7 things we wish we’d known as international students starting a Public Health MSc

Date 6 February 2024

International students Joseph and Dolapo share their experience of studying at the University of Northampton. Embarking on a journey as an international student is an adventure filled with learning, growth, and unexpected challenges. This blog aims to share insights and practical advice to help future international students navigate their paths more easily and confidently.

Joseph K. Akomolafe and Dolapo Aruna-ogun

1) Give yourself extra time for the UK Student Visa Process

As an international student, the process of obtaining a UK student visa was filled with unexpected twists. The visa centre may occasionally request additional documents or more processing time, potentially elongating the entire ordeal. Therefore, it’s wise to allocate roughly a month for this process to be on the safe side.

One of the most valuable lessons we learned during this time was applying for the visa as soon as you receive the CAS letter from the university. Delaying the visa application, even by a week, can result in a scramble for flights amongst last-minute applicants, leading to higher ticket prices. This was a common issue amongst our peers.

You should aim to begin your academic journey with ample time to settle in before the commencement of lectures. Arriving early not only facilitates a smoother transition but also ensures that you are well-prepared and don’t miss any crucial information for your studies.

2) Read and engage with the University welcome emails

As an applicant to the university, you will receive a number of emails about arrival. There is one email that you should not ignore. For us when it arrived, it felt like a warm embrace from UON, brimming with information about what awaited us. The link to the getting started guide was a game-changer. It was a brilliant introduction to the vibrant life at UON. And the course welcome pack? Absolutely indispensable. It’s a must for anyone wanting to get ahead with their studies.

Before arriving, we also joined a WhatsApp group found on UON’s Facebook group for Applicants. This group was a goldmine of information. However, a word of caution: always be vigilant against potential scams as these WhatsApp groups are not officially run by the university. The authentic source for all critical information is the University’s website, so when in doubt, double-check with UON’s listed contacts for peace of mind.

3) Complete pre-enrolment as soon as you get the email

Pre-enrolment is an essential phase designed to streamline your transition into university life. Conveniently sent via email, it comprises a series of steps that can be completed before you have booked your flights to the UK. This process made the experience more seamless when we came to enrol face-to-face at the university as those who had not completed it were delayed in completing their enrolment.

4) Secure your Accommodation before you arrive

Securing accommodation can be a challenge for international students, particularly those unfamiliar with the UK system. This is a common hurdle, and one I (Joseph) faced myself. Upon receiving my admission, I ventured online to find accommodation, only to be met with confusion and near-miss scams due to my unfamiliarity with the UK’s housing system. As a temporary solution, I booked an Airbnb, which, in hindsight, was far from cost-effective. After spending two weeks there, I realised I had expended nearly two months’ worth of potential rent.

The lesson here is clear: engage with the information provided in the University’s welcome emails. If you need help, reaching out to the University’s accommodation team is a wise move. They are responsive and trustworthy, providing guidance that can save time and money.

5) Take advantage of Transportation, Discounts and Offers

We were unaware of the various discounts and offers available to UK students, leading us to spend considerably more on travel than necessary. Only after six months did we discover the potential for substantial savings, including transport costs of less than a pound! This experience isn’t unique to us; many students are unaware of the financial benefits available to them. So don’t be one of them!

To maximise these opportunities, visit the Student Information Desk at the University as soon as you arrive. The staff there can provide valuable information or direct you to the Students’ Union, who are equally helpful. As a student, you’re entitled to a range of discounts on rail travel and in various online and offline stores.

6) Be Aware of Work Limitations and Opportunities

As an international student, you are permitted to work 20 hours per week. Adhering to this 20-hour limit is crucial; more extensive work opportunities, including 40-hour weeks, become available during holidays and after completing your program.

Upon arrival at the University, we registered with Unitemps, our in-house recruitment agency, which is conveniently situated in the Learning Hub. The process involved some paperwork, and soon enough, we were all set. Working with Unitemps has been an exceptional experience, thanks to the supportive staff and their kindness and welcoming nature.

7) Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your Academic Study

We advise incoming students not to be overconfident, or as we say in  our homeland, “oversabi.” While confidence is crucial, it’s essential to recognise that the UK education system has unique characteristics. Speaking from experience, we can assure you that there are many aspects of the UK’s education system that might seem familiar but are quite different. In the Public Health MSc course, for instance, formative assessments, which are ungraded tests, play a crucial role. Although not mandatory, they’re instrumental in building a comprehensive understanding of each module’s learning outcomes.

The University of Northampton uses something called Active Blended Learning. Imagine a learning experience that combines the best of both worlds – the familiar classroom vibe and the exciting world of online resources. That’s what active blended learning is all about. It’s like having your own personalized learning journey where you get to explore materials and have lectures online while still enjoying the face-to-face classroom buzz.  This is an awesome way of learning.

Finally, discovering university support is like finding a treasure chest! This includes academic librarians and learning and development teams. Don’t see it as a struggle – these services help you shine in your studies!

In summary…

By sharing these insights from our experiences at the University of Northampton, we hope these tips become invaluable for future students. Embrace this journey with an open heart and mind, and you’ll find that studying abroad is not just about gaining an education but also about personal growth and creating lifelong memories.

Public Health MSc students Joseph K. Akomolafe and Dolapo Aruna-ogun are both shown standing
Joseph K. Akomolafe and Dolapo Aruna-ogun

Dolapo (left) and Joseph are both international students from Nigeria who joined the University of Northampton in January 2023.