The Indispensable Guide to University Admissions Around the World

Image shows a row of international flags.
British students are increasingly considering the possibilities of studying abroad.

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The reasons for this are diverse. There’s the classic linguist who spends a year abroad to hone their language skills; the budding entrepreneur who wants to experience emerging markets for themselves; the budget-conscious student who looks internationally for lower fees; and the independent-minded traveller who’d simply like to put a sea’s distance between themselves and their parents. There’s also evidence to suggest that studying abroad correlates with better exam results – though this may be simply because more academically talented students are more likely to be accepted on to study abroad programmes.
Whatever the reason, around one in twenty British students spends at least some part of their degree overseas. The easiest way to do this for most students is to apply to a British university, and then have a year abroad organised for you through that university’s international connections. But more adventurous students may choose to spend their entire degree abroad. In this article, we’re looking at the second type of student; we’re considering popular destinations alongside emerging options, advising you how to get in and why to go.

United States

How do I get in?

Image shows the Statue of Liberty.
The USA is one of the most popular destinations for international students, despite the high cost of study.

Universities in the United States are highly independent; there’s no centralised system like UCAS for applying to them. Instead, each university sets its own admissions criteria and you just have to look at their websites to find out what those criteria are. You can also apply to as many universities as you like, but there is usually a fee for applying to each one (sometimes waived for low-income applicants) so applying to lots of universities can get expensive quickly. You’ll probably need some combination of standardised test results (the SAT or the ACT; there are a handful of testing centre for each in the UK), a personal essay, teacher recommendations and school reports.

How much does it cost?

University in the USA is notoriously expensive, especially for international students looking at studying at the best universities. The average cost of study in the USA is around £24,000 per year including living expenses, but the best universities will charge £30,000 per year just for tuition.

Why study there?

Of the top ten universities in the world according to the QS world university rankings, five are in the USA. So if you’re looking to study at one of the best universities in the world, you’re disproportionately likely to end up in the USA.

Where else should I consider?

If you’re after a world-class university, Singapore and Hong Kong also make a very strong showing in the world top 30. Or, given that the UK has four universities in the world top ten, you could just stay at home.

Image is a button that reads "Browse all University Admissions articles."Australia

How do I get in?

Image shows kangaroos in silhouette.
British students tend to enjoy Australian culture.

As in the USA, students apply directly to each individual university in Australia. However, unlike for US applications, you don’t need to take additional tests – A-levels or the IB are accepted examinations for admission. There’s also an application processing fee for most universities. For most courses, your grades and English level are enough for entry – so you don’t need to worry about personal statements or essays.

How much does it cost?

Average tuition fees in Australia are higher even than in the USA, though the top universities are cheaper. Expect tuition fees of £7,000 – £15,000 per year – but don’t forget to factor in the high cost of flights as well.

Why study there?

Australian universities have a good reputation, with a strong showing in the QS world university rankings. However, for students from the rainier parts of Britain, studying somewhere like Sydney with average winter temperatures of 12 degrees in winter and and 22 degrees in summer is likely to be the greater temptation.

Where else should I consider?

If you’d like to be as far from Britain as possible, in an English speaking country, and it isn’t the weather that attracts you, the USA, Canada and New Zealand are also good options.

Czech Republic

How do I get in?

Image shows Prague at sunset.
The Czech Republic and other countries in eastern Europe are seen as cheaper places to get a respected degree.

Universities set their own entry requirements. Generally you will only be required to submit your A-level results; some universities will have additional entrance exams for particular subjects. You might also have to write a personal statement and submit letters of recommendation depending on the university.

How much does it cost?

Fees vary considerably. If you opt for a Czech-language programme, tuition is free even for international students (and the cost of living is considerably lower than in the UK). If you opt for an English-language programme, then costs start at around £2,000 per year, but can be considerably higher: Medicine in English at the Charles University in Prague will cost you a little over £8,000 per year.

Why study there?

Getting a respected degree for lower fees, lower living expenses and (sometimes) lower entry requirements a short-haul flight from home is an appealing option for many students. This is a particularly popular option among British students wanting to maximise their options for studying Medicine.

Where else should I consider?

Hungary, Romania and Malta all have similarly low fees and offer similarly well-respected medical courses, often in English.

France

How do I get in?

Image shows Paris, focusing on the Eiffel Tower.
More British students studying abroad go to France than any other country.

EU students apply in exactly the same way as French students, by completing an application form on the centralised system. You rank the universities that you would like to apply to and then are admitted according to your grades. The exception is the highly-regarded elite of universities called the Grandes Écoles, which each have their own, much more complicated admissions systems.

How much does it cost?

