Finding the right University or College
In this section you can:
- Learn about testing from the experts.
- Explore the areas you need to take into consideration.
- Find out the Quick Tips from the experts!
- Get answers to your frequently asked questions.
- Answer those critical questions. It needs to be done!
- Tell us what you’re on your mind…
Expert View – what the old guys think!
Our resident expert shares gets you started on this big and important topic.
Read this to get the complete picture…
‘I want to go to college but there is a bewildering choice, I am all confused. Where can I start? Help!’
There are many differing ideas about how to find the right college, but at the end of the day it boils down to one key fact: ‘Find the right fit’
Easier said than done I hear you say, there are so many colleges/universites and anyway what is the right fit?
In order to narrow down from the list of thousands of colleges to possibly half a dozen you’re going to apply to, you need to do some self-reflecting, you need to set priorities. What is important to you?
How to choose a university...
Overview of how to choose a university
Before we start trying to find some universities to apply to, let’s be clear about what we are talking about. There is a certain amount of misunderstanding around the words university and college. What is the difference? The answer to this question is, it depends who you ask and in which country you ask it. As a rule of thumb, universities tend to offer postgraduate courses and do research although there are many colleges that do as well. E.g. Imperial College London. For those of you who are put off by the word college and I want the word University, well if you’ve overlooked Imperial College London you have just overlooked one of the world’s top universities. So let’s stay flexible.
When looking for higher education courses (post-secondary/high school) you need to understand that there is a considerable variety of courses available. Most students leave school and apply for a bachelor’s degree and many will likely go on to study for a master’s degree or a PhD. There are, however, many courses available at below bachelor’s degree level.
Here is a quick list:
- Bachelor degree – 3 or 4 years
- Foundation degree – normally one extra year on the front of a bachelor’s degree
- Two-year programs – with the option upon successful completion to take an extra year and earn a full bachelor’s degree e.g. Higher National Diploma (HND) in the UK, Associate degree in USA
- One-year program e.g. Higher National Certificate (HNC) in the UK
So, having quickly clarified the options where courses are concerned, let’s turn our attention to the different types of universities and colleges.
Here is a quick list:
- Universities that offer Bachelor degrees, Masters degrees, PhD and are involved in academic research
- Universities and colleges that only offer undergraduate degrees
- Colleges that offer courses below a bachelor degree levels.
These range from two-year degrees to training courses for a specific job e.g. hairdresser, plumber etc.
And then there are universities/ colleges that offer specialist courses that prepare you for a particular job. Training to be a nurse, teacher etc.
And so back to the task in hand: looking for some universities to apply to. This is where we start to build a short list of universities, but before we get down to looking at this in more detail, just a couple of tips.
Now this is where you get stuck into the important task of setting priorities, asking yourself questions about what you really want. Self-reflection is something we don’t do often enough, but it is very useful when searching for the right university, it will increase your chances of finding the right fit and it will save you time during the whole university/college search process.
Important areas to take into consideration
Take all of these into the mix
Location & Size
Ask yourself questions like : do I want to be part of a big university with 50,000 students? Do I want to be on a small rural campus with 2,000 students and I can walk from the dorm to my lectures and know half the people I see on the way? Do I want to be in the center of a big city like London or New York, or a smaller city?
The answers to these questions will have a huge impact on your whole university/college experience, so you need to think carefully about this. Each person is different, just because your best friend wants to go to New York City does not mean to say it would necessarily be the best fit for you. Be honest with yourself.
Some students prefer to stay in their comfort zone and go to university in their own country where everything is familiar and comfortable.
Other students have a more adventurous nature and recognize that going to a different country and mixing with students of other nationalities will help them grow and develop as individuals and provide them with confidence and self-skills that will stand them in good stead for their future career. Some university courses actively encourage students to study in different countries and be exposed to different cultures. An example of this is the World Bachelor in Business program at Bocconi University in Milan. Students study for one year in Italy, one year in California and one year in Hong Kong, thus they are exposed to the business culture of three different continents. There are, of course, many other universities who offer similar opportunities.
Internships are a wonderful way for you to prepare yourself for the world of work. One day, after you have finished university, you will find yourself being interviewed for a job, if you can offer your prospective employer both the academics and a year’s work experience then this will give you an advantage over the others who have only done the academics. So how to find one of these wonderful opportunities? They are listed on the university websites. You need to look for words like ‘placement’ or ‘sandwich courses’ (UK), co-op programs (Canada), internships (USA…and many other countries)
In many cases the university will help you find an internship, these can be either paid or unpaid depending on the country (in the UK they are paid). These are real jobs, you’re not going to make tea or do photocopying, you are part of the team and you work as part of the team. An internship can be an invaluable experience, as it will enable you to discover what area of work you would like, and equally importantly, what area you do not like. This will help focus you for when you apply for jobs after university. To summarise, it’s a win-win situation.
