Dreaming of studying abroad in New Zealand but don’t know where to go? Auckland and Dunedin are popular study abroad locations in New Zealand, but for very different reasons. Both Auckland and Dunedin offer fantastic schools, unique lifestyles and outdoor adventure but the best university program for you will depend on your major and what classes you need credit for, as well as what lifestyle and overall vibe you’re looking for. Read on for a breakdown on what you can expect at each location during your semester studying abroad.


There are two universities to choose from in Auckland (University of Auckland and AUT University), and one university in Dunedin (University of Otago).

Auckland: The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s largest university with about 40,000 students. It’s a traditional campus right in the city with the central business district only a short walk away. With Albert Park on one side of campus and the Auckland Domain on the other, there’s no shortage of green spaces even with being right in the city!

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) is the youngest university in New Zealand and like the University of Auckland, is right in the city center of Auckland – in fact, it’s literally across the road from the University of Auckland. AUT has more of a city campus feel with modern mid- and high-rise buildings. AUT has a smaller student enrollment with about 24,000 students and is known for smaller class sizes.

Dunedin: The University of Otago has a more traditional campus feel featuring beautiful gothic style architecture from the 1800s and a stream running through the middle of campus. While new buildings seem to always be popping up, it remains a cohesive campus with great student spaces.

Otago University campus
“What’s the better view…my marketing notes or this backdrop to my study spot? Easy answer.” Photo & caption: Ani Agbabian, Elmhurst College

In terms of New Zealand university rankings, the University of Auckland and University of Otago rank number 1 and number 2, respectively. Auckland ranks higher worldwide, but both schools are very strong academically.

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Environment/City Feel

Auckland: This harborside city, commonly referred to as the City of Sails, is the largest city and commercial capital of New Zealand. You can hop on a ferry and visit one of the nearby islands or check out any of the interesting neighborhoods close to the city using Auckland’s public transport…or walk! Being that Auckland is also the largest population center in New Zealand, there’s always something going on in the city and there’s no shortage of shops, art galleries, theatres, restaurants and cafes to check out. Auckland is also the most diverse population in New Zealand and is generally considered to be the largest Polynesian city in the world.

Auckland Harbour from Devonport
“One of the best parts about living in Auckland was its accessibility to take a ferry to visit any number of different places! It was always a favorite of mine to take day trips to Devonport across the harbor.” Photo & caption: Susannah Johnson, University of Rhode Island,

Dunedin: Dunedin (nicknamed Dunners) is modeled after Edinburgh, Scotland and is a quaint town that is anchored by the University of Otago. It is a really cool college town that would be similar to a college town in New England. Bordered by the harbor on one side and the hills on the others, everything you need is within walking distance. The great surf beaches are also just a short bus ride away. From your housing you can walk into town, as the campus is right in the city center.


Auckland: The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s top ranked university offering a comprehensive range of courses with 16 subject areas, ranging from arts and humanities, to civil engineering and education, ranked in the top 50 universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings. Its Business School also holds leading international accreditations from AACSB International, EQUIS and AMBA.

AUT University’s academic programs are developed in collaboration with industry professionals to ensure that they reflect the needs of the workforce. While AUT is also a comprehensive university, it offers fewer classes in the liberal arts and humanities than University of Auckland and University of Otago. That said, AUT is a top-ranked university in New Zealand for subjects in visual arts and design and still offers a range of courses to fulfill general education requirements.

AUT University campus in Auckland
“I found the papers at AUT to be a good dynamic between challenging and thought provoking. I really enjoyed my two cultural enrichment classes focusing on the Maori people and their heritage. The international Noho Marae [class], provided me with an incredibly unique experience of being a part of the Maori celebration where my classmates and I were welcomed onto the marae and into the whanu. During this weekend “festival,” we learned all about the Maori love of song, dance and my personal favorite, the haka.” Connor McGlynn, University of Southern California
Dunedin: The University of Otago is also a comprehensive university with 12 subject areas ranked in the top 100 universities in the world including social sciences and management, arts and humanities, and life sciences. The university comes in #7 for sports related subjects in the world and #24 for anatomy and physiology.


