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The basics
New Zealand: Applying to University - Must read

How to apply to study in New Zealand

Now that you’ve decided to study in New Zealand, you’ll need to know how to apply. Read on to find out everything you need to know, including important deadlines and academic and English language requirements.

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New Zealand, or Aotearoa as it’s known by the Māori, may be a small country, but it’s full of beautiful scenery and busy cities. It’s no wonder that so many students dream of studying there. You may be one of them.  This article explores all that you need to know about applying to a New Zealand higher education provider.


Understanding the higher education system in New Zealand



New Zealand has eight universities; five on its North Island and three on its South Island. Look at this small number as an advantage as it will make it much easier to choose. One great advantage of studying in New Zealand is that every single university is in the top three per cent globally. Knowing that your options are all so well-placed will allow you to focus on what it is about each university that really appeals such as location, specialism or lifestyle.


Te Pūkenga


Another option for post-school study in New Zealand is studying a vocational course at one of the country’s sixteen institutions of technology. These have recently been brought together under Te Pūkenga, the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology.


Te Pūkenga has been designed with inclusivity of all students, international students included, in mind.  It focuses on providing learners with a top educational experience both while studying and in any work placements they take on as part of their course.


Important application deadlines


At New Zealand universities, the academic year typically runs from February until November. It’s divided into two semesters, with a four-week break in June/July. Most universities have an intake of students each semester.


As each education provider has its own application system, deadlines are different so it’s important you check with your chosen university well in advance. Generally, as an undergraduate, you can expect:


  • for first semester applications: deadlines in October-December
  • for second semester applications: deadlines in March-May.


At the postgraduate level, application deadlines are typically in October and April.


There is no limit to how many universities you can apply to in New Zealand, but we’d recommend reducing your options to a small few so that you can prepare most effectively.


You will definitely want to avoid rushing your application, so we’d advise starting to plan well ahead of the deadlines.


English language requirements


If English is not your first language, universities will ask to see evidence that you speak and understand English well enough to participate in the course. The most widely accepted test is IELTS although others are accepted.


Most universities and courses will expect undergraduate applicants to have a minimum IELTS score of 6.0 (or equivalent). For postgraduate students, you’ll usually need a 6.5.


If you want to take a different (non-IELTS) English language test, check with each university you are applying to directly to see if they will accept the results.


Academic requirements


At the undergraduate level, you’ll need some form of recognised secondary school leaver’s certificate such as A levels. The specific grades you need will depend on which course you’re applying to and which university.


You don’t need to have the required grades at the time you apply, but you may be asked to provide evidence (such as academic transcripts) that you’re expected to receive them before you start the course.


It’s worth knowing that domestic (local New Zealand) undergraduate students have a nationally standardised university entry requirement for most courses. This means that places for international students can be extremely competitive.


At the postgraduate level, you’ll need to already have a qualification equivalent to a New Zealand Bachelor’s degree (or higher, depending on your level of study). The grades you need will vary between institutions.


Important application documents


You’ll usually need to supply certain documents alongside your application so be sure to have electronic copies of these ready for when you submit. Remember, for any document not in English, you’ll need to arrange for an official translation.


Commonly requested documents include:


  • academic transcripts (if you do not yet have your exam certificates) and/or exam/qualification certificates
  • English language test results
  • a copy of your passport or another valid identity document
  • a portfolio (for applicants in creative courses)
  • CV/resume (typically requested for postgraduate applications)


Before you start your course, you will also need to provide your university with a copy of your student visa. Read our article about applying for a student visa in New Zealand.


Personal statement


Not all universities request a personal statement as part of your application, but if you have the opportunity to attach one, we recommend that you do. Aim to write in a professional but friendly tone, telling the university a bit about yourself and what you have to offer and what you believe the institution can offer you.




Academic references aren’t typically requested in New Zealand but it does vary between institutions. At the postgraduate level, particularly for PhD students, it’s more likely.

If you are asked for a reference, you’ll need to ask a teacher, adviser or supervisor who knows you academically to write a short letter to the university. This should detail your academic ability, work ethic and suitability for the course you’ve applied for.


The application process


New Zealand universities each have their own applications portal which is accessed through their website. Each portal will work differently so be sure to allow plenty of time to familiarise yourself with the different systems and deadlines.


You’ll need to answer a few questions about yourself and pay a fee to each university you apply to. This is generally around NZD 40 to NZD 100. You’ll also need to attach all your documentation before you submit your application, so make sure you have collected everything you need.


What happens next


Universities will contact you to let you know if you have an offer of a place. Depending on what and where you are studying, you may also be asked to attend an interview.


If your offer is marked as ‘conditional’ this means there will be some requirements (for example grades) that must be achieved before you can start the course.


Once you’ve received an offer, you’ll need to make a start on your student visa application.


It would also be sensible to start looking into accommodation options – if you’re hoping to live in a property or dormitory owned by the university, there is usually a very specific deadline for applications. Check this direct with your university. Find out more about how much it costs to study in New Zealand.


Top application tips


Here are some top application tips:

  • Attend some university open days (if possible) so you can get a feel for the place and give you an idea if it’s somewhere you’d enjoy studying.
  • Read the universities’ prospectus. They’re full of information and will give you a good idea of what to expect.
  • Make use of the international admissions office at your chosen university for any specific questions you might have.
  • Accept any help you’re offered. An extra opinion on a personal statement, for example, can really help.