An International Student's Guide to Choosing the Right University
3 TMU students from abroad share what they look for in the right Canadian school!
By Jennifer Nguyen, fourth-year Journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Deciding the university where you will spend at least the next four years learning, working, and growing is truly a highly personalized quest. There doesn't seem to be a fixed list of criteria to check off, as everyone has their unique needs, priorities, and backgrounds to factor in. However, a lot of reading, researching, and reaching out to people with experience could help you make a more informed decision.
So, I sat down with two of my international student friends to reflect on our own university search years ago. Isioma is a second-year Business Management student (Human Resources Major) from Nigeria, and Giuli is a third-year Creative Industries student from Mexico. We are all from different continents, programs and years of study, yet Toronto Met became our common destination. (Spoiler: we all agreed that our university's greatest selling point was the location and all the perks hand-in-hand with it!)
1. What did you personally look for in a university?
Isioma's first priority was the university's connectivity.
"I feel like accessibility to services is really important because you want to be able to make it to school with no hassle. Mainly, you should have access to a transport system that you can trust when you are running late for class."
"Also, you should be able to have easy access to nearby places that make you enjoy your university life more with friends. Like restaurants, museums, and arcades — a vibrant neighbourhood."
Secondly, she evaluated whether an abundance of career opportunities was available — in both the present and future.
"I think it is really important to have some experience in your chosen field before graduation, as that makes it easier to secure a job. This is why your university should have connections with the professional world and be able to provide the resources and means for students to acquire such experiences. Then, after graduation, the location you have settled in should be a lucrative market to find a job and be exposed to a lot of opportunities."
On the other hand, Giuli was looking inwards: compatibility is everything.
"A cool campus or fun program means absolutely nothing if it's not compatible with you. Some people thrive in busy environments where everything is always moving and they're in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city. For others, that may cause too much anxiety which bleeds into their personal and academic lives."
"What do you need to feel happy and satisfied? Before weighing your interests, I would suggest that you focus on your fundamental needs and if each university you look at can fill them."
2. Why Toronto?
Giuli knew that city life was her calling.
"I knew I wanted to go to Canada, and I knew I wanted city life, so Toronto was the most natural way to go. Also, I wanted the place I live in to obviously embrace its strength in inclusivity and diversity, which Toronto does."
As a Grade 12 student in the city, Jennifer was also already in love with the diversity here.
"I'm from a big city in Vietnam myself, so I adjusted quite well to Toronto for the same reason. I only applied to universities in Toronto because I enjoyed the fact that I was already in Canada's largest and busiest city. Here, I'm able to count on the multiculturalism — but more importantly, its strong representation of my own culture."
3. Why TMU?
Isioma was specifically narrowing her search down to universities with a foundation program for their first year.
"Because I was still kind of young, I was worried about whether the Canadian school system would be very different from what I am used to in Nigeria. As a result, I enrolled into TMU International College. Looking back now, I really liked that I had gone through the college first, because I was able to build a really good community due to our small class size."
As for Giuli, she found TMU after looking up "creative universities" and hoping for the best.
"The Creative Industries program was honestly all it took for me at that time, because it is the first of its kind in North America. It perfectly combines business and arts, which was incredibly important to me when choosing where to go. At other universities, I did find programs that were similar, but not nearly as specialized or customizable."
Then, to make sure it was the best fit before confirming her offer, she also booked a virtual tour to all her choices.
"I tried to picture myself on every campus, doing things as ordinary and arbitrary as waking up in the morning, getting coffee, going to class, studying in the buildings, meeting people... I struggled to feel like I belonged anywhere until the TMU tour. I just couldn't visualize myself actually living everyday life somewhere else; I got so excited about absolutely every aspect of TMU!"
For Jennifer, TMU's strength in experiential learning means it was the only offer she needed.
"I knew I wanted to work in the media industry after graduation, so you can see how TMU would come into the picture. Being in downtown, it's central, urban, and boasts strong industry connections, but most importantly, I liked that it's young, trendy, and down-to-earth compared to more academic institutions."
"I wasn't as interested in spending my four years just writing essays in gigantic lecture halls — I was eager to be out in the field. TMU's curriculum fortunately leaves ample room for practical exposure like labs and workshops, as well as external chances like formal internships, which is something I have been able to utilize."
4. What's one piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?
Isioma would say that it's okay to apply somewhere different from all your friends.
"It's not like I was applying to universities because my friends were applying to them as well, but I did have a strong urge to know at least one person in the school or city I'm going to. Now, I realized that even if you don't know anyone when you get there, you will still make new friends really quickly, considering TMU's very diverse community."
Jennifer would tell herself to essentially "think bigger."
"University will truly be a holistic experience that is mostly what we make of it. This is a time where most of us transition into adulthood, take baby steps in building a career, and potentially meet partners for life!"
"So when applying, try to think beyond the program curriculum, rankings, and nitty gritty of those; instead, imagine the life you could see and enjoy living in about five years. Within the means you can afford, strategize a university career that will take you closest to that near-future vision over what you simply desire today. You don't have to think too far, but do think bigger."
Last but not least, Giuli would want to emphasize the importance of making one's own decision.
"Despite what your friends, parents or school counsellors say... no one else is going to live university life for you. Other people's advice can be incredibly helpful in guiding you, and that's great. But at the end of the day, you know what works and doesn't work for you. You have that personalized survival instinct that looks nothing like anyone else's. Listen to it, trust your gut, and make decisions that are right by and for you."
Big thanks to Giuli and Isioma for sharing their thoughts and experiences with us!
Learn more about international students at TMU