This blog will go through the step by step process of applying for a UK Tier 4 (General) Student Visa, also known as a BRP, but with an emphasis on the visa application process for Americans. As an international student from the USA I know how difficult and worrisome it can be to apply for an education program abroad. I want to start out by congratulating those reading this who are thinking of taking the next steps towards studying in an international setting.
Please note that some processes will be different depending on which country you are applying from.
Step 1: Believing in Yourself
The hardest step in deciding to study in a foreign country is believing that you are capable. As Audrey Hepburn once said, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m Possible’!”
Step 2: Researching and Applying
Find the school and course that fit you and your interests. For me, I knew immediately that I wanted to go to the University of Westminster to study Marketing Communications MA. It wasn’t just the course that I liked, but also how many resources the school provides to students. For example, they have various schemes from Mentoring to Job Placement, to Volunteering. Moreover, they are perfectly located in Central and West London with many campuses all across the city.
The application process for the University of Westminster was completed through a third-party website, UCAS Postgraduate. It was straight forward, with a lovely checklist of all of the things they required; i.e. sending in a transcript, uploading two references, and answering questions about my background and experience. I applied in January for the September 2018 start date and heard back from the school a week later with an unconditional offer.
Step 3: Applying for a CAS
After accepting the university’s offer, I needed to apply for my CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies). This number tells the UK government that you are truly a student and the school is willing to be your sponsor. Without a CAS number, you are unable to apply for the UK Tier 4 (General) Student Visa.
The application for the CAS number happens 4-5 months before your projected program start date. Once the applications are open, the school will send out a link to apply. The application asks questions about passport, program, and personal information. Within a week and a half of submitting my CAS application, I received my CAS number and more visa application guidance.
Step 4: Applying for the Visa
For me, the visa application was very time consuming, so try to be patient. It is surprising how many different and detailed questions they will ask you, such as information about my parents, all expired and current passport information, and information provided by my previous university, and so on.
After submitting the application, I then had to pay for the healthcare surcharge. The health charge is in addition to the international student visa application fee. After this comes a biometrics appointment and to purchase a courier service for all documents to be sent to the visa decision making center, New York City.
Step 5: Biometrics Appointment
This was a quick appointment with a government official in the closest biometric center to my hometown (Nashville, Tennessee).
I simply had my fingerprints and photo taken and my current passport reviewed. Then, I received a piece of paper that I needed to send to New York City. It was super simple.
Step 6: Sending My Life to New York City
After the biometric appointment, I was given 5 days to send all my required documents to the “decision making center” aka New York City. It was the quickest option but also a bit pricey, however they did offer a 2 day turn around. You have to purchase a courier service for your documents through VFS Global. Again, have patience with their website, as it is not the most user-friendly.
You get a checklist of all the required documents you must send to your decision making center which include things like your: passport, CAS information, birth certificate, financial documentations, biometric appointment confirmation, etc. I recommend putting everything into a manila folder and to list all the contents on the outside of the folder like: your name, address, phone number, and the visa you are applying for.
It is a weird feeling sealing every piece of paper that confirms you are a person/ a U.S. citizen in a package heading to New York City.
Step 7: Receiving my Visa
I received an email from New York City saying that they were placing a 30-day entry card into my passport. This email also confirms that you have been awarded a visa (also known as BRP). Two days later, I received all my documents back. Now I had a sticker in my passport with my picture from the biometric appointment and other personal information. Once that was complete, I received word from the university that I was able to pre-enroll in my program, meaning that the school was aware of my visa confirmation and that I had paid all fees up to that point. A great feeling of relief!
Step 8: Arriving at the UK Border
The package from New York City contained a letter informing me that I would need to bring with me my passport with the instead entry card, the confirmation of my unconditional offer to the university, and my CAS number when entering the UK.
Once I arrived, the Border Patrol Officer simply asked me where and what I was studying and where I was planning on living. It was a quick and simple process, and I was finally in the U.K!
Step 9:Picking up my BRP
The last step in the process is picking up the BRP. The two options are to pick it up at the school or a post office. I picked mine up from the University as that was the easiest option for me. I simply had to sign off saying that I had picked it up and that I would present the card when need be.
Once you collect the BRP, you become an official student on the start of your new and exciting journey!
I hope this guide helps those in the process of obtaining a UK Tier 4 Student Visa or thinking about applying to a University in the UK. It is a long and detailed process, but thankfully the University of Westminster has many resources and a whole department solely dedicated on helping students (like you and me) apply for our study visas.
Let me know if you have any questions about my visa application process.
Good Luck on your journey and Cheers!
Read this post and other stories on Rachel’s personal blog
P.S. Don’t forget to check out the University of Westminster’s pages with a range of visa guidance and tips to help you prepare for moving into a new country as a student!