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Study abroad: How to choose the right university

July 14, 2013 12:20 IST

Study abroad: How to choose the right university

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Aparna Sundaresan, YouthIncMag

Know what to study but don’t know where? Deciding on a foreign university can be both confusing and infuriating. Here are some pointers to guide you through the selection process

As the world becomes increasingly accessible, choosing a part of the world to study in becomes increasingly challenging.

Among the numerous beautiful and equally arresting places, where do you go?

From the abundant world-class universities, where do you study?

The sheer number of choices makes this decision an overwhelming one. But don’t let it get the best of you.

Break your options down to the following criteria and you may not have such a stressful time.

Pick a study destination

Before you say “Easier said than done!” hold your horses.

Look at countries not as tourist but as study destinations.

Would you invest four years for an undergraduation in the US or three years in the UK or Australia?

Would you be able to do a two-year postgraduation in the US or would you rather do a one year master’s in the UK?

Apart from the degree duration, research the competency of different countries in the subject of your interest, for instance, Singapore’s facilities to study medicine, or Canada’s reputation for engineering.

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Image: All images for representational purposes only
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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What's your university type?

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Though it might differ in certain countries, broadly, universities abroad are of two kinds: City-based and Campus.

City universities are generally buildings scattered through the city and therefore have no campus to speak of.

Campus universities are on the outskirts or in the countryside and are a little bubble into themselves.

If you want to experience the bustle of a city and think you might have better job opportunities there, choose a city university.

Keep in mind that cities are more expensive.

If you want a quiet, secluded study environment, choose a campus university.

Once you are more or less sure of where to go, check the accreditation of your shortlisted universities and their courses.

Fake institutions are plenty and adept at duping applicants.

Research rankings

Foreign universities are constantly assessed, graded and ranked under a number of criteria.

Look through ranks published by QS, Times Higher Education, The Guardian, Forbes and US News.

These are well researched and look at various factors that include student life and recruiter satisfaction, apart from academic excellence.

They also rank individual departments based on their research quality and teaching staff.

These rankings can also be used to check accreditations of universities. Only recognised and genuine universities are ranked.


Image: Comparing university rankings will help you develop a better understanding of the institute's features
Photographs: brainchildvn/Wikimedia Commons

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Consider your test scores

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Every country has a set of standardised tests that each foreign student applicant must take to be eligible for admission.

In English-speaking countries, there will definitely be an English language test – either the Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Apart from that, there might be others, depending on what you intend to study.

Common tests include the Scholastic Aptitude Test, American College Testing, Graduate Record Examination, Graduate Management Aptitude Test, Medical College Admission Test and Law School Admission Test.

Each university has its own test score requirements, so look up universities that will accept your scores.


Image: Find out details of the eligibility tests and the expected cut offs from the institute
Photographs: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com

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Look for financial aid

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Both university bodies and external trusts and grants offer financial aid.

Universities offer a range of scholarships with different requirements.

There are awards for outstanding students, exceptional sportsmen, those from a certain economic background, those from certain countries, for applicants to certain courses, etc.

Poke around university websites to see what they offer.

External scholarships are specific to certain countries and certain courses and have their own set of criteria.

If you are sure that your study in a foreign university is subject to a scholarship, choose your institute accordingly.


Image: You can reduce your education expenditure through merit-based study abroad scholarships
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
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Don't ignore course content

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All said and done, your primary reason to study abroad must be the subject you wish to study.

A single subject is taught and studied differently in different universities.

Study content and modules differ from institution to institution, as do the assessment methods.

Carefully read through the course content under the same subject in different universities and choose the one that you like the best.

For instance, if you wish to study creative writing, a module on critical theory might be compulsory in one place but nonessential in another, so if critical theory does not figure in your study interest, you could opt for the university that doesn’t offer it.


Image: Be sure to check the course curriculum before you sign up for the programme
Photographs: Reuters
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Get information from the right people and sources

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Post your queries about universities/course/countries at student forums and they will be answered by current, local and international students.

Try www. thestudentroom.co.uk and www.internationalstudentforum.com

Get in touch with alumni or seniors from your shortlisted universities and ask them for their study experience.

You will find them via universities’ alumni networks and student forums.

Talk to course directors and admission officers directly about their university.

They are polite and respond promptly to e-mails.


Image: To get more information, you can interact with seniors through alumni networks and student forums
Photographs: Kshitij Anand/Reuters
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Expert Tips: How to make the final choice

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Do not forget to consider the safety and crime statistics of the city, campus or region.

Find out if there are opportunities for part-time and fulltime work in the area for students

Student activities and support groups in the university, for instance, an Indian students’ group could be helpful in providing advice and coping with homesickness.

If you can afford it, visit university campuses yourself.

Almost all foreign universities have open days for prospective students to see and experience the campus first-hand.

Advice from experts

“The best university for any student may not be necessarily the famous ones, but those that offer the desired field of study as well as meet the other criteria important to him/her. The ranges of academic options as well as available universities are so wide that it is not possible to select the best in one go and it may take some time. Students should prioritise their criteria and shortlist the number of universities on that basis.”
- Swati Salunkhe, Global Education Counsel

“It is essential to focus on the most important goal you have in mind while choosing the country or university where you’d like to study. If seeking employment abroad is the goal, then research and analyse the job market and its future projections in different countries in your area and its openness to international applicants. When your primary goal is specialisation in particular subject or research, find out which universities and professors are actively engaged in the same. Their credibility at an international level would determine your long term prospects in that field.”
- Jayanti Ghose, career and education consultant


Image: Prioritise your criteria for shortlisting universities and take an informed decision
Photographs: Reuters

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