Choosing university can be really stressing when you don’t know what you want. Believe me, I’ll start next semester at my 3rd university (yep).
So I thought it could be useful to write a post about all the things you should consider before making this decision.
But I didn’t want this to be some generic crap you can’t get any actual help from.
That’s the reason why I wrote a little workbook.
Don’t panic, it’s 100% free. Fill the form to grab the ebook and let’s go on with the post.
Well, there’re 7 main things you have to take under consideration when picking your university: distance, costs, accommodation options, the campus, your lifestyle, relationships and reputation.
We’ll dive into each of these now. I recommend filling the workbook as you read the post. You can also pin this for later if you don’t have time now!
Firstly, I wanted to say that all these things are connected, so you need to find the balance in order to find your perfect uni. Maybe there’s a top university but don’t want to move to the city where it is. Or perhaps you find a city that resonates with you but there aren’t good accommodation options.
It’s impossible to get something 100% perfect, but I’d be happy with a 50%.
The most important thing is your attitude; the way you choose to live these years. So choose wisely, but don’t be too afraid of making mistakes.
And it’s also important to keep in mind that there might be another things you’ll have to consider. This is just a guideline, but I think I cover everything I thought about. Again, 3 universities in 3 years. Don’t trust me that much haha.
I’m putting this one first, but please, don’t discard universities you like just because they’re too far.
My first 2 years I decided I didn’t want to move out of my state, so I only had 1 university to choose from. It wasn’t very complicated, right?
Well, I dropped college my first year and the second one I wasn’t accepted there.
So this is the reason why I’m telling you to be open-minded about this. I was so stubborn I didn’t even apply for another university!
Distance is only a problem if you let it be a problem. But let’s be honest: living near home is cheaper.
If you live 1000km away from home, you’ll only be able to go back for holidays, and the flights are expensive on those dates. I used to live 80km from my hometown, so I could take the train every weekend to visit my family. See the difference?
It’s good to order your priorities. How often do you want to go back home? Do you want to try being completely on your own? How far are you up to move to?
I think it’s perfectly fine to want to move to the other side of the country. That’s what I’m doing next semester.
Wanting freedom is not bad at all. In fact, you’ll probably enjoy your college years more if you are far from your family. It will make you grow faster and it’ll teach you things you wouldn’t learn otherwise.
And you will have to manage your time and be disciplined by yourself. Really challenging.
Try to think about which distance is your maximum, how far it’d be too far and make you uncomfortable. And then decide if your open to get out of your comfort zone.
Oh, this can be the worst. Calculating how much college will cost you PLUS how much living in another city is can drive you crazy.
Especially if you have high tuition fees in your country.
Here in Spain we only pay around 1,000€ per year in tuition fees, and some people get it for free (if they get the better grades of their promotion, have 2 siblings or more, their parents are teachers, their family has low income, etc.). So we don’t actually think about that.
But in some countries it’s obscene how much people pay for their education. I feel grateful every day for our educational system, because I don’t know how I could afford paying $200,000. It’s crazy.
If that’s your case, I guess prices are your top priority. Check how much you can afford to pay and try to imagine if you can get any extra income stream.
Then check the cheaper and the most expensive accommodation options, and the same with transport, food, school supplies and lifestyle.
Is there any chance you can afford studying at that university? Any especial scholarship you can get there?
Talking about scholarships, there’re some universities that will give you almost free accommodation. I have a friend who only pays 60€ per month!
If that’s not the case, you can always look for a universitary residence (not sure about the word, but this would be the classical “dorm”). I spent my first 2 years at a private one, managed by nuns and only for girls, of course. It was not as bad as it might sound haha.
This is not uncommon here, because the public ones only accept people who can’t afford paying for their accommodation. There are all kinds of residences and their prices are usually between 450-900€ per month (I used to pay 650€, food included).
Sincerely, there’re so many options you can get overwhelmed. Residences, flats, pensions, buildings for students, especial arrangements some cities have with old people, etc.
I’ll probably write a whole post about this in some weeks, because choosing your perfect option is so hard! But some quick tips:
If you want total independence, choose a flat. But keep in mind that you’ll have to cook, buy groceries, clean and hire the electric/internet/heating companies. And some flats don’t have kitchenware (or furniture at all), so you’ll have to invest on that. The main pro is that you can find flats everywhere, so you can live near your campus without paying as much as at a residence.
If you’re attending a very demanding course, you may want to stay at a residence, because they’ll cook, clean and do the laundry for you. You’ll save tons of time, and probably meet cool people. PLUS they usually have gym, their own library, kitchens you can use, etc.
