Choosing between Course | Country | University while planning to study abroad

As several foreign universities in different countries begin the admission process for their Spring intake, the admission season is once again on the horizon. This is a crucial time for all aspiring students who are eager to move abroad for higher education, to start shortlisting their options.

The admission process for most foreign universities can be time-consuming and confusing and you would be required to go through many steps and formalities before getting admission into your dream university. However, one of the most crucial steps is researching and shortlisting universities that fit your interests. Experts suggest that every aspiring student can start the application process by shortlisting their preferred countries, universities and programmes.

So how do you choose the best fit for you out of the vast number of options available? Here are a few factors you must consider as suggested by foreign universities, students and experts:

Choosing the location
Moving abroad is a major and life-altering decision and it is important that you consider all necessary factors before you take the big step.

While choosing the country, both experts and students suggest that you think about your long-term aspirations beforehand. For example, would you want to settle down in a particular country or come back and pursue your career in India?

“If you want to settle down, you have to research visa conditions and immigration policies. You should also read about the stay back period allowed on a post-study work visa, as it would differ for every country. Of course, language barrier, cost of living and tuition costs are more obvious factors that one considers before choosing which country,” explained  Ankur Dhawan, President, upGrad Study Abroad.

It might also be advised that students pick the location which aligns with the choice of their programme and ensure higher exposure in the particular field, experts advised.

Abizer Merchant, Director (India & Sri Lanka) at Macquarie University, Australia, opined “The selection process can start by researching the discipline or course the student would like to undertake. This can be followed by considering the country or location for study as certain countries may not be suitable for a chosen discipline. If a student wants to study Marine Science, it would not be suitable to study this course in a country which does not have a coastline.”

Experts further added that if you plan to settle down in the same country, it is better to consider quality of life, cultural and language barriers, presence of Indian community in the country, among other factors.

Choosing the university and programme
While shortlisting the universities, several points need to be researched beforehand. These include programmes and curriculum offered, alumni network, student experience, extracurricular activities offered and the like.

Jitin Chawla, career counsellor and global education consultant, explained what factors a student should consider while picking universities.

“As a rule of thumb, we advise students to pick anywhere near seven to eight foreign universities to apply to based on several deeply researched factors like courses offered, visa, location, tuition cost, eligibility criteria, financing and more. The interest to pursue education in foreign universities is increasing among students and many locations like the Netherlands and Japan are up-and-coming destinations for higher education,” he said.

While choosing the programme or university, it is suggested to focus on your personal goals and career paths instead of giving in to the hype of certain courses, and colleges.

Anjana Singh, Regional Head South Asia, University of East Anglia, UK, explained, “Take your time to make a well-informed decision, and don’t rush the process. I would recommend the students to conduct extensive research, apply early, plan your finances and be in touch with your career advisors or university representatives in India. This is a very critical aspect for every student looking to move abroad for higher rducation, however, making the right choice amidst the hype can be challenging and overwhelming.”

Global university rankings: How reliable?
More often than not, university rankings are the starting point for aspiring students while researching where to pursue their higher education. Experts say that while these rankings might give your research a boost in the beginning, it is always better to conduct your research instead of relying solely on the rankings.

“International accreditations such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the EFMD Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) and the Association of MBAs (AMBA) include in-depth assessments of both what is taught and how it will impact your graduate outcomes, so they are an indicator of the overall quality and value of the institution and their degrees. Finally, a university’s commitment to developing your employability goes beyond CV clinics and career support,” opined Professor Ken Lee, Loughborough Business School, UK.

Experts say that these global university rankings often look over the major factor that international students should consider, which is, employability. Hence, it is suggested that you research the curriculum to see if it aligns with your interest and reach out to the university’s alumni for feedback.

“While assessing the ranking of any university a lot of the time, the factors that are considered are quantity and quality of research publications being produced, availability of master’s and PhD programmes and others. For a student who wants to pursue a UG or PG degree, the focus should be on employability, student experience and industry exposure that the university offers,” explained UpGrad’s Ankur Dhawan.

Hear it from the students
Alumni and Indian students currently pursuing education in foreign universities also spoke about their experience with the process of picking out the university, course and country which was the right fit for them.

Violina Kalita, a student of MSc International Business at Loughborough Business School, UK, shared her experience. “In my decision to study abroad, my primary objective was to develop my employability. I chose to study MSc as it is aligned with these exacting prerequisites. The UK’s economic stability and job market were important factors for me choosing to study here. The overall student experience is also something worth researching. For me, this included having a single-site campus with great career support and networking opportunities.”

Students also added that to make a more informed decision, it is better to not overlook factors like student support, extracurricular activities, potential part-time work opportunities, quality of living, and more.

“One should also investigate the support services available for international students. Universities vary in the extent of support they provide, from orientation programmes to academic counselling. It is better to evaluate the accessibility of these services to guarantee a seamless transition into your new academic environment,” said Vatsal Chandra, an alumnus from the University of Essex, UK.

Vatsal added that investigating factors like the university’s faculty, global standing, alumni network, and research opportunities is crucial.

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