enjoying long hikes and outdoor excursions without putting myself or anyone else in harm’s way. 

One location after the next, I checked places off my bucket list: Inverness, Edinburgh, the Isle of Skye, and many more! I avoided Covid and still got to hike and enjoy Scotland for all its beauty. Though it did get lonely at times, it was an experience that I will never forget, and lead to a lot of internal healing and growth.

Now that I am back in the States, I miss Scotland and the crisp fresh air. Studying in Scotland was an incredible experience and I was sad to leave. But I know one day I will be back, and hopefully to stay!


About Jessa Frances

Guest blogger Jessa Frances in her graduation gown and cap

Jessa Frances is a freelance writer and blogger with a constant thirst for adventure. As a naturalist and avid hiker, she uses her experiences exploring the outdoors as fodder for her creative work. She is the mother of three wild, fierce and fun kiddos who make her life even more exciting every day. Whenever she isn’t writing, hiking, or playing with her kids, you can usually find her curled up with a cuppa in one hand and a good book in the other. Check out her travel blog at https://jessafrances.net. You can also follow Jessa on Instagram @jessafrances

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One thought on “Studying in Scotland: Moving to Scotland as an International Student

  1. Charity says:

    This was an interesting read. I have had a few people ask me what it takes to study in the UK as I live in Dundee. I will share this article with them.

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