College guidance

Where to study: How to guide students in their choice of destination

There are numerous issues that counselors should guide students to consider when they’re deciding where to study overseas. These include, among others, academic suitability, teaching style, language, local culture and lifestyle, the ease of studying in a place, and the cost.


Richard Lord
March 15, 2022
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4 min

Studying overseas is the opportunity of a lifetime. The trouble is, that’s precisely what students constantly hear, and that can make choosing a destination for study abroad a pretty pressurized business. There’s a lot of choice, an overload of information (not all of it credible), and a lot of stress: students are aware they’re only likely to get one shot at this, and are likely to feel the pressure of trying to find the option that’s best for them. Counselors have a vital role to play in helping students make a good decision – and in taking a bit of heat out of the choice; after all, there’s no such thing as a wrong decision here, just ones that are more or less appropriate for a particular person.


Helping students decide where to go to university

Start the conversation with them with a discussion about these basic questions.

Do they already have a dream study destination in mind?

One good way to start is the simplest of all: encouraging students to just think about which countries they already like, or which ones they have always dreamed of visiting. Bear in mind, though, that some of them are likely to have overly romanticized views of particular places (Paris is a particular favorite on this front); and that visiting a place is very different from living in it, so liking somewhere they went on vacation might not be enough reason to study there.

Clearly, if a student plans on studying the language, literature or culture of a particular nation, there are big advantages to studying it there. But the same thing can also apply across all subjects: countries often have strengths in specific academic fields, just as individual universities do. Of course, if a student plans to study a fairly niche subject, only a small number of colleges will offer it to start off with, so their choice will need to be guided by availability.

What kind of study destination matches their personality and needs?

Particular universities and particular nations also have distinctive styles of teaching that will suit some students better than others. Some will emphasise theory and others practical work, for example. Along similar lines, some will supervise students’ learning closely, while others will allow them greater independence. Students also need to think about how much support the university offers to overseas students, again with reference to their own personality, bearing in mind that some might prefer the independence that a relatively less structured international student program affords them.

Where will they be happy?

As well as choosing their right place for them to study, students also need to think about where they’re going to fit in, feel at home and enjoy the lifestyle. The biggest issue here is language. Of course, a lot of universities will require them to speak the local language to a certain standard – but even without that stipulation, students will need a reasonable level of local language proficiency just to get by in their everyday lives.

Then there are all sorts of questions they need to ask themselves about the sort of environment they want to be in. A bustling city or a smaller town or even rural area? Somewhere tropical or somewhere chilly? Cosmopolitan or relatively monocultural? Open and liberal or traditional and conservative?

While overseas study sounds great in principle, it can be lonely for some students. If homesickness is likely to be a problem, they should consider places where they already know people, or where there are a lot of international students, particularly from their home country, or who at least speak their first language.

A young male student sitting on the steps of a college building and smiling
Guide your students to study where they'll be happy


Where can they study and work conveniently?

The practicalities of studying in a country are also important. They should consider where it’s easier for someone from their home nation to study, and in particular to get a visa. It might also be worth checking out whether they’re able to work in that country after graduation, and what the employment prospects are like in their chosen field.

The cost of living and studying can vary wildly by country. Students need to assess whether they have the funds to be able to study there in comfort. Location is important: how far from home is their intended destination, and how convenient and expensive is it to travel between the two?

How much research have they done?

The best way for students to work out where they want to go for higher education is to conduct a whole lot of research – and fortunately there is an almost limitless amount of information about every potential destination online.

As their counselor, encourage them to discuss the subject with their parents – the people most likely to be footing the bill, after all – and also to seek your advice. Make sure they’re being realistic in their choices and applying to universities they stand a reasonable chance of being accepted by; conversely, check they’re not underselling themselves.

Cialfo can be your students’ best friend when it comes to narrowing down potential study destinations, allowing them to locate their idea place to study using more than 20 different parameters such as admission requirements, region, financial aid available, type of city and university, etc. We recommend, as one of the early tasks in your counseling curriculum, getting Grade 10 and 11 students to check out Cialfo’s study destinations section. They can access this within the platform if they already have a Cialfo login created.

If your school does not have a Cialfo account yet, get one for free by signing up here


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