University

Universities across the world: how to choose the right experience for you

By Fiona McKenzie, Head of Education, Carfax Education

University opens up numerous opportunities for students, but there are lots of things to consider when it comes to choosing the right path. Not only the course and the institution but the type of university experience you want and the opportunities this might present once you’ve finished your studies. Where you study will have a unique impact on the direction in which life takes you.

For international students who are accustomed to moving abroad and living in new places, being open to exploring a different path can throw even more options into the mix. 

Historically, UK universities were top choice for students across the world, but as places become more competitive, both international and UK based students are exploring their options a little further afield, looking at courses across the rest of Europe and the US. 

UK

Despite an increasingly competitive environment, UK universities remain a popular choice. With some of the world’s top universities globally renowned for their research the UK also offers a high-quality undergraduate experience socially and for many students this represent a more traditional route.

For students who have studied a UK curriculum up to A-level, this option offers a familiar and well-trodden path and there will be a university to suit you whatever your grades and ambitions. That said, the UK also has a long history of welcoming international students from a wide range of academic curriculums and each university has a good support system in place for welfare and practical support for students from abroad. 

One of the benefits of studying in the UK is the wide variety of subjects on offer, the ability to specialise from an early stage and the opportunity to combine subjects together to form a joint degree. With a strong teaching history of traditional subjects, the UK also offers globally recognised courses for vocational subjects such as medicine, veterinary science and engineering, as well as more niche subjects such as Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Festival Event Management or even Contemporary Circus

Most degrees in England and Wales are three years long, depending on the subject you choose and whether you take a year out, and in Scotland all degrees are four years. It is always worth considering if the university offers a study abroad or a work placement year. For business related degrees, the opportunity to gain relevant professional qualifications which can fast track a career post-graduation is invaluable. 

Thinking about ‘best fit’ goes beyond the academics, and it is important to think about the lifestyle choices you will be making. This will be at least three years of your life and the environment will have a significant impact on your overall experience. For some students a campus university, where everything is located on one site, provides a fully immersive experience with all the university has to offer within immediate reach. For others they will fare better where the university is part of a town so the accommodation, teaching blocks and university facilities mingle with normal life.  

Accommodation choices are also an important factor, whether living on campus in student halls or renting a private accommodation somewhere in the city. In most UK university halls students will have their own bedroom but you may share a bathroom with others on the same corridor. You also need to weigh up the pros and cons of being in catered or self-catered halls in the UK and decide which will work best for you.   

Applications to all UK universities are managed through the University Central Admissions System, known as UCAS. You can apply to five universities and then will pick a first and second choice based on your offers and predicted grades. Every application requires you to submit a personal statement, which will explain to the admissions tutor why you want to study this subject, what you have done to demonstrate your interest and what other qualities you will bring to the university. This will be backed up with a separate reference from a teacher. Some courses and universities may also require you to take some additional tests and attend an interview. 

Key application deadlines for 2023:

  • 15th October 2022 for applications to Oxford University and Cambridge University 
  • 15th October 2022 for Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary courses
  • 26th January 2023 for all other subjects 

US

The US is also home to some of the world’s most respected academic institutions. As well as the better-known Ivy League universities, there are several top ranked colleges that specialise in particular subjects offering world-class facilities and research institutions. 

One of the appeals of studying at a university in the US is the breadth of choice and flexibility of their academic programmes. Most degrees last four years and some even extend to six. In your Freshman (first) year, you will study a range of different subjects, sometimes set out as ‘core curriculum’ to help you make an informed decision on your choice of Major in your Sophomore (second) year. Even in your Junior (third) and Senior (fourth) years, you will still have a chance combine subjects of interest and to take modules in other subjects outside of your Major. 

For students with big sporting ambitions, US universities can be an excellent choice in terms of the coaching and career opportunities, not to mention scholarship funds. The sporting culture is quite unique to American universities and encourages all students to get involved as supporters, which contributes to a sense of campus culture. 

With US applications, there are several different timelines to consider. ‘Early decision’ (ED) applications are due in November with decisions announced in December. ED II applications are due in January and a decision needs to be made by February. ED and ED II are both binding, meaning students must enrol if offered a place. 

The alternative route is ‘early action’ applications. These can be submitted any time between November and January, depending on the college with offers made in March or April, however these offers are not binding. In addition, there are rolling admissions, where schools evaluate applications as and when they receive them with no hard deadline. 

It is worth noting that exact deadlines will vary from college to college. 

Key application deadlines for 2023:

  • November 2022 – ED application deadlines
  • January 2023 – ED II application deadlines and Early Application deadlines

Europe

European universities are home to some of the world’s leading research institutes and with many internationally ranked universities offering degrees taught in English, students are increasingly considering Europe as a destination for higher education. The range of degrees offered, the comparatively lower fees and the opportunity to experience living in a different country and gain different experiences are all a strong pull.

With so many different opportunities available with European universities, it is important to do your research and consider the pros and cons of studying in an environment where the cultures and language could be quite different. You need to consider the different structures of the courses, the facilities, and resources available to students and as with the UK and US, think about location, which country, city, lifestyle appeals to you and what you want to get out of the experience. 

Most European countries do not offer a centralised application system, so you need to do your due diligence to find out how to apply in particular countries.  In the Netherlands, for example, there is a well-established application portal, Studielink, which is used by many of the universities but in countries such as Spain and Italy applications are on a university by university basis. Some require no more than predicted grades, but others may need a personal statement or event have entrance exams for certain subjects. Deadlines vary significantly from university to university and sometimes degree to degree, so it is important to research the options carefully.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing a university. It all depends on your subject interests, career aspirations and the overall experience you are looking for. University is a formative time for many students and can present so many new experiences and opportunities along the way. The important thing is to think about what you want and explore your options, with a focus on the learning experience and the social life that appeals to you. 

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