Do you want the freedom of a flat but you don’t feel ready to take all those responsibilities? Pensions and those apartments for students are great options. They usually let you choose which services you want to hire from them (for instance, you can choose to pay for breakfast and laundry, but clean and prepare the other meals yourself), and you’ll have your own kitchen and bathroom. They are cheaper than a residence but more expensive than a flat.
For those with really tight budget, you can live under 100€ per month if you’re up to help an old person. Some cities have this option, and let you contact an old person and assist them a couple hours per day in exchange for the accommodation.
As you can see, there’re plenty of option, but you can feel nice with many of them. And, if you don’t like the place you chose, don’t be afraid of looking for another one. Yes, even if the semester already started. People do that all the time, it’s no big deal!
The building where I studied my freshman year was horrible. Out of date, with heating problems, the classrooms had a ridiculously small size and it didn’t have any open spaces. We only used paper and pen because there weren’t digital resources.
People used to pass out because of the ventilation and heating problems, and I had headaches almost every day. Sometimes we would have to interrupt the lectures because the professors were feeling sick.
In addition, the building design was horrible, like an abandoned parking, and it was in the suburbs. I had to walk for 40 minutes to get there. There weren’t enough buses to bring everyone, so I couldn’t use public transport (they didn’t even stop because there was no room for more people). And it was on the top of a cliff.
So checking the campus is a must. Seriously.
Accessibility, transport and good installations are non-negotiable.
It could be a good idea to talk to someone who is already studying there. If you don’t know anyone, you can always ask the university Instagram accounts managed by students.
If you love surfing and don’t want to give it up, Madrid might not be the best option for you. If you are a cosmopolitan person, studying in my hometown will bore you to death.
Your habits and lifestyle are something really important to take into consideration.
Of course, you can always change them and adapt to the new ambience. Sometimes we love things we first thought we were going to hate. And that’s perfect.
I’m not telling you to avoid things you hate. I’m telling you to look for the things you already love. But be open to other things.
And sometimes we want to change our lives. It’s a great moment to do so!
When I went to college I decided I wanted to have a healthier life and lose some weight I had gained because of a back injury. So I decided to look for a residence with gym and healthy menu options.
One of my friends wanted the same, but she went to a pension right next to the campus, no gym and with very greasy food.
Well, I lost 5 kg and she won 10 kg.
Always make sure you’re giving yourself all the tools to overcome your goals. Make things easier.
Being in a place that resonates with you and your goals will help you a lot.
Let me give you a little tip: don’t think about your beloved one.
That person doesn’t exist in the future you’re planning. Because if they exist, you’re no longer doing the best for YOU in singular, but in plural. And you don’t actually want to become “us” yet. Believe me.
This period of your life should be for your self-growth, development and joy. Don’t renounce to great opportunities just to be with one person.
Let’s be sincere: your relationship could end tomorrow. I’ve been there, so I understand that you truly believe you can make this work forever. And you can, of course. But just don’t.
If being with that person means not getting your goals, letting go things you really want and having to settle for an option that’s not the best, it’s not worthy. That person is not worth it.
If they love you, they’ll encourage you to do what will make you happy and successful for the long run. If they don’t, don’t try to justify it: they’re selfish and childish and you deserve better. Even if you love them. Love yourself more.
On the other hand, I would consider moving with friends or relatives. If you like a university and some of your friends are going there, that’s a big pro. Having someone to lean on will make changes much easier.
For me, there’s a big difference between partners and friends, because of psychological stuff. To keep it short, moving with your partner can make you lose your identity and independence, and those two things are what you should develop these years.
Again, don’t take the decision based on a single person if that person is not you.
My favourite one.
No matter how high their entrance scores are, or how many international awards they get. You’ll probably think they’re crap when you start studying there.
But it’s true that employers pay attention to this kind of things, so try to check if the unis you’re interested in have any recent scandals.
Other things to check: internship programs, international agreements, research projects and experts of their field graduated/working there.
This one is not very important here, but maybe in other countries the prestige of the institution is more valuable. However, your experience and knowledge will always be more relevant.
There’s only one exception: if you want to be professor at that university. Then the shorter way is to study there. In Spain, 70% of the professors got the doctorate at the same university where they work (according to El País).
So yeah, that would be the only case, I think.
Of course, graduating in Harvard sounds great, but it’s not that important for your career. So think about this point as an extra.
And that’s all I wanted to share with you.
This post is crazy long, so I won’t make it longer with an unnecessary outro. Remember to grab your workbook before you read the next post and leave me in the comments which things you are taking/took into consideration to choose university. Read you!