Living/Studying in the UK

Bangor University, UK

Ever since I finished my Masters and started with my PhD in the UK (at Bangor University), a lot of my juniors have sent me messages asking about my experience in the UK, and about the application process and what not. I’ve found myself answering the same questions time and again (sometimes even copy-pasting from one chat window to the other!) so I thought why not write it all down in one place and save myself some time and effort? J

So, the following are all questions I have been asked by someone or the other, who has, is, or will be traveling to the UK for their Masters. Mind you, DISCLAIMER ALERT: the answers are all personal opinions, please don’t blame me if things aren’t as I said they are – all the answers below are based on personal experiences (and in some cases, friends’ experiences) only! Plus, answers will probably be Psychology-specific, but I am sure they can be generalized across other subjects as well!

I’ll add to this list of questions/answers as and when I get time (or when I’m asked a question that isn’t in this list), but till then if you need any help, feel free to get in touch. Also, if you want to add, change, or contribute to something, let me know.

THE APPLICATION PROCESS, BEFORE AND AFTER:

Do I need to give any other exam apart from the IELTS for the UK?

No, you need only the IELTS for the UK (unless your University asks for something specific)! Please check current requirements though!

Is it necessary to go for IELTS coaching?

To be honest, I didn’t think coaching was all that helpful. But this depends on how much you can focus by yourself, and study on your own. I would suggest doing some practice tests online and gauge your ability on the test. There is also lots of free practice material online (google it)!

Who did you apply through?

I did apply through Edwise initially, but very soon realised that applying on my own was the best way to go. Only you can know what kind of course interests you, and what university life you are best suited to.

Is it necessary to do the research project in the third year of my BA degree?

Now this is an interesting one. It totally depends on what University and course you want to apply to and what their requirements are. I would suggest doing a research project as it is a good introduction to the world of research. Almost all UK universities are heavily research-based and if you don’t have any research experience, you’ll have to work extra hard for your Masters course.

What all do I consider while short-listing Universities?

First of all, be clear on what course you’d like to do (for example, Clinical Psychology, I/O Psychology, Consumer Psychology etc.). There are lots of topics to choose from – make sure you know what you want to do. Check what Universities offer those courses, and how they rank. There are different types of rankings: QS, REF, Guardian etc. Remember though that these rankings might apply to the University as a whole. The Psychology department might be higher or lower in rank so make sure you check department-specific rankings as well. The REF stands for the Research Excellence Framework and is UK-specific: it assesses the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. Usually, higher the ranking, better is the research quality, but again, this is not a hard and fast rule. Choose the courses that appeal most to you in terms of modules/subjects offered, and then try and get in touch with a past student who has done that course. Usually, the administrative department or any contact person in the University should be able to get you in touch with alumni specific to your course. The other thing to consider (if this is at all one of your concerns) is the tuition you need to pay for your course. This is a personal choice and dependent on your financial situation as well as scholarships available to you (more on this later) but make sure you do all the due-diligence before enrolling for a £20,000+ Masters course!

What do I include in my SoP?

Your statement of purpose is where you sell yourself. Now any suggestions I have here are based on my personal experience i.e. things that have worked for me. Your SoP should have a strong story behind why you want to do the course you want to do. Explain how your previous experiences, both personal and professional, led you to pursue this career choice. Try and not to list your achievements one after the other – you will be mentioning this in your CV anyway. For example, don’t just say “I worked in XYZ place as an intern. Then I worked in ABC organisation as an assistant, etc.” Say what you learned when you were an intern. How did that eventually lead you to an assistant position, and what valuable experience did you gain there that will help you in your course (or some such). Most important things to consider especially if you have a word-limit: what’s your biggest motivation to pursue this career, what will you learn from this course and what are you bringing with you in terms of knowledge, skills, expertise, and how can you contribute to the academic environment.

How do Universities reject applications? Do they let us know if we have been rejected? How long to they take to respond?

