From finances to fitting in, Wendy Berliner answers your questions on studying in the UK

Q How can I prepare for my course?

A A good idea would be to read books connected with your subject - your university or college may well send you a reading list of books in advance, but don't feel you have to read them all! In some countries local colleges offer university and college preparation, which will help you with things such as note-taking, essay-writing and referencing. But be prepared for higher education in the UK where you won't be spoon fed and where you'll need to do a lot of independent study. If needed, your UK university or college will help you with study skills.

Q What is Clearing and who needs to use it?

A Clearing is a period during August and September each year when places on courses in UK universities and higher education colleges that are still available are advertised through UCAS. You can find them on the web at www.ucas.com. You would use it if you applied too late (after 30 June) to take part in the normal application process organised by UCAS, or if you failed to get the exam grades you needed to meet the terms of a conditional placement offer. Thousands of vacancies are available at this time of year and it is an excellent time to pick up a place on a good course.

Q What if I can't keep up because English is my second language?

A Your university or college will only take you on if they know you will be able to keep up with the required level of English. They do this by specifying an English test for you to take. If your English is not quite up to scratch, the university or college may ask you to take an English course in the summer, before you start your main degree. If you are still having trouble when you do start your course, you will be able to ask for help.

Q How easy is it to fit in if you are an international student?

A Very easy if you want to. You will almost certainly be going somewhere that takes lots of international students and you will find specialised staff at the university or college very helpful while you are settling in. Most big institutions have societies for students from different countries or ethnic backgrounds, which you can join if you want to make friends with people from the same part of the world as you. But you will find most British students extremely welcoming. The UK's cities, universities and colleges are multicultural and you will fit in fine.

Q How do I find somewhere to live?

A Universities and the big higher education colleges have halls of residence - accommodation they own and rent out to students. Most will be single rooms but some will be doubles and there will be family-sized accommodation for mature students, although not large amounts, so you need to book this early. The halls are typically small blocks of flats and students share kitchens. If you apply late or come in through Clearing, it is possible all the halls will be full. If this happens, you will be given a list of accommodation in the area which is rented out by local landlords but has been vetted by your institution.

Q How do I pay?

A Tuition fees are generally paid before you register. Ask your university or college about when they expect to be paid. Sometimes you can pay in instalments. For accommodation, you pay a deposit to hold the place for you and then either monthly or termly rent. If you are in the fortunate position of being able to pay most, or all, of your tuition fees in advance, have the receipts in your hand baggage, because it may make the immigration procedure easier for you when you arrive in the UK.

Q Can I take a part-time job while I study in the UK?

A Most students on courses of more than six months will be given a passport stamp or visa sticker that allows them to work part-time during the term (up to 20 hours a week) and full-time during vacations. However, for immigration, you must be able to show that you can afford to study and live in the UK without having to work.

For more information see the UKOSA (Council for International Education) website www.studyoverseas.com/uk/ uked/work.htm

Q Can I stay in the UK to work after I finish studying?

A Maybe. Under the Training and Work Experience Scheme employers can apply for permits to employ a person in a particular post for a limited period for work experience, or for professional training. The UK Government has also relaxed its policy on students staying on in the UK after studies, under the main Work Permit scheme. Degree-level students, student nurses and postgraduate doctors and dentists in training may be able to stay in the UK for work if their employer can secure a work permit for them. The Government has also introduced the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, which may allow some highly experienced or highly qualified graduates to stay in the UK. Other schemes, such as the Science and Engineering Graduates Scheme (introduced in October 2004) and the Fresh Talent Scotland Scheme (to be launched in Summer 2005) may also enable students to remain in the UK for work for a limited period after the successful completion of their studies.

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