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Life at a UWC FAQs

When does the academic year start?

All the colleges begin their academic years in August or September except Waterford KaMhlaba UWC of Southern Africa, where the academic year doesn’t start until the following January (due to its location in the southern hemisphere). 

If I am accepted is there any support for my family and I before college starts?

If you’re selected, then the National Committee will invite you and your family to an Orientation Weekend in July, usually after you finish school. All the new students are invited to come along to meet each other and ask any questions – there are usually lots! 

We also make sure that there are parents of alumni at the weekend, so that if your parents have any worries there are people that are available to offer first-hand experience. It is important that selected students and parents are able to attend this weekend. 

How much support is offered, especially during the initial weeks of settling in?

We are aware that most students going to a United World College have never lived away from home, and we encourage and facilitate new students and their parents to get in touch with past or present UWCers at the same college when they are awarded the place before term starts. 

Parents of past students are always willing to offer advice, especially in terms of the practicalities of moving overseas such as air tickets, visas, insurance, and money issues.

If there are problems, either before I start or when I’m there, who should I contact?

We will put you in touch with your selected co-year and the current students from the college that you will be attending – so there is someone that you can talk to about specific things such as travel arrangements and things to take. This will also allow your parents to talk to the parents of the other students going to a UWC with you.

Once you get to your UWC, each college has its own system for ensuring that if there’s a problem you’ve got someone to talk to. Usually these include your houseparent and your academic advisor. Still, if there is anything at all that you are worried about then you can contact the National Committee’s Welfare Officer, at welfare@uwcgb.org.

What is the food like?

All UWCs have a canteen which provides all meals and sometimes snacks at break times. There are normally several options, including vegetarian and halal, and specific dietary requirements can be catered for. Western food will normally be available in addition to local dishes. Most colleges also have cooking facilities for students to prepare their own meals if they wish.

At some colleges students will be expected to help with washing up or food service in the canteen a few times a year.

What will I be studying?

All UWCs offer the same academic programme, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (the IB). Read more about the IB here.

Will I be able to go home often?

If you are studying at Atlantic College, you will be allowed to leave campus with the permission of your houseparents and stay at home for the weekend. It may even be a great opportunity for you to bring some of your new friends to meet your family and give them a taste of life in a real British home! However, we would encourage you to limit the time you spend at home, especially during the first few weeks which are a crucial time for forming friendships and getting to know your new UWC family. There are longer holidays spread throughout the year when you will be able to go home, but there are often activities arranged at college and you may wish to stay during some of the shorter breaks.

At the other colleges, there will be several opportunities each year for you to leave campus. Depending on the location of your college you may wish to come home three or four times a year, or you may prefer to travel in the region, take part in organised activities, or stay on campus during these breaks. Check the specific college websites for details of holidays. 

What happens about laundry?

Washing machines and dryers are available. Each student is responsible for their own washing. In most UWCs there is a small cost for the use of the machines. 

Who will I be sharing a room with?

Accommodation is not the same in all colleges. All colleges have single sex rooms and set male and female 'areas' within the residency set up. Most colleges have rooms of 4, and typically all roommates are from different countries to ensure that people are experiencing other cultures in every aspect of their college life. See individual college websites for more info about residences.

How best can I keep in touch with family and friends at home?

For students going overseas, an International Phone card will enable you to keep in touch with home on a regular basis. Mobile phone signal is variable, particularly in UWCs in rural locations, and thus students should not depend on mobile phones to contact home. All parents – and especially those with a son or daughter overseas - should be given one good point of contact at the college for emergencies. The colleges will either acknowledge the arrival of the students by email or phone, or encourage them to phone or email home directly.

What is life actually like at a UWC? 

Exciting. Challenging. Varied. Difficult. Transformative. United World Colleges are very different from normal schools, and it can sometimes be difficult to live so closely with a variety of people from such diverse backgrounds. Heated debates and cultural clashes are common, especially in the first few months.

The academic side is also very challenging. While UWCs are incredibly interesting and special schools, it is important to remember that they are still schools. You will be expected to study independently and manage your own time, which can be extra difficult when there are so many activities, events, and discussions going on. You will still have exams, essays, coursework, and even school reports! 

The lack of privacy can also be tough, particularly for young people who haven't lived away from home before. You will almost certainly be sharing a room with several others. 
Many students also suffer from homesickness in the initial weeks. All colleges have counsellors and medical facilities, and you will also have "houseparents" who you can talk to.