Changes to your studies

Find out how changes to your studies may affect your Tier 4 visa and who you contact for more information.

Types of changes

If you make any changes, this may affect your time limit on how long you can study in the UK.

Transferring to another course

The action you need to take depends on the kind of course you’re transferring to and how long the course is.

Changing to a similar course

If your new undergraduate or Masters course is the same level, length and subject group as your previous course, you don’t need to make a new Tier 4 application. However, we need to tell UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) of the change, but this will not affect your current visa.

If you switch to a course which needs ATAS clearance, you must get this clearance before we can approve your course transfer – even if you had it for your old course.

PhD students

It may be possible to change your PhD course without having to apply for a new Tier 4 visa. If you want to change your PhD, email

Changing your course level

If you started an undergraduate course and you want to progress to an integrated Masters degree, you will need to make a new Tier 4 application before you start your new course.

You should also check if you need ATAS clearance for your integrated Masters. If you do, you’ll need to get this before you apply for your visa.

If you are moving to a lower-level course (such as dropping the Masters element of an integrated Masters or moving from PhD to MPhil), you’ll need to apply for a new visa from outside the UK.

This is because UKVI does not regard moving to a lower-level course as academic progression.

You must get your new visa before you switch course.

If you’re upgrading your level of study, you’ll usually need to apply for a new visa.

Changing to a different course

If you’re changing to a course in a different subject group (for example, moving from an arts subject into a science subject), this will affect your visa. Get advice before you apply for the transfer – email

If you’re changing to a course and cannot complete it within your existing visa (for example, transferring back to the start of the first year), email

This does not apply to adding or removing a year abroad or work placement as part of your course.

Adding or removing a year abroad or work placement

If you want to add a placement or study abroad year to your course, you’ll need to apply for a Tier 4 visa to cover the rest of your studies.

There are various options available to you and things to consider, such as the time limit on your studies.

Email to discuss what is best for you.

If you want to remove a year abroad or work placement, this is OK. See our guidance on completing your course early below.

Find out about placement options.

Completing your course early

Your visa may be curtailed (cancelled) if you finish your course early.

This includes if you are:

  • a PhD student and you complete your studies before the end date on your CAS.
  • removing a year abroad or work placement from your course.

If you complete your course early we need to tell UKVI. Your visa will then be reduced in length, usually to within four months of your new course end date.

Important: If you leave the UK after we have notified UKVI, you cannot re-enter the UK on your existing visa. This is because of immigration regulations around lapsing leave.

See what to do if you’re coming back for graduation.

Studying in a different location

If you’re doing a PhD and you want to temporarily change where you study, you need to let us know.

Tell your supervisor if you’re studying away from campus for fewer than three months.

If you’re going away for longer, up to a maximum of 12 months, fill out a change of study location form.

We use this form to tell UKVI about changes to your study location.

Don’t arrange travel until we have approved your change of study of location application.

You can’t change your study location for periods of primary data collection that require ethical approval or insurance. Instead, you’ll need to apply for fieldwork.

Important: If your visa is due to expire while you’re away from campus, we will need evidence of your departure from the UK (such as passport stamp and boarding pass).

If you do not intend to return to the UK before your visa expires we reserve the right to withdraw your Tier 4 sponsorship.

Update your contact details in Sussex Direct if your term-time address changes.

PhD fieldwork

If you’re carrying out primary data collection away from campus, there will be a specific application process.

Find out more about applying for fieldwork.

We have to tell UKVI about any fieldwork you undertake.

Important: If your study location changes, whether overseas or just away from your normal term-time address, you must still engage with your studies and continue to comply with our Attendance and Engagement Policy for Research Students.

Undergraduate and Masters students

If you’re an undergraduate, you might end up studying at a different university as part of a year abroad. We process this in the same way as doing a placement.

If you’re studying a Masters, you can only do a placement if it’s an integral part of your course.