Universities can take anywhere between few weeks to few months to respond! If you are worried that it’s been too long, it doesn’t hurt to send a polite email to the University! Usually, Universities will let you know even if you have been rejected. Some Universities will mention the date on which they will let you know the outcome of your application. Some Universities might even explicitly mention that they don’t get back to you if you are rejected! Check the website, and if you don’t find anything there, send an email! Also remember to check your spam/junk folder once in a while.

Are there scholarships available?

Some Universities have their own merit-based scholarships. Make sure to check their websites. Otherwise, you can apply for scholarships like Inlaks and Commonwealth. You need to apply earlier for them though – so make sure you check deadlines, etc. much beforehand.

When is the best time to apply?

Start thinking about it in your second year and making a list of Universities you’d like to go to, and courses you’d like to do. Check deadlines for scholarships as well – some of them (like Commonwealth and Inlaks scholarships) will have early ones!

What course should I study? Clinical/ Counseling/ I-O/ Consumer/ Sports Psychology? What has the best scope?

To be honest, all of them are great courses! The world is full of opportunities so if you are passionate about the subject, you’ll find something that works for you, no matter what the field. Don’t choose a course thinking about employment opportunities – choose a course that you are really interested in, and then create your own employment out of it.

ACCOMMODATION:

What are the types of accommodations available in the UK?

Possible choices include student halls/university accommodation, shared apartments or houses, studios, etc. Usually sharing rooms isn’t common in the UK (as it is in India) so in shared apartments you’ll have a bedroom to yourself with shared kitchens and bathrooms. You can choose to share with as many people as you like. If you’re new to the UK, student halls can be a good place to make friends and discover the University and city/town with other students. They might be more expensive than sharing a flat with someone though. Again, personal choice applies. In both cases, it’s usually hard to find all the right kind of people you’re sharing spaces with. It’s a great learning experience though – living with others, especially those you don’t get along with, gives you the best of life’s lessons!

Is it better to live alone or with companions while choosing accommodation? What are the pros and cons for each?

Now this is a funny one to answer because I really don’t know how you are as a person. Do you prefer living alone or in a group? Are you social or prefer staying alone? Usually in student halls/ university accommodation you end up having your own room and sharing the kitchen space. You can choose between shared bathrooms and en-suite rooms in most places. Or you can get a studio for yourself which includes a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. Pricey but if you’re finicky about cleanliness and need your space to be only controlled by you, then it’s the best option! Of course, staying alone means less of a social life, and you might feel lonely especially if you are not used to living alone. The good part about staying with other people is there’s always someone to hang out with. It’s a great way to make friends! J

I am staying in University accommodation. What should I consider while choosing my room? Mixed dorms? Room near the kitchen?

I’ve stayed in mixed dorms as well as only girls and haven’t found much of a difference. Cleanliness is a problem in general in shared spaces (especially if you are finicky about a clean kitchen like me), but you learn to adjust. Making a cleaning routine with your housemates also works quite well. Rooms near the kitchen might be annoying if someone keeps using it even at night but if you sleep through storms like me, any room should be fine!

ABOUT THE COURSE AND LIVING THERE:

Is the course for nine months?

Most Masters Courses are for one year – usually nine months of coursework plus three months to write up and submit your thesis. This depends on the specific programme of study though – some might not have thesis work as part of the course, some might have extra modules.

How are the lectures/courses in UK Universities?

Okay, lectures in UK universities are longer than what we are used to. You’ll probably be going for lectures only 2-3 times a week, but the coursework would require a lot of independent studying. No more spoon-feeding or getting notes from seniors. Assignments are also marked differently – a lot of emphasis is on research and reading academic papers, so if you’re not used to it, give yourself the time to work on your comprehension of scientific articles. It’s not too daunting, just takes time getting used to.

That said, not all lecturers in all Universities are going to be awesome. Just because it’s the UK doesn’t mean quality of education is high everywhere here. You’ll find good and back lecturers/researchers/academics here just as you’ll find them in India.

What are the seasons like?

