15 Essential Questions You Need to Ask When Choosing a University

Overwhelmed by university research? BridgeU outlines 15 questions to structure your research and help guide your decision making.

Deciding which university to apply to can feel like a confusing, stressful and overwhelming task. How do you even know where to start? 

There’s so many different factors to consider such as: location, tuition fees, entry requirements, scholarship information, types of course qualifications and, this year, thinking about how COVID-19 might impact your choices. 

University applications are even tougher this year because COVID-19 has made the future seem more unpredictable. Things just aren’t as clear-cut as they used to be when choosing where and how you want to study!

However, in this article we share 15 questions to guide your university research and help you make the right choices about where to apply. The questions below will point you towards different but important areas of research about the universities, colleges and courses that you’re shortlisting. 

Plus, to make things easier, the questions are categorised into three simple steps:

Step 1: Researching your destination country/region

The best applications begin here. It’s vital for you to find out what it’s like to study in the country, region, or city where you’re thinking of applying.

From climate to culture, it’s crucial that you’re applying to a university where you are going to be happy and thrive. The first 5 questions in this step are designed to make you feel as at home as possible when you move to university:

1. What’s the climate like around your destination?

The University of Guelph is one of the top ranking universities in Canada. And, although it may be a prestigious university on paper, you shouldn't apply if you dislike the cold. Temperatures in an Ontario winter can drop to -34.4°C (-29.9°F)! 

It seems like a tiny detail, but the climate and weather can have a tremendous impact on our mood. Would you prefer to study in a city or region that has freezing winters, or would you prefer somewhere much warmer? Think about the surrounding area, are you more of a city hopper or more of an outdoorsy-person? 

2. What are the language and cultural considerations?

Studying abroad may require you to have a foregrounding or even a fluency in another language. At your university, you might not get taught in your first language. And even if you’re taught in English, you’ll probably come into contact with languages that may be different to your own. You must consider if you’re comfortable with this. 

Likewise, cultural considerations are immensely important. Discover what the culture of your host country or city will be like. Is it a liberal or conservative environment? How different is it compared to where you live now? 

It’s ok to ask yourself the question - ‘Will I share fundamental values with the other students on this campus or course?’ It’s important that you feel you’re able to integrate well into your new student community.

3. What will the cost of living be like?

There are many things you must factor into your budget for living expenses. Some locations may have comparably high costs of living, but a thoughtful budget can make this manageable. 

That’s why it’s important to find out how much your accommodation and transportation are likely to cost. There are also many additional expenses to consider such as mobile phone bills, food, drink, household items, clothing and personal insurance.

Make a list and think about how much you are going to be spending on a weekly or monthly basis or for UK universities you can use the UCAS budget calculator. 

Calculate how much travel both to and from your hometown is going to cost. Don’t forget, you’ll probably want to return home from time-to-time, for example, at Christmas or in the summer holidays.

4. How easy will it be to get a student visa?

You may need a student visa to study in your chosen destination country. Applying for a visa can be a time-consuming but necessary process. 

Be aware of the most recent processes and procedures by consulting your host country’s official visa advice. Consider the types of supporting material and documents that you must present. For example, the UK has now made it necessary for most students to apply for a tier 4 visa, even from certain countries in the EU. 

Find out what sort of deadlines there are in the student visa process so you can plan what needs sending and when. The most important thing is to ensure you can get a visa by having a clear understanding of the correct process and the timeline by which you need to apply.

5. How has COVID-19 affected your destination? 

It is difficult to talk openly about any destination at the moment without mentioning the elephant in the room! Coronavirus has affected every location in the world in different ways. 

You may wish to learn more about what support an institution offers for students worried about COVID-19. But also remember to keep up-to-date with the latest foreign travel advice if you are looking to go abroad. 

In the following sections, we’ll give you some further tips on how you may wish to factor COVID-19 into your research. A lot of teaching is shifting online, so be sure to find out what virtual services your university provides.

Login to build your shortlist 

Login to BridgeU today to research and shortlist your university choices! Find more exclusive information about the college, campus, or university that interests you.

Step 2: Campus Life

This step explores how to think about what university campus life will be like. The next set of questions will help you discover more about what the whole university experience has to offer.

6. What type of accommodation does the university offer?

You need to feel comfortable and safe in your living environment. Does your university house students in residence halls or provide dorm accommodation that is specifically for international students? 

Weigh up the costs. Does this include catering, or will you need to budget for food besides your other living expenses? Look at the commute to the campus and how long this will take on a daily basis.  

Also bear in mind, lots of universities are shifting part or all of their teaching online. This means that your studies may take place remotely. Your accommodation may be more of an important factor in your decision than it was before. 

7. What student support does the university offer?

Let’s be honest – arriving in a foreign city or country can feel like an unsettling experience. 

Find out how the university can help you if you need guidance or advice about anything from emotional support to managing your finances. During unusual circumstances it is essential to feel that you can reach out to someone–even if it is to ask the most simple questions!

