Many people ask themselves: why do they personally need a university? The answer, as a rule, does not come right away. Often, applicants go for higher education after school simply because their parents insist on it. Or because this is the only path they see. Or they are simply sure: only a diploma can provide them with a prestigious job and a high salary. However, the real benefits of a university education are hidden much deeper. In this article, we will tell you what the university gives and does not give, and how to choose your future alma mater.
What can the university provide?
The university provides opportunitiesEverything that is considered to be the guarantees that higher education provides is in fact just opportunities:
- The ability to acquire professional qualifications. Of course, getting a profession is the first thing that comes to mind whenever the topic of higher education arises. However, you shouldn't take it for granted. Not every student succeeds in their studies and really becomes a professional in their field. By the end of their studies, not everyone is still sure that the chosen specialty is their life's work. And not everyone gets a job in a specialty after graduation or can apply the acquired skills in practice. Nevertheless, this point is still the most important: if motivated, the student will do everything possible to leave the university as a professional; a student disappointed in his choice will benefit from this stage and move on to the next, a more suitable one; and for a student with not entirely relevant knowledge, other advantages of the university will be more important, thanks to which he will be able to improve himself and his skills for a specific job. These benefits will be discussed in the following sections.
- The opportunity to receive a higher salary. According to statistics, the higher the level of education of the employee, the higher the salary will be after employment. A particularly strong gap is observed between those with only secondary education and those with a bachelor's degree. But here, as in the previous point, everything depends on the graduate and his efforts. The university is a kind of take-off platform, without which it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, for a person to take off and reach the desired results.
- The opportunity to move up the career and academic ladder. Finally, the university offers a system, a well-coordinated structure, thanks to which a person immediately sees different courses of action and can more or less clearly plan his future: complete a bachelor's degree and go to work; enroll in a master's program and obtain a narrower specialization, or become a PhD student and engage in teaching and research.
The university provides fundamental knowledgeStudents often complain that there are many "superfluous" disciplines in their schedule that have nothing to do with their specialty. Sometimes artists and painters are forced to study mathematical analysis, and linguists, and lawyers — to attend a course of lectures on the subject of "Concepts of Modern Natural Science". Law, psychology, pedagogy, philosophy, sociology, one or two foreign languages are a mandatory minimum, which university students often master even before entering their specialty. One might ask, wouldn’t it be better to pay attention to theory and practice in the core subjects?
No. This is what distinguishes university education from narrowly focused training. This is the necessary foundation on which knowledge in the main specialty will then be laid like bricks. The background knowledge broadens the mind, develops critical thinking, and teaches to reach the right conclusions in any given situation.
Moreover, even in those countries where it is allowed to independently choose additional courses for study, university students often branch out from the main specialization in order to try themselves in something new, and to expand the range of their skills in the eyes of the future employer.
The university gives access to cutting-edge equipmentLarge universities always have laboratories and various research centers with good equipment. This is a great opportunity for those who do not want to be limited only to mandatory laboratory work, for those who carry the idea of their own research or seeking to realize their own project.
Of course, students do not always have full access to the entire infrastructure. However, dedicated researchers are rarely denied visits. Future scientists (or just students who want to prove themselves during their studies and test their knowledge and skills in practice) can turn to professors and receive adequate support.
The university offers grants and internshipsAll universities in the world have exchange programs, internships, grants, and scholarship programs, according to which you can study or go on a research trip abroad. As a rule, such programs and internships are partially or fully funded by foundations, government agencies, or by the educational institutions themselves.
Obviously, not everyone is given such a chance — you will have to work hard, build a portfolio, and set yourself apart from other candidates. Internships and grants are one of the biggest benefits of studying at a university. This is a great opportunity to work or study in another country. This is an invaluable experience of travel, cultural exchange, it broadens the horizons and brings a lot of new positive impressions.
