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Overseas university spotlight: Cardiff University (UK)

Established in 1883, Cardiff University is one of the more popular options for many students thinking about studying in the UK.

With 33,000 students, it's a member of the prestigious Russell Group, where teaching is led by research.

And it's set right in the heart of the capital city of Wales, where there is no shortage of things to do: a lively music scene, around 330 parks and green spaces and convenient location just two hours from London.

Here are some of the highlights from my visit!

Cardiff University's iconic Main Building

Cardiff city

Cardiff is very much a young person's city.

With a population of 350,000, about 20 percent are students from across Cardiff's three universities.

It's often described as a big village - because it's very easy to bump into people you know wherever you are.

This helps make students feel at home and part of a community.

I have to say that the amount of green space in the city also really surprised me.

Statue in Alexander Gardens
Alexandra Gardens. at the heart of the University campus
Welsh Government offices in Cardiff civic centre
War memorial in Cardiff civic centre

And whilst Cardiff is the capital of Wales, Wales just happens to be the castle capital of Europe.

In total, there are more than 600 castles, and many students will be delighted to know that there is a massive castle right in the heart of Cardiff as well.

Cardiff Castle, Bute Park entrance
Cardiff Castle, from Bute Park
Main entrance to Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle, int he centre of the city

This castle is not only just for tours though; it often hosts concerts or events in its grounds as well, getting a fair amount of modern-day use.

Cardiff is also famed for the iconic Principality Stadium, just a stones' throw from the castle, in the very centre of the city.

The stadium has played host to many a world-leading sporting event, including European Champions' League finals and WWE Wrestling clashes.

It has also been the venue for shows by artists including Beyoncé, Foo Fighters and Bruce Springsteen.

Castle Street in Cardiff City Centre

To me, Cardiff has a kind of cool, alternative vibe, and there are lots of nice pubs and coffee shops.

It's a lively city, but it's all on a manageable scale, and the people are approachable and welcoming.

One of my favorite aspects is just the walkability of the place; you can really get just about everywhere on foot.

Womanby Street in Cardiff, with the famous Clwb Ifor Bach

Speaking of coffee, after trying a fair amount of places around the city, I have to say my favorite would be Uncommon Ground in the Royal Arcade.

It's also a great place to get some study or reading done, as they (deliberately) don't offer Wi-Fi!

Flat White at Uncommon Ground

Inside the Royal Arcade is also where you'll find a student-favorite sandwich shop called Fresh, but make sure to get there early to avoid the long lines at lunch!

One of Cardiff's famous Victorian shopping arcades

In terms of industries, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that TV and film production is booming in Cardiff right now.

It's the second largest center for screen industries in the UK and one of the largest in Europe, with 32 major TV and film series currently being produced in the area.

If you've ever watched an episode of Dr. Who, you'll likely have seen some of Cardiff already - the show has been filmed there since its relaunch in 2005.

It also has the highest number of media jobs outside of London, attracting many London defectors on account of its livability.

Cardiff University - Academics

Cardiff Uni is home to three colleges and 24 schools; it's a large university currently ranked #166 in the world (2023, QS).

By comparison, Texas A&M, the University of Maryland, Michigan State and Case Western are all ranked similarly.

Entrance gates to Cardiff University's Main Building

Most of the schools are located at the Cathays Park campus; however, there is also a healthcare campus in Heath Park around the University Hospital of Wales.

One of the main benefits is that its learning facilities are integrated right into the heart of the city, next to many government buildings, the main shopping streets and loads of restaurants.

Cardiff University's Main Building, which is over 100 years old

In fact, the School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC) is co-located with the BBC - the only Journalism school in the UK to offer this type of location.

Cardiff University's School of Journalism, Media & Culture

This school is home to the oldest journalism program in the UK and is the largest provider of journalism education in the UK and Europe.

It has its own dedicated library, six newsrooms, TV and radio stations, editing suites, innovation and computer labs and more.

Students working on projects at Cardiff's Journaism school
Study facilities at the Cardiff School of Journalism
Print media resources at the Cardiff School of Journalism
Lecture theatre at Cardiff's School of Journalism

In this way, it feels more like a media company than a school.

Broadcast facilities at the Cardiff School of Journaism

Cardiff is also particularly well-regarded for a number of programs, including architecture, law

and biosciences.

Statue of John Viriamu Jones, Cardiff University's first Vice-Chancellor

All students have the opportunity to study a language for free as part of the Languages for All program.

And of course, there are plenty of opportunities for students to learn a little of the Welsh language (it's not essential - but it's great fun to give it a try!).

Cardiff University's Main Building

And whilst many UK cities and university struggle to provide students with housing after first year, Cardiff actually guarantees housing for all years of the degree.

The red-brick Aberdare Hall building on Cardiff's main campus
Aberdare Hall (female only housing close to campus)

Cardiff also has the third best students' union in the UK (I agree it's great; the space is quite cool!).

It has a coffee shop, lecture halls, study spaces, student support, recreational areas, a bar and a nightclub all in one.

Coffee shop at Cardiff's Centre for Student Life
Study spaces in the Cardiff Students' Union
Lecture theatre at Cardiff University's Centre for Student Life
View from the Students' Union
View from the Students' Union
Study and activity spaces on campus
Cool seating at Cardiff University's Students' Union
This space turns into a nightclub
This space turns into a nightclub
The main auditorium at Cardiff University's Centre for Student Life
The main reception at Cardiff University's Students' Union
The Taf, a well-known bar in Cardiff University's Students' Union
A food court in Cardiff University's Students' Union
Cardiff University's Centre for Student Life

Cardiff University: Summary

As a city, Cardiff is a lively place and one of the most walkable cities I've visited.

Church Street, in Cardiff city centre
Students hanging out in Cardiff city centre

It's a great option for students looking to have a capital-city experience on a lower budget and a rigorous academic environment at Cardiff Uni, the highest ranked university in Wales.

As a former journalism student, I absolutely loved the J school facilities as well.

Cardiff University main building, seen from Park Place

All this, and you're just an easy two hours on the train to London - check it out!


Interested in applying for college or grad school abroad?

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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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