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Best University Cities for Students

Tess Wilkinson

Tess Wilkinson

Tess Wilkinson is Director of Education at Henley & Partners

Providing their children with an outstanding international education is one of the most precious gifts parents can offer their children as it gives them a multitude of advantages. These range from interacting with students from different nationalities and cultures, to facilitating the development of worldwide networks for the future, learning a wide range of essential skills, growing as a person, and being ready for the global workplace that awaits them.

There are outstanding universities around the world, and making the choice can be overwhelming. Students need to consider not only the country, course, and career opportunities that are open to them, but also where they want to study. A university town can be a state, city, or just a neighborhood where the academic institution is the most distinctive feature and is dominated by the student population.

Some of the most famous university towns are Cambridge and Oxford in the UK, and Boston in the USA. However, let us consider some of the lesser known, equally excellent destinations that students have chosen as their favorite cities.

Three young female university students smiling while looking at a laptop on a bench outside

London — UK

QS Best Student Cities 2023 ranking: 1

Population: 9,304,000

The capital of the UK, London, is one of the most desirable cities to study in in the world. It offers a vast mix of culture, diversity, and greenery — 47% of the city is made up of commons and parks — as well as some of the best nightlife in Europe.

London has 18 globally ranked universities in the QS World University Rankings 2023, with 2 in the top 10: Imperial College London (6th) and UCL (8th). The average annual fee for international students is GBP 17,000. Living costs are very high, with rent being significantly more expensive than elsewhere in the UK. LSE recommends that students budget GBP 1,300 a month to cover expenses such as accommodation, bills, travel, and leisure.

Being a global hub for many industries, London offers ample opportunities for graduates to find work. The city ranks 4th for employer activity, which demonstrates how much value employers put on graduates from London universities.

Munich — Germany

QS Best Student Cities 2023 ranking: 2

Population: 1,538,000

Munich is a popular student destination for many reasons. The city offers excellent infrastructure and an exceptional standard of life. With easy access to the alps, forests, and lakes, it suits nature lovers, while for those who prefer festivities, it is home to the world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival that attracts tourists from around the world. Munich is very international, with over 17,000 students from around the world arriving in the Bavarian city annually.

Munich is home to 2 universities ranked in the top 60 globally, with Technical University of Munich being the highest placed at 49th. It is extremely affordable to study in Munich — free to undergraduate students who choose to study at public universities, regardless of nationality — but in comparison to some other cities, such as Berlin and London, the living costs are on the higher end.

Munich is a strong business hub in Germany and Europe. There are many global companies headquartered there such as Allianz, BMW, Deloitte, and PwC. As a result, there are many opportunities for young graduates.

Seoul — Korea

QS Best Student Cities 2023 ranking: 2

Population: 9,963,000

Seoul has grown in popularity as a student favorite, and for good reason. It is safe, diverse, and metropolitan. A 24/7 city that never sleeps, drenched in culture, history, and creativity. To balance the non-stop lifestyle, there are many Buddhist temples, and it is surrounded by beautiful landscapes and villages. The cost of studying in Seoul as an international student is around USD 6,300 a year.

Not only does Seoul have 20 universities that are ranked in the top 1,500 globally, but it has 4 in the top 100, with the highest-ranking being Seoul National University, placed 29th in the world in 2023. The cost of studying in Seoul as an international student is around USD 6,300 a year.

Seoul is a high-tech hub for innovation as well as being home to a dozen Fortune 500 companies. It is also home to some of the largest wholesale, retail, and electronics markets and, as a city, provides an excellent opportunity to transition easily from studies to a career.

Melbourne — Australia

QS Best Student Cities 2023 ranking: 5

Population: 4,968,000

Melbourne is a highly attractive destination for international students (over 94,000 each year) and is richly diverse in its communities, as over 40% of its population was born overseas. A perfect example of why Australia is such a popular destination, as well as wonderful universities, Melbourne has beaches, great weather, a busy cultural calendar, and an active nightlife. The city has excellent infrastructure so it is very easy to get around.

There are seven globally ranked universities in Melbourne, with the highest placed being the University of Melbourne in 33rd place. The average fee is USD 25,000 per annum, and living costs are high in global terms. However, the standard of living and natural surroundings mean Melbourne is exceptionally popular. One of the big draw factors is that international students can work up to 40 hours a week while studying on a student visa.

There are numerous opportunities for graduates to transition into successful careers in Melbourne. Many international companies are headquartered in the city, and it is home to Australia’s second biggest seaport. In addition, there are easy links to dynamic Asian economies such as Japan and Singapore.

Edinburgh — Scotland

QS Best Student Cities 2023 ranking: 10

Population: 537,000

The Scottish capital Edinburgh is known for its historic old town and has a large student community. As well as being home to many museums, it is also a cultural hub and hosts the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Being a relatively small city, Edinburgh is particularly suitable for students who want to experience city life without being overwhelmed by a fast pace. Surrounded by stunning countryside and benefiting from a host of eclectic shops and bars, Edinburgh is also considered safe by students.

Edinburgh is home to the prestigious University of Edinburgh, currently ranked 15th in the world, as well as lesser-known universities such as Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Napier. Students love Edinburgh and have ranked it 13th globally. An international student can expect to pay an average of GBP 17,200 per year in tuition fees at ranked universities, and the cost of subsistence and living costs estimated at £1600 a month.

Several international companies, such as JP Morgan, have offices in Edinburgh. It is also home to the Royal Bank of Scotland’s headquarters and Cairn Energy (PLC). There are numerous graduate job opportunities, and it is ranked 35th worldwide in employer activity in 2023. It also has the highest level of graduate retention in the UK outside of London.

Montreal — Canada

QS Best Student Cities 2023 ranking: 14

Population: 4,221,000

Montreal is Canada’s cultural capital, and although it is a French-speaking city, it is multi-lingual as well as multi-cultural. It has highly successful creative industries and an extensive café culture. The city offers a wide range of arts venues, nightlife, and live performances and is very favorably looked on by students, as it is safe and has excellent transport.

The city boasts three globally ranked universities, with McGill coming in at 31st place. International student fees are around USD 14,400 annually and it compares favorably with European cities as an affordable place to study. Students can budget on around USD 1,900 a month for accommodation and living expenses.

Montreal is Quebec’s center for several sectors, including finance, manufacturing, commerce, and tech. There are many global and local firms that hire graduates, and being able to speak both French and English is a bonus.

New York City — USA

QS Best Student Cities 2023 ranking: 18

Population: 8,323,000

The Big Apple is a world leader in many fields and international education is one of them. As a city, it offers a superb student experience, and while not a cheap place to study, it is home to many of the world’s most influential people in finance, media, and culture. It is a vastly diverse city that never sleeps and provides endless opportunities for students.

New York has 12 universities, 2 of which make the top 50 globally: Colombia University (22nd) and New York University (29th). International student fees average at USD 40,000 per annum, which may seem high but is in fact lower than institutions elsewhere in the USA, although living costs are considerably higher than in other US cities. Cost of living and rent can set you back USD 4,500 a month.

As a global hub for many industries, in particular finance, New York has a wide range of potential companies where graduates can kick start their careers. It comes 12th in the QS Employer Activity rankings, which clearly shows just how sought-after New York university graduates are by employers.


1 The best university cities rankings are based on Top Universities’ QS Best Student Cities 2023, © QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited 1994–2023.

2 The world university rankings are based on Top Universities’ QS World University Rankings® 2023: Top global universities, © QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited 1994–2023.

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