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Study Abroad: Budget for London

Author: Christopher Harris

Thinking about studying in London? Study abroad can deliver a big return on your investment, with a significant impact on your resume and your earning potential. As Daniel Obst, deputy vice president of International Partnerships in Higher Education at the Institute of International Education (IIE), points out: Studying or interning internationally helps students develop the soft skills employers look for such as problem-solving, creative thinking and flexibility. Here are some particular reasons you may want to choose London:

  • 13 London universities made the list of the United Kingdom's top 30 for best value (determined by tuition fees compared to average salaries)
  • London universities host 100,000 international students from 200 nations; 6,000 U.S. students are enrolled there full-time.
  • London has at least 45 universities, four of them on the list of the world's top 40, where students have 30,000 courses to choose from.
  • It takes only three years to get a bachelor's degree and one year for a master's at most London universities.
  • London has 1,000 museums and galleries, 100 cinemas, 350 live music venues and 7,000 bars and pubs.
  • A student visa allows you to work up to 20 hours a week, and the average hourly pay is $10–$12.
Where to begin

Your first step is to get in touch with the international studies office on your campus. They'll have lots of advice for you as well as invaluable referrals to others on your campus who may have recently returned from a study-in-London experience.

If you have no international studies office on your campus, not to worry; there are lots of excellent s for the kind of information you need. IIE's A Student Guide to Study Abroad (available as an ebook from iTunes or Amazon) is an excellent overview that will help you make the critical choices – what kind of study program is best (independent enrollment or participation in a sponsored program); what kind of financial aid is available to you; how to choose the experience that best meets your study and career goals, etc.

Once you have a grasp of what study abroad is all about, five organizations are ready to help you every step of the way as you plan your study in London. Read Study Abroad Budget: UK for details on how the British Council, the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) and the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) can help, plus many more tips for study abroad in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For information specific to London, take a look at and Across the Pond is a 10-year-old organization that helps nine London universities recruit U.S. students who want to get their B.A. or graduate degree. Staff members offer free counseling and will serve as your personal advisor. Each year they take their show on the road and visit campuses across the United States, promoting study in London; check the website for meet-up locations and dates. Study London is a subsidiary of London and Partners, the official promotional voice of that city. Its guide to study in London is a wonderful of information on what it costs to live in London, what courses are available to international students and more.

Want to fit in with the locals?

Of course you do. Consult this study-abroad blog for tips, including such handy fashion advice as this: Don't wear yogapants or ‘trackies' (sweatpants) to class. Save your casual wear for eating Indian food in your flat.

Finding a sponsored program

You'll have lots of good s for listings of London-based sponsored programs. Start with IIE's U.K. listings at IIEPassport and check out for 280 study and internship possibilities.

We've chosen the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) semester-long study program at Richmond, The American International University in London as a sample of a well-established program sponsored by a U.S.-based nonprofit organization. Based at Richmond, the American International University, AIFS's program has a $15,995 price tag that includes 15 semester credits; housing in University residence halls in the Kensington section of the city near Hyde Park; 10 meals a week in the student cafeteria; some local outings and day trips to Cambridge and Bath; orientation workshops; insurance and the help of a resident director whenever you need it. Airfare is additional and can be arranged through AIFS.

Various organizations, including AIFS, offer internship opportunities in London. According to Paul Watson, executive director of AIFS, London offers students of international relations, business, politics, communications, theatre, fashion and a variety of other majors, the opportunity to acquire real-world, hands-on experiences in one of the world's most dynamic cities. Students who gain these experiences set themselves apart as they compete for opportunities in the workplace.

Tips on saving your quid (that's slang for money)

London is an expensive city – consumer prices including rent are about 10% lower than in New York but that means they're still pretty high. Housing, especially, pushes London consumer prices much higher than other cities in the U.K. Yet, as Elizabeth Rothfuss, enrollment counselor for Arcadia University in London, tells us: The city is full of students who find ways to make it work financially. There are lots of student discounts on cultural sites, entertainment, travel and food and free events and promotions geared towards London's student population. It's amazing how just cooking for yourself and being thrifty can stretch those dollars.

A website called has some great advice for you, too: Don't spend money around plans you make. Make plans around the money you have. And Minimise waste. Eat the know you love them.

To work out a realistic budget for yourself, use this student calculator. (See, also, You CAN Afford To Study Abroad.)

Day-to-day budget for a student in London

Thanks to Ailsa Brookes, AIFS staff member based in London, for the following information on some of the necessities and a few luxuries of student life in that city. (Prices have been converted from pounds sterling to dollars at the April rate of $1.48 to the pound.) Brookes says that most businesses – clothing stores, the cinema, stationers, etc. will give you at least 10% off if you show them your student ID.

Cell phones: Students can buy a cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone (just for texting and making and receiving calls – no internet or camera – for around $30, and they usually come with a credit for free minutes. You don't pay to receive calls in the U.K.

Dinner out with friends: A Thai dinner at Busaba Eathai (12 locations in London) will cost about $30 per person with drinks and starters; excellent pizza at Franco Manca (11 locations and two more on the way) is about $18 with drink and tip added on. If you don't mind eating early, try a pre-theater special in the West End.

Save money by looking for codes online and planning where to go for dinner accordingly. VoucherCodes often features two meals for $15 at chain restaurants like Strada or Cafe Rouge. Sign up for newsletters from your favorite restaurants and you'll get lots of money off deals in your in-box.

Drinks out: Brookes says that O'Neill's (aka The Church Pub) in Muswell Hill is popular with her students – sausage and mash for $11, steak and ale pie for just a little more. A pint of Guinness is around $6; a glass of white wine from $6 and a bottle from $20.

A football match (that's soccer to Americans): Tickets for games at the big clubs can be difficult to get since most tickets go to season ticket holders but you may get lucky: Ailsa reports that a few weeks ago we managed to get our students tickets to England vs. Lithuania Euro16 qualifier at Wembley Stadium for $30 each.

Coffee: Yumchaa is a good bet if you want nice surroundings, Wi-Fi and specialty teas for about $4.50 a cup; cakes and sandwiches too.

Clothing: Primark and H&M are everyone's go-to spots for cheap, high street fashion. And a number of markets – Greenwich, Camden, Spitalfield, Portobello Road – have vintage or unusual items, although they're not necessarily bargains.

Local travel: With an Oyster card you'll save on underground and bus fares; there's a student version too but it requires that you do some paperwork.

Trip to Edinburgh: The 400-mile trip takes about four and a half hours by rail during the day (roughly seven hours by car) and can cost as little as $130 for 16- to 25-year-olds who travel off-peak. (Advance booking can help get you good fares, too.)

The Bottom Line

Study in London, a city rich in academic and cultural experiences, can be well worth your investment. Here's how Boris Johnson, the outspoken Mayor of London, proudly sums it up: Nowhere else can rival London as a place to study. It has the combination of academic excellence, a rich artistic and cultural heritage and it is at the centre of global business. With careful planning and savvy spending, it doesn't have to break the bank, either.

(For more study-abroad options, see Study Abroad Budget: Spain and Study Abroad Budget: Italy.)

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