University teaches communicationThe majority of fresh applicants have a fear of public speaking. The university forces one to overcome such complexes. There is simply no other way out: for three to five years, students communicate and speak at seminars, defend research, term papers, theses, and eventually pass the exams. At the same time, the notorious human factor provides the experience of communicating with students and teachers completely different in character and habits.
For many, student associations become a real treat at the university. Everyone can find a community here that matches their interests, skills, hobbies.
- Have you been dancing and singing since childhood? You can shine on the student stage with its concerts, festivals, and creative competitions;
- Do you know one, two, or more foreign languages? Join polyglot conversation clubs;
- Or maybe you have always dreamed of helping others and defending the interests of those who need it? You are eagerly awaited at volunteer corps, student council and buddy programs for new foreign students;
- Didn't find the association you are interested in? Create your own — you definitely can benefit from some organizational experience.
The university teaches you to get your priorities straightProbably, someone will be able to pass the exams at the university by preparing for them in just two weeks, but this will work only once. Such strides in a serious university lead to burnout. At the university, you have to plan in advance what subject, when, and how to prepare. At the beginning of the semester, students receive a rough outline of the courses and a list of relevant literature to study. How well you will be able to master the material directly depends on time management. The principle of "do it today and adapt it tomorrow" works at the university.
Planning two steps ahead, allocating resources correctly, setting tasks, and finishing them — all this you can learn at the university. These skills are especially strongly developed in those who master several specializations or manage to combine several fields of activity at once: for example, sports and excellent academic performance, a passion for research, and volunteering.
What the university cannot give
- Employment and high wages. If, after everything that has been said, you still think that a university degree is a guarantee of employment and high wages, we have to make things clear once more: this is not so. Knowledge is a tool, and how to wield it is up to the graduate. The university teaches to study, acquire skills, accumulate more and more new knowledge. But not how to earn money and get a position in the "dream company".
- Most relevant knowledge. The education system is largely archaic. The things that you have learned yesterday may be outdated today. Knowledge must be constantly updated; only self-education can help with this.
- Work experience. In any case, except for theory, practice is important. A graduate with an honors degree can look for a job much longer than a groupmate with a regular one, but with work experience, even if it is small. At the same time, one should not rely entirely on industrial practice. Look for internships — volunteer or professional, fill out your resume, and don't expect handouts from the university.
The university is a unique combination of soft and hard skills. Here you can get many things: a priceless experience, a decent knowledge base, and a broadened mind. You can learn to overcome obstacles, prioritize, do the impossible, and do it fast, be patient, and dedicated.
Or you also can get none of that. You are the one who decides.
How to choose a university abroad?As soon as a future student decides to enter a university, he is faced with an extremely difficult task: to choose from thousands of educational institutions in the world the one that will provide him with all the advantages listed above. In the case of foreign universities, it is especially important to be influenced not only by big names. Many factors come into play. How to make this difficult choice and what exactly should be considered?
1. International ratingsThe first thing the applicants do when choosing a university is turn to the international rankings. There are quite a few of them, but there are three major ones:
- QS — from the British company Quacquarelli Symonds;
- THE — from the British magazine Times Higher Education;
- ARWU — from the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
Each has a unique assessment methodology with its own pros and cons. For example, QS allows you to quickly find how the university is evaluated in different spheres of society (based on surveys of employers, teachers, etc.), which is why it is often accused of bias. At the same time, ARWU reflects the success of the institution based on its most famous academic achievements, while losing sight of many other indicators, such as the student's learning environment or the development opportunities for the aspiring researcher.
Such rankings are not the be-all and end-all, but they are also not wrong in their assessments, but when studying them, it is important to take into account a number of factors. For example, it is difficult for young universities to get into such rankings, meanwhile they can have the most modern equipment, conduct highly specialized research, have smaller study groups, etc.
In addition, not all faculties of a university, even if it is among the top ones, are developed equally. For example, Harvard University is famous for its business education, but what about teaching evolutionary biology? Massachusetts Institute of Technology is renowned worldwide for its advances in engineering, but is it really that strong in liberal arts? That is why it is important to look not at the general world / national rankings but at specialized ones — reflecting the indicators of the university specifically in your field of study or specialty.
