Are you planning to study in New Zealand? If so, we understand why! This country really seems to have it all: well-reputed universities, high quality of life, diverse communities, vibrant cities, stunning natural scenery and an unbeatable range of outdoor pursuits, all within a relatively compact area. Cities such as Auckland and Wellington offer no shortage of cultural activities, while those with a passion for the great outdoors will encounter a mind-blowing range of terrains – including glaciers, mountains, rainforest and of course plenty of coastline.
Click on the tabs below to find out about the top universities in New Zealand, popular student cities, and practical information on applications, costs and visas.
There are eight universities in New Zealand, all of which feature in the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017 – particularly impressive when you consider the country’s population is only around 4.5 million. In addition, New Zealand's higher education system also includes 18 institutes of technology and polytechnics, which offer vocational courses of varying lengths and levels, focusing on practical skills and hands-on experience.
The New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF) is at the heart of New Zealand’s higher education system, ensuring that quality standards are maintained. Many students will be pleased to know that class sizes in New Zealand are small, which means you can expect good levels of tutor/student interaction. The country’s higher education system was ranked 16th in the world in the QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings 2016.
Read more about the top five universities in New Zealand:
The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s largest and highest-ranked university. Currently it ranks 81st in the world, according to the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017. Established back in 1883, it was a constituent college of the University of New Zealand before the latter dissolved in 1961. The university is made up of eight faculties and six campuses, and currently has more than 40,000 students. It’s situated in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, which makes it an even more attractive choice for numerous students from around the globe.
New Zealand’s oldest higher education institution, the University of Otago was established in 1869. It is New Zealand’s second entry in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017, ranked 169th in the world. The university, whose memorable motto is “Dare to be wise”, currently teaches around 20,600 students in its four faculties, which cover humanities, sciences, health sciences and business. It is situated in Dunedin, which is the second-largest city on the South Island.
Also located on the South Island, in the island’s largest city of Christchurch, the University of Canterbury is New Zealand’s third-highest ranked university at joint 214th in the world. It was founded in 1873, which makes it the second-oldest higher education institution in the country. About 15,000 students are enrolled, with courses offered in subjects including arts, commerce, engineering, fine arts, forestry, health sciences, law, music, social work, speech and language pathology, science, sports coaching and teaching.
New Zealand’s fourth entrant in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017, Victoria University of Wellington is placed joint 228th. It was established in 1897 as a constituent college of the University of New Zealand, and became an independent institution in 1961. The university is host to about 21,000 students in its nine faculties. It is well known for its programs in law, the humanities and some scientific disciplines, and offers a wide range of other courses as well.
The University of Waikato overtook Massey University as the fifth highest-ranked university in New Zealand in 2016-2017, placed 324th. It’s one of the younger top universities in New Zealand, founded in 1964, and is located in the cities of Hamilton and Tauranga on the North Island. The university has around 12,300 students and appears in the top 250 of the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016 for 12 subjects.
The other three universities in New Zealand, Massey University, Lincoln University and Auckland University of Technology, are all ranked among the world’s top 450 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017.
New Zealand consistently comes out near the top in ratings of the world’s best places to live in terms of quality of life. It has an appealing climate, stunningly beautiful natural landscapes, friendly people and cities which are modern and multicultural. Find out more about life in some of New Zealand’s top student cities:
On the east coast of North Island, Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and home to its highest-ranking university, the University of Auckland. Auckland is known for its especially multicultural community, and (though this is true of the whole country) for the wide range of high-adrenaline activities available in and around the city. Jet-skiing, canyoning, surfing, abseiling, bungee-jumping, snowboarding, climbing, diving – you get the idea. Or of course you might choose to simply relax on the beach!
Other universities in Auckland include Auckland University of Technology and several institutes of technology and polytechnics, while Massey University’s Albany campus is less than 20km north of the city center. The city itself is ranked joint 18th in the 2016 edition of the QS Best Student Cities index.
On the south coast of North Island, Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand. It’s believed by some to be more aesthetically attractive than rival Auckland (we’ll let you make up your own mind), and offers a good selection of culture, cuisine and nightlife within a relatively compact area. And of course, stunning natural scenery is never far away in New Zealand – here, you’ll find beaches, forests, islands, hills and vineyards all within easy reach.
