6 Steps to Choosing a University Abroad | Top Universities

6 Steps to Choosing a University Abroad

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Ben Clayton

Updated Feb 06, 2024



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One of the most exciting things about deciding to study abroad is that you have, quite literally, a whole world of choices, with thousands of universities around the world to choose from. Each of these schools will offer dozens – if not hundreds – of different courses, and it can be hard to even begin figuring out what or where you want to study.

Here are six steps to help you start your search and choose a university abroad. Before we get into the specifics, here are some general points to bear in mind throughout:

1.  Listen to both your heart and your head

They might take you in different directions, but both have valid points to make. Often it can be worthwhile to start by going straight to what you’re passionate about, then starting to think carefully about that.

2.  Be honest with yourself

Seriously. Any sort of degree is a big commitment, but studying abroad even more so. Make sure that this is something you want to do rather than something you feel you have to do. If you’re doing it because you want to, it will be easier to keep going through the tough times.

3.  Research carefully, and use multiple sources

Studying a degree can take anywhere between one to four years, and it can be quite expensive. It will almost certainly be a worthwhile investment and life-changing adventure, but make sure you know the facts. Check university websites for official data, and student forums for a wider range of opinions. If you’re interested in studying in the US, UK or Australia, check out the Course Matching Tool, which matches you with your perfect course and university after you’ve answered a few simple questions.

Stick to these ground rules, and you’ll find these next steps even more effective!

4.  Identify your “essential” requirements

Narrow down your search by deciding what you definitely want to do or want to avoid. For example, maybe you only want to study abroad at a university where the language of teaching is Spanish? Perhaps you have a specific budget, or want to be within a few hours’ flight of home? At this stage, it’s best to set out some clear guidelines for your search. Here are some examples to consider:

  • Only universities in a particular country/ world region
  • No universities in large and busy cities
  • Only highly ranked universities (in general or in a particular subject)

This step is particularly useful if you want to study a subject that is offered across a very large range of universities. If you want to specialize in a field that’s particularly rare (such as maritime archaeology), you’ll probably find you already have a narrower field to focus on.

5.  Choose your subject

This is where things might get trickier. Many people know straight away what they want to study, but for some the choice is less obvious. If you’re uncertain of what to study, you might wish to consider a liberal arts degree, famous for offering a more flexible curriculum. Otherwise, it would be wise to narrow down to a list of three or so subjects. If you’re having a hard time with that, think about these questions:

  • Which subjects do you most enjoy learning about?
  • What skills do you want to gain during your studies?
  • Do you want to go into a job where a particular degree is required?

If you already know what you want to study, then great! By default some universities will be ruled out (even the most popular subjects aren’t available absolutely everywhere), but more importantly you’ll be able to select your preferred universities based on the courses and curricula they offer. You could start by checking international rankings or even subject-specific university rankings, such as the QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Get more advice on how to find a course of study you really love >

6.  Attend university fairs and open days

Choosing a university abroad that’s perfect for you will require a lot of research. For international students, most of this is often done online or through university brochures. However, the best option is always to see a place for yourself, and/or talk to a representative from the university in person, so you can get a better feel for the institution and get answers to all your questions.

While it is often quite difficult for international students to attend open days, it’s always worth doing if you’re able to. International university fairs such as the QS World Grad School Tour are also great opportunities to meet representatives from universities – and rather than going to one open day at a time, you can talk to staff from multiple schools in the same day. Check for these events in advance to make sure you get a place and can fit it into your schedule.

Find out why attending a university fair could benefit your application >

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