There are two main routes for studying in the UK: the Tier 4 visa route and the Short-Term Student visa route.
There are two types of Tier 4 visa: Tier 4 General Student visa (for students aged 16 and upwards) and the Tier 4 Child Student visa (for students aged between four and 17). So students aged 16 or 17 can apply for either type of visa.
Tier 4 General students can only apply to study a full-time course, of at least 15 hours per week. The course does not have to be of any particular length, and can be at degree level or lower than degree level. In all cases the college or university must hold a Tier 4 sponsor licence, and they must have made an unconditional offer of a course to the student and sponsored them to study the course.
A Tier 4 Student may be able to extend their visa, in order to continue with their course if it is a long one, or in some cases to study a new course. For example, a student might study a Bachelor’s degree and then subsequently a Master’s degree.
When the student applies for the visa (either from outside the UK or in some cases from within the UK) they must show that they have sufficient funds available to pay their course fees and also to support themselves financially for the duration of the course.
There is also an English language requirement to be met for Tier 4 General Students, the level of which depends on the level of the course to be studied.
In some cases Tier 4 Students can include their close family members (spouse/partner and children under the age of 18) in their application and in some cases they are allowed to work part-time whilst studying.
The Short-Term Student visa is simpler than a Tier 4 visa, and does not require the college or university to hold a Tier 4 sponsor licence (although it may hold one). It enables the student to study a short course of up to six months, or 11 months if it is an English language course.
The requirements are generally less rigorous than for Tier 4, and there are not such exacting requirements about financial support and English language ability. However, there are more restrictions. Short-Term Students can only apply from outside the UK, they cannot include dependants in their application and they are not allowed to work. Neither can they extend their visa.
Children under the age of 18 may apply for a Short-Term Child Student visa.