How to Research Universities Outside of the U.S.: Tips & Resources

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Note: “College” and “university” are used interchangeably in this article.

Researching universities can be a daunting task. You’re probably wondering, where should you even start?

Before launching into research, we recommend you take some real time to reflect on what you’re looking for in your education. Take a look at How to Develop a Great University List for great questions to ponder and exercises to work through to better understand what you’re looking for in a school.

Once you have clarity on what you’re looking for, it’s time to dive into the research process!

Make sure that the university you are interested in is accredited 

Would you want to pay for schooling at a “fake university”? There are so many horror stories from all corners of the world.

Wikipedia provides a dynamic list of unaccredited institutions of higher education from all over the world. This should not be your go-to source, but does give you an idea of how many thousands of universities around the world will not give you a degree recognized as valid by their government.

Moral of the story? Be sure that the degree you are interested in at the university you are researching will grant you a diploma (not a certificate) that is recognized by the country’s Ministry of Education. When in doubt, ask the university directly.

Remember that the educational system in your destination country might be quite different from that of your home country.

Here are some questions to keep in mind, although it is definitely not an exhaustive list:

  • How will attending a university outside of my home country equip me with experiences and a skillset that I cannot obtain if I stay back home?

  • Where do I see myself in 5 years? In 10 years? If I want to stay abroad, will I be supported to get a job as an international student after graduating with my undergraduate degree?

  • What support does the university provide to international students?

  • What is the length of the degree?

  • How much is the total cost of attendance, including tuition, cost of living, and personal expenses?

  • Do I need to declare my major when applying? Or can I declare it after a year or two at the university? 

  • How much flexibility does the program provide? Are most classes chosen for me or do I get to decide (is there a core curriculum, distribution requirements, or an open-choice model)? 

  • Will I be taking classes exclusively in my major or will I have the option to take other classes (and if so, for what period of time)? Ultimately, will these models suit my long term goals?

  • What is the language or languages of instruction? Can I create different, but effective, options for myself if I study in a language other than English?

  • What are the application deadlines?

  • What is the school calendar like: does the first semester start in September or January?

  • Do you meet the enrollment requirements? If not, is there an option to complete an international foundation year or study at a university in your home country for a year?

Credible resources for building a university list

One of our favorite resources to begin your research outside of the U.S. is National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Guide to International University Admission. In the guide, NACAC lists 15 destination countries overviewing full-degree opportunities for undergraduate study.

Check out the carefully written country-by-country overviews, how to search for universities, insider tips, academic calendars, application procedures, deadlines, application fees, admission requirements, tuition and fees, housing options, and visa and permit information.

We also created a guide with 4 additional countries to consider for admission—and believe it or not, these universities’ tuition plus living expenses in these countries are typically under 10,000 USD/year.

You can also find helpful country-by-country information on the Common College Counseling Curriculum (C4).

In addition, most countries have a “Study in X” page, dedicated to promoting their study options for international students. Check out these resources, in addition to the NACAC guide, which include undergraduate degrees offered fully in English:

Remember: as you continue to dive into your research for credible sources, we recommend you use websites that are sponsored by the Ministry of Education rather than general search engines. We understand that there are so many websites out there: stick with trustworthy resources first.

How to understand school rankings for universities outside of the U.S.

Too often we see students focusing their energy on only highly ranked universities or the handful of universities they’ve heard of in a given country. But here’s the issue with rankings. They’re based largely on a specific set of factors, like freshman retention rates, few of which will actually impact your experience as a student. 

Even more importantly, these factors have nothing to do with the priorities you’ve personally identified.

If you’re interested in reading more, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis of the U.S. News & World Report rankings here: The Order of Things: What college rankings really tell us.

You’ll be better off searching for schools that fit with what you’re looking for, not just universities and programs that are highly ranked. This can be a very difficult mental shift to make, and we understand that preconceived notions and the cultural and regional recognition of certain names of universities are important. But these familiar names are not as important as you might think: Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be is an excellent read about the flaws in rankings.

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