Video: how to choose which university or country to study in

By seeta.bhardwa@…, 30 March, 2021

While having lots of choice is no doubt a good thing, having too much choice can often feel overwhelming.

If you’re just starting out on your study-abroad journey and have no idea where to start in choosing a university or even a country, the tips below may help. Two current international students and one prospective international student share how they narrowed down their choices and the ways they researched their universities. 

Bianca, undergraduate student at Florida International University, from Spain

You’ve got the world as your stage and know what you want to study…but where? I developed a three-tier priority ranking to narrow down my choices. 

My first priority was figuring out which language I wanted to study in. I’m trilingual but preferred to study in English. My next preference was studying in Spanish, so I included Spain – my home country – in my search.

The second priority was deciding which countries and climates I would enjoy living in. This helped me narrow my options down to the UK, the USA, the Netherlands and Spain. I knew I would enjoy a warm, sunny climate not too far from my family, so I listed the south-east US and Barcelona, Spain, as my top two regions.

My third priority was recognising which of my options were both the most economically and academically feasible. I would have loved to study in the UK, but I couldn’t afford it – so it was ruled out. Unfortunately, the same thing was true of the Netherlands. 

Now, all I had left to do was apply to universities within my grade range. Of course, include a few schools just out of your reach! I made sure to apply to universities I would enjoy attending. This allowed me to relax a bit because even if I got accepted in my 11th option, I’d be happy to study there.

Thankfully, I was accepted into my first choice, studying international relations at Florida International University. Despite having done my freshman year via Zoom from Spain, I love my school and everything it offers. This three-tier priority ranking worked for me. I hope it inspires you to make your own! Enjoy the process and when in doubt, make choices that will make you happy.

See more about Bianca’s three-tier approach in the video below:

Elena, undergraduate at University of California, Los Angeles, from Indonesia

Choosing a place to spend three to four years of your life is hard – it’s even more so if you’re indecisive like me. In my case, I had to make the difficult choice between the US, the UK, Canada and Singapore. I ultimately chose to study business economics at the University of California, Los Angeles (almost 15,000 kilometres away from my home town of Jakarta, Indonesia).

The main question I asked myself was: “What do I hope to gain from my university experience?” 

On further research, I found that different countries (and even cities) have vastly different cultures, degree structures and education norms. As I was more interested in a flexible curriculum where I could explore different majors, I narrowed down my options to the US and Singapore, as my offers there provided a liberal arts curriculum.

Academics aside, the overall “vibe” of the city is equally important, so you enjoy your out-of-class experience. With the intention of having a good school-life balance, I researched extracurricular opportunities. As an international student, I sought to find a community of fellow Indonesian students on campus to ease my adaptation to the new culture. Asking current students is an excellent way to gain insight.

It is imperative to decide which factors are most important to you. There are many considerations, including changing political climate, how the pandemic affects ability to enrol, scholarships and your future career goals (so many that it would be extremely complicated to consider them with equal weight). Ultimately, you want to make a decision that you’re content with. 

See more about Elena's decision-making process in the video below:

Ben, gap-year student, from Spain 

As a gap-year student from Spain still navigating the college admissions process, I’ve spent countless nights scouring the internet to weigh the pros and cons of multiple locations. My heart was originally set on the UK because I qualify for lower tuition fees as a British citizen living in the EU. However, I knew I could go down a more adventurous route after stumbling upon YouTube videos on how universities in the US and Asia award need-based scholarships to international students.

I’m now torn between the US, Singapore and the UK. With college decisions just around the corner, I’ve narrowed it down to two key criteria: a holistic education and supplementing rigorous academics with non-profit work.

As much as I enjoy handling test tubes and studying the life sciences, I’m also keen to branch out into other fields like education policy and human rights. That’s why I’m drawn towards liberal arts colleges in New England and Yale-NUS in Singapore. Their open-ended curricula will put me in the driver’s seat.  

Pinpointing the perfect destination doesn’t happen overnight, let’s be honest. So please don’t rush the crucial planning stages! Give yourself ample time to build your college list.

I have ended up selecting schools that offer plenty of civic engagement initiatives, undergraduate-led research programmes, and paid internships. I’ve zeroed in on the US and Singapore because I want to be challenged, miles away from Europe. But never rule out the back-up options that are closer to home!

Most importantly, you should choose a university that’s financially viable for you and your family.

All three students are tutors and/or editors at IBlieve, a community of IB students worldwide. 



One prospective and two current international students share the criteria and methods they used to find the best university (and country) to study in 

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