The appeal of overseas universities certainly appears to be worrying many UK university admissions officers, with a third clearly signposting their concern that more and more local students are now finding the academic pastures greener on the other side of the channel.
But while much is made of increased UK tuition fees and student debt as key drivers to study further afield, there are other factors which impact on decision making too. A study by the student and graduate careers service, Graduate Prospects, suggests that while cost is the key motivator, the cultural experience of studying abroad is a powerful motivator too, along with a growing appetite for adventure.
Living and studying in another country offers a new perspective on life, and provides the chance for students to experience different cultures, hone their language skills, and engage with people from wildly different backgrounds. Experiencing different styles of education and ways of teaching can also be intellectually stimulating.
In today’s increasingly competitive graduate employment market, studying abroad is often well-regarded by employers and can certainly open doors. Companies are increasingly looking for globalised employees who can help them compete internationally. The life skills developed while studying abroad, such as problem-solving, self-sufficiency, interpersonal skills, language abilities, cultural awareness, adaptability, an appreciation of cultural diversity and the ability to use initiative, are all valuable assets to enhance a CV.
It is also a fact that many students who attend overseas universities remain in the country of their studies post-graduation, so any business connections made during their degree will stand them in good stead when seeking employment in that country.
But while the opportunity to broaden their horizons, enhance employability, and develop as a global citizen through international study is recognised by students as a real option, the fact remains that many simply don’t know where to start the process, and most schools and colleges are not expert enough to guide them.
Helping students get it right
As an international school, we have 50 years’ experience helping students widen their horizons, with our graduates leaving us to attend university in over 20 countries. By studying globally recognised qualifications, such as the International Baccalaureate, our students are extremely best placed to approach the university of their choice, be that in the UK or anywhere in the world. The 16-18 IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) is cited by UK university admission officers as the ‘best qualification to thrive at university’ and is widely recognised as the best education programme for helping students develop critical higher education study skills.
Our globally diverse student and staff body means that from a young age, students integrate with numerous different cultures, which inspires them and fosters an appreciation of cultural differences. A mix of nationalities in a classroom brings together multiple views and experiences, naturally developing a global outlook. This means that when they come to choosing a university, our students are very open to studying internationally.
ACS Top Tips: How to choose a European University
The first step for many students is to reach for the latest league tables. Even though many of our students go to the top universities across the world, league tables are not the best starting point.
What's your learning style?
Find a university that is the best fit for you individually. This means exploring degree subject choice, course content, assessment, contact hours and graduate prospects. As teaching hours and course delivery vary depending on the subject, it's important to look at out how the course modules are delivered, and review if it’s appropriate to your learning style.
Some universities will deliver almost all learning through lectures to 300-400 students at a time, for example, while others may offer tutorials in small groups of up to 20 students. Other university courses will allow several hours a week contact with a course tutor which may be considered be more valuable to certain students than the general lectures.
It is also important to examine the geographic location of the universities you are considering. Factors to think about are family geography, the native language, and even the weather which can have a big impact on your general well-being.
Students should also consider if they prefer a campus or non-campus university. Campus universities tend to have greater social cohesion which may suit someone a long way from home. Think about whether you like to be in a busy city or would thrive somewhere less frenetic.
Extroverts too may be much more likely to thrive in a large university, whereas a smaller campus setting could suit students who function better as part of a small and close group. Similarly, if a student requires strong support to thrive and learn, then we encourage them to consider universities where family or close friends are reasonably nearby.
An increasing number of European universities offer all their courses in English, such as the leading Dutch universities. Many science and medical university courses in Eastern European capital cities such as Prague and Budapest are also offered in English, and these, plus business based subjects, are often the most accessible to native English speakers.
Cost, of course, can be the biggest deciding factor in choosing a university. That is why we ensure our students fully work out the costs for each university choice, as well as researching the student loans and bursaries that may be available to them. Spend some time calculating the tuition and living costs for each of your preferred options.
Attend Open Days
University Open days are undoubtedly the best way to find out if a university is the right fit for you. This way, you will also get to see the local area for yourself – where you might live, shop and socialise. Open days also provide the perfect opportunity to ask the lecturers and current students any questions and discover the culture of the university, and what societies, sports clubs and student groups are on offer.
Few countries offer a centralised system like UCAS in the UK, so we support our students in navigating the different application processes abroad. Try to categorise your choices into three groups:
- “reach” where the entry requirements make it a challenge to win a place;
- “likely” where they are confident of achieving the university entry requirements; and
- “safety” – a fallback just in case expected grades aren’t achieved.
Going through this internal reflection and decision-making process should help you to be happier, more confident and successful in your university choices.
The choice is yours
Students are spoilt for choice with an abundance of outstanding European universities. In the Times Higher Education’s World University Ranking 2016-2017, just under 400 of the 980 best universities in the world were European universities.
Strong European performers in the top 10 included ETH Zurich in Switzerland, LMU Munich in Germany and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
Choosing to embark on a university education in Europe develops key skills, enhances employability and improves cultural awareness. The importance of developing broad horizons and learning to adapt to different environments is key to thriving in an increasingly global workplace.