This must mean that you were convinced by my other post, and so have committed to the next level. However, the world is a big old place and there are so many universities out there (all claiming they are the bee’s knees surprisingly) that it can be a daunting decision about where to go.
Your first decision is about the country and even here there lots of different things to think about:
Although in an ideal world this would be your lowest priority it has to be at the top of your list. You need to consider both the tuition fees charged by universities and the cost of living in a country. Remember that your parents worked hard for their money and you are not entitled to piss it up the wall, you should be grateful for whatever support they are able to give you.
Fees are almost always more expensive for foreign students, so staying at home is often the cheapest option. In some countries fees are the same regardless of which university you join, but in others it varies so all the information I post here is a rough guide:
The cost of living can also be a bit tricky to work out as people have different ideas of how they want to live. Before I went to the University of Manchester I remember calculating that I would need to spend less than £10 a week excluding rent, which basically would have meant me living exclusively on ham sandwiches and never leaving my room. This wasn’t realistic. Try to be realistic and give yourself a budget for entertainment as that is a huge part of university life.
Lots of the website provided above have information about expected cost of living, but also check out this article about some of the most popular countries to study in.
2. FAMILY & FRIENDS
If you are anything like me, you will see university as a chance to escape and run as far away from your family as possible. However, some people value their families and friends and therefore the choice becomes more difficult.
Okay, so you might not want to live at home, but how regularly do you want to visit? Every month or so? During holidays? Once a year? Never?
Once you’ve thought about this, it should give a better idea of where to start looking.
Again you need to be realistic here. Moving to a new country where you don’t speak the language can be a fantastic opportunity to learn or a nightmare where your life takes a hit.
Many universities across the world offer courses in English and thus make it possible for international students to study in a country even if they don’t speak the native language. However, don’t just assume that this is going to be the case. If a course is being taught in a language that you are not completely fluent in, then avoid it. Academic instruction involves the most complex vocabulary in a language and is difficult to access at the best of times, let alone for a non-native speaker. An A* grade in iGCSE or A-level French does not make you fluent 😉
Even if the course is taught in a language you are fluent in, consider how well you will cope with life in general. Are you the type of person who will embrace a new language and get stuck into life using it? Or are you the sort of person who feels awkward when making mistakes and will shrink away from life if you are required to go through the trauma of learning a new language?
I am the latter. In Uzbekistan currently, I am utterly useless and really don’t do a great deal as a result of feeling really uncomfortable with the language. However, my wife is the former. When she was 16 she moved to Norway for a year of study and was the life and soul of the party. She came out fluent in Norwegian, while I can just about tell the taxi driver that I want to go to the airport.
4. QUALITY OF COURSE
You want to know that wherever you are going is going to have lecturers who will be able to develop your ability, keep you engaged and expand your horizons both in relation to the course and life in general.
We are all individuals with different needs and interest and thus what makes a course great for one person may not fit another. However, it can’t hurt to actually review the experiences of students who have studied in a particular country. This is easier said than done, but a good idea is to ask your career’s advisor (or headteacher if you don’t have one) for a list of where previous students have gone and potentially emailing alumni from your school to ask for their experiences first hand.
In the UK there is a useful website for evaluating the quality of different courses: The Complete University Guide. Their rankings are searchable by subject and then broken down into student satisfaction, research standards, entry standards and career prospects for graduates.
I am on the lookout for guides for other countries and will try to update this if I find any. However, the Time High Education quality rankings are another good indication of the quality of courses.
5. FUTURE CAREER PROSPECTS
Unfortunately it is not only about a course offering quality to you, but also the reputation of the course and university that is important.
I am a snob: anyone who knows me will tell you that. If someone tells me what university they go to or went to, I immediately judged and categorise them. Now you may well call me a dick, but I am a microcosm for the wider world and your future employers.
A good name represents a lot to employers as they cannot spare the time and resources to investigate the quality of individual courses. Instead they put a lot of faith in the reputation of different universities. In England, having studied at Oxford or Cambridge usually get employers frothing at the bit, while the University of Salford might leave them with a frown, even if a particular course at Salford is miles better.
The reputation of different universities is a bit intangible and changes over time, but the Times Higher Education have a respected reputation ranking that is a great place to start examining this. You’ll find that in terms of reputation the US and the UK dominate the top of these rankings.
However, be aware that this is very Western-centric and the top university in your country may be more respected in many way than a university in a foreign country that a prospective employer knows nothing about. So consider where you would like to or can work in the future.