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Beyond the rankings: what really matters in a university?

Choosing a university can be a hard task and most international students rely on university rankings such as the QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education, especially if your priority universities are located in the UK or the USA as that’s were the most of the top-10 world universities come from.

However, how do you really know what rankings are about and what they measure? Are you confident that these are the metrics you want to rely your entire choice for your study abroad destination?

To make the most informed decision, here are few ideas on what you should also check when choosing a university besides their ranking position.

Variety and quality of courses

Once you’ve decided what career to follow for the rest of your life, then it’s vital to make sure that your chosen university is going to prepare you for that profession.

First, make sure their courses and modules are updated, and the university is research focused and up to date in the area you wish to specialise in.

You can also check the professors’ portfolio and teaching experience as that’s going to be the core of your university experience. Some of that information may be found on university rankings but not in detail, so you are better checking the university’s academic staff webpages.

After your research, you might realise that the most relevant academics and authors in your subject is a professor at one of the other universities you are thinking to apply to.

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Safety and security

It is important that wherever you go, you feel safe.

First of all, check the city university is located in. Check if it’s safe, and what are its crime rates, and how late does public transport run for in that area.

Then you may check on university web pages to see if they have their own security services on the campus and in student accommodation sites. Your safety should be one of your university’s top priorities.

University facilities and support services

Besides feeling safe, it feels good when you know you have someone to talk to.

Here I don’t mean your friends but professional staff that know how to deal with all kinds of problems students may have. That includes finance problems and advices, health and wellbeing services, generic student services, Student’s union or even library services.

I have the luck of studying in one of the most supportive universities in the world, the University of Nottingham, and even though I’m home because of the COVID-19 epidemic situation I feel like I’m being supported, and I have someone I can send an email at any time. That means a lot.

To find out more, go to the university’s website and check what kind of services they offer.

Funding opportunities and reasonable tuition fees

Since your studying is going to take a few years, it’s clever to make a financial plan.

If you’re moving away from home then that includes living costs, travel costs, tuition fees, study materials… The list goes on and on.

That’s why you should explore all possibilities related to funding and scholarship to see if your desired university offers any kind of financial support.

Some universities offer payed tuition fees, some one-time stipends, some both and some none. That may be the outweighing factor if you cannot decide which university to send your application to.

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Social life and free time

When you’re not studying, you will probably want to relax, socialize or find a hobby.

Many universities offer the possibility of joining a student society or club within their student union or student services.

Societies and clubs act like small university-based NGOs that you can join for a little to no fee. They can be sports, art, religion, social or hobby based. At my university there’s even a Harry Potter society for all fans.

Another thing is to check is if your campus has sports facilities such as gym or a swimming pool where you can take care of your mind and body, usually for a much smaller price than out-of-campus options.

And of course, at the end of the day you’ll probably want to grab something to eat or have a drink with your friends, so an on-campus café is a must. Do a little virtual tour of the campus and explore the possibilities.

All these factors are rarely included in university rankings. Of course, rankings are still very useful for checking out a university’s research opportunities and successes, number of international students, size and number of overall students and similar.

However, for details such as what we covered above, you’ll probably need to check each and every university website online to see what they offer and what the university’s current students and alumni are saying.



Franka Zlatic

Croatian in the UK. Franka is full-time PhD student at University of Nottingham, pursuing her degree in Sociology.

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