If you had to choose last year where to study, you would have considered a set of common factors such as your subject preferences, language of instruction, and career prospects. This year, though, things are different because of the pandemic.

Let’s review some of these special considerations you need to have in mind when choosing where to study for your Master’s.

An alternative to physical campus tours

University tours are a wonderful opportunity to explore campuses and facilities, breathe in the general atmosphere of the school, meet the teaching staff and students, and ask any questions you may have. But with many campuses closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is useful to consider some alternatives.

Free virtual tours have grown in popularity recently as they give applicants and their families the opportunity to explore their options while staying safe at home. "If [prospective students] can’t physically get to a campus for various reasons – time, travel, cost – this allows them to experience it," Jason Tyson, director of media relations for the University of North Carolina System, told U.S. News.  

Virtual campus tours are often led by students who, in addition to showing the premises, discuss daily student activities, academics, commuting, and more. You can take a virtual tour on the websites of the universities you are interested in. You can also check services like CampusTours, which offers tours of more than 1,800 schools in the United States as well as those in the United Kingdom, Canada, China and France.

Read: What Campus Life Will Be Like After Lockdown

The visa question

For those of you who are considering studying in another country, it is essential to get familiar with the local visa regulations and follow the latest updates. You need to know if you can travel to the country of your choice or if the government issues visas at all.

Also, bear in mind that universities are aware of the difficulties international students are facing and are taking relevant measures. For instance, Nottingham Trent University (UK) is working on an online platform for international students enrolled in its Masters in Management programme. Students who are unable to come to campus in September can complete the first semester online and then study the remaining two semesters on campus.

Some countries are also adapting their visa legislation to the new situation. Australia is allowing all student visa holders who study online outside the country because of Covid-19 to count this time towards post-study work permits. 

It is important to follow these developments and plan accordingly. Many governments provide visa information updates on special websites. You can also check the Covid-19 pages of the schools or their FAQ sections.  

Face-to-face or online

There are still many uncertainties involving in-person instruction around the world right now. If you want to attend face-to-face classes, make sure you identify the universities that plan to offer them. Many universities in the UK, Spain and Germany plan to start the year with a mix of online and in-person instruction. At the same time, US universities such as Harvard, Princeton, and Rutgers announced that all or most of their courses will be offered online.

Read: How to Get a Masters Degree Safely

Online learning is a much-discussed option nowadays, but the truth is that not everyone feels comfortable studying (entirely) online. A survey conducted among nearly 40,000 students at Southeast University in China shows how students struggled when instruction moved online due to the pandemic. Students pointed to a “need to improve self-discipline and concentration amid distractions such as unstable network speed, noisy environment and a lack of professional equipment,” according to Nature. If you choose to study online, it is best to pick a school that has proven its ability to deliver quality online education and is highly rated by alumni and current students alike.

Access to housing

Accommodation is another key factor to consider in these unusual circumstances. The student housing situation varies between countries, even between dorms in the same country.

In the US, more than a quarter of US colleges and universities plan to begin the autumn semester fully or mostly online, but many are still opening up their dorms, according to the New York Times. Some are accepting students with housing insecurity, while others plan to offer accommodation only to veterans or those with on-campus jobs.

In Germany, dorms are open and will not close if someone gets infected. Health authorities will impose some restrictions and the infected person will get quarantined, but they will not ask all students to pack up and go. Given these differences, it is best to contact the university or dorm of your choice directly and enquire about the specifics.

Read: Choosing a Destination to Study Abroad During the Pandemic

Financial assistance

The coronavirus pandemic has had a negative impact on students’ finances, and universities and governments are acknowledging this. The German government, for instance, is providing a total of EUR 100 million in subsidies to help students affected by the Corona pandemic. A student can get a non-repayable subsidy of between EUR 100 and EUR 500, depending on their need.

In Spain, IE University has created a EUR 5 million fund to provide financial assistance in the form of tuition support for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year. Make sure you research your options for financial assistance thoroughly.

Doing careful, in-depth research may well be the most relevant advice anyone can give you in this dynamic situation. There are many new rules, regulations, and exceptions, but also opportunities to make the most of these difficult times.