Lectures, culture and affordable living. All three are universally acknowledged as essential to the student experience, but not all universities fit the bill.
CNBC takes a look at the latest international rankings from analyst QS Quacquarelli Symonds, revealing which cities offer the best experience for students, ranked by factors including affordability, desirability and the opinions of students themselves.
South Korea's capital is home to a high concentration of universities renowned for their expert research departments and high achievers. The city has a "work hard, play hard" attitude, boasting night markets, tea houses open all hours and tranquil spas.
Home to Australia's financial institutions and the opera house, Sydney isn't a place to recommend for cheap rents and groceries. However, its diverse student community and opportunities for work after graduation rank Australia's most iconic city inside the top 10.
Switzerland's low university fees for international students help to offset the high costs of rent and socializing in Zurich. Its close proximity to natural landmarks, including Lake Zurich and the Swiss Alps, means students can enjoy a spot of nature while staying in a major European city.
Germany's capital continues to attract students thanks to its laid-back nature and affordable rents, when compared to other major capital cities. International students can enjoy studying without paying tuition fees, while some universities lend a hand in covering transport costs. Many courses are taught in English, while world famous contemporary artist Ai Weiwei can be found teaching at the Berlin University of the Arts.
One of two German cities in the top 10, Munich climbs three places compared to last year's ranking to overtake Berlin. Much like other German cities, Munich's notoriously low cost of living, cheap public transport and distinct Bavarian culture appeals to students. Free tuition fees for undergraduates at German public universities — regardless of nationality — positions this city as a strong contender for any future student.
The French capital topped the table in 2016 and retains its place in the top five in the world largely in part to claiming more world-leading universities than almost any other city in the world, with the exception of Seoul and London. Low tuition fees offset the high cost of living in Paris. Parisian graduates score strongly in finding employment across Europe after graduating.
Knocked off the top spot by London, Montreal can feel hard done by. The city performed highly for five of the six indicators used to assess student cities, except affordability. Montreal's arts and culture scene, cafe culture and diversity — a city where the majority speak French — keeps its reputation as North America's most open place for students intact.
Australia's "cultural capital" scores well for desirability and is regularly ranked as one of the world's most liveable cities. Beaches, nightlife and sunshine appeal to students. The city holds a range of arts, comedy and other cultural festivals all year round. Much like other Australian cities, Melbourne's student experience is dented by the high cost of living.
Asia's leading student city in the index, Tokyo overtakes Seoul from last year's ranking. While Japan's capital is one of the world's most populous urban areas and has a low student population, the proximity of leading financial institutions and the ability for students to immerse themselves in the local culture puts Tokyo in second place.
For the first time, London has been ranked as the best city in the world for university students thanks to its free museums, easy access to cultural landmarks, diversity and the willingness of students to remain there after graduating. The British capital has a large concentration of universities, including the highly ranked University College London and Imperial College London. However, when ranked for affordability alone, London's ranking plummets to 113th.