Going to university - anywhere in the world

Posted on: 20 Dec 2016
Posted by: Ryan Hinchey

With Christmas nearly upon us, many students across the UK will be busy perfecting their UCAS applications for the January 15th UCAS deadline. Ryan Hinchey, College and University Counsellor at ACS International Schools offers advice to pupils.

With Christmas nearly upon us, many students across the UK will be busy perfecting their UCAS applications for the January 15th UCAS deadline. Even after this date students can still apply to universities all over the world, however they are rarely presented with this exciting alternative.

The problem for most schools is knowing where to start when giving advice about how to choose a university outside the UK. The US alone has more than 4,000 universities, so you need a system to narrow down options.

Although our students go to the top universities across the world we never, ever advise looking at league tables as a starting point. I tell my students when looking for a university that the most important thing is to ‘know thyself’. It has to be about them first of all, finding the right fit. Only then can they find a university which will bring out the best in them. Here are the questions we ask them.

How career focussed are you? If you have a clear idea of a career path or profession, then a British university may be better for you. Many overseas universities encourage trial of different subjects before committing fully.

How involved do you want to be? Most US universities will guarantee accommodation on campus for every year of study, but students are expected to immerse themselves fully in college life. Contrast this with the UK and many universities in European cities where a more ‘open,’ less intense campus experience is had.

Do you need close supervision to thrive or would you find that stifling? Check the contact time. Some university courses will allow you several hours a week contact with your course tutor. This individual attention might be more valuable to you than the general lectures.

Some universities will deliver almost all learning through lectures to 300 – 400 students. Others will offer a majority of tutorials in small groups of up to twenty students. Find out if the courses and modules you might take are delivered in a way that suits your learning style.

What is your natural personality? Extroverts are more likely to thrive in a large university, while introverts may be better suited to a smaller campus setting.

Do you also need to be near your family to feel secure or are you looking to put some distance between you, or challenge yourself to be different and break away? Family geography is a key factor and students need to be honest with themselves. If quick access to family and friends is important, a university where regular shorter journeys home are possible has to be considered.

Do check the proportion of undergraduate and postgraduate students. Some universities especially in the States may have a large proportion of postgraduates or research students which could skew the support and experience enjoyed as an undergraduate.

Checking the weather may sound simple but it affects a huge proportion of decisions about US universities. The British are, after all, a nation obsessed with the weather. Boston Massachusetts, for example, has four clear seasons with often brutal winters. Some people may want to experience such weather extremes, while others know they want to study in year round sunshine.

What subjects are you thinking of studying? An increasing number of European universities offer all their courses in English, such as the leading Dutch universities. Many science and medical university courses in Eastern European capital cities such as Prague and Budapest are also offered in English, and these, plus business based subjects, are often the most accessible to native English speakers. For essay based humanities-type subjects, the UK, US or Australia are probably better options.

Cost may rule out some countries right away, but it is always worth looking closely at the small print. The price quoted for many American universities often includes accommodation. University in Australia can be competitively priced too, if you don’t fly back to the UK too often!

We have students from over 100 different nationalities in our schools and many genuinely do have the option to study anywhere in the world. Even so, the majority choose to study in the UK followed by the US, having gone through this internal reflection and decision making process with us first. Student expectations and costs from university are increasing all the time; following this process helps students to be happier and more successful in their choices when they leave school.

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About Ryan Hinchey

Ryan Hinchey is College and University Counsellor, at ACS International Schools.