As an international student who is considering going abroad to do an English course, it can really be a scary and intimidating prospect. You are about to spend money on joining an English school you know really nothing about, except what’s available online or what you have heard from friends/family, in a country you may never have been to. So, what can you do to make sure you are making the right decision and choose the English school that will be your perfect fit?
Some students come to an English school because their agency will have a working relationship with the school and then the student may feel more secure about their pending trip. Others will come to a school that their friends, family members or even friends of friends have attended and then recommended. But, what about those students who are looking on the internet and are going to plan their trip all by themselves, including choosing an English language school? And, how do you know, despite what someone else might have experienced themselves, that the type of school will be right for you, even if it was right for someone else?
Here are some tips and things to consider when doing your search online for an English school which will be suited to you:
1. Check out the website and their presence on social media
Take time to look at the website. You will get a sense of what the school focuses on. Some schools are smaller than others, and this will be evident in the number of classrooms they have, the number of campuses/buildings,and how many students they allow in the classroom, etc. Some students prefer the intimacy of a smaller boutique experience. Both have their pros and cons, and this is very much dependent on the individual. Take the time to read about the staff and teachers at the school, and the ethos of the school.
2. Look for reviews
Reviews can say a lot about a school because they are mostly authentic (depending on where you are reading them). There are so many places to try and find reviews, including a school’s social media sites such as Facebook, and on their own website, Google and other online options, such as online agencies. Read/Listen carefully to what reviews say and what the emphasis is on in the reviews. If student reviews are exceptionally positive but only talk about how much fun they had, then this might not be for the more serious student. Every student is different and people have different goals.
3. Certification, Membership and Accreditation
It’s important to check if a language school is registered properly. This is the only way you will be able to get some peace of mind that this is not a fly-by-night business. Things to look out for are membership of an organisation that has rigorous quality control checks in place. These can either be through industry bodies external to the country, and/or the local authority of the industry in that country. In South Africa, this organisation is called Education South Africa. “Education South Africa (EduSA) is the national association of quality English language centres in South Africa. It is committed to developing and guiding the growth of the English language travel industry in South Africa.”
If a school’s website does not show that they are members of an accredited organisation, or that they have been accredited by an organisation, it is worth asking them. Remember, the associations and governing bodies ensure customers are getting what they pay for in a safe environment. This encompasses everything from the quality of teaching and staff processes to fire escape exits and bathroom facilities.
4. Make contact with the school via email, skype, etc.
Make contact with the school and get a feel for how helpful, honest and trustworthy they are by their replies to you. Ask as many questions as you wish, regardless of how silly you may think it seems, or how many questions you have – this does not matter and any school should be interested in putting your mind at ease and assisting you in any way possible. It’s also a good idea to write an email to check how fast they respond to you. This will give you some idea of how organised they are, but do remember that most schools are closed over weekends (Saturday and Sunday) and from 4.30/5pm in the afternoons, local time.
5. Make contact with the schools’ network
For example, we recently learned that some of our new students, while still deciding on a school and doing their research, made contact with the students who reviewed us on Facebook to check if the reviews were genuine and to ask how the students really felt about our school. Ask to be put in touch with a student who is currently at the school, or a past student, who speaks your language so that you can ask your questions.
6. What’s included?
When you are looking at pricing, it’s important to know what will be included in the course price, and what you will still have to pay for, separately. Ask the school when you make email contact. Will you need to pay extra for your course book? What amenities will you have access to in the school? Is there free internet access or will you need to buy this to be online? Is there a library? Some schools may charge you extra for certificates, so it’s worthwhile asking about these things so you are not surprised when this issue comes up. It is worth mentioning that the majority of schools will not include the costs for social programmes in the price because the social programme will vary so much and it is hard to budget this in advance. However, a good social programme will offer a range of activities that cater to all kinds of budgets and usually include free/ cheap activities so that everyone has the opportunity to join. In addition, some schools will offer offer some activities courtesy of the school, such as free tourist bus ride to get to know the city.
It is important to find out where the school is located relative to the things you are interested in. If the school is based in the city centre, check where the location of your accommodation will be and how easy it is to get to and from school. Are there public transport options, how far are you away with and without taking traffic into consideration. How much will it cost you extra for travel to and from school? In Cape Town, we have schools located throughout the city centre, close to the sea and also further out in the suburbs. The location is ultimately up to you and if you have any very specific preferences. Also, Cape Town is a small city, so regardless where you decide to go, you will always be relatively close to everything anyway.
8. Social Programme
Most language schools run a social programme which is offered to the students in order for them to get to know the place they are studying in, and to explore it with others. This is a very important way to make new friends, but also for students to practice their English in a natural and informal way with others who are also learning to speak the language. A language school that does not offer any activities may leave the student feeling isolated and lonely. The school should also offer activities that are affordable. Not everyone is on the same budget!
Don’t forget that when you travel to a different country to learn English, you also need to eat and sleep somewhere! Check out the accommodation options offered by the school. Some schools have their own student residences, either in the same building as the school, or close by. Other schools mainly place students in homestays. The majority will assist you in finding private accommodation if this is your wish. Or you ask them to advise you on areas to stay in with AirBnB, hotels, etc. Again, this decision will be up to the student. Ask yourself questions such as “how much independence do I want/need?’, ‘Will it be more beneficial for me to stay with a local family?’, how close to the school would I like to be?’, ‘Do I prefer to be taken care of by a family, or make my own friends in a residence?’, ‘Do I want to cook for myself, or rather not worry about this?’
We wish you luck in your search for the right school for you, wherever it may be. If you are interested in learning more about the UCT English Language Centre, please don’t hesitate to contact us at any time.