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Applying to Uni: How do I Choose a University Abroad?

According to the British Council, more than a third of young people in the UK would consider applying to a university abroad.

Studying abroad as a student could give you the opportunity to take a prestigious course, learn a new language or save money on tuition fees.

But remember, going to university in another country can also bring lots of new challenges and sometimes hidden costs as well.

Here are 12 things to consider and some useful links for anyone thinking about heading overseas for their degree.

1. Check the world university rankings

The USA and the UK dominate the top half of the world university rankings, but if you search by region or by subject, you’ll see there’s some variety. For example, Switzerland has the fourth-highest-ranked university in Europe.

The Times Higher Education world rankings and QS Top Universities rankings are the best sites to use. 

2. Is the course in English?

Unless you're taking a language degree or are fluent in the language of the country you’re heading to, you’ll need to look for courses taught in English.

Universities in the USA, Ireland, Canada, and Australia are popular choices for that reason, but lots of European universities teach courses in English, including the Netherlands which has over 1,500 undergraduate courses in English and Germany, which has over 800.

3. Will I get qualifications I can use back home?

For courses that can lead to professional qualifications, like medicine, law or psychology, you should check the accreditation (just as you should at home) and find out if it is recognised by professional bodies in the UK, or if you would need to do extra study or a conversion course to get up to speed back once you complete your degree.

4. Which countries have free or cheap tuition fees?

Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland do not charge EU students any tuition fees.

France, Switzerland, Portugal, Poland and even Japan have very low fees (except at private universities), which is awesome, but before you’re totally sold on the idea, consider the next point…

5. Will I be able to get a student loan or funding to study abroad?

The trade off for finding a university with free tuition is that you may not be able to get funding for your living costs and you won’t be able to get a UK student loan to study anywhere outside the UK, including Ireland.

You may be able to get a local loan or grant to cover your costs in the Netherlands and Italy and sometimes in France, but most EU countries will not let you apply for a loan, so you will need to find a scholarship, bursary, or self-fund through part-time work or help from your family. Check out our advice on student finance.

You may also be able to get a student travel grant from the UK government to help towards the cost of getting there and back.

6. What are the living costs?

Find out basic everyday costs, like rents, food, drink and travel and make a budget to find out the real cost of studying abroad – it all adds up. University Living has a cost-of-living calculator for students considering studying abroad, which is well worth checking out.

7. Any hidden costs?

Look out for hidden costs too, like health insurance. Not everywhere provides free healthcare like the UK. You should also check if you need to pay a "registration fee" to start at uni. You may need to apply for a visa if you are studying outside the EU. A visa is basically a stamp on your passport which says you're allowed to enter another country for a particular reason and a given length of time.

8. Investigate scholarships

Most countries will offer a limited number of scholarships to UK undergraduate students. Some countries, like New Zealand may only fund post grad study, so do your research. Competition is tough too so get searching at least a year before you plan to start uni and remember that there will be lots of different deadlines. Time to buy that diary!

Here are some useful links to help you search:

(You should also check on individual university websites what financial support they can offer international students)

9. Can I apply with my A-levels or do I need to take other exams?

It depends. Lots of universities will accept you on A-levels alone, but some US universities might ask you to take SATs, for example. 

10. Will I be able to work while I study?

If you go to uni in the EU, you should be able to work during term time, but there will be a lot of competition and you will probably need to speak the local language to muscle in on jobs, so make sure you have a plan in place if you can’t work all the time. Remember too that outside of the EU you will normally need to apply for a permit to work.

11. Consider a year abroad instead?

If you would like to study abroad but are not sure if you want to do the full move, lots of UK universities offer study abroad and exchange schemes. Some universities will be more flexible about this that others, so it’s important to do your research before you apply. Third Year Abroad has put together a very useful list of all the different study abroad programmes on offer.

Check out the Erasmus EU study exchange programme too.

12. When to apply

Not every country has a centralised application system like UCAS and there will be different deadlines in different countries, so start doing your research from September and be prepared to put in applications throughout the year.

Take a look at this infographic from Travelex, which looks at the top locations for UK students, and provides some useful information to help inform your decision:

Useful Links

If you're undecided about university, check out our post on whether university is the right choice for you, and if you're unsure about studying abroad, find out about the benefits of a gap year.

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