When an applicant decides to enter a foreign university, he faces an extremely difficult task: to choose the right one from thousands of universities around the world. How to take this difficult choice? Let's talk about the criteria that should be taken into account when applying.

International rankings

Most often, applicants check international rankings. There are quite a few of them, but the main ones are

Other popular ratings: URAP, RUR, US News & World Report's, Eduniversal, Webometrics.

Each of them has a unique methodology for evaluating universities with its pros and cons.

For example, QS is based on surveys of employers and teachers, so it allows you to find out how the university is evaluated in different areas of society. But the rating is often accused of bias. At the same time, ARWU is based on the academic achievements of the university. But the rating does not take into account other important indicators: learning conditions and opportunities for a novice researcher.

All ratings are relative. This does not mean that they are completely wrong, but when studying them, it is important to take into account several nuances. For example, it is difficult for young universities to get into such rankings. In the meantime, they can have state-of-the-art equipment, conduct highly specialized research, and have small groups in classes.

Not all directions in the university, even in the top ones, are equally developed. For example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the first in the QS 2022 ranking in engineering, but in history, the university occupies 51-100 lines[1]. That is why it is important to look at specialized rankings and look for university indicators in them specifically in your field.

When viewing the rating, you need to take into account the level of education. If you are applying for PhD, check if the university has scientific journals and what their citation index is. This can be checked in the ARWU and QS ratings. If you are a prospective bachelor's student who is not planning a scientific career, look at the employment rate and reputation among employers.

The truth about ratings

Tuition and living costs

The cost of education is one of the most important criteria when choosing a university abroad. The most expensive studying is in Great Britain and USA, followed by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. The cost is slightly lower in Western Europe and Asia. The cheapest cost of education is in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries. Of course, this is fairly average data. When assessing the budget that is required for each particular university, many factors must be taken into account:

  • College or university. The cost of studying at a college is lower than at a university. There is a noticeable difference in prices between public and private universities. As a rule, in the first, the cost of education is 2-3 times lower.
  • The language of studying. The most affordable option is to study in the national language of one of the European countries, for example, Germany, Austria, or Norway. Next, come English-language programs in Europe and Asia. The most expensive universities will be in English-speaking countries.
  • Preparatory program. Sometimes it is impossible to enter the country's universities immediately after 11 classes because of the academic difference — in some countries, pupils study for 12 years, for example, in Great Britain. Then you have to spend another year of study on a preparatory program or for a more budget option — 1-2 courses at the university of your native country.
  • Cost of living. Even if you are provided with a hostel, its cost may not be lower than a rented apartment. It is important to find out in advance how much it costs to rent an apartment near the university and what are the average prices in the city for food, leisure, transport, and so on.
  • Are there scholarships from the state or university? Many universities offer grant and scholarship programs — more often for master's and doctoral studies. You can also get need-based scholarships — for students with low family income. However, scholarships are the exception rather than the rule. Initially, you should choose a university only based on your financial capabilities.

Options and cost How to choose a country

Country, city, campus

  • local languages. Even if you are going to study in English, it is not a fact that you will be comfortable living in a country without knowing the local language. For example, in China, 30% of university programs are in English, but only 1% of the population is fluent in this language[2]. If you do not want to learn the local language in addition to the language of studying, choose countries with several official languages. For example, Canada, India, or Singapore.
  • Security and standard of living. Check out these metrics: crime index, peacefulness index, quality of life, and cost of living. Consider local laws as well. Sometimes, for violating non-obvious rules, you can be deported from the country, put in jail, or get a rather big fine. For example, in Singapore, you can't chew gum. For its importation into the country, you can get a fine of 4,042 USD and imprisonment[3].
  • Climate and weather conditions. For example, James Cook University in Australia is considered one of the best places to explore the ocean, but would a tropical climate be right for you?
  • Campus location and infrastructure. The comfort of studying and living abroad depends on the infrastructure. See where the campus is located. Are there green areas, stops, and cafes nearby? What leisure opportunities do students have in this city?
  • Technical equipment. Does the university have laboratories, research centers, and libraries? How are they equipped? For students of natural sciences, this item is one of the most important.

