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Study abroad : Subject Guides

Top subjects for international students 2020

Deciding what you want to study can be a challenge. Sometimes it's a good idea to get a sense of what other international students are investigating. We take a look at the most popular subjects of 2020 so far.

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Take inspiration from other prospective international students when choosing what subject to study at university. The following five courses are currently the most popular, based on the research of 7.6 million students on Hotcourses Abroad since the start of 2020. We’ve also looked at the top countries for each course so you can make an informed decision. So, if you’re feeling lost about what you should do next, take a look at the subjects to see what stands out for you. They are definitely popular for a reason:


1. Nursing

A profession receiving significant attention within the context of coronavirus and for good reason, nursing remains a desirable course for many international students around the world year after year. If you like the sound of making a real difference in other people’s lives, then this could be the right path for you.


Nurses are also in high demand, so you should have no problem finding work once you graduate. If you fancy travelling with your job, nursing is also a highly transferrable career, allowing you to work all over the world. Typical content that you can expect to cover in an undergraduate nursing degree includes:


  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Life support
  • Drug calculations
  • Health care ethics
  • Epidemiology
  • Public health


What are the top countries for nursing degrees?

While there are several factors to consider when choosing a country in which to study abroad, you should be aware of countries that are best for the programme you’re interested in. For nursing, some of the top countries include:


United Kingdom

The UK is globally recognised for the quality and accessibility of its healthcare system known as the NHS. In combination with its prestigious, world-leading universities, the UK makes for a popular destination to study nursing. In terms of staying to work in the UK after your studies, you can find more information by consulting our guide to student rights and visas.

Need more guidance on international student work rights?


What is the graduate employment rate for nursing in the UK?

Graduate employment rate: 94 per cent of graduates are in employment six months after graduation (UK)


What’s the average salary for nurses?

Average starting salary: GBP 24, 864 (PayScale)


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Other students using our site to find nursing courses are looking mostly at Canadian institutions. This could be for a myriad of reasons including the excellent healthcare system in Canada, which is publicly funded and not-for-profit. The life expectancy of Canadians is around 80 years old, reflecting the high quality of the healthcare system.



Besides beaches and barbecues, Australia is also known for its education and healthcare systems. There are plenty of opportunities to work as a nurse in Australia, as this is such a sought-after profession.


You will receive the same benefits as Australian nurses as well as having the option to move your immediate family to join you. If you decide that you would like to stay in Australia, nurses have priority when applying for permanent residency after two years. Compared with other countries, these are attractive advantages to nursing down under.


Learn more about post-study visas in Australia.


2. Medicine


With job security, ample career opportunities and attractive salaries, it’s easy to see why medicine is such a popular degree option. Studying medicine abroad would also allow you to gain new and exciting experiences while soaking up a new culture, meeting different people and making international connections. Most medicine degrees will teach the following modules:


  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Genetics
  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology
  • Medical sociology
  • Neurobiology


This is not an exhaustive list and you might find that modules vary according to different institutions and countries. So, make sure you look carefully at the modules when researching medicine courses.

As a medical professional, you can also choose to specialise in a particular area of interest. For example, you might decide to focus your efforts on anaesthesia, paediatrics, surgery, or psychology to name a few.


You might also find that you’re best suited to becoming a general practitioner (GP) where you’ll offer medical advice on a diverse range of conditions, refer patients to hospitals, and other services for treatment purposes.


Want to learn more about studying health and medicine abroad?


What is the graduate employment rate for medicine students in the UK?

Graduate employment rate: 99% of graduates are in employment six months after graduation (UK)


What’s the average salary for medical graduates in the UK?

Average GP salary: GBP 63, 324


Where is best to study medicine?

United Kingdom

Similarly, with nursing, medicine degrees in the UK are globally recognised and highly esteemed due to the research and training excellence. Examples of top universities for medicine degrees in the UK include The University of Oxford, The University of Cambridge, UCL, Imperial College, The University of Edinburgh and many more.


In America, most institutions require students to gain an undergraduate degree before enrolling for a medicine course at graduate school. A total of 18 American universities sit within the top 50 for medicine in the world (Times Higher Education 2020). This should give you a good indication of the prestige of this subject in the USA.

Want to hear about another student’s experience of studying medicine in the U.S.?


The Karolinska Institutet in Sweden is one of the top schools for medicine in the world, ranking 5th in the Times Higher Education 2020 university rankings. Known for top-quality research and innovation, this leading university also has the honour of choosing the Nobel Prize laureates in physiology and medicine.


What’s more, 90 per cent of the Swedish population are English-speaking and most courses are taught completely in English. So, with the accessibility of courses, combined with the country’s natural beauty, Sweden makes for a unique and enjoyable study abroad experience.


3. Psychology

Want to better understand yourself and others? A degree in psychology would enable you to delve into the human mind and analyse human behaviour. You will develop skills in critical thinking, communication and research with a psychology degree. Pursuing a psychology course means you are likely to cover the following subjects:


  • The history of cognitive psychology
  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Memory
  • Decision making and reasoning
  • Perception
  • Wellbeing
  • Statistics


What is the graduate employment for psychology students in the UK?