September (when most of you are likely to enter the UK) will still be summer-ish, but colder than most places in India anyway. October/November is the beginning of winter, December-February will be the coldest, with spring starting from March/April, and summer commencing in June/July. It’s very hard to draw water-tight compartments as the only constant in the world is the unpredictability of UK weather!! Check the forecast on BBC (but remember that that’s not accurate either)! 🙂

In a year, how many months or days are allocated to vacations/holidays?

In the UK, there are two main “holidays” – Christmas (December/January) and Easter (March/April). The University is closed during these times, but libraries may be open for limited time. Depending on your course, you will be able to take anywhere between one to three weeks of holidays during Easter or Christmas.

Do I come back to India during the holidays?

If you have the money, would you spend the money on coming back and visiting friends and family back home, or would you rather use it to travel the UK or even the Schengen countries? Your choice!

Awkward question: will I find any parlours/salons there? How do I get my eyebrows threaded? How expensive is waxing?

Not an awkward question at all. Waxing is expensive (VERY expensive compared to India), and so is threading your eyebrows (I’ve had some bad experiences – they just don’t do them as well as in India!). Sometimes you can find someone who can thread your eyebrows for cheaper (hush hush Indian who is earning some pocket-money but visa doesn’t allow them to work hush hush)! Try and be as self-sufficient with these things as is possible if you want to save money!

Is going to the UK going to be a big culture shock for me?

Yes. Things are definitely different in India compared to the UK. You must be open to change, and willing to accept people of different belief systems, cultures, and values. Try and interact with as many non-Indians as possible. Don’t be intimidated, make as many friends as you can. At the end of the day, absolute values that connect people and develop strong friendships are the same across cultures!

What do I do if I am home-sick or stressed? I’ve never stayed on my own before, that too in a different country. I’m scared.

It’s natural to be scared. Stepping out of your comfort zone into another land 8000 miles away is not an easy decision. But it’s going to be okay. You’ll meet people you get along with, and slowly build your own network and friend circle. Of course, no one and nothing can take the place of home, but you’ll feel less alone. Keep yourself as busy as possible. Don’t stay cooped up in your own room, go out, work hard, meet new people, make new memories, travel and discover new places. You’ll be fine. J Also, almost all Universities have free counseling services available to students. So if you’re too stressed out or anxious, make sure to take care of yourself and talk to a counselor. If an assignment is troubling you or is incredibly hard, don’t be afraid to talk to your lecturer or module organizer. They will give you an extension, and help you with it – most of the times, all you have to do is ask!

Is there an Indian community/society there?

Most Universities have clubs or societies for different activities, and an Indian society will definitely be there. So if you miss the desi touch, join the society!

CAREER OPTIONS/ WORK IN THE UK:

What are the possible career options after doing my Masters in Clinical Psychology? Will I be able to work in the UK?

Difficult question. I don’t know much about this to be honest – your possible next steps can vary. You can decide to work in a clinical setting, or do a research-based PhD. Finding a funded PhD is hard, and so is finding work in a clinical setting, especially for international students. I don’t mean to dissuade you but you will have to work hard and push yourself to apply for internships that are available to you. The stronger you make your CV, the better your chance of getting a decent job or clinical internship. Throughout your Masters (and even your Bachelors degree), try and volunteer in all kinds of clinically relevant organisations if you are serious about working in the UK after your Masters.

Why do Indians rarely stay in the UK?

People go back home for a number of reasons – they don’t find a job, they miss their families, they can’t afford staying abroad anymore, they get bored!!

Can I work part-time when doing my Masters? What work can I do?

Yes, you can work 20 hours a week on your student visa. You can work as a salesperson in a shop, as a waiter/waitress at a restaurant, as a teaching assistant, exam invigilator, etc. – lots of options! Approach the international office in your University and ask if they have any jobs available. Before you apply for a job, make sure you apply for your National Insurance Number. Some resources for more information about the NIN: https://www.york.ac.uk/media/studenthome/workandvolunteering/infosheets/specificgroups/Getting-a-National-Insurance-number.pdf
https://www.gov.uk/apply-national-insurance-number

Can I do a PhD immediately after my Masters?

