Working Capital

London offers the best of what can be expected of any European capital: excellent galleries and museums, fantastic bars and clubs - and a top quality education. It's difficult to resist the pull of London when making your choice of where to study abroad, so Jan Majdecki opted for it. Here he describes briefly how to get into a British university. But be warned: it doesn't come cheap!

In 1998 I passed my IB (International Baccalaureate, see page 48) and on the basis of the results received a "firm acceptance" note from King's College, London University. It is fairly simple for IB students to apply to universities in Great Britain. Contact UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) and they will supply you with a catalogue of colleges, detailing their entry requirements and information on courses.

This needs to be done by the end of the autumn term of your second year of the IB course. Make sure you meet this deadline - most universities will not respond if your application is late, because some British universities (Cambridge, Oxford and London, for instance) often invite candidates for an interview in January and February, or even earlier.

You might also be asked for the results of your TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language) so it is advisable to have already done it. If they want you, the university or college will make you an offer i.e. give you an entry condition. And this must be met by achieving the specified grades in your IB finals.

Clearly, the better the college you apply to, the higher the entry condition. To study Law or Economics at a good university you will be expected to get 6 or 7 in your higher level subjects, and your overall performance should exceed 38 points. This is demanding, but then again some departments at Warsaw University will require you to score at least 36 points in your IB.

The price of success

Unfortunately, being accepted and being able to study at a British university are two very different things. This is due to the very high tuition fees. For some bizarre reason Poles are classified as "overseas" students (unlike the French or the Germans), which puts us in one fee class with the somewhat wealthier Americans, Australians and Japanese. This makes tuition fees approximately eight times higher than for students from the European Union - up to eight thousand pounds a year.

Sadly, there is very little help available from the Polish or British authorities. Moreover, if you have a Polish passport you will not be eligible for grants and student loans in the UK.

You can contact the British Council in Poland, which may provide some financial support. However, they don't make it easy for you. The British Council will consider your scholarship application only if it is submitted at least one year before the beginning of your university education! On top of that, you will be expected to specify which college you will be studying at. It is difficult for IB students to fulfil this requirement, since the college to which they gain entry depends in the end on their IB scores, and these are only usually published by the end of July.

This results in the frustrating situations we frequently hear of, where Polish IB students who achieve the highest international results (43 or 44 points out of 45) - and are welcomed in the world's top universities - simply cannot afford it.

Apart from tuition fees, the cost of living in London will shock you. Renting a room, food prices and travel costs will amount to a small fortune. Taking a job may be a solution, especially as with your student visa you are allowed to work part-time, earning five to ten pounds per hour. However, the last two years of a degree are more about time in the library, tutorials and individual study rather than evening shifts in bars and restaurants!

The upside of English education

The money obstacle can be overcome, though. Try the British Council, try summer jobs in England, and it may turn out that you can just make it. And then it will be very rewarding. You will have access to the best academic staff you can think of. You will have your own personal tutor, who is there to advise you and help sort out your problems. Moreover, you will have your own teaching tutor for each subject, with whom you will have individual tutorials once a week (or in small groups). Thus, you can explore more deeply topics discussed in lectures and examine your essays critically.

This combined system of lectures and tutorials guarantees continuous academic progress, which is bad news for someone who takes studying to be a last-minute effort just before the end-of-year exams! At the main entrance to the college is
written: "King's College. Devoted to Promoting Excellence in Teaching and Learning". Now that I have it all behind me I can objectively reflect upon that. And it is my firm belief that this is very true. Apart from a quality education I was given all the help and attention I could possibly need and expect as a foreign student. It generally felt as if everyone at the college had my academic progress as their goal - it wasn't merely a side effect of their job. And it is this that makes studying so enjoyable.