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What drives students to choose a destination to study abroad?

Our expert Rahul Kumar provides a valuable insight about what influences a student’s decision 


So far, studying abroad has been associated only with the elite. For a long time, Indian middle class didn’t even think about studying abroad believing that it was an idea absolutely out of their reach. Much of that has changed in the last decade – thanks to the increasing awareness via social media and digitisation of the world in general that students are now actively looking at prospects of studying internationally. But what drives a student to choose to study abroad? How do students choose a destination country for their higher education?


These reasons/factors could be different for every individual but people who have been working with students long enough would know that the decision is primarily based on all or many or one of the following parameters:

I’ll try and explain all these reasons in a little bit of detail.


India has the largest youth population of the world with 60% population under the age of 25. That means a large number of students are looking to enter higher education every year. Unfortunately, the education infrastructure in India doesn’t support that demand – both in terms of quantity and quality. If you look at the top 100-200 ranked institutions of the world (THE, QS), not a single Indian university features there. This drives qualified students looking to gain world class education to look at options abroad. The most popular destinations are the 6 English speaking developed countries – United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland.

The other academic edge that these countries offer is the big focus on practical knowledge. The learning is not limited to theoretical classroom knowledge but also covers the ways to use that theoretical knowledge in the real world, making the students more employable. So, most programs have work terms as mandatory part of the courses which exposes students to the real world while they are still studying.


In the recent years whenever I get a chance to interact with parents/students, I get asked about safety almost every time. Will my kid be safe in Canada/Australia etc. is the most common question. Although, nothing beats the safety and comfort of your own country/home, there are certain tools students should use before they make a decision. The Global Peace Index gives a fantastic overview of almost all countries of the world and ranks them on how peaceful they are perceived to be. So, if you are basing your decision to study abroad on safety, this ranking gives you a clear perspective on how safe a country is, or between two countries which one is the safer. 

Work opportunities

Everyone agrees that employment opportunity is probably the biggest decision making criteria for students. There are broadly three types of opportunities offered by the 6 English speaking countries that I mentioned above: Part time work, Internship and Full time work. Part time work opportunities are ones where students can work within or outside the campus for certain hours per week, and the work may or may not be relevant to their courses. Internship on the other hand gives opportunity to students to work in their relevant sectors while they are studying. The internships could have different names in different countries but almost invariably, these are paid opportunities, meaning students are paid for their work. Full time work opportunities are the ones which students get after they finish their programs. The post study work rights for different countries are different, so it is very important to do proper research before choosing a destination. 

Quality of life

Although very subjective, but after speaking with hundreds of students in the last decade, my understanding is that it translates in to basic necessities of life like clean air, clean water, lower population/competition, sense of space etc. to other aspects of life like access to world class healthcare, good education infrastructure and most importantly, freedom of choice.

Some of this depend on the political climate of a country but broadly, the six English speaking countries I mentioned above offer a great quality of life. Students/parents should work with their counsellors or do thorough research before making the final decision.

Other practical reasons

In addition to the practical reasons listed above, there are some other critical practical reasons which can make or break a student’s decision to choose a destination country. Some of these reasons are – Affordability, Visa requirements, Program availability, Course content etc. All these are interconnected too. If a program is available but is too expensive, that doesn’t help. If everything is fine but the visa requirements are too difficult, there is no point of everything else. So, finding the right balance for every individual is very important. Students/parents need to work with their counsellors to fully understand what works best for them considering their requirements and budget.

Aspirational reasons

Finally, aspirational reasons also drive some students towards a particular country. There could be a million aspirational reasons, but the ones I have heard frequently in the last decade are – ‘I want to make a difference to my community’, ‘I want to learn about myself and the world’, ‘I want to make new friends and be a global citizen’ etc. A lot of times it is also about social recognition. In certain regions of India, if a kid is studying abroad, it brings a great deal of pride to the whole family. All the aunts and the uncles look up to that kid and encourage their kids to follow suit. So, it’s a social thing which doesn’t attract a lot of attention of researchers but is definitely one of the influencers for students while they are making their decision to study abroad. 

This article is based on my personal experience of interacting with students and their families. To anyone reading this article, your reasons could be completely different from the reasons I have listed above. Every student’s journey, its significance and reasons are unique. I would encourage all students to work with your counsellors, discuss your profile and requirements in detail so that you are able to make the choice which is right for you. All of us at IDP are here to help! 

IDP Study Abroad Insights

For students like you interested in studying in Canada, we have a wonderful series – Study Abroad Insights. This web series covers most commonly asked questions about studying in the country answered by industry experts.

Watch more!


Read more articles by our Canada expert Rahul Kumar

Blended learning for international students in Canada

Top 7 reasons to choose Canada

Colleges vs. Universities, which is a better fit for you?


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Rahul Kumar

Associate Director – Canada, at IDP Education (India, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Sri Lanka), Rahul is responsible for driving, training and growth of Canada team in his region across 42 offices in 4 countries.

He works closely with Canadian institutions to ensure that our students and counsellors are up-to-date with any new development and process changes related to Canada. Under his able leadership, IDP has witnessed tremendous growth in Canada over the last 3 years in terms of student enrolments and quality counselling.

Rahul comes with a rich experience in the international education industry. Prior to joining IDP, he was associated with Fanshawe College, Canada and King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. He holds an MBA along with an undergraduate degree in Electronics Engineering.


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