Monday, 18 May 2015

Considering Where to Study

If you're new, please read this post first: Initial Steps to Studying Abroad and/or watch this video: How to Study Abroad: Introduction and Options

For some of you, you may already have a fixed idea on where you would like to study. For me, for example, I always wanted to study in the United States so that ruled out a lot of alternative research (even though at one point I did get distracted by Canada and Australia!). For others, you may want to look at everything before making any actual decisions on countries, let alone individual universities. This blog post will give you a step by step guide on how to chooses a place to study at and hopefully help you start your final decision making process. Everybody does this slightly differently, so obviously use this as a guide only and let your instinct take over where it really matters!

Above all, make sure that you enjoy the process!

Step One - Bilateral Choices

Before starting this process properly, please contact the Study Abroad Office for an up to date list of the Bilateral Partner Institutions currently available to you and preferably some web links to those specific universities. I would give you the list currently available to me, but you might be reading this in the future and they may have changed so that seems pointless!

Step Two - ISEP Choices

Once you have the Bilateral options available to you, go ahead to the ISEP website and have a look at what International options and what US options they have. Skip this stage if you are choosing to study abroad by replacing your second year at university.

Step Three - First Elimination

Now that you are aware of all the different countries available to you, whether ISEP or Bilateral, your first decision should be to eliminate any countries you really have no interest in going to at all. That might sound harsh but for example, I didn't want to go to any places in Europe. This may sound rude, but I have a lot of family around Europe and therefore did not see a challenge in applying there. I wanted to look further afield.

This may be very different for you and so you should try to do this step on your own. Reflect personally on what you know of each country or if there are places that you already know that have very strong alternative views to your own. (Although again, this may also be attractive to others as it could be an excellent challenge for those striving to be as open minded as possible!)

One key point to add here is that; depending on where you choose to go, extra funding might be available to you. This changes regularly and will probably require extra research from yourself but its something to consider for those worried about costs!

While considering which places you do not want to go, and thus crossing them off the list, I also suggest starring those you really would like to visit! This will obviously help later when it comes to picking your favourite universities.

Ooooh, in the Netherlands they have loads of cheese!
I love cheese.

Step Four - Limiting your Choices

Since there are guaranteed to be less Bilateral options than ISEP options, my next step is to properly look at the choices available down the Bilateral route. If you like any of the universities available here, skip this stage. If you don't like any of the options currently available through the Bilateral route, drop this as an option.

I found that, during these first few stages, instinct was the best thing to follow. If I didn't like something about a university at first glance, there were too many other options to investigate each university in detail (and still complete my second year) so I crossed them off the list. This left me with extra time to properly research the universities I was actually interested in. To be fair though, this is how I chose the University of Chester too, so do it in whichever way suits your personality.

Step Five - Course Options Available

For some, this step might actually be more important than steps 3 and 4, I'll leave that one up to you.

For Bilateral universities, go onto their individual sites and find out what courses they offer. Alternatively, ask at the study abroad office during one of your initial set up meetings on their advice as to which university best suits your needs.

For ISEP universities, the ISEP website luckily has a course finder for the US universities and a separate one for the International universities. This is extremely useful in narrowing down the 300 different options available to you!

Side effects of too much research may include mental and physical collapse.

Step Six - Figuring Out What Else Matters to You

For me, I knew that I wanted to go somewhere bigger than the University of Chester with a large range of sports that was conveniently in a relatively interesting and close-to-other-stuff location. This may be completely different for you but hopefully this section will help you to establish what it is that you really want out of your host institution. This step will also help you to create your preference list which I will talk about in detail later. So, below are a list of questions that you need to ask yourself. If you don't know the answer, find it out before signing up to something you don't fully understand. Remember that this is an entire year of your life, so you need to be comfortable with your final decision.

Consider not only the country, but the specific location the university is in. Is it mountainous or flat? Is it sunny 300 days of the year? Can you actually work in that heat? Does it snow in the winter?

How big is the country compared to your home country? How will this affect you? How will you get around? How will you get there and home again? How big is the distance between two places?

On top of this, what is is close to? Is there public transport available? Where is the closest airport? How far away from the local town or city is the university campus? Are there shops?

Are you going to be around the sea? Are you going to be landlocked? Does this affect you?

Also, what nightlife is available? (**WHAT IS THE DRINKING AGE?**) What alternative entertainment is there? Are there cinemas nearby? What about parks? Is it industrial or rural? Does it suit your personality? Is it completely similar to Chester/home or completely new? Is that something you want, not just now but for AN ENTIRE YEAR?