I guess the question is do you really want to do a PhD after your Masters? It isn’t an easy game, and requires clarity on what you want from the next three years of your life after your Masters. Most of the times, you need a strong CV and Masters thesis to get a fully funded PhD position. I would suggest applying for a research assistantship in order to get a glimpse of academic life and then making a decision about whether you want to do a PhD or not.

PREP BEFORE LEAVING:

Should I buy clothes from India to prepare for the UK winter?

Unless the shop you’re buying from in India actually sells clothes for UK winters, don’t buy them in India (unless you’re from the Himalayas!)! You get good, kind of inexpensive stuff in the UK which is meant for UK winters – when you arrive in September or January, immediately invest in a good winter coat, and good boots. Trust me, one time investment will go a long way in keeping you warm!

Can I carry edible oil and ghee?

I think you can, but the question is do you really need to? You get edible oil pretty much EVERYWHERE and you’ll find ghee in most places too! Why make your bag heavier?

Do I need to take any vaccinations before going to the UK?

I hate needles so I didn’t take any, just carried some medicines with me for the usual cough/cold, upset stomach, etc. This is a question for your family doctor though, not me! J

Did you carry your bedding pack from India? Did you buy it from the University or from elsewhere?

DON’T carry it from India!! Buy it there! Usually cheaper if you buy it from the shops there but if you don’t want the hassle on the day you arrive, you can also buy it from the University (if it’s offering something like that)!

Should I carry washing powder for laundry from India?

Please don’t. You get everything in the UK to be honest. Even your “daag acche hai” Surf Excel and super white Ariel. Unless you really want your “chaar boondo waala Ujaala” just buy washing powder in the UK!

Can I carry spices and Indian snacks to the UK?

I’ve never been stopped from carrying anything to be honest! I’ve carried spices, home-made laddoos, chivda, even two kairis (raw mangoes)!!

Misc:

Just some “fun facts” you should probably be aware of before you go:

What amuses me most in the UK is the fact that people ask “you okay?” as a replacement for “how are you doing?” or “hello!” Like someone you know might pass you by on the street and ask “you okay?” and then walk away without expecting a response. Why take the trouble to ask then? The first time someone asked me “You okay?” I was like “I’m fine, what’s wrong with me?!” It took me a while to realise that what they meant was “How are you?” and I could reply with a simple “I’m good, thanks, what about you?!”

You will meet with some racism, and some stereotypes. Like the first day in Bangor I met this guy. We started talking about the weather (because you’ll realise that’s what the Brits do) and as I was leaving, he said “Can’t believe you’re from India. You speak English good.” I took great pleasure in replying coolly “Thank you. And just by the way, I speak English well, not good.” I mean they colonized us for 200 years and then wonder how we know English!

We’re used to calling French fries as “fries” but they’re called “Chips” in the UK. And wafers or (or what the Americans call “Chips”) are called “Crisps” here. So you get chips in McDonalds and the “no one can eat just one” Lays are crisps. But there’s nothing like the good old Budhani wafers here!

Some of the taps in the UK are funny. Especially old buildings will have two taps on the basin – one for extremely hot water, one for extremely cold water. Wonder who designed these – highly impractical (and may I say stupid?)!

People apologise and thank you too many times here. They can be annoyingly polite, but don’t complain too much – in a few months, you’ll start behaving like them!

People will ask you a lot of questions about India. These can range from downright ignorant and condescending to genuine interest. Know about your city and country before you go there – even the most basic things like the population of your city and country, the way the Government works, cultures, traditions etc. Hindi is not the national language. Most Indians can speak English. We are not the land of snake charmers anymore (see the movie Namastey London for a wonderful speech about India if needed! ;)). Not all our food is super-spicy. And yes, if I come from the North, and go to the South of India, I will probably not be able to speak the language/s!

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