Need help with admission?

Admission statistics

From the statistics of the university itself, which the admissions committees publish on the website, it is important to find out the following:

  • Competition for admission. General numbers will most likely not tell you anything. Try to clarify the information for a particular faculty or program. How many people applied for the position? What percentage of students are enrolled?
  • Scores of admitted students. Do not count on the minimum scores indicated on the sites. Instead, study the profiles of students who entered in previous years. Estimate their GPA, results of SAT, TOEFL or IELTS, and other exams. The scores that you should focus on are usually higher than the minimum passing ones.
  • The number of foreigners in the university. Are there quotas for 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.

Educational process

  • Number of teachers and students. These figures show how many students per teacher. In large groups, the individual approach tends to suffer.
  • Program content. Review the curriculum. Are there many elective courses in your field? What knowledge and skills will the university give you? What are the requirements to get a degree: make a project or write a dissertation?
  • Research perspectives. For admission to master's and especially doctoral studies often need to find a supervisor. Check out the research interests of teachers. Students are not always given access to laboratories and scientific centers, so scientific guidance is especially important.
  • Online resource. Check out more online courses. By studying online you can pick up the missing points. Other important online services are digital libraries and job search applications. Check which platforms the university uses and what opportunities they provide.
  • International connections. The partnership agreement between universities provides interesting possibilities, for example, a double diploma, exchange studies, internships in foreign research centers, trips to scientific conferences, and grants.

Student life

At University there are not only lectures, seminars, and research. Social, cultural, and sports life expands horizons and develops soft skills.

  • Student government. How developed are student councils at the university? If the university has strong self-government bodies, then you can get organizational experience, which will become an attractive line in your CV.
  • Leisure. Are there many student communities of interest at the university? Are there any that you would like to join? What major events, festivals, and fairs are organized by the university?
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Visa issues and job opportunities

How difficult is it to get a student visa? Several factors can affect this: your visa history, the minimum amount on the account and evencompelling reasons to return to the home country after graduation.

But there is another very important requirement that applies to the university: the university must be among the accredited educational institutions. There is such a requirement inи Canada, USA, South Korea, and other countries.

Visa restrictions sometimes apply to employment. Not all countries allow foreign students to combine work with study. Sometimes the restriction is partial — on average no more than 20-25 hours per week (part-time) and 40 hours per week (full-time) during the holidays. The university itself may also establish additional rules. For example, Great Britain allows students to work up to 20 hours a week, and Cambridge university limits its students to only 10 hours.

Employment and immigration opportunities

Your future depends on what job opportunities the university offers. Therefore, it is so important to think about them before entering.

  • Career Center. What events, training, and job fairs does it organize? What employers does it work with?
  • Internships while studying. If the internship is included in the educational program, then this is a great chance to prove yourself and get a job offer after graduation.
  • Opportunity to stay in the country. If you plan to immigrate to the country after your studies, then this should be taken into account at the stage of admission. In some countries, graduates have the opportunity to obtain a work or temporary visa to look for a job for 1-3 years after graduation. For example, it is accepted in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. In European countries graduates can also receive a Job Seeker Visa and get a job after graduation[4]. Before admission, check under what conditions you can stay in your chosen country after graduation.
  • Employment statistics. Of course, a high percentage of employed students does not guarantee you the same successful result. Nevertheless, it speaks about the high reputation of the university in the eyes of employers and the demand for graduates.
  • Academic career. If you want to do science, then remember: you may be choosing a university not only for the next few years of study but also for many years of work. It is easier to climb the academic ladder at the university where you studied. Pay attention to what proportion of researchers at the university are foreigners and under what conditions academic staff works, what salary they get, and how long it takes to get promoted. Consider how prestigious the teaching profession is considered in the country.
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