It is also important to focus on different criteria depending on the level of education. So, if you want to obtain a PhD, you definitely need to inquire about publications in scientific journals, various expert assessments, university citation index (ARWU, QS ratings will help in this). If you are a prospective bachelor’s student who is not planning a research career, the most telling metrics for you are likely to be employment rates and employer reputation.
The truth about ratings
2. Tuition and accommodationTuition fees are one of the most important conditions when choosing a university abroad. The most expensive countries to study are the UK and the US, followed by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore. The cost is slightly lower in Western Europe and Asia. The cheapest training will be in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries. Of course, this is fairly averaged data so your mileage may vary. There are many factors to consider when assessing the budget needed for each specific institution:
- College or university? The cost of studying in a college is lower than the cost of studying at a university, while colleges / trade schools often play an equally important role in the country's education system (for example, in the USA, France, South Korea, Singapore). There is also a noticeable difference in tuition costs between public and private universities — as a rule, in the former, the cost of education is 2-3 times lower;
- In what language is the training conducted? The most affordable programs can be found among ones that are taught in the national languages in one of the European countries. This is followed by English-language programs in Europe and Asia. The most expensive will be universities in English-speaking countries;
- Do you need a preparatory program? There are cases when it is impossible to enter the country's universities immediately after leaving school. Then an additional expense will be added such as a year of study in a preparatory program or a more affordable option of 1-2 years of study at a university in your home country;
- How much will the accommodation cost? Even if you are provided with a dorm (which is not always the case), its cost will unlikely to be much lower than renting on your own. It is important to know in advance how much it will cost to rent a place near the university and what the average prices in the city are (food, leisure, transport, etc.).
Options and cost How to choose a country?
3. Country, city, campus
- Safety and standards of living. Pay close attention to the safety and standard of living in the country and city where you are going to spend several years. To do this, there are, for example, indicators such as crime rate, peace index, quality of life, cost of living, and others.
- Climate and weather conditions. For example, James Cook University in Australia is considered one of the best places for marine exploration, but is a tropical climate for your liking?
- Campus location. In general, the comfort of studying and living abroad largely depends on the chosen city. See where the campus is located. Are there green areas, bus stops, cafes nearby? What leisure and travel opportunities do city students have?
- Infrastructure and technical equipment of the university. Be sure to ask what options and living conditions the university offers. Does it have laboratories, research centers, libraries? How are they equipped?
4. Statistics of admissionAmong the statistical indicators of the university, which, as a rule, can be found in a special section or annual report on their website, the following are important:
- Competition for admission. The general competition for a place at the university, most likely, will not tell you much. Try to look for the information regarding a specific faculty / specialization / program. What percentage of students from the total number of applications were accepted?
- The GPA and test scores of the admitted students. Do not count on the minimum scores listed on the sites, among other requirements for applicants. Instead, look into the profile of students who actually enrolled in previous years (GPA, SAT, TOEFL, and other exams). As a rule of thumb, your scores should be somewhat higher than the ones listed as minimum requirements.
- The number of foreigners at the university. Are there quotas for the admission of foreigners? What is the percentage of students from other countries? The higher it is, the more the university strives for an international student body and the more comfortable a foreigner will feel in an international environment.
5. Educational process
- The number of teachers and students. Find out the total number of teachers and students. These numbers will help you understand the size of the study groups. If the number of students is quite large, and there are not so many teachers, you won’t find any personal approach to students, and sometimes it indicates a lower quality of education provided.
- Content of the program. Study the curriculum carefully. How broad is the selection of electives offered by the educational program? What knowledge and skills will you get as a result? What is required to obtain a degree — a project, a thesis, a dissertation?
- Research prospects. It will be best to get yourself acquainted with the research interests of the teaching staff. Is there your scientific advisor among them? You can ask about the achievements of not only teachers but also students. Please note that even if the university has laboratories, research centers, computer labs equipped with the latest equipment at its disposal, students (especially bachelors) are not always given direct permission to use them. Check if you can actually do your project, research work there. For students of STEM fields, this point is one of the most important ones.
