Help! I don’t know which university to apply to!

Advice on choosing where to apply to, from a Human Geographer’s perspective.

En route to Bergen, Norway!

The IEP application can be an overwhelming and daunting process. The pressure to decide where to go, and where you will be happiest, can seem immense. What if I choose the ‘wrong’ place? What if I hate the city? What if there’s nothing to do I enjoy? All these thoughts were running through my head as I stared at the long list of partner universities on offer to me. As a Geography student, there was over 35 partner university to choose from, across approximately 10 countries, even with Australia and New Zealand off the list (thanks Covid). It was still a long and overwhelming list. Where to begin?

I started my search by eliminating the countries that I knew would not be my preferred choices. For me, this meant all of the countries outside of Europe; as my year would be the last year to receive Erasmus+ funding from the EU, I was keen to make the most of this and choose a programme within Europe. This decision eliminated around two thirds of the list, as there are many, many Geography partners spread across countries such as Canada and the USA. Helpfully, the IEP website has a handy search function where you can choose to only view partners that are covered by Erasmus+.

I was left with 7 options, which I began to research. I quickly discovered that the courses in Spain and Germany were taught in, you guessed it, Spanish and German, so these were swiftly eliminated too. After speaking with my Geography exchange programme advisor, I also learnt that one of the options was more geared for Geology students. As a Human Geographer, I quickly eliminated this option. I was left with universities in Lund (Sweden), Olomouc (Czech Republic), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Bergen (Norway). After researching all of these destinations and the universities themselves, I felt confident that I would be happy to spend a year in all these places. I decided to apply to all four, but first, I had to make an order. 

In the end, my first choice was the University of Bergen in Norway, and I was fortunate enough to be allocated this exchange, and for it not to be cancelled due to the pandemic. However, deciding to put Bergen first was not a quick decision! Here, are some of the factors I researched and considered when choosing the order, before I settled with Bergen.

  • Accommodation. This was an important one for me. I quickly learnt that there are major housing shortages for students in Amsterdam and Lund. The advice from former students who studied here was to start searching for a room early, and be prepared to stay in a hostel for your first couple of weeks, while viewing rooms. I thought this would be a stressful experience for me; I like to know my plans in advance, especially with the added implications of the pandemic. I also had many deadlines at Manchester that I wanted to concentrate on, rather than being consumed by searching for a room. Meanwhile, the University of Bergen had an accommodation guarantee in their student halls, while renting a room or apartment in Palacky was relatively straightforward. 
  • Expenses. Lund, Amsterdam and Bergen are notoriously expensive cities. The financial plan really helped me here. Surprisingly, I discovered that the university halls in Bergen (which there is a housing guarantee for) were significantly cheaper than the halls in Manchester, and over £100 a month cheaper than my second year house in Fallowfield! This reassured me immensely. Meanwhile, Lund and Amsterdam both have Aldi and Lidl so groceries can be relatively cheap here (unfortunately these chains don’t exist in Norway). Of course, Czech Republic would be the most economical option. I worked out what my monthly budget would be and decided I could afford Norway (consider Erasmus+ funding, student loan, savings, bursaries etc).
  • Course. Make sure you thoroughly examine the course options at the universities you are considering! These are all published online well in advance (though changes may be made) as you will need them for your Erasmus Learning Agreement. How many modules will you take each semester? What are the assessment methods? Is there a mixture of lectures and seminars? Is there the opportunity for field trips? Is there many modules within your discipline or will you take credits from elsewhere? For example, in Amsterdam and Bergen, there are not explicit human geography modules, so instead geographers tend to take modules from disciplines such as sociology and politics, which for me would not be an issue. 
  • Culture and hobbies. What stuff is there to do in your free time? What do the local students get up to? Is there other places in the country you would like to visit, or places in neighbouring/nearby countries? Is there many cultural attractions to visit? I really enjoy hiking, sea swimming, and generally being in the great outdoors, so Norway really appealed to me for this reason. After researching Norway, I also found cities and regions in the country that I would be keen to visit, as well as other cities in Scandinavia. Czech Republic also appealed to me for this reason as it would be cheap to travel around and I would have liked to visit Prague and neighbouring countries. It is also worth nothing that alcohol is heavily taxed in Norway and thus is extremely expensive, and the clubbing scene isn’t particularly exciting. One German exchange here told me that Bergen’s best nightclub is worse than Berlin’s worst nightclub… So, if you want a party filled year, then Bergen is probably not the best option for you!

Overall, all four options that I was considering had strong advantages and some disadvantages, but I could see myself studying and living there for a year in each location. I would have been happy with any of these options. Deciding which order to put the universities required some research. 

The Northern Lights, seen from my student halls in Bergen.

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