When it comes to selecting a university, there’s a lot to consider. Even the decision to attend university over college, trade school, or simply going directly into the workforce can be a challenge to navigate for many students. There’s so much to consider, it can be hard to know where to begin.
That’s why we asked EF Academy Oxford’s Director of University Guidance Mark Zumbuhl for his thoughts on some of the most important considerations for high school students looking to select the best university. Enjoy!
The Course is Paramount
In going to university students are committing to studying for three, four or even more years. So your intended degree course or major is an important part of your decision. This is especially true in the UK and other European countries where students specialize from Year 1. In the USA, the flexibility of degrees makes it easier for students to change their major but you should still have an idea where you want to finish up.
Although many universities teach Economics courses, for example, not all of them will be the same. Does the university let me focus on the areas I am most interested in? Can I opt to take electives in other disciplines I like? What is the university department’s reputation in that particular subject (which may or may not be the same as the university’s overall reputation)? How are the library/computing/laboratory facilities? What are the career prospects for graduates of this particular course/major at that university? It is important to think about all these questions when deciding on a course.
Location, Location, Location
The first question is where in the world you want to be – not just country, but region or locality. Studying in California is different than studying in New York. The southeast of England has different qualities to the northwest.
You also need to think about what type of university and environment. Some people love the vibrancy of living in big cities. Some prefer the atmosphere of smaller college towns. Some like the seclusion of campus-type universities where all student facilities are on your doorstep. Some universities have plenty of residences and dorms on-site, at others, students often live in private rented accommodation – if so, are these close by or far away?
Whatever your preference, there will be a university for you. It is really important to think about what kind of lifestyle you want. It’s not always possible to visit universities, but most of them now have virtual tours online which can give you a good sense of what it’s like to be there.
My advice is very simple: if you can’t picture yourself actually living in this place for several years, you shouldn’t apply there.
So what else is going on?
You need to make sure the lifestyle works well for you. Does the university offer employment opportunities to current students – maybe for tuition discounts? What kind of scholarships or financial aid are available? All universities have a careers office, so how good will they be about helping you to plan for your future after graduation? Is there an active alumni network? Other things to think about include university ethos and student unions.
How about all those other things you can get involved with? Some people are into sport, some are great musicians or artists. Others might like to get involved in politics or activism. Every university has a bunch of student societies and clubs, so you need to see what’s being offered and what you would like to get involved in – whether it’s something you’ve been doing for years or an activity that’s completely new to you. Are you interested in experiencing the “Greek” life that exists in many of the US universities? What’s the local food scene like or the day and nightlife in the area?
As a student, you will have many things you want from a university. There are so many institutions of higher education out there and there’s almost certainly a place that has the exact combination you’re looking for. It is therefore vital that you do your research and get as much advice as possible in order to find which place is the best fit.