Universities in Wellington include Victoria University of Wellington and one of Massey University’s three campuses, as well as several institutes of technology and polytechnics. The University of Otago has a medical school here, and the New Zealand School of Music (run jointly by Victoria University of Wellington and Massey University) is also based in Wellington.
Located on the east coast of South Island, Christchurch is the largest city on the island and the third most-populous urban area in New Zealand. In recent years, Christchurch has undergone major redevelopment projects, following damage from earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, and the general consensus seems to be that it’s just as lively as before the natural disasters struck. Marketing itself as the ‘Garden City’, Christchurch prides itself on its large areas of public parkland and picturesque river banks, as well as its thriving arts and cultural scene. And yes, since this is New Zealand, you’ll find the usual broad selection of outdoor pursuits.
Universities in Christchurch include the University of Canterbury (New Zealand’s third highest-ranked) and Lincoln University, as well as a selection of specialist colleges, many of them private. Christchurch itself was a new entry in the 2016 Best Student Cities index at 47th.
The second-largest city on the South Island, Dunedin is the main city in the Otago region. Again on the east coast of the island, Dunedin is about 300km (190 miles) south of Christchurch. Formerly New Zealand’s largest city (until around 1900), Dunedin retains a leading position in the country’s culture, and is a major student hub, with students accounting for a significant proportion of its community. Dunedin is home to New Zealand’s second highest-ranked and oldest university, the University of Otago.
The academic year for higher education in New Zealand runs from March to November. However, some courses may also allow students to start in July. Most universities in New Zealand have just two terms (semesters), with the exception of Victoria University of Wellington, which has three terms (trimesters).
As well as having completed secondary level qualifications recognized by New Zealand’s universities, applicants also need to prove English language proficiency, usually by taking the IELTS or TOEFL exams. New Zealand does not have a centralized university applications service, so students need to apply individually to each university they’re interested in, following the steps outlined on the official university websites. Deadlines for this are set by each institution. After you’ve been accepted and paid your fees, the university will send you a ‘confirmed offer of place’ letter, which you’ll need when applying for your student visa.
If you’re planning to study in New Zealand for more than three months, you need to apply for a student visa (for less than three months, a visitor visa is fine). New Zealand student visa requirements include:
Visa applications are made via the nearest branch of the New Zealand Immigration organization or online. The application fee varies depending on where you’re applying from, and is 10% cheaper online. You don’t need a visa if you’re from Australia or if your home country has a special agreement with New Zealand.
Tuition fees in New Zealand vary depending both on the institution and the subject. The organization Universities New Zealand provides PDF files with indicative fee estimations for each of the eight main universities each year.
To give you an example, at the University of Auckland the annual tuition fees for international undergraduate students start at NZ$27,592 (~US$19,460) for most Bachelor of Arts (BA) courses, up to NZ$72,896 (~US$51,420) for medicine degrees beyond the first year. For postgraduate degrees at the University of Auckland, tuition fees for international students start at NZ$32,392 (~US$22,850) and reach NZ$46,787 (~US$33,010) per year.
Depending on the university, you might also need to pay a fee for student services.
Living costs in New Zealand are somewhat cheaper than those in countries such as the US and the UK, but more expensive than in countries such as China or India. When you apply for your student visa, you’ll need to prove you have at least NZ$15,000 a year for living costs, in addition to funds to cover your course fees and return airfare. However, the recommended amount to budget for living costs is NZ$20,000-25,000 (~US$14,140-17,680) per year, although you may need to budget more depending on your lifestyle and spending habits.
As in any country, some cities are more affordable than others. Auckland and Wellington are the most expensive cities to live in New Zealand, although they are both nonetheless ranked as more affordable than cities such as New York and London in Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey. You can expect to spend around NZ$150-300 (~US$106-212) on rent and NZ$80-100 (~US$57-71) on groceries per week in Auckland.
The main accommodation options are the halls of residence at your university, private rental, and homestays, in which you’d live with a local family and have your meals included in the rent. A homestay can be a good way to practise speaking English (if it’s not your first language) and experience the local culture and way of life.
Various scholarships are available to support those who want to study in New Zealand, including some offered by the country’s government. The Education New Zealand website also has a search tool which enables you to search for scholarships relevant for your nationality, subject and/or study level.
Although it’s not a good idea to rely too much on earnings from a part-time student job, your student visa does allow you to work for up to 20 hours per week during term time and full-time during semester breaks. Those pursuing a Masters by Research or PhD are unlimited as to the number of hours they can work.