How important is it to you to study at a big-name prestigious university?
Rankings are useful up to a point, but you should remember that just because the university is ranked number 6, it is not necessarily a better fit for you than the university ranked number 10. The rankings change each year. I would suggest that you have a look at the subject rankings and this will give you a ballpark figure of where the top 20 universities are for your subject, where the next 20 are etc.
Can I work on a Student Visa?
The answer to this question is it depends on your nationality and which country you’re in. It’s best to check on the country’s government website. Government websites have a section on university studies/ work. E.g. Immigration/work/study in Canada
You should think of university education as purchasing a product. You’re going to sign a contract with the university; they contract to give you a certain service, and in return you contract to pay them a certain amount of money. The question is: how much to pay, and what do you get for your money?
This is a very big marketplace with a lot of products on offer. You can get good quality university education in lots of countries. Ask yourself how much do I want to pay, and what will I get for the money?
Before you start dreaming of studying on a beautiful campus that flows down to a palm tree fringed beach in southern California, you need to ask your parents where they are prepared to let you go and study. Some parents like to keep their children close, and insist that they live at home and study at the local university.
Sorry guys, I can help you with lots of things, but not with this problem. You are going to have to persuade your parents. But remember my earlier advice, don’t apply anywhere unless you are seriously prepared to go there. Now you may be seriously prepared to go to the beach in California, but if your parents are not ok with it, then don’t bother to apply. Final thought on the subject of parents: be nice to mom and dad, especially as they are paying!
Do you want to study in English, your native language or perhaps another language that you have learnt? Let’s assume for the moment that you want to study in English, that still leaves a bewildering choice: there are the obvious English speaking countries -USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and many more. Then there are countries that have a large offering of university courses taught in English: The Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore etc.
Furthermore, there are many private universities that teach in English scattered across the globe…
Look carefully at the list of academic programs and then look at the course content of each program you are interested in. It is vital to know what units you will study in year 1, year 2 etc. because courses may have the same title at different universities but the contents may differ.
Ask yourself a simple question: Do I want to study this?
Can I change subjects?
It is important to know how much flexibility a university offers with regard to changing subjects once you’re at the university. You may find that the subject you applied for is not exactly what you thought it was and that you would prefer to change to a different subject. Different universities, different levels of flexibility.
An increasing number of universities encourage students to go on exchange programs. These come under the three main categories:
- You’re going to another university, usually in a foreign country and you take courses for one or two semesters and the credits you earn count towards your degree
- Your university has campuses in different cities/ countries and offers the same program in all locations; this means that you can move around and take the same courses E.g. The European Business University with campuses in Barcelona, Munich, Geneva and Montreux
- Two universities that have entered into cooperation to provide students with a degree program that is taught in both locations. E.g. St Andrews University in Scotland and William and Mary University in the USA.
Electives are extra subjects that you take alongside your major, either for credits for your degree or just for interest. Generally speaking, the larger the university the larger and more diverse is the offering of electives. Even if you don’t require electives for your degree, it is a good idea to attend some extra classes just for interest. Make the most of your time at university to learn new things, especially in subject areas which may not be directly related to your major.
You can work or not during your studies, it depends on several factors
Are you allowed to work in that country? Work permit? Remember you will almost certainly be there on a student visa. Many countries allow students to work up to a maximum number of hours per week even if you are in that country on a student visa. Canada and the UK are examples.
Are you restricted to working only on-campus, or can you work in the normal Labour market in the city?
For some students the ability to find work alongside their studies is critical to finance their studies. No work, no university.
Many students have a part time job alongside their studies during the semester times, and then work full-time during the university holidays. Remember, universities normally only open for approximately 30 weeks a year, this leaves 22 weeks a year of holiday.
We’ve created a whole module on this one!
Ideas that make the difference
Never apply to a university unless you’re seriously prepared to go there. You may think you’re going to Harvard or Cambridge, but supposing you don’t get in, then you will have to go to one of the other universities on your list.
Not too many!
Don’t apply to too many universities as it is a lot of work and this will come at the same time as you are busy with your academic subjects in school.
Some critical questions that need to be asked
Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.
What is really important to you?
Do you want to live in a big city or do you prefer some place smaller?
Where are you most likely to be happy?
Can you afford to live in the location of your choice?
Wigsbury Frequently asked questions
Quick answers to the important questions
I can’t make up my mind which country to go to.
First of all talk to your parents and find out which country they would like you to study in. Then talk to your college counselor to find out what the options are for the particular subject you are planning on studying. Also, you need to consider factors such as: cost, climates, ease of travel, the availability of housing, medical care, work opportunities etc. etc.
Can I apply to more than one country?
Which is the cheapest country to study in?
