Choosing a University: Five Essential Tips | Top Universities

Choosing a University: Five Essential Tips

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Staff Writer

Updated Mar 16, 2021



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Deciding where to study is a huge task, especially if you’re going abroad. Check out these five essential tools to find the best university or grad school for you.

Choosing which university to apply to can feel like a massive operation, especially if you’re planning on studying abroad – and in some ways it should be. After all, this is a commitment that’s likely to demand at least three years of your life, and probably a significant amount of money.

However, the journey towards finding your perfect university should be a lot less daunting if you have a clear idea of the tools available to help you, right from the start of your search.

1. University rankings

University rankings, such as the QS World University Rankings, are most useful if you’re aiming to study at one of the very best institutions in the world – but bear in mind that these are also the most competitive.

University rankings by subject can be especially useful. These help you to find the best universities for your area of interest – you may find that the ordering is quite different compared to the overall ranking.

As well as looking at the rankings, it can also be useful to check out the methodology behind them. This explains how the universities were assessed, and why one institution ranks above another.

Your own personal criteria may not be exactly the same as those used in creating the ranking. For example, you may think more importance should be placed on international diversity, or on the university’s reputation with employers.

Finally, if you have a particular region of the world in mind, it may be useful to consult regional rankings, such as the QS University Rankings: Latin America or the QS University Rankings: Asia.

2. University rating systems

University rating systems, such as QS Stars, are also available to prospective students. QS Stars gives universities an overall rating out of five (similar to a hotel star rating), and also provides individual ratings of a university’s performance in eight key areas.

You can still use this to compare different institutions, but it’s also a good way to get more detailed information about the university’s strong points.

The categories assessed by QS Stars are: research quality, teaching quality, graduate employability, specialist subject, internationalization, infrastructure, community engagement and innovation.

3. Expert commentary on universities

Both rankings and ratings are usually accompanied by some expert commentary – articles written by people who know a lot about higher education, and are able to offer advice and speculate about future developments.

Keep an eye out for articles about areas you’re interested in, and if you use social media such as Twitter, make sure you’re following a few experts in the sector.

Doing a bit of extra research could help you find out about issues that might affect your university choice. For example, are universities set to increase their fees or cut budgets? Are universities in that region likely to go up in the rankings, or are there problems that may prevent this?

4. University fairs

Once you’ve started to gain a clearer idea of what you’re looking for, it can be useful to attend a university fair, where you can meet university representatives face to face.

You can do this whether you are hoping to study at home or abroad – the QS World University Tour includes universities from a range of different countries.

Attending a university fair is a good chance to get a better idea of what life is really like at that university, what the application process involves, and to resolve any other questions you have.

5. Study abroad location guides

If you’re planning to study abroad, at least part of your university selection process should involve some research into the location.

You might think you’ve found your perfect university, but then realize that the climate is far too hot (or cold) for you, or you don’t speak the local language, or simply that the music/sports/social scene doesn’t match your interests.

Country guides can help you get a quick overview of what it’s like to live and study in a particular place, and also provide a starting point for your more specific university search.

Some countries, like the US, are almost impossible to sum up in a single article – which is where’s state guides come in.

And if you really haven’t got a clue as to where to start with choosing a university or even a location, the QS Best Student Cities ranking has 50 excellent places to begin.

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