How to Apply to a UK School Internationally?

Do you want to apply for place at a UK day or boarding school? Here is everything you need to know about the admissions process for international students in one simply WhichSchoolAdvisor.com guide.
How to Apply to a UK School Internationally?
By Carli Allan
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Looking for a UK school for your child from 2021 or beyond? Choosing a school in an unfamiliar country can be a challenge, particularly when faced with a list of more than 2,000 independent, fee-paying schools. With a choice of UK, IB (and some US) curricula, as well as campuses in every county, it's not an easy decision to make.

To help you get started, here is WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's complete guide for international students on applying to a day and boarding school in the UK, including information on visas, admissions, tours and scholarships.

I live overseas. Can my child apply to a local, government-run primary or secondary school in the UK?

Anyone currently living overseas who wants to apply for a state-funded school place must have a right of abode in the UK (have a British passport, be a British citizen etc). If you do not, then you will need to apply to an independent (also known as a private or public) school, which charges tuition fees.

I live overseas. Can my child apply to study at a UK independent school?

Yes. If you are not a British passport holder, you can apply for a Child Student Visa if you’re aged between four and 17 years old and you want to study at an independent school in the UK. You will need to have the following:

  • an unconditional offer of a place at an independent school. Once you’ve been offered a place, the school will give you a reference number (called a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS), and you need this before you can apply for your visa.
  • proof that you have enough money to pay for your course and to support you during your stay in the UK
  • the consent of your parent

You can make a visa application up to six months before your course starts, and a decision is typically made within three weeks. The cost of the visa application is £348. You can stay in the UK for up to four months after your course finishes.

Remember, you will need the CAS number for your visa application, so you must apply to the school first.

This Child Student Visa has replaced the Tier 4 (Child) student visa, and allows international students to get visas more easily and to stay in the UK post-study.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, can my child still apply for a school place for the 2021-22 academic year - and how can I apply remotely?

Yes. Although schools are currently closed in the UK due to the pandemic, they are currently processing applications as normal for this and the next academic year. You are advised to monitor up to date travel restrictions though, as well as any quarantine requirements.

As schools are currently closed in the UK they are using virtual tours to offer families the next best thing to a walk-on campus visit. There are 360-degree tours where you can ‘tour’ facilities such as the sports hall, library, playing fields, science lab and theatre. 

Schools have launched one to one video meetings with admissions managers and principals, Zoom information sessions and webinars, and online assessments to help manage the applications and admissions process for students living anywhere in the world.

Where can I find out more about boarding schools in the UK?

Visit whichschooladvisor.com/uk for independent reviews on some of the most popular prep and senior schools in the UK for international students, with information including curriculum, fees, facilities and exam results.

At what age can my child attend a UK independent school?

You can apply for your child to attend from as young as four years old at some schools, but boarding is not usually an option until at least seven years old. The standard exam entrance points for most academically selective boarding independent schools are 4+, 7+, 8+, 11+, 13+ and 16+. 

How and when do I apply to a UK independent school?

Most schools have a fixed admissions process that requires you to apply by the end of November for the following academic year. There are then entrance exams and interviews in December or early January. Some schools including Wycliffe College and ACS International Schools take applications at any point in the academic year, so it's always worth checking.

You can submit an online application as a first step, and if living overseas your child may be asked to take part in an admissions interview or exams via Zoom or another video app. (In 2020-21, all entrance exams have been taken remotely due to school closures.)

What documents will I need when I apply to a UK independent school?

  • Completed and signed application form 
  • Application fee
  • Passport size photographs of your child
  • Photocopy of child’s birth certificate
  • Photocopy of child’s passport
  • Photocopy of parents’ passports
  • School reports
  • Any speech/language, educational psych testing, or learning needs evaluations/records (if applicable)

All documents must be supplied to the school in English or a certified translation.

When will I find out if my chid has been accepted at a school?

Confirmation of places is sent out by most UK independent schools in early February, ahead of the start off term in September of that year.

Can parents accompany their child to the UK?

If your child has or is applying for a Child Student Visa, you can apply for a Parent of a Child Student visa. Your child must be aged between four and 11 years when you apply, and be attending an independent school in the UK.

You must also:

  • be the only parent accompanying your child in the UK
  • have enough money to support yourself and your child in the UK
  • maintain your main home outside the UK
  • plan to leave the UK when your visa expires

Is there an annual cap on the number of international students in the UK?

While individual schools may have their own cap, there is no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK.

Does my child need to speak English to study at a UK independent school?

Most schools will require international students to have a good command of the English language. However, there are several schools offering pre-boarding school programmes for non-English speakers. These include Rossall School, Dover College, Bedford School, Taunton International, St Bees School, and Sherborne International. Other offer one year GCSE Development Programme with in-built English Language Support, such as Wycliffe College.

Also, most schools will offer individual or group lessons in English as an additional language, as well as mother tongue language programmes.

How much does it cost to study at a UK independent school?

Costs will vary across the range of day and boarding schools in the UK. When reviewing the cost of your child’s education, you will need to factor in the tuition fees, additional charges for boarding, trips, exams, uniforms, and extra-curricular activities.

Can my child apply for a scholarship at a UK independent school?

Most schools offer a limited number of scholarships, and these are open to all students. You can apply for a scholarship at the same time as applying for a school place; some schools will automatically consider all children for a scholarship as part of the entrance exams process.

Does my child have to board at a UK independent school?

If your child is staying in education in the UK without you, they must either be boarding at their chosen school, or live with other family members in the UK.

Can I send my child to study in the UK while we remain living in our home country?

If parents are living or working abroad, they need to appoint a guardian, resident in the UK who can be contacted in an emergency, and who will act on their behalf; they must also be able to look after your child during half-terms and other holidays and exeat weekends.

What will my child do during school holidays and exeat weekends if they are at a UK boarding school?

Whenever the school closes, students must go to live with their parents or an appointed guardian. While some schools will close for exeat weekends (a leave of absence from a boarding school), others will have open exeats where leaving the school is optional.

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