The answer to this question depends on your nationality and the country that you are considering. Generally speaking, it is cheaper to stay in your own country, however there are many exceptions to this rule. Some countries offer free university education to all nationalities. E.g. Germany. Other countries offer free university education to EU citizens e.g. Sweden. Other countries differentiate between the tuition fees for their own citizens and the tuition fees for everybody else. E.g. Canada.
Will I have to take an English-language test?
This depends on your nationality. If you come from an English-speaking country, then you will not require an English-language test. If English is not your native language, but you are studying in an English medium school, ask your college counselor to write a letter to the university explaining this and asking them to waive any English language test requirement that they may have. Universities are normally very understanding once they realise that despite the fact you are a citizen of a country where English is not the national language, you have been educated in English most of your life, are completely fluent in English and are studying for the IB diploma in English.
Do universities recognize the IB diploma?
Yes. You can check IB recognition country by country
Do British and American universities recognize my home country’s school leaving diploma?
You’ll need to check on the universities’ websites. If you do not find the information, then just email the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and ask them.
Will I need a Visa?
Most countries will require you to have a student visa. The university will advise you on this and help you with the paperwork. Just as a tip, do this earlier rather than later as sometimes the bureaucracy can take a long time.
Can I get financial aid?
This is a very large and complicated question, and I suggest you look at the module that I produced on this topic is it guides you through the options and provides you with websites to look at.
Can I work while studying?
This depends on your status as a student. Does your student visa allow you to work full-time or part-time or not at all? You can find the answer to this on the government website of the relevant country you are planning on applying to. Or you can contact the university and ask them.
Are there women only colleges?
Yes, there are still a few women only colleges, although the vast majority of colleges and universities are co-ed. One of the best-known women only colleges is Wellesley College, USA.
Are there men only colleges?
Yes, but very few.
Are some universities famous for specializing in a particular subject area?
Yes. A good example of this would be Loughborough University in the UK. It specializes in sport related subjects – Sports Management/Sports Science etc. The way to find which universities are top in that particular subject area is to go to the rankings and use the filter by subject. If we consider the UK, the overall rankings always show Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews as the top three. But supposing you wanted to study forestry or marine biology? Then you might want to look somewhere else like Bangor University for example.
I have read that German universities are free for all nationalities. Do I have to pass a German language test to study there?
If you want to study courses taught in German, then you will have to pass the German language test at level C1. If you have not yet learnt German, you can go and do an intensive course at a German university in order to learn the language. After successful completion of the course, you will then be allowed to start your bachelor degree. If, however, you want to study at a German university on a course that’s taught in English, then you do not need to prove German language proficiency, although it’s a good idea if you are living in Germany to take German classes.
I want to try out for a professional football club, how can I combine this with university studies?
This is really a matter of balancing your time between studying, and the club’s training schedule. I suggest you talk to the university and find out how flexible they can be with release time.
I have my own horse; can I take it to university?
There are some universities that have their own stables and riding clubs. Check online.
I’m going to miss my parents when I leave home, but I’m really going to miss my pet dog. Do you know if universities have a rent -a- pet scheme?
It is a well-researched fact that pets have a calming effect on stressed out students, and so many universities offer a rent – a – pet scheme. You can be responsible for dog walking/ dog sitting etc. The University of British Columbia in Vancouver has such a scheme. I suggest that you check the website of any university you’re interested in, and if you don’t find this information then just send an email to the Office of the Undergraduate Admissions.
I want to study in the United States and I have my own car. Is there restricted parking on campus?
Most campuses have restricted parking. You will need to check with the university you plan to apply to.
I want to go and study in either the USA, Canada or the UK because I want to stay there after graduation and eventually become a citizen. Is this possible?
Every country has its immigration regulations, the best way to find out is to go onto the government website and see what their requirements are. In Canada and the UK, you can stay after graduation and work for two years. Beyond that, you would have to negotiate with the local authorities for an extension of your resident permit/ work permit etc.
Do university campuses have places of worship?
Many university campuses have a place of worship that students can use irrespective of which religion they belong to.
Are dormitories/ halls of residence mixed or and single sex?
Dormitories and Halls of Residence are mainly mixed, however there are a few which are single sex.
I want to play sport for the University team or maybe even for a local professional team, Will the university grant me time off to do this?
This is something you will have to contact the university and ask about. Most universities are keen to recruit and promote top athletes and sports persons.
I am planning on studying in an English medium university but in a country where English is not the national language. Will the university provide language classes?
In almost all cases, the answer is yes. They encourage you to learn the local language as they recognize it will enrich your experience of being in their country, also it might come in useful for you in your future career.
I love Asian food, will I be able to get Asian food if I study in the UK?
No problem! The UK is full of Asian shops and restaurants, every supermarket has a section dedicated to Asian food.