Will you have substantial wifi available to you? What about mobile network coverage? Will you be able to Skype? Is it a developed country?

Did you know that you can WALK from the airport to your accommodation,
drop off your things and then walk to the leaning tower of Pisa, all in one hour?
No, I didn't know that until I got there either.

Do you speak it? Do they speak what you speak? What accents do they have? Do you like the way they talk? Is the course in your language or a local one? Are you prepared to attend a university where the course is taught in English but the local language is not English?

Also, will you be able to further your language skills? Would you like to learn the language? Studying Abroad is in fact one the of the best ways to learn a language, so consider it properly!

Culture and history
Do they have a similar culture to yours? Are you prepared for Culture Shock? What religions do they have? Are there any other strong beliefs? What do locals wear? Listen to? Talk about? Will you be comfortable in wearing local clothes for AN ENTIRE YEAR?

Consider, what your day to day life there is going to be like. Do you want that for AN ENTIRE YEAR? What local histories are there? Is there anything of a sensitive nature happening? Has it ever happened? Would you feel comfortable being yourself there?

Also, how will this experience benefit you? Will you grow as a person from living here? Will it push your boundaries? Will you enjoy the challenge?

You mean...
Its NOT normal to paint yourself green on a night out?

Is it bigger or smaller than Chester/home? Will you know everyone in one week or not even know 10% by the end of the year? Are you comfortable with this?

Can you walk across campus or do you need to take a bus? Is there one place to eat or 10?

Are you picky? Will they have food that you can actually eat? Will you eat like normal? Are you happy to change what you eat? Do you want to explore different foods around the world?

What is the possibility of you gaining weight? What is the possibility of you loosing weight? Will you be able to remain as fit as you are now? What exercise facilities will there be? Is it normal to work out and eat healthily? How does that fit with the way you live now/the way you want to live?

Is this even edible?

Cost of Living
What does it cost to buy milk where you live? What does it cost to buy milk where you are considering to study? How will this effect you?

Will you be able to work? Will you be able to afford all the things you can afford now? Is the cost of living cheaper or more expensive overall to your home country?

Things you take for granted
What do you use on a day to day basis? Will you be able to continue doing this? Are the toilets the same? What is the water consumption like in that location? Will there be taxi ranks available after a night out? What is the out of hours transport like? Is it safe to be out at night? What do the locals do? What are the Sunday opening times? Or the opening times of shops and facilities in general? Is it too hot to be outside for most of the day? Or too cold? Will you be able to cope with that?

Do you want to wear this every day? 

Or this?

Step Seven - Creating your Preference List

So, now that you have at least considered all of the questions above, you should be in a better position to really start creating your preference list. My advice on how to do this is as follows:

  1. Choose what is most important to you;
    What must be present at the university in order for you to enjoy studying/living there?
  2. Decide what else is fundamentally valuable to your Study Abroad Experience;
    What would you really like there to be?
  3. Lastly, decide on what matters to you but doesn't necessarily change your view entirely;
    What would be nice for the placement to have?

Once you have decided these three elements, rank the universities you have left on your list, starting with what is most important to you (or step 1). From there, shuffle them around according to your other fundamental values (or step 2) and lastly, see if any of your other desires change the positioning of your list of university (does step 3 change the order of your list at all?).

This should therefore leave your best option (or favourite) at the top of the list and should descend accordingly. The most important thing to remember is that you could end up at any one of the universities on your list, so...


And on that note, obviously if you are deciding to partake in a split semester programme and you are going to be applying to two different universities, make sure you do all 7 steps twice, and thus be fully prepared for both semesters! Good luck ;)

What would be the point in going through the entire application process,
paying for all your food, accommodation and flights
... just to leave because you didn't do your research?

Right.. that all came out a little negatively but it is just so fundamentally important to remember, during all of your excitement, to be realistic in where you apply to. There is a positive correlation between those who have the most rewarding of experiences abroad and those who do the most research beforehand. If you're a super open-minded, relaxed person who can just adapt to any environment they are put in, then go you, you can just apply anywhere you want to! But if you're not, or if there is something that you really can't live without, do yourself a favour and work out if you can get that in any place you intend to apply to before applying!


I hope these 7 steps help you to find your perfect list of host institutions and I look forward to sharing with you the next stages of your application to Studying Abroad!

Stay tuned,

Lucy xxo

The next post in the series: The Overall Application Process

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