Study in New Zealand: Top Universities, Cities, Rankings, Fees, Entry Criteria & Visa Details | Top Universities

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.

Universities in New Zealand

There are eight universities in New Zealand, all of which feature in the QS World University Rankings® 2019, a particularly impressive feat when you consider the country’s population is only around 4.7 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 2018.

Read more about the top five universities in New Zealand: 

University of Auckland 

University of Auckland

The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s largest and highest-ranked university. Currently it ranks 85th in the world, according to the QS World University Rankings 2019. 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.

University of Otago 
University of Otago

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 2019, ranked joint 175th in the world. The university, whose motto is “Dare to be wise”, currently teaches around 20,800 students in its four faculties (humanities, sciences, health sciences and business). It is situated in Dunedin, which is the second-largest city on the South Island.

Victoria University of Wellington

Victoria University of Wellington

New Zealand’s third entrant in the QS World University Rankings 2019, Victoria University of Wellington is ranked joint 221st globally. 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 22,000 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.

University of Canterbury 

University of Canterbury

Also located on the South Island, in the island’s largest city of Christchurch, the University of Canterbury is the fourth-best university in New Zealand and is also ranked joint 231st 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.

University of Waikato 

University of Waikato

The University of Waikato is placed 274th in the world in 2019, up 18 places from last year. 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 350 of the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2019 for nine subjects

The other three universities in New Zealand, Massey UniversityLincoln University and Auckland University of Technology, are all ranked among the world’s top 500 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2019.

Compare the top universities in New Zealand

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:

Auckland 
Auckland

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 can just relax on the beach instead.

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 23rd in the 2018 edition of the QS Best Student Cities index.

Wellington 
Wellington

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. 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.

Christchurch 
Christchurch

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. Since this is New Zealand, you’ll also find the usual broad selection of outdoor pursuits.

Universities in Christchurch include the University of Canterbury (New Zealand’s fourth-best university) and Lincoln University, as well as a selection of specialist colleges, many of them private. Christchurch itself is currently ranked 69th in the Best Student Cities index.

Dunedin 
Dunedin

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

Discover the top 10 things to do in New Zealand 

Applying to universities in New Zealand 
New Zealand

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.

Visas to study in New Zealand

Scholarships for New Zealand

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:

  • Proof of an offer of a place at an approved institution
  • Evidence of sufficient funds to cover living expenses (at least NZ$15,000 per year, which is around US$10,100) and a flight back to your home country
  • Passport and two recent passport-sized photos if you use a paper application form, or one photo if you apply online
  • Health insurance
  • For those under 18, a letter guaranteeing suitable accommodation has been arranged
  • For those over 17, a police certificate of good character
  • For courses over 12 months, medical certificates, which may include screening for tuberculosis

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 percent 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.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees in New Zealand vary depending both on the institution and the subject. According to the official Study in Zealand website, international undergraduate students can expect to pay around NZ$22,000-32,000 (~US$14,800-21,540) per year, with higher fees for subjects such as medicine and veterinary science. 

At postgraduate level, international students can expect to pay between NZ$26,000-37,000 (~US$17,500-24,900) per year for a master’s degree and NZ$6,500-$9,000 (~US4,400-6,050) per year for a PhD (the same rate as domestic students).

Depending on the university, you might also need to pay a fee for student services.

Living costs in New Zealand

New Zealand money

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$13,460-16,830) 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$200-350 (~US$135-235) on rent and NZ$100-150 (~US$67-100) 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.

Funding opportunities

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. 

Discover scholarships to study in New Zealand

Fast Facts

  • Capital city: Wellington
  • Largest city: Auckland (a third of citizens live in and around Auckland)
  • Made up of islands; the main two are simply called ‘North Island’ and ‘South Island’
  • Population of around 4.5 million (compared to 64 million in the similarly sized UK)
  • Amount needed for living costs per year: at least NZ$15,000 (~US$10,100) for a student visa, but you’ll likely need more than this
  • Average international undergraduate tuition fees: NZ$22,000-32,000 (~US$14,800-21,540) per year
  • People from New Zealand are commonly known as ‘Kiwis’.
  • More than a third of people living in Auckland were born outside of New Zealand.
  • Main languages: English and Maori
  • Major exports include: wool, dairy products, wood, paper, fish, meat and chemicals.
  • Currency: New Zealand dollar
  • Located to the south-east of Australia
  • Known for national rugby team, the ‘All Blacks’, who perform the traditional haka dance before matches
  • Indigenous ethnic group, the Maori, today make up about 15 percent of the population.
  • More than 20 percent of New Zealand's land territory is categorized as national parks, forest areas and reserves; there are also 34 marine reserves.
  • The place with the longest name in the world is in New Zealand: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, usually shortened to Taumata.
  • Driving is on the left-hand side of the road, as in the UK.
  • New Zealand is the home country of Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, much of which was filmed here