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Choosing a university for studying abroad

Choosing to study abroad can make going to university an even more exciting experience than studying in your home country. A major part of the process of going to university is choosing the correct university for you.

Picking the right country and location for you

Your first step when studying abroad is picking the right country to study in. You may have already decided this, but there are several elements to keep in mind when choosing your country. For example, will the new country fit your lifestyle? Is it somewhere you have dreamt of traveling? Is it an affordable place for you to live and study? We cover picking your country for studying abroad in more depth in our article ‘Choosing your ideal country for studying abroad’.

Depending on the size of the country that you pick for your studies, there may be many different locations within the country to be considered, each with their own lifestyle.

For example, even though the UK is geographically small, and many international students may immediately think of studying in London when they look at studying in the UK, the truth is that with 166 universities in the UK, there are many other wonderful university locations to consider that offer a different way of life to London. These include coastal universities like Swansea University, the University of Southampton and the University of Aberdeen. Or if you prefer city life, other city center based universities include the University of Sheffield, the University of Birmingham and The University of Manchester.

In Australia, most universities are coastal, and there are many university options shared across all six of the country’s varied states. The US offers hundreds of universities that accept international students, so any prospective student planning to study in the US should also look into what US state they would like to live and study in.

If you have a specific lifestyle in mind for the place you would like to live and study, keep this in mind as an important consideration when picking your university.

The country you pick will influence the way you study

Do be aware that the country you select will have a large influence on the way that you will study, as every country has its own educational systems. For example, if you are studying an undergraduate degree in the UK, your course is likely to cover a Full-time duration of three years. If you are studying for a Full-time undergraduate degree course in the US, the Full-time duration of your studies will be four years, and you won’t choose your major until completing the first two years of your studies.

The way in which academic years are divided also differ from country to country. For example, in the UK the academic calendar is split into three terms and two semesters. Term 1 in the UK begins in Autumn, the start of the UK academic year. Term 2 in the UK starts in January, whilst Term 3 starts in April, with the academic year ending in June. Semester 1 in the UK runs for the duration of Term 1. Semester 2 in the UK runs from the beginning of Term 2 to the end of Term 3.

In the US, the academic year is traditionally divided into two semesters, the Fall semester, beginning in August, and the Spring Semester, beginning in January. In addition, there is the Summer term which begins in May, and is traditionally an optional term for students.

Will language and culture be a barrier?

When choosing a university, consider whether language will be an important factor during your studies. If you choose to study in a second language, you will have to consider whether your current language skills are sufficient for university and your social life outside of your studies.

The culture you will experience during your education is also dependent on the country that you pick, so make sure that you will be comfortable while you attend university.

Is the course you want to study available?

You should have a good idea at this point, of the subject that you would like to study at University. With this information, you can browse through the courses on offer at universities in your chosen country, building a shortlist of those that offer courses that you would like to study.

You can take this a step further and seek out the universities that specialize in your chosen subject, as they are likely to be able to offer you a better standard of education in this subject. University rankings can be a great tool for pointing you in the right direction.

For example if you wish to study a course in business and management, perhaps you can begin your search by looking at the top ranked business schools in your chosen country. According to the Guardian UK University rankings for Business and Management, the top 5 universities in the UK for Business and Management are the University of Oxford, University of St Andrews, University of Warwick, London School of Economics and Political Science, and University College London.

Or if you wish to study a degree in sports, find a university in your chosen country that is known to specialize in sports courses, as it may have considerably better sports facilities than other universities. For example, according to the Guardian UK University rankings for Sports Science, the top 5 universities in the UK for Sports Science are the University of Glasgow, University of Bath, Loughborough University, Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Strathclyde.

What are the course fees like for International students?

Another factor that might help you to choose your university for studying abroad is course tuition fees, and these can vary a lot between universities. There may also be financial assistance available from your university, so try looking for information around this as well.

We shall look at an example to highlight how tuition fees can vary. If you are in international student interested in studying an undergraduate Media Studies degree in the UK, the course fees you will be expected to pay can vary, as shown below:

University of HullBA (Hons), Media Studies£15,400 per year
University of LincolnBA (Hons), Media Studies£17,200 per year
University of LeicesterFilm and Media Studies, BA£18,200 per year
Manchester Metropolitan UniversityFilm and Media Studies, BA (Hons)£18,500 per year
Birmingham City UniversityBA (Hons), Media Production£16,085 per year

This example shows that even on a small selection of universities, course fees for similar courses can vary by £3,100 per year.

If costs and course fees are important to you, do check how the universities that you put on your shortlist compare as it could save you a lot of money during the course of your studies.

Attending university open days

Although it is easier than ever before to inform yourself about universities on the other side of the world, until you visit a university, it can still be difficult to know what to expect when you arrive. This is when university open days can help.

If you are able to travel to visit the university that you are interested in, you can sign up for an in-person campus tour, where you will be shown the facilities at the university and learn more about what it is like to live and study there.

If you are unable to travel, virtual university tours offer a great compromise and will allow you to build an understanding of both the university campus, facilities and accommodation options from your own home. Virtual tours are often available to view at your own convenience on university websites, such as the virtual tour of the University of Nottingham, but you may also be able to sign up to organized virtual open days, such as those offered by the University of Derby, where a variety of speakers will introduce you to a university and field any questions you may have.

The alumni network

It is very much in your interest to research the alumni network of the university that you choose. A strong alumni network gives you the opportunity to network worldwide and can make a big difference to your future career.

You can also research success stories of other alumni of the university, which gives you a good idea of the heights you can go on to achieve.

Do you have friends studying there or family living nearby?

Traveling to a new country can be very exciting, and you may be looking forward to the prospect of meeting new people and expanding your friendship group ever wider.

One thing that can make the experience more comforting for some people is if you know of somebody else already studying at the university that you pick, or even somebody that lives nearby to the university. This can help you to acclimatize to your new surroundings, find the best places to eat and shop and generally be a friendly face to chat to as you find your feet.

What are the accommodation options

When moving away from home for your studies, sorting out suitable accommodation for yourself should be one of the main priorities, and this is just as true when you move abroad for your studies. You should spend some time researching what housing options are available for your chosen university.

Depending on the location and type of university you are considering, the available accommodation options may include on-campus dormitories, shared studio flats, privately or locally run dormitories, private rental accommodation or home sharing with a local family. While assessing your available options you should consider things like the distance from your accommodation to your place of study – will you be reliant on transport every day, the costs of your accommodation and what bills are included, and whether you like and feel safe in the surrounding area.

Generally, if you have a greater budget for your accommodation, you will be able to find places with better facilities or privacy, but these may not be important to you. Where available, living on campus amongst your fellow students can be a great way to make friends and immerse yourself in your new surroundings.

We cover this in more detail in our article ‘Choosing accommodation for studying abroad’.

Wrapping up your university search

Whilst you are choosing which university you would like to study at, it is best practice to build a shortlist of your options, noting your pros and cons of each option. You can use the considerations that we have suggested to help narrow down your choice, until you find your perfect university. Make sure that you build a good picture of what to expect at your university before you arrive, so you can hit the ground running from the very start of your study abroad journey.