- Online resources. Distance learning can become a great addition to an educational program, especially since universities often count them in the number of credits required for a degree. Access to other online services is also important, such as digital libraries, job search applications, etc. Check what platforms the university uses and what opportunities they provide.
- International connections. International partnership agreements of universities can provide students with a number of opportunities, including joint double degrees, semester / year exchange programs, grants with the opportunity to work in foreign research centers, travel to scientific conferences with full cost coverage, etc.
6. Student lifeUniversity is not only about lectures, seminars, and research. It is also a huge opportunity for social, cultural, and sports life. Vibrant student life is the key to developing soft skills.
- Student self-government. How well developed are student councils / unions at the university? Can they provide decent support for learners? If the university has strong self-government bodies, you can not only hope to protect your interests as a student but also, if you wish, gain experience in management activities, showing yourself as an activist and becoming a leader of any association.
- Leisure. Are there any student clubs (sports, volunteer, creative) in the university? Are there any you would like to join? What major events, festivals, fairs does the university organize for its students?
7. Obtaining a visa and the possibility to work part-timeHow difficult is it to get a student visa to a particular country? There are many nuances when it comes to visas that are related to your visa history, the presence of a certain amount of money in the account, the presence of strong ties to the homeland, etc. But there is one more requirement that applies directly to the university: often the university must be one of the accredited / certified educational institutions. Otherwise, the issuance of a student visa (or study permit) is not possible. This requirement exists in Canada, the USA, South Korea, and many other countries.
In addition, living abroad on a student visa imposes some restrictions on its holders. So, not all countries allow foreign students to work while studying. If it is possible, then on average no more than 20-25 hours per week (part-time) during the semester and 40 hours per week (full-time) during the holidays / vacation... However, the institution itself may also establish additional rules. For example, the UK allows students to take part-time jobs for up to 20 hours, but the University of Cambridge limits its students to only 10 hours. Of course, this money will not be enough to fully support yourself, but it can partially cover pocket expenses and food.
8. Employment opportunities and Immigration
Your future depends on the employment opportunities offered by your university. Therefore, it is very important to think about them before applying.
- Career center. Ask not only about the presence but also about the activities of the career center. What events / workshops / job fairs do they hold? What employers do they work with?
- Internships in large companies. Having an internship built into the educational program is a great chance to prove yourself and get a job offer after graduation.
- The opportunity to stay in the country. If you plan to stay in the country after graduation, this should also be taken into account at the stage of admission. In some countries — for example, New Zealand, Australia, Canada — graduates have the opportunity to obtain a visa to look for a job / work visa for a period of 1-3 years after graduation, and after a few more years even obtain citizenship. In many European countries, this is not possible: you need to leave the country after completing your studies (not applicable to the EU citizens).
- Employment statistics. Of course, a high percentage of employed students does not guarantee you the same. Nevertheless, it is this factor that speaks about the high reputation of the educational institution in the eyes of employers and the demand for graduates both in the country of study and abroad.
- Academic career. If your goal is a scientific / academic career, remember: it is quite possible that you are choosing a university not just for the next few years of study, but also for many years of work, because moving up the academic ladder is usually easier at the university where you took the training. Pay attention to how many teachers / researchers in the university are foreigners, under what conditions the academic staff works, what salaries they receive, how long it takes to get promoted, and how prestigious the teaching profession is in the country as a whole.
Is it possible to find the perfect university?The answer to this question depends on what is meant by the "perfect university". Of course, there is hardly a university in which everything is ideal. Each person independently determines what is more important for him, and in accordance with this makes a choice in favor of a university that is best suited for him.
In this article, we have tried to reflect the main criteria that should be considered when choosing a university. To take into account all the subtleties, you can contact us for professional help. UniPage specialists will consult you on education abroad, as well as select universities and academic programs based on your criteria and capabilities.