The 3-Step Guide to Picking Your Dream University

30/03/202210 minute read
The 3-Step Guide to Picking Your Dream University

Which universities should I apply to? It’s one of the most important questions you ask yourself in high school. Picking the university that matches your academic ambitions and personality type is critically important to your future success! Read on to discover our 3-step guide to picking your dream university.

For more information, download our latest FREE ebook to access the unabridged 5-step edition!

In New Zealand, there are only a handful of universities to choose from, so deciding where to study is relatively easy. However, Kiwi students aren’t just aiming to get into the best universities in NZ; they’re setting their sights on the best universities in the WORLD!

Every year, more Kiwi students are broadening their horizons and choosing to study overseas, namely in the US, UK, Europe, and Canada.

But there are thousands of universities across multiple countries. How do you pick the best one for you?

You’ll spend the next three to four years of your life at the university you choose, so choosing one that’s perfectly suited to your academic ambitions and personality is crucial.

To help you on your quest, we’ve assembled a 3-step guide for sorting through the seemingly endless options to find the university that ticks all of your boxes.

Here are the three key factors to consider to discover your best-fit university!

3-Step Guide to Picking your Dream University

1. Consider Universities Based on Subject Rankings

Top tip: Research the top universities for your intended area of study, not just the overall university ranking.

Students often get strung up on choosing the university with the most popular brand name. It’s important not to get star-struck by the glitz and glamour of famous universities. Instead, dive a little deeper to discover the universities that offer the best course for your intended area of study. One way to test the strength of your program is to check the global university rankings broken down by subject. There might be a university you’ve never heard of that’s ranked higher than a big brand name university in the course you’re interested in studying.

For example, everyone has heard of Harvard and Stanford. They’re both renowned for producing top business students. But chances are you haven’t heard of Wharton before. Wharton is the top-ranked business school globally, with alumni including SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Alphabet and Google CFO Ruth Porat.

The best place to study geology is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Switzerland, and you’ll find the second-highest ranked philosophy course at a lesser known university in the United States called Rutgers University. So while prominent brand name universities like Yale and Oxford are outstanding, they’re also just the tip of the iceberg!

Find the best universities for your favourite subject on the QS World University Rankings — it might surprise you!

Let’s look at the top universities in the world for Veterinary Sciences — chances are you’ve probably only heard of a few of them.

QS World University Subject Ranking 2022: Veterinary Science
RankingUniversity Location
1Royal Veterinary College, University of LondonLondon, United Kingdom
2University of California, DavisDavis, United States
3Utrecht UniversityUtrecht, Netherlands
4Cornell UniversityIthaca, United States
5University of GuelphGuelph, Canada
6The University of EdinburghEdinburgh, United Kingdom
7Vetsuisse Faculty Bern and ZurichBern, Switzerland
8University of CopenhagenCopenhagen, Denmark
9University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, United States
10The Ohio State UniversityColumbus, United States

2. Choose a University with a Landscape and Location that Fit your Interests and Goals

When researching your university options, location and landscape matter. What is the area known for, and what region is it located? 


One of the perks of studying abroad is picking your dream landscape, where you will happily spend the next three to four years. The US, UK, Europe, and Canada offer incredible landscapes. Whether you want to live by the beach in California or a dense urban melting pot like London, the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland or the Arizona desert, a quaint college town like Oxford or the bustling metropolis of New York City — the options are endless!

Don’t know where to begin? Start by asking yourself what activities you enjoy and research the best locations in the world for those activities. For example, do you like hiking in Colorado or shopping in Paris? Or maybe you prefer eating in Venice or skiing in Canada’s British Columbia? Check out universities in landscapes that feature your favorite activities.


If you choose a location specializing in your area of interest, you’re making a sound investment that pays dividends beyond educational prestige. You’re immersing yourself in learning, career networking, and internship opportunities. You’re also connecting with talented, like-minded students from far and wide, not to mention staying on the cusp of trends and innovation.

For instance, there’s no better place for technology enthusiasts to immerse themselves than the bustling tech scenes in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is the birthplace of tech giants Apple, Facebook, Google, and Snapchat. Some top universities even have direct relationships with leading tech institutions. For example, Caltech manages the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, world-famous for space exploration.

To help with your research, visit university websites, and check out Crimson’s Day In The Life university experience videos on YouTube.

DAY IN THE LIFE: Stanford University Student from New Zealand

3. Consider each University’s Social Life & University Personality

Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

Your experiences outside of the classroom are just as important as your experiences inside the classroom. When assessing the social life and “personality” of any given university, there are many factors to consider. Is the campus environmentally conscious or politically engaged? 

  • Does it have community service and volunteer opportunities? 
  • Is the campus large and spread out or small and accessible? 
  • Does it have residence halls and living spaces or fraternities and sororities? 
  • Does the student body have a strong sense of community and school spirit? 
  • Are there student-led weekend activities and parties? 
  • Are spectator sports a large part of the social experience?

Every student has a unique set of priorities on their university wishlist. Some priorities will contribute to a student’s overall college experience, while others will be dealbreakers. Universities often develop a personality based on a core category, for example, sports, technology, performing arts, or community service. In turn, this personality will inform the social activities conducted on campus. By narrowing down the universities that match your personality and character, you have the opportunity to design your ultimate university experience!

Finding a university that does what you love to the highest level is a great way to meet people with similar interests.

If you need help deciding which universities to apply to, reach out to us. We will connect you with one of our Academic Advisors who can assist you with the admissions process.

Final Thoughts about Picking your Dream University

With thousands of universities to choose from across the US, UK, Europe, and Canada, picking one university isn’t easy, especially when trying to do it from New Zealand! It may seem overwhelming at first, but by following this 3-step guide, asking the right questions, and conducting comprehensive research, you’ll have your options narrowed down in no time!

Want to learn more about how to choose the right university for you? Download our FREE eBook to unlock the complete 5-Step Guide to picking your best-fit university!