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Overseas university spotlight: University College Dublin (Ireland)

Located in the world's friendliest country, a place where I lived for some time after graduating from university and the only predominantly English-speaking country in the EU post-Brexit, University College Dublin is the largest, most international institution in Ireland.

For the last five years, it's been rated #1 in graduate employability in the country according to the QS rankings, and it has also produced the largest number of Taoisigh (prime ministers) of any Irish institution of higher education.

With one of the largest urban campuses in Europe (130 acres), students get all the benefits of a suburban, enclosed campus in addition to the experience of being minutes from a lively, European capital city.

Here are some of the highlights from my visit to campus in June 2022!

UCD man-made lake


When I landed in Dublin for the first time in the 14 years since I lived there, I was immediately struck with nostalgia.

On one hand, it felt so familiar, but on the other hand, it was almost unrecognizable at the same time.

Many of the places I used to frequent were no longer, but the development and infrastructure had improved the city's landscape immensely.

The River Liffey
The River Liffey
The Spire
The Spire

For example, it is so easy to travel around the city now, whether via the train (Dublin Area Rapid Transit; DART for short) or via a double-decker bus.

All you need to do is get yourself a LEAP card (discounts are available for students), which to my surprise, you can actually scan and 'top up' (add more credit) directly from your phone.

'Back in my day', you had to make sure you had the right amount of coins to get yourself home!

Nowadays, Dublin is one of Europe's youngest cities with half of the population under the age of 34 and a third under 25.

It's also regarded as Europe's tech capital and is home to an enormous number of European company headquarters, such as eBay, PayPal, LinkedIn, AirBNB, Facebook and Google.

It therefore has a very strong job market in the FinTech, engineering, biomedicine and pharmaceutical industries, to name a few.

One thing that hasn't changed, however, is that the Temple Bar area near Trinity College Dublin continues to be expensive and touristy (though lively and worth a visit)!

Temple Bar
The Temple Bar in the Temple Bar area
Sampling some local desserts
Sampling some local desserts

I always like to spend my time away from the more touristy bits though, specifically several miles south of Dublin in the suburbs of Dun Laogohaire or Dalkey.

From there, I'll go for long, scenic coastal walks all the way to the very wealthy Killiney area, home to Bono and a host of other celebrities.

Dalkey Castle
Irish Sea from Killiney
Favorite spot along the Irish Sea
Bono's house!
Bono's house!
Pathway from the street, past Bono's house to Killiney Beach
Pathway from the street, past Bono's house to Killiney Beach

UCD Campus

UCD's campus is also south of Dublin, about a 15-minute bus ride (3 miles) to the neighborhood of Belfield.

It's easy to reach, as there are so many bus routes that leave the city centre and pass by campus.

All programs are taught at the Belfield campus except for students in the graduate business school, which is instead located at the Blackrock campus.

The main site, however, is an American-style campus that's open to the public, and there was no shortage of locals walking their dogs there, which I loved!

UCD campus

Founded in 1854, UCD has around 34,000 students nowadays, 9,000 of whom are international.

This is in part due to the fact that UCD has five global centres around the world, including one in New York.

But in addition to the different classroom perspectives international students bring, 50 percent of the academic staff are from abroad, too.

There's also the UCD Global Lounge, where both domestic and international students alike can participate in cultural events, play Wii games and watch movies, as well as a very cool Food Hall.

Student hang out spaces

When it comes to housing, first-year international students have priority placement, and there is the option of having a meal plan.

The UCD Village actually opened last year and offers three- to six-bedroom apartments (some are en-suite and some have shared bathrooms).

Otherwise, students can look for 'digs', which are rooms for rent within a local family's home.

Elsewhere on campus, there are two newspapers, a radio station, nightclub, manmade lake and amazing coffee cart and coffee shop (which actually replaced Starbucks).

Got this coffee from a little cart; it was the best coffee I had in all of Ireland (and I'm picky!)
Got this coffee from a little cart; it was the best coffee I had in all of Ireland (and I'm picky about coffee!)
Near the UCD lake
UCD lake

A favorite restaurant (where I also ate) is called Pie, located in the science building of course, and it has different menu options every day.

There's also an Olympic-size swimming pool, sports centre, pharmacy and cinema.

UCD sports centre

Students are quite active, as cycling is popular, and there are more than 30 sports clubs available to join (a sports expo is held during the first weeks of semester).


UCD has six colleges, of which science is the largest.

It's a popular choice as well for students wanting to study programs like business, law and veterinary medicine, the latter of which is AVMA-accredited and has its own library and animal hospital on site.

Unlike most international universities, however, UCD does have quite a lot of merit aid; 70 percent of all North American students receive some form of scholarship.

Students are automatically considered for most, apart from the Global Excellence Scholarships that require an additional application.

It's well worth the additional submission though, as these scholarships can cover up to 100 percent of tuition (again, very rare for overseas universities)!

Liberal Arts & Sciences

By far, UCD's most popular option for students from the U.S. is the Liberal Arts & Sciences program.

At most universities overseas, students have to apply directly to a specific major and usually need to demonstrate a background in that particular area, too.

This makes it quite tricky for students who aren't completely set on what they want to pursue yet--and may not be for a while.

This program, however, is basically the equivalent of an undecided major in the U.S., and it comes with lower entry requirements, meaning it's also perfect for someone who didn't achieve the standardized testing results for which they had hoped.

It's a flexible 4-year degree that lets students explore a few different subjects before ultimately settling on a pathway toward the end of the first year, with personalized guidance from the program coordinator along the way.

Pathway options include business, science, social science, architecture, arts, agricultural science or food science/human nutrition.

Upon graduation, the transcript and diploma will show a BA in Arts, for example, rather than a degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences, so it's perfect for both the students who are undecided, as well as the students who didn't test high enough to enter the program they wanted directly.

University College Dublin: Summary

Dublin will always have a special place in my heart, being the first place I lived after finishing university.

It's where I really discovered who I am and what I wanted to do with my life (and also that both of these things are neither constant nor linear).

I will strongly support any students wanting to study in Ireland because I know the sort of experience they can have, though I will no doubt be extremely jealous and wanting to live vicariously through them at the same time!

There is something magical about the place, and whilst Dublin is a major European capital city, it also has a sort of small-town feel to it to where it wouldn't be entirely overwhelming for someone living overseas and on their own for the first time.

UCD has a wonderful community of students from all around the world with a campus that's large but easy to navigate.

UCD Business School
Inside the Business School
Inside the Business School

It ranks highly in numerous academic areas and has a one-of-a-kind Liberal Arts & Sciences program that suits a lot of students coming from the U.S.

Nevertheless, I once heard that if you ask an Irish person for directions, they'd walk you there themselves, and that has absolutely always been the case for me both in Dublin and on UCD's campus.

The people are friendly, the Guinness is great, the environment is beautiful and there's always something to do; what more could you ask for?!


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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