You need to apply for a placement through the Careers and Employability Centre at Sussex.

Important: Make sure you fill out a form supplied by Careers before you start any placement.

Sitting or resitting an exam or repeating a year

You will usually resit an exam if you didn’t get the mark you needed to pass the first time. Your mark is capped at the base pass mark.

A sit is a chance to retake an exam, on appeal, and get any kind of mark.

Any visa restrictions around this depend if you’re studying an undergraduate or Masters course at Sussex.

If you’re doing a PhD, find out about extending your PhD.

More resit and sit information.

Undergraduate students

If you need to resit, you can normally do this before you go into your next year. This does not affect your Tier 4 visa status.

If you fail your resit, you either:

  • repeat the academic year and pay for it, or
  • have to temporarily withdraw from your studies and return to do your resits the following year.

If you temporarily withdraw before your final year, your visa is cancelled and you must leave the UK. You will need to apply for a new Tier 4 visa in your home country before you return to Sussex.

If you are a final-year student and you can't take the sit or resit within your current visa, you must leave the UK and return on a short-term study visa to do the exams.

Masters students

You can normally stay in the UK up to your current visa expiry date (under “continuation” status) if you have to do resits.

If the sit/resit is a coursework submission only, you may be able to submit it abroad. Check with your school office.

For an exam, you need to leave the UK and return on a short-term study visa. You’ll need to request a letter from us containing your current student status and your exam details, which you submit with your visa application.

Repeating a year

If you need to repeat a year of your course, you may or may not need a new visa. This depends on what year you are repeating.

If you do need a new Tier 4 visa, you can apply from outside the UK or inside the UK.

Email to find out what to do.

Extending your PhD

Your aim should be to complete your PhD within four years.

In exceptional circumstances you can ask for an extension to your course and, where necessary, an extension to your Tier 4 visa.

Exceptional circumstances include:

  • illness
  • accident
  • personal circumstances
  • maternity, paternity or adoption.

Find out how to request an extension.

If you get an extension

If you want to stay in the UK during your extension, you’ll normally need a new visa.

You can request a CAS from the Research Student Administration office. Email

Start the process at least three months before your visa expiry date to avoid any issues.

You can apply for a visa inside the UK or from apply for a visa from overseas. If you’re applying in the UK your visa application must be submitted on or before your visa expiry date.

Extending your visa after submitting your thesis

We will not normally issue a CAS if you have already submitted your thesis and need to extend your visa.

The exception to this is if you’re applying for the Doctorate Extension Scheme (DES).

If you have submitted your thesis and are not applying for a DES visa, you must leave the UK before your visa expires.

If you need to return for your viva, apply for a short-term study visa. You don’t need to be on campus to submit corrections – you can do this from outside the UK.

Important: If you receive official financial sponsorship, or have done within the past 12 months, you need consent letters from your sponsor for a visa extension.

Completing your PhD overseas

Many people decide to complete their PhD outside the UK – for example, in their home country.

This is fine but you will need to return to the UK on a short-term study visa for your viva. Email once your viva date is set so we can give you the documents you need to apply for a visa.

You may also wish to come back for your graduation ceremony.

If your circumstances change, and you wish to return to study full-time in the UK, email

Becoming a Students’ Union sabbatical officer

You can take a year out from your studies to be a Students’ Union officer.

If you’re an undergraduate, your sabbatical normally happens between years of study, for example, between academic years 2 and 3.

You can also do a one- or two-year sabbatical at the end of your course.

If you’re a postgraduate student, you may need to break your studies mid-year to do a sabbatical.

If you’re a PhD student, email to check how this might affect your course.

In any case, we will continue to sponsor you under your Tier 4 visa.

You don’t need a new Tier 4 visa to do a sabbatical year, you just need to apply for a new visa to complete your course.

Find out more about becoming a full-time Students’ Union officer.

If you want visa advice, email

See more from Change of circumstances