Choosing a university in New Zealand

When deciding which university to attend in New Zealand, there are several factors you will need to consider.

First, think about where you would like to be located  - the North Island has 12 cities including Auckland, the largest.

It is also the most heavily populated island, with roughly 76% of the population living here. 

In contrast, the South Island is home to only 24% of the population, even though it is a larger landmass.

It has many national parks, and is popular with tourists due to this, along with the large number of ski resorts and natural geographic features such as fjords and volcanoes.

Ask yourself if you want to live in one of New Zealand's big cities or if you'd prefer somewhere quieter.

Remember that the cost of living can be significantly greater than living somewhere more rural, which may affect your budgeting.

You may also want to consider:

  • Does the university have all the facilities you require, such as a gym, outdoor sports grounds, car parking, etc? 
  • How big is the university itself, and how many students attend? Would you prefer to go to a larger or smaller institution?
  • Based on your expected A level grades, is it likely you would get onto your course following a conditional offer from the university?

University locations

The University of Auckland and AUT University are situated in Auckland, where a quarter of the population live.

On the other end of the geographical scale, Lincoln University is situated on the rural outskirts of the largest South Island city, Christchurch, with the snow-covered Southern Alps as a backdrop.

Victoria University of Wellington’s location in New Zealand’s capital city gives it proximity to government and its agencies in a harbour-side setting.

The other North Island universities – Waikato and Massey – are located in the provincial cities of Hamilton and Palmerston North, ideal for international courses in the agriculture and horticulture industries.

Massey also has campuses in Auckland and Wellington.

The University of Canterbury’s roots lie in the heart of Christchurch and it is now located on an expansive, leafy campus which is still close to the city centre.

Dunedin, New Zealand’s southernmost major centre, with a strong Scottish and architectural heritage, is home to the University of Otago.

University profiles

Auckland and Otago have the country’s two medical schools, featuring hospital-based learning; AUT University has a reputation for being highly innovative with applied knowledge.

Waikato has a strong background in indigenous culture and a successful business school, while Canterbury and Auckland have an international profile for their engineering schools.

Veterinary science, food technology and land production are among the strengths of Massey University; Victoria is strong on public policy, international relations, law and governance; and Lincoln has strengths in land-based sciences and environmental studies.

Academic excellence

First of all, be sure the courses provided by the institution are of high quality, with an excellent standard of teaching.

You can look at New Zealand university rankings to see which ones score the highest here.

However, keep in mind that the best universities in New Zealand according to rankings does not include all the variables that make up an ideal place to study.

All universities have strengths and weaknesses, and although a list of top universities might have greater strengths than weaknesses relative to other institutions, any student who completes a degree at one of these top universities might encounter the 'weakness' when they might have experienced the 'strength' of another university.

International student support

It’s worth investigating how good the course is for international students by seeing if the institution has an International Student Program Director, help with housing, an orientation to the university, city and New Zealand education system, as well as advice services specifically for international students.

In other words, make sure that help will always be there when you need it.

A good course will also provide opportunities to meet New Zealand students and will offer social events and an opportunity to get involved in student activities.


You will also need to take into account financial considerations, as costs can vary greatly from institution to institution.

You will find that your living costs will be more expensive if you attend a university in one of the larger cities such as Auckland or Christchurch, and your accommodation is located in the centre.

To save yourself some money, try to find accommodation further out of the city, though make sure transport links are accessible and reliable.

Compare living costs carefully so you can stay somewhere convenient at a reasonable price.


Scholarships and awards for international students are available at some New Zealand institutions for students with exceptional results.

The amount and type of award varies from one institution to another.

Obtaining a scholarship is competitive and applications must be made directly to each university.

Ask the institution for information on financial aid when you request an application form from their admissions office.

Further research

If you have any friends or relatives who have studied in New Zealand, it’s worth talking to them to find out about their experiences, and what advice they can offer you in choosing a place to study.

It’s important to research universities and colleges carefully so you choose the ones that will meet your needs and interests – spending time and effort on choosing an institution can ensure you have a successful and rewarding experience.

If you can not find all the information you require about a particular institution on their website, contact them and ask for it.