Once you’ve decided you want to study abroad, a key question is: “Which Country?” It can be a daunting but exciting decision. If you’re set on a particular university, the decision may have been made. If you haven’t decided, here are eight things to consider.
1 Culture & Lifestyle
Do you want to study where the culture and lifestyle are similar to yours or completely different? You’ll be abroad for as long as several years so this a serious consideration. Make sure you’re confident you’ll be comfortable with the way of life in the country you choose. Some students like familiarity; others want a complete change. What’s your preference?
Part of the lifestyle is the setting and history of the university you want to attend. What attracts you: the expansive green US campuses you’ve seen in movies or centuries-old libraries housed in UK universities?
What about your surroundings? Do you see yourself revising on a sunny Australian beach or in a wintery Canadian cabin?
If you’re from a big city, you may prefer a big city overseas unless you want an alternative experience. If you grew up in a small village, maybe studying at a smaller university is preferable.
Whatever you decide, be sure to research the culture and lifestyle at your destination and be comfortable with your choice.
2 Quality of Education
The quality of education varies from country to country, institution to institution, faculty to faculty and programme to programme. You can visit online ranking services to check on the performance of individual universities and programmes.
Bear in mind ranking tables can be subjective. They measure different criteria, including the quality of teaching, level of research and knowledge transfer, international outlook, student satisfaction, employability and earning statistics. Look at what’s important to you.
Some countries are renowned for having a consistently high level of education, often reflected in the percentage of universities ranked in the world’s top 200. Australia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands all have a large percentage of their universities in the world’s top 200 suggesting high quality education systems.
Canada and New Zealand have fewer top-ranked universities but still offer some outstanding institutions. The quality of education in the UK and the US can fluctuate wildly from institution to institution so it’s best to look at individual university and programme-specific ranking tables relevant to your proposed studies.
3 Style of Education
The style of education can vary greatly from country to country. You need to know what style suits you best.
The UK adopts a traditional approach – programmes are generally quite focussed and well laid-out in terms of the subjects you study and when you study them. The US is well known for its liberal arts education, which gives students more flexibility in subject choices and allows for degrees with major and minor specialties.
In Australia and New Zealand, many programmes offered are broader in structure and offer a wide choice of subjects. You can create a programme uniquely tailored to your interests and career goals.
It’s important to consider the learning styles that countries and/or universities use. Do you prefer lectures, small tutor groups, online study or field study? Some students do best with more contact teaching hours and easily accessible academic staff. Others prefer research-based study or field study and co-op education, which is very popular in Canada.
The duration of study can also vary. In some countries, undergraduate degrees take three years, in others four years. Postgraduate degrees can take between one and three years to complete depending on the type of degree.
The academic year also varies. In Australia and New Zealand begins in February and finishes in November. In Canada and the US, university classes generally start in September and run until April. In the UK, classes typically start in late September/early October and run until May or June.
Different countries and universities offer different teaching cultures, period of study to complete a degree and calendars. Think about what suits you best.
4 Specific Programmes
Students are often drawn to specialties associated with particular countries.
Some examples: Switzerland is a leader in hospitality management, France in culinary arts, Russia in oil and gas studies, the UK in English literature and Australia in marine studies. Consider a country highly regarded in your field of interest.
Studying a specific programme in the country or region that it is a recognised leader offers great benefits. You will learn from the reputable academics and field and research studies should be well developed.
If you are pursuing a niche course of study, find out which country offers the best programmes in that field. Also consider the recognition and reputation of the programme, the faculty, and lecturers at each university.
Costs can vary considerably from country to country and among locations within a particular country. Some key things to consider when it comes to costs: tuition fees, living costs, value for money, and potential scholarships.
Generally, tuition fees are higher in the US than other countries. But it’s not that simple. US universities can be the most generous in granting scholarships. Community colleges offer lower tuition fees and living costs in some parts of the US are low.
Tuition costs are typically lower in Australia and Canada than in other countries, but living costs in Sydney and Vancouver, for example, can be high.
Studying and living in London can be prohibitively expensive, but if you choose a university two hours drive away, costs are much lower.
Determine all the costs you’ll face as an international student then find out what these costs will be where you want to study.
Sweeping statements such as “the USA is expensive,” and “Australia is cheap” may not necessarily apply, it depends on where in these countries you’re studying.
Most universities offer scholarships to international students who meet certain criteria. Some universities offer lower-priced courses to students of certain nationalities or backgrounds. Diversification is important to internationally minded institutions so they can be generous with the scholarships they offer depending on your nationality. See what scholarships your preferred universities offer to international students.
6 Visa & Immigration
It’s essential to find out the student visa requirements for your preferred country/countries. They can differ considerably.
Make sure you can meet the requirements. You have to be able to provide the documentation required and you should know the processing times and any restrictions that might apply once you’ve arrived. No student wants a rejected visa application on their record.
Government websites should contain this information, but they are not always clear, especially if English is not your native language. It may be worth consulting an immigration agent to ensure you’re submitting a complete and proper application.
Some students will choose which country to study in based on their likelihood to receive a student visa and/or the time it may take to receive their student visa. Always check for the latest on government policies, immigration bans and travel advisories.
7 Work and Post-Study Opportunities
The option to work while studying is important for many students. Different countries have different rules when it comes to working on a student visa. If you’re planning to work while studying, check the policies of the countries you’re considering.
Some countries do not allow paid work on a student visa, some allow work only on-campus, some allow unlimited working hours in any environment and others limit you to a set number of paid work weekly and unlimited hours on holidays.
Once you know the rules, find out how easy it is to find a job. This will vary greatly from country to country, city to city, and town to town. Also find out if the universities you’re considering help with job placements or have message boards listing available student jobs.
Remember, money earned while studying is expected to supplement what you have, and not be your main source of funds.
For many subjects of interest, internship and work experience opportunities will be an important part of your studies. Universities will often help with these placements if they are an integral part of your course. If not, you may have to search for these opportunities yourself. See what openings are available at your planned destination so you can enhance your learning with practical skills.
Many study abroad destinations offer graduates opportunities to stay and work after finishing a degree. If those destinations benefit from a strong economy and a solid graduate job market, it could be a great chance to get your first job. Once you return home, your overseas study and work experience will give you an edge over other job applicants.
Many students chose a country based purely on the opportunity for post-study work. Their decision is more than a simple study-abroad choice – it could be a lifelong choice. Millions of international students have stayed abroad after their study to become citizens of their chosen destination. If this option is important to you, it’s worth checking the post-study work rights in different countries to see if work can lead to residency. Be aware that opportunities can be specific to particular sectors and can change regularly, often without warning.
8 Location, Location, Location
Being abroad isn’t only about study and work – make time for travel and fun.
Research shows the main motivation for studying abroad is an appetite for adventure. The opportunity to study, travel and live in foreign country is a life-changing experience that offers new, exciting challenges. Most returning international students consider their time studying abroad one of the best things they’ve ever done. It can lead to lifelong friends and great memories.
So try to choose a fun, exciting location. Consider what your preferred locations offer and the flight/drive times to other areas you’d like to visit. You can get almost anywhere in the UK and in European countries within a few hours. In the US, Canada and Australia, you’re often looking at longer trips.
The weather makes a difference too. Proximity to beaches, ski resorts and hiking trails may be important. The same goes for bigger cities convenient for a weekend away.
Universities are also very focused on the student experience and offer a huge range of opportunities for you to make the best of your time abroad. You can join volunteer projects, get involved with student clubs and societies and go on regular trips and activities.
Consider everything above if you haven’t yet determined your preferred country for your studies. Your options should soon become clear and so should the choice that’s best for you.