At some universities, your tuition fees could be as low as £150 per year. At the most expensive private business school, you’re still likely to pay less than standard university fees in the UK. You might encounter a sliding scale of fees depending on your household income.

Why study there?

25% of British students who choose to study overseas go to France, though the majority of those are language students going abroad for a single year or term. The climate, the chance to work on language skills and the culture are all strong selling points. There’s also the possibility of easy access to a big name university – the Sorbonne, for instance, is a name that will impress employers, but with a QS world ranking of 222 it’s easier to get into than you might think.

Where else should I consider?

If you’d like to improve your language skills, enjoy some sunshine and pay lower fees, then you have plenty of European countries to choose from: Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Austria all have better weather and lower tuition fees than the UK.

Canada

How do I get in?

Image shows a lake in Alberta.
The UK and Canada exchange large numbers of students every year.

Applications vary considerably depending on the province or territory in which the university is located, but are usually straightforward, requiring only your A-levels rather than additional testing, and a personal statement is usually not a requirement. In some areas, you apply directly to the university, whereas other areas have a centralised admissions system.

How much does it cost?

Costs vary considerably depending on your programme of study, with tuition fees of £9,000 to £22,000 per year.

Why study there?

There are three Canadian universities in the world top 50 – that’s more than France or Germany has, despite their higher populations. It’s another strong choice for students looking at English-speaking countries.

Where else should I consider?

As discussed above, the USA, Australia or New Zealand.

Ireland

How do I get in?

Image shows Dublin at sunset.
Flights to Ireland from smaller airports such as Bristol tend to be particularly inexpensive.

Applications to all Irish universities for UK applicants are via the CAO, a centralised admissions system. As British students make up a high proportion of applicants to Irish universities, the system is streamlined for applicants with A-levels, and you don’t need much other documentation. You can also apply to several quite different courses at the same university without being penalised for it.

How much does it cost?

British students pay the same level of fees as Irish students – technically ‘free’, but with a Student Contribution of £2,000 per year (which is likely to increase). Living costs are about the same as the UK, and flights between the UK and Ireland are inexpensive.

Why study there?

If you live in London, flying to Dublin or Cork is quicker than travelling to Dundee, so it can be worth considering Irish universities alongside British ones even if travelling a long way doesn’t appeal. Low fees, an enjoyable culture that won’t give you much culture shock and that flexible admissions system are all advantages.

Where else should I consider?

This depends entirely on whether you want somewhere English-speaking – like the USA, Canada or Australia – or somewhere a budget flight away with lower fees, like France, Germany or Spain.

Singapore

How do I get in?

Image shows the skyscrapers of Singapore.
Singapore has a tropical climate year-round, with no real distinctions by season.

You can apply with A-level qualifications via each university’s website, with a small application fee. The application process is straightforward enough, and processed entirely online.

How much does it cost?

Annual fees range from around £6,500 to over £18,000 depending on the course; if you’re studying a course such as Medicine or Dentistry that is expensive to provide, you’ll pay more. If you’re willing to work in Singapore for a few years after graduation, you can apply for a tuition grant so that the Singaporean government will subsidise your fees. Housing costs are high; other costs of living are comparable with the cheaper parts of the UK.

Why study there?

If you want to study somewhere with a genuinely different culture, Singapore is a safe option. University study is in English, 75% of the population speaks good English, there are high numbers of international students and in general it’s much more open to foreigners than, for instance, Japan. But you’ll also gain valuable experience of an Asian ‘tiger economy’ and of living somewhere quite unlike home. An added bonus is that Singapore’s two best known universities are both ranked in the QS world top 20, which arguably gives it the best universities in the world after the USA and the UK.

Where else should I consider?

There are plenty of more adventurous options in the Far East – especially if you’re lucky enough to have the language skills. Graduates with knowledge of life in China are likely to be in demand in the coming years, for example. Other options are Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, all of which have universities in the world top 100. They differ considerably in terms of standard of living, cost of living, human rights record and openness to foreigners, but experience of living in any of them will be valuable to future employers.
The advantages of studying abroad are evident. Yet even with more students taking an interest in studying abroad, it’s predominantly language students (or those on country-related courses such as American Studies) who travel – among non-language students, only 3% of women and 2.6% of men spend any part of their degree abroad. Students who went on to work in higher managerial and professional occupations – the top of the careers ladder in survey times – were more likely to have studied abroad than any other group. So whether it’s for a term, a year or your entire degree, it’s worth looking internationally.
Where in the world would you recommend studying? Let us know in the comments!







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Image credits: banner; USA; Australia; Czech Republic; France; Canada; Ireland; Singapore.