GN Focus | Back 2 School

A guide to university life

Higher education can be a sharp, expensive learning curve if you haven't done your research. Here are things that every student should consider before joining a university.

  • By Thomas Billinghurst, Features Writer
  • Published: 17:58 August 22, 2012
  • GN Focus

University life
  • Image Credit: Corbis/
  • Ready for the ride: Make sure you are well prepared for a life of academic and financial independence at college.

Student loans

International students choosing to study in the UAE have the option to take out an interest-free loan for their studies. Get information on student finance packages from all the big bank lenders for the best deals. Get in touch with your university to see if they have allegiances or agreements with any regional banks, as loans may be bigger or repayment time frames may be tailored to your programme.


Draw up a weekly or monthly budget and try to stick to it. Spending on your debit card is also harder to keep track of than if you consciously take cash out to fit your budget.


Check out whether your chosen degree supports work experience. If it doesn't, universities usually have a career services department or scheme, so look them up. Make sure you get ahead of the pack by planning your first steps into the work arena as soon as possible.

Foreign study

If a year's study in another country is of interest to you, as it would be for prospective employers, read up on the different foreign affiliations of UAE universities to find out whether they have foreign exchanges to further broaden your learning.

Student visa

All non-national students need visa for the duration of their studies. Most universities take care of the visa process for full-time students. But it is good to be aware that a student visa is only issued for 12 months at a time, so for a degree lasting four years, you'll have to renew four times.

The visa cannot be applied for until the student has accepted the academic terms and paid outstanding tuition fees. Do this before you enter the country, as the process, allowing for health and security checks, can take up to 20 days.

Cultural sensitivities

Familiarising yourself with the cultural practices and codes of conduct — from respectful clothing and understanding the laws of the land to public interaction — is essential. Severe penalties are in place for disregard for UAE customs and legislature.

Economic travel

With many of the UAE's settlements still in remote areas, travel is an important aspect of student life, especially apropos getting to classes, events and social outings. As petrol is far cheaper here, driving is an  economical option. So it's worth getting a car. However, if the down payment is too steep, the Dubai Metro is a cost-effective way to travel. University campuses also run shuttle bus services from neighbouring metro stations.


Staying on campus is usually more expensive in terms of rental prices, but the money spent by students living off-campus travelling to university every day is obviously saved by on-campus dwellers. Also factor into the equation the different utility bills you'll receive when staying off-campus. Compare costs against one another to determine what works best for you.

Extracurricular sports

One of the greatest aspects of modern university life is the diversity of sports and health clubs available. Sports training pitches are also one of the best places to meet like-minded people and form new friendships. And if you're blessed with excellence in a sporting discipline, you are in with a chance of landing a sports scholarship.

Buy second-hand

Regular wallet-drainers are the often extortionately priced but compulsory modular textbooks. Be sure to check out internet prices for second-hand versions of the same text.

GN Focus