8 steps to choose a school abroad

So you have decided to study abroad. Great! But there are literally thousands of schools to choose from. In this article we help you to find a school that is right for you.

1.   What are you looking for?

You can’t find anything if you don’t know what you are looking for. You cannot research all schools in the world. You need to start by setting up criteria to limit your search so you can create a manageable shortlist of schools that you can research more thoroughly.

The first thing that you must ask yourself is why you want to study abroad? Usually students are either driven by a passion to study and live in a certain place, for example Paris, or they want to study a specific subject, for example medicine or design. Find out what is most important to you before you continue to the next step.

Other questions to ask yourself is how long you want to study abroad. A couple of weeks? One or two semesters? Or do you want to take a full year abroad? What do you want to achieve before you return home?

Your answers to these questions will have a big impact on your choice of school.

2.   Where do you want to study?

If you know that you want to study in Sydney because you can live with your aunt there you can quickly narrow down your choice to schools in Sydney within a reasonable commuting distance from your aunt’s place. And she can probably suggest suitable schools so you will quickly reach a shortlist with a handful of schools and can proceed to the next step.

If you don’t know where you want to study you can consider the following things:

  • What is the language of tuition? To study at university level you need to have good skills in the language of tuition. For many students that means English. In that case you can either study in an English speaking country or at a university that offers the program you want to take in English.
  • What are the tuition fees? Some countries within EU offers more or less free education. If this is important to you then you should find a school and place of study in one of those countries.
  • What kind of places do you like? Are you a big city person or do you prefer smaller and calmer places? Do you want to live close to the beach or maybe close to the mountains for hiking and skiing? These kind of questions can help you find suitable countries and cities for your studies.
  • What countries have a good reputation for the subject you want to study? Switzerland is famous for their hospitality and hotel management programs. Italy is popular for design and if you want to study French you had better do it in France.

3.   Where do I find lists of schools abroad?

Our international school database is a good starting point if you are looking for schools in a certain geographic area. Here you will find almost all universities in the available countries as well as featured schools of other kinds. The schools are ordered by country and city so you can for example quickly find all universities in Sydney. High ranking schools are marked with a star.

We continuously expand the school database with more countries and information. Let us know if you miss information about a certain country or school type.

4.   What subject do you want to study?

What you want to study will have a big impact on your choice of school. Some big universities have almost all subjects but even if they do they are often better, or higher ranking, on some specific subjects. If you are interested in Medicine you want to apply for a medical school and if you are into Design you want to go to a Design school.

But what if you don’t know what you want to study? Then go back to step one and think about what you want to achieve. If your goal is to experience life in Paris for a couple of weeks or half a year I would recommend studying at a French language school Learning French is the key to getting the most out of a stay in France and a normal course at a language school is often less demanding than University studies which leaves you plenty of time to explore the city.

Another good option is to take 1-2 study abroad semesters at a university of college where you can choose about 4 subjects per semester. Then you can try different subjects that you are interested in for example business, psychology, IT and dance to find out what you are most interested in.

If you are planning to take a several years degree program abroad you need to put a lot of thought into what you want to study. Then there are primarily three things that you should consider:

  1. What are you good at? If you are good at something you will most likely have an easier time studying it and be more successful working within that field.
  2. What are your passions? If you are passionate about something you will be more motivated to learn and you will enjoy your future job more.
  3. How does the job market look for the fields you are interested in? If you for example want to work as a photographer but the job market is already overcrowded with photographers then it might be wise to consider other options. Maybe you can focus on video instead or take photography as a minor while doing a major in a more requested field.

Don’t let someone else make this decision for you. If you are good with numbers but faint at the first sight of blood you would be better of studying mathematics or economics even if your parents want you to become a doctor. If you are bad at logic you should not study programming just because there is a demand for programmers. If you are awesome at photography and enjoy it more than anything else then go for it even if the job market looks tough.

5.   What kind of school and experience are you looking for?

Are you going for a gapyear where your primary purpose with studying abroad is to have fun, get a new experience and see the world? Or is your primary goal to make your CV stand out?

If you are not so serious about your studies I would recommend finding a school and program that does not cost too much and leaves you plenty of spare time for fun and exploration. Some good options can be taking a diploma at a vocational school, taking a language course with 15-20 lessons per week or doing a study abroad semester at a college or university choosing some subjects that you enjoy.

If your primary goal is to make your CV stand out you should go for a degree, preferably at a school that is well known or high ranking.

What are your grades? Is it realistic for you to get in to a top ranking university or should you aim for schools with slightly lower ranking?

6.   How do I research my shortlisted schools?

Once you have gone through step 1 to 5 you should be able to shortlist interesting schools. Look at the schools in the geographical areas that you are interested in. Do they match the criteria you set up? Try to create a list with 3-10 schools that you will have a closer look at. Your best source is the school’s website but also look for rankings and reviews on external sites.

Look for the following:

  • Available programs and start dates
  • Admissions procedures and deadlines
  • Tuition fees and scholarships
  • Campus life and activities
  • How big the school is
  • Accommodation options
  • Ranking

Summarize this information so you can access it quickly, for example in an excel sheet where you include the links to the schools website where you can read more.

7.   Should I get advice from others?

You should also look at external reviews. What current and former students say about the school on sites like Facebook, Trustpilot etc. Google “school name+ reviews”. You can learn a lot from external reviews but don’t trust them completely. Most people only write reviews when they are really happy or unhappy with a service. And people from other places have different backgrounds and expectations. What is hard for someone else might be easy for you and the other way around.

Also consider when the review was written and how many reviews there are. Many good reviews are a bad sign, many good ones is positive but a single good or bad review does not carry much value you can’t judge a school from one review it might be written by an employee of the school or a competitor who wants to make them look bad.

A better way can be to talk to students directly by visiting the school, asking them for a reference student or see if you can connect with some of their students online.

8.   How do I finally choose a school?

Once you have done your research you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Which schools have the programs that I am interested in?
  2. Which schools can I afford? If I can’t afford them do they have a scholarship program that could help me out?
  3. Which schools do I have a chance to be accepted at based on their admission criteria?
  4. Which schools have the most attractive location, campus, accommodations or activities?

Based on this information you should be able to scratch some schools and rank the remaining ones based on how interested you are in them.

Then start by applying to the first school on your list and continue to apply to other schools if needed. Good luck!

More information

Search for schools in our school database and feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the featured schools with a description on this site.

Follow @dreamstudiesabroad on Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, or Youtube to get updated about our new schools and articles.

Download our Study Abroad Handbook

Download a free study abroad handbook! 25 pages filled with advice to help you plan your studies abroad step by step. Click here.

Related articles