Living in London

To be or not to be...

For many students, a basic question is whether to study in London or somewhere else in the U.K. London has magnetic appeal. While it may be the quintessential British city, that does not mean London is typical of the U.K. In the same way that an international student might be drawn to New York City for a study abroad program, American students often think London is the place to be. But just as New York is the quintessential American city, it is not typical of the United States.

The greater London area is home to approximately 7.5 million people, with an estimated 12 – 14 million living within the London metropolitan area. It is 70 miles across and over 300 languages are spoken there (including English!).

Students who wish to study abroad in London need to be prepared for an urban lifestyle, not unlike living in New York City or central Chicago. It is an exciting world capitol, full of activity and excitement. It contains excellent universities and is a transportation hub – one can literally go anywhere in the world from London. On the other hand, precisely because it is so large and famous, London is an expensive city. (See the section on "Entry Clearance" for official United Kingdom Border Agency cost of living estimates.) It also requires time to commute from place to place. Many universities in London do not feature a “campus” in the sense that University of Iowa students understand that term. Rather, university buildings are incorporated among the other city structures.

Students opting to study abroad outside of London may still decide to study in a large and diverse urban area, such as Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh, or Belfast. Or they may go to a more provincial location and study on a traditional campus. The British countryside is idyllic, and there is a great deal of regional variation: someone from Yorkshire, for example, is very different than someone from Cornwall. On the other hand, the smaller communities in the U.K. may not have the excitement and allure that London does, and travel opportunities may be somewhat more limited.

When deciding where to study in the U.K., it is wise to consider what experience you already have living in an urban environment. Doing so suits some students very well; others may find that adapting to big city life is just one more stressor to overcome, akin to cultural adjustment and studying in a new academic system.

Further reading

Studying and Living in the United Kingdom

Be Prepared for…London