Graduate employment rate: 56.7 per cent of psychology graduates are employed six months after graduation (UK)

What’s the average salary for psychology jobs in the UK?

The average salary for jobs in psychology: GBP 23, 436 (Totaljobs)

However, with more experience and accreditations, a degree in psychology can lead to a career with a high income. For example, a psychologist with one to four years of experience can earn an average salary of GBP 45,680 per year. In order to become a clinical psychologist, you will need to gain a postgraduate degree in addition to your undergraduate course. So, although you’ll need to commit to several years of higher education, the payoff will be worth it if this is a field that interests you.

Where should I study psychology?

You might be seeing a pattern here. The USA and UK are top countries for many degree subjects, but of course, there are other destinations which offer high-quality degree programmes for international students.

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Within the top 50 institutions ranking for psychology, 23 are based in the USA (QS 2020). With almost half of American institutions coming out on top for psychology, it’s a good indication of what to expect from the quality of teaching in this field. Gaining a degree from a university in the USA is also generally highly regarded by employers due to the country’s high standards of higher education.

United Kingdom

The UK offers prestigious and competitive psychology degree options. For example, UCL ranks 7th in the world for psychology, with The University of Cambridge and The University of Oxford leading the table with 3rd and 4th place consecutively.  So, the UK performs well based on the league tables for psychology year on year, making this a prominent choice for many international students.


4. Physiotherapy

A health-care profession that involves advising people with an injury, illness or disability. A physiotherapist will help patients to improve their movement and physical ability through exercise, pain management and clinical advice. This type of work can be highly rewarding, providing you with skills in communication, problem-solving, developing interpersonal rapport with clients and more. You can expect to explore the below topics on this course at university level:


  • Human anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Pathology
  • Psychology
  • Pharmacology
  • Rehabilitation
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Health promotion


What is the graduate employment rate for physiotherapy students in the UK?

Graduate employment rate: 95 per cent of graduates are in employment six months after graduation (UK)

What is the average salary for physiotherapy graduates in the UK?

The average salary for physiotherapy graduates: Starting salary GBP 24,214 to GBP 30,112

As with most careers, the more experience you have, the more you can expect for your income. A clinical specialist can earn up to GBP 43,772 and advance practice physiotherapists can earn between GBP 52,306 and GBP 60,983. So, with hard work and dedication, you could expect to reach a high earning bracket with this degree.


Study Physiotherapy

Where should I study physiotherapy?

As with any degree attained abroad, you want to make sure that the qualification is recognised in other countries so that you’re not restricted to one destination for work. You can check this with the university that you’re interested in, either on their website via social media or online.


Physiotherapy is a competitive course in many British universities. The UK houses institutions which are well regarded for their physiotherapy expertise. Another benefit of studying in the UK is that the majority of courses are taught in English. In other parts of Europe, there are also several English-taught physiotherapy degrees such as in the Netherlands, Spain and Finland.

Take a look at physiotherapy courses in Europe.


One major benefit of studying physiotherapy in Australia is that this profession is on the Australian Skilled Occupation List. This means that it is far easier to get a work visa. So, if you fancy studying in a country with excellent higher education institutions, glorious weather and the chance to help people, Australia could be the perfect spot to pursue a career in physiotherapy.


5. Law

A course which provides students with highly transferrable skill such as the ability to form an argument, problem-solving, essay writing, research skills and more. A law course is typically undertaken by students who wish to become a solicitor or barrister, but it can also lead to other types of careers such as a data analyst, stockbroker, civil service administrator and political risk analyst. You are likely to cover the below core topics in an undergraduate law degree:


  • Criminal law
  • Human rights
  • Law of tort
  • Law of contract
  • Constitutional law
  • Land/property


Find out what areas of law you can study in more depth.


What is the graduate employment rate for law students in the UK?

Graduate employment rate: 47 per cent of UK law graduates are in employment within six months of graduating

What is the average salary for law graduates in the UK?

The average salary for law degree holders: GBP 35,000 (PayScale)

Of course, you can earn far more with a law degree, depending on what area you decide to specialize in and which legal firm you work for. Kirkland and Ellis in the USA for example pay entry-level graduates up to GBP 50,000 and the top firms in London pay GBP 40,000 to 42,000. That’s pretty impressive for the start of your career.

What are the best countries to study law in?


Unsurprisingly, the top universities for law are predominantly based in the UK and America with Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford University sitting in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place consecutively (THE 2020). In the UK, you can study law at undergraduate level (LLB) and postgraduate (LLM) whereas in the USA you have to study at specific law schools after gaining a different undergraduate degree. This could be seen as off-putting, but even in the UK where you can gain an undergraduate law degree, you still need to pass the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Although, this can be done in one to two years.  


Two Chinese institutions rank in 23rd and 24th place (Tsinghua University & Peking University), reflecting the academic status of law courses in China. Another advantage to studying law in China is that tuition fees are relatively low at USD 2,000 to USD 6,000 per year. When comparing this to fees in other countries such as the USA where fees can cost USD 53,000 per year, you can see the appeal of China for international students.

Hopefully, you’ve now got a clearer idea of what these subjects involve and where they could lead you. Don’t forget to check out some of the links to find more information about specific courses and institutions. Best of luck with your search. 


Study Law

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