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Be aware of the harshness of the climate when choosing a tertiary institution abroad.

I NEARLY made a grave mistake when I was applying for my undergraduate course. I only applied to one university.

Coupled with other factors, this was a bad idea but I will get to that later.

But the bottom-line is that you may not get into the overseas institutions of higher education you applied to, so do not just cast a single line into the ocean, cast a net instead. If you do not get your first choice, you may get offers from the other universities and you do not have to waste time waiting for the next application deadline or term to apply again.

Though I did indeed got lucky and was accepted into my first and only choice of university to pursue higher education, it was only after the fact that I realised that I had basically won the lottery.

So the lesson is simple ― apply to the top universities that offer your choice of programme.

Or is it?

There are a few other variables to consider first.

We’ve all heard or have ourselves told a joke about the story of the broke college student. You can easily picture it― a college student working 20 hours a week and staying up all night, cranking out assignments with little to no sleep and has to eat cup noodles for nourishment as they are all he can afford.

And be aware that this may still be an issue even if you have a full scholarship. The cost of living at universities abroad varies drastically.

Certain areas in the same state in a country can have vastly different prices for, say, a carton of milk.

The geographically variable cost of living is the most overlooked matter when prospective students apply to tertiary institutions. Of course this can mitigated by being more financially responsible or choosing to live further from campus where the rent is cheaper. There are many matters to consider before taking the plunge.

Do note that many universities have food-sharing programmes available to students.

If financial burdens worry you, do not be afraid to email the relevant people at university to ask the options available to lighten your burden. Often these options are not found at a university website; students are notified via email.

You have to commute to and from classes so make sure you are aware of the public transportation options and their reliability. Oftentimes, buses and trains are packed in dense city areas which may cause you to miss your transport. Certain countries, states or cities may experience more delays or breakdowns in their transportation systems.

A good trick is to read online reviews of transportation modes at your chosen university and ask university staff about them. Public transportation can cost a pretty penny and getting a pass that allow say early subscription will be helpful for long-term financial planning. Use applications like Google Maps to identify commute times and compare them, sometimes it may just be better to walk .

Be aware of the harshness of weather and season changes in the area. During winter, transportation hours may be decreased and some routes will not be available.

I often found myself taking a ride on Uber to return home after night classes during the winter for safety reasons and avoid getting sick from staying out in cold unbearable weather for too long. Malaysians may not be used to winter and walking on ice-covered sidewalks can be problematic.

For countries like the United Kingdom and America, the harshness of their winter can vary depending on the area. Take note of winter temperatures and how long the season usually last. You may not have a choice and will have to deal with the climate but knowing all this ahead of time can help you prepare early too especially if you’re entering university in spring which sometimes can see the most snow.

Finally, though not the least of possible things to be aware of when choosing a university, is the political climate and cultural norms. Certain turbulent political climates can make it unsafe for students.

Take note of whether tipping is the norm in certain places and the amount of the average tip. Ask questions about whether the locals are generally the friendly type to always respond toa“hello” on the sidewalk or do they avoid strangers? Being aware of cultural norms is especially important if you don’t speak the language and body language is your only cues to the do’s and don’ts of the area.

Pay attention to recent election results of the area the university is in. They can inform you a lot about what to be aware of. Local news articles on the bills passed by politicians in the area can offer insights into how locals think.

The writer is an adventurous English and Creative Writing graduate from The University of Iowa in the United States. Email him at

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