Student cities: studying in London
Everything is on a big scale in the UK’s capital city – the skyscrapers, the transport network, the buzz, the crowds, and, potentially, the expense. Its size can be an attraction to some and put off others. But most people who live in London find that their local boroughs have enough character and things going on to provide some sense of neighbourhood identity.
And if you hop on public transport, it’s all there for you… people doing interesting things from standing on a soap box at Speaker’s Corner to standing up to watch a play at the Globe Theatre. ArcelorMittal Orbit – the tallest and longest slide in the world – is in London, as is Sherlock Holmes’ 221b Baker Street, MI6’s headquarters, the cultural hub of the South Bank, and the tourist attractions, theatreland and shopping of the West End.
Although rents and the cost of living in London can be higher than elsewhere in the UK, if you’re looking to earn extra cash while you study there are good opportunities for part-time employment. If you’re thinking ahead about careers there’s also plenty of scope for networking and work experience, with numerous internships available on your doorstep. Big graduate recruiters typically have their head offices here and it’s an important centre for numerous industries, including finance, law and the media.
Free and cheap stuff to do in London
Have Oyster card will travel. London’s travel pass can be used on the super-nippy, River Thames bus services. These use speed boats which zoom passengers 007-style past the spy headquarters we’ve mentioned above. Get on at Westminster Pier, disembark at the 02, and then use your card to “fly” Emirates Airline – a cable car link across the river with views over Canary Wharf. It’s a novel way to see the capital city on the cheap. For regular journeys, you can get discounts on travelcards and season tickets for bus and tram travel if you have an 18+ Student Oyster photocard.
If you’re a regular movie watcher, London’s independent cinemas offer good deals. The Picturehouse Cinemas chain has venues throughout the capital. Its Slackers Club for students is free to join and entitles you to some free screenings. There are lots of outdoor pop-up cinemas too.
There’s a host of free, niche museums and galleries. The Wellcome Collection on Euston Road is a quirky museum of medicine and the mind; Lights of Soho is a gallery of neon installations. The big museums and galleries – the V&A, Tate Modern, British Museum, Science Museum, National Portrait Gallery – do not charge for admission.
You can learn new skills for free. Hoxton Ukelele Hootenanny takes place weekly on Mondays at the Queen of Hoxton pub and is open to beginners. If you don’t have a uke you can hire one at zero cost so long as you pay a £20 deposit. The Apple Store in Covent Garden runs free workshops on iPhone video techniques and using an iPhone, iPad or Mac to make music.
Or you can go to a free performance. Kit Lovelace’s Romantic Misadventures is a regular pub event where amateur and professional writers tell amusing stories about their rocky love lives.
Yes, there are plenty of cheap and free things to do in London despite the fact it’s an expensive city, and once in a while you can try out an experience that would usually be way beyond the typical student’s budget. For example, if you volunteer as a model (and you don’t have to look like one), you can have a free haircut at a top London salon such as the Sassoon Academy or Hari’s.
London is a shopper’s paradise. Its centre is home to world famous stores, from the flagship Topshop near Oxford Circus to Hamleys, the oldest toy shop on the planet. Posh department stores Harrods, Liberty and Selfridges are where the likes of Justin Bieber, Naomi Watts and David Beckham buy things. Fortnum & Mason is grocer to the Queen.
But most of the fun of shopping – especially on a student budget – lies in the many markets that are at all four points of the compass.
- In the north of London: markets in Archway, Camden, and Wembley.
- In the south: markets in Brixton, Clapham, Crystal Palace, Herne Hill, Maltby Street, and West Norwood.
- In the west: markets in Acton, Fulham, North End Road, Portobello Road, and Shepherd’s Bush.
- In the east: markets in Borough, Brick Lane, Broadway and Spitalfields
- In the centre: markets in Berwick Street, Covent Garden, Islington, and Whitecross Street.
Brick Lane and Camden are the most eclectic markets. In those you can buy Soviet era memorabilia, dayglo night club gear, Lithuanian food, Peruvian tea, bath plugs, shawls, pretty greetings cards and anything else you fancy.
There are good pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, theatres and music venues throughout London. Different areas have their own vibe and all tastes are catered for. Hotspots for night owls include Camden, Hoxton, Brixton, Notting Hill and the South Bank.
The huge range of pubs and bars in London is exemplified by The Blackfriar near Blackfriars Bridge on the one hand and Barrio Shoreditch on the other. The former is old, with an art nouveau exterior and faux medieval décor; the latter is as new as can be with a hyper trendy Latin feel inside. Many bars have special nights. Soho’s Graphic Bar runs a monthly Gin Social when £5 will buy you a G&T, a taste of the gin of the month and a bespoke gin cocktail.
The number of London nightclubs has been dwindling for a while – but some of the big, established names such as Ministry of Sound are still going, as well more recent clubs such as XOYO.
There’s lots of theatre to enjoy – everything from improvisation nights in small, local venues to West End blockbusters. London’s theatre scene is nothing but eclectic. The capital is where you are most likely to find big-name directors in residence at theatres such as the Donmar Warehouse or the National Theatre.
If you’re looking for work experience
As you’d expect from one the world’s leading cities, there are plenty of opportunities for casual and formal work experience. Some professions are particularly strong in the capital: consulting, finance, commercial law, and the media in particular.
Where to take a degree in London
There are more degree-awarding academic institutions in London than any other UK city. We’ve listed only those that offer undergraduate study at bachelor’s degree level.
The University of London consists of 18 self-governing colleges and nine specialist research institutes. The colleges are treated as separate institutions when it comes to applying, so you can apply to up to five of them via UCAS for undergraduate study. University of London institutions offering undergraduate degrees are as follows:
- Birkbeck, University of London
- Courtauld Institute of Art
- Goldsmiths, University of London
- Heythrop College
- King’s College London
- The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
- Queen Mary University of London
- Royal Academy of Music
- The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
- Royal Holloway, University of London
- The Royal Veterinary College
- St George’s, University of London
- SOAS, University of London
- University College London (UCL)
Other institutions in London that offer undergraduate degrees are:
- AA School of Architecture
- Brunel University London
- Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London
- Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London
- Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London
- City University London
- Conservatoire for Dance and Drama
- Coventry University London Campus
- University of East London
- Guildhall School of Music & Drama
- Imperial College London
- Kingston University
- London College of Communication, University of the Arts London
- London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London
- London Metropolitan University
- London South Bank University
- Middlesex University
- Regent’s University London
- University of Roehampton
- Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance
- University of West London
- University of Westminster
- Wimbledon College of Arts, University of the Arts London