Discover if the university has any societies or introductory programmes for new starters and international students (we’ll come back to this later). This could be a key way to make new friends and feel welcome. 

8. What is social life like? 

Remember, studying is not everything. Look at what extracurricular activities the university offers. Do they have your hobbies and interests? You can typically find full lists of societies and sports teams on the university websites. 

It is also worth checking out nearby towns or cities to see what they offer in terms of nightlife and culture. Is there a music, food or arts scene that excites you?

9. What percentage of students are international?

Did you know that IE University in Spain has an international population of 75% and is home to students from over 130 nationalities who speak over 45 languages? 

You may want to join a university with lots of other international students. Alternatively, you might not consider this so. Just be mindful to find a community that suits you best. 

Find out what percentage of the population is international or if the university offers any on-campus help or support for international students. What sort of initiation and orientation activities does the university offer for international students? 

10. What do other students have to say about it?

Hearing what the alumni of the university have to say about their experience of studying at the institution is an invaluable research tool.

By visiting university alumni websites, you can see which students previously attended. What sort of careers have graduates gone onto pursue? What is the employment rate of graduates - high or low?

Did you know?

You can login to BridgeU to view testimonials from students on university profiles in your shortlist. Some universities even have a description of a typical student day in the life!

Step 3: Academics

The last step is to concentrate specifically on the details of your studies and get an idea of what the day-to-day life will be like at this university.

11. Does the university program/course look interesting to you?

This might seem like an obvious question, but it’s often overlooked. You need to ask yourself if you really want to study this program or course for the next three/four years of your life. There’s no point in throwing yourself into a future you’re not passionate about. 

Find out what sort of flexibility is built into your university’s curriculum. This may have a bearing on what country you ultimately decide to study in. Would you prefer to study a specific subject for the whole degree, or would you like to study a wider range of subjects before you specialise (or major) later? 

For example, UK university degrees are usually more specialised, whilst US and Canadian universities encourage students to take a wider range of subjects before picking a major later on.

12. How are your classes taught by the university?

Ask yourself, how do you like to learn? How many hours per week will you be in scheduled classes? How will this balance out with the time you’re expected to study independently?

Remember, some degrees offer larger, lecture-based courses, while others have smaller seminars and tutorials with more contact time with staff. 

Do you prefer practical learning? Remember that a lot of scientific, engineering and life science subjects will require workshops or time in a laboratory. Does this interest and excite?

Think about what online learning the university is offering. If your course is going to be taught partially online, does this have any bearing on your decision?

13. How is the course assessed or graded?

As well as considering how you like to be taught, it’s also worth thinking about how you're going to be assessed. 

Are you comfortable with a course or major where there’s lots of coursework and essays? Does the program or course require you to write a dissertation? Or are you happier with more exam-based grading? 

Many academic programs also strike a balance between group work and individual study. It’s important to think about these factors and how you can benefit most from a specific style of grading or assessment. 

14. Does the university/course offer the qualifications that you need for your future? 

A good university fit also depends on what you want from your future career. But remember that different countries will have slightly different career paths, depending on whether you’re applying to a university or to study a specific course

For example, some UK &  European universities are better suited to offering specialist professional subjects like Medicine, Law or Architecture. 

Some universities may offer degrees with a work placement or a year in industry. For example, Universities of Applied Science in Germany and the Netherlands offer a mandatory year of working in an industry. Consider if opportunities like this are integral to your programme of study or to your own development. 

By contrast, remember that in the United States you don’t study towards one course - you will be required to take a wide range of subjects before choosing a subject to ‘major’ in later on. So choosing a US university means thinking about what portfolio of subjects might take you in the right direction. 

Jobs in certain countries require specific accreditations. For example, students looking to practise law in the EU or USA need to gain certain qualifications. And don’t forget - in the USA you can only apply to law school after you’ve finished your undergraduate degree. 

It’s okay if you are unsure about your future career steps. Research the types of careers you’re interested in and then consider how this fits in with the universities you’re interested in.

15. How much will the degree cost?

Finally, one more big question, especially in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom where tuition fees are higher, is to think about how much the degree will cost.

Don’t get put off by an intimidating price tag. Learning more about scholarships and financial support is another important step in the university research process. 

Many universities in countries all around the world offer scholarships and financial aid for students, whether these are government-backed loans or university-specific awards for international students. Make a note of how you could access student finance for your shortlisted universities. 

Top tip: Login to BridgeU. You can compare average course costs from the university profile on your shortlist. 

That’s it, that’s our simple three-step strategy. 

You won’t have all the answers to these questions straight away; that’s why it’s essential that you plan in advance, so you get time to reflect on the answers and gain a good understanding of what you want from your university experience. 

Make sure you check out some of the virtual open days and student showcase opportunities that are coming up! They offer a great opportunity to find out the answers to these questions.  If you haven’t started shortlisting universities on the BridgeU yet, click below to login. Find out why shortlisting is important to you.

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