Auckland: At both AUT and University of Auckland, students live in university managed apartment complexes about a 10-minute walk from campus. These apartments offer both convenience in location and modern design and students live in private/single rooms within a shared flat.

Dunedin: Students live in university managed accommodation in apartment-style rooms or houses scattered around the outskirts of campus. There is a Kiwi host either living in or assigned to each flat so students can have the benefit of immediately getting to know a local student who can show them around and provide assistance if necessary. All of the houses at Otago are about a 10- to 15-minute walk to campus (or shorter!) and are in a neighborhood-type setting. These houses and apartments are standard student accommodation in New Zealand and are usually a little retro – full of character!

Otago University study abroad housing
” I think my housing situation (with 4 other international students and my kiwi host) was one of the main reasons why I had such an incredible time abroad. I loved getting to bond with the other students in my flat, and we spent countless nights watching movies, baking and having fun together.” Ally Cohen, University of Michigan

With both options, students live with other international students but typically not with other TEAN students in the same flat.


Auckland: Auckland has a mild, temperate climate and has warm, humid summers and cooler, but still mild, wet winters. Being surrounded by water, the weather can go through four seasons in a day (so layers are a must!). The weather is usually between 50-80 degrees, with the warmest months being November through March.

Dunedin: Dunedin has, on average, a cooler climate than Auckland. While it can certainly get hot during the peak months, the temperature is still temperate and not too extreme. Being in the south of the South Island of New Zealand, Dunedin can experience snow during the winter months.


Auckland: A typical weekend may include taking the ferry to Rangitoto Island for a short hike, going down to Silo Park by the water for an outdoor movie or capping the weekend off with a stop at Giapo for a decadent ice cream treat! You’ll find that farmers markets are cheaper than some of the grocery stores (and good chance to shop local!), while restaurants average about $15-$30 per meal and there are plenty of free entertainment options on the weekends. With convenient public transportation, students have no problem heading out of the city to explore areas and events that aren’t in the center of town.

Farmers markets in Auckland
“Almost every weekend, we’d gather a group of friends and head to the French farmers market in Parnell. We try and taste something new each week like these salted caramel injected donuts or warm pastries made with NZ’s famous manuka honey. It’s the best place to talk to locals and buy fresh, homegrown produce for the week.” Photo & caption: Lauren Legorrec, University of Southern California

Dunedin: A typical weekend may include $6 meals of fresh fish and chips, gathering local fruits and veggies for less than $10 per week from the farmers market at the train station, heading to St. Clair beach by bus (for $2.50), hiking Fiordland National Park or Central Otago or, last but not least, hanging out in the center of the city (fondly referred to as “The Octagon” for its notable shape) with its plentiful cafes, bars, restaurants and nightlife.


Auckland: Auckland is set between two harbors and the city truly embraces its location – sailing and water activities are very popular! While outdoor activities are common in Auckland, easy access to hiking trails and weekends away for camping aren’t as accessible as from Dunedin. Being the largest city, Auckland provides a more urban experience rather than an outdoor vibe.

Dunedin: Dunedin is surrounded by the majestic South Island beauty of mountains, rolling hills and crisp blue waters of the Otago peninsula. You could walk out of your student house and just go on a tramp (hike), as it’s so quick to get out of the city. While it has access to beaches, the weather won’t always cooperate to wear those swimsuits!

Mt Aspiring hike with Otago University tramping club
“Every year, Otago University’s Tramping [hiking] Club has a trip to Mount Aspiring National Park. With a group of over 70 people… the good vibes, good company and good walks made it an incredibly successful weekend with the mountains.” Photo & caption: Tiffany Young, University of Hartford


Auckland: Auckland is a great jumping off point for traveling in the North Island. There are several bus companies that can get you to places like the Bay of Islands, Raglan, Rotorua, Lake Taupo and so on for a reasonable cost and only a few hours by bus. There are also hundreds of flights everyday out of the Auckland airport so traveling in New Zealand and in the South Pacific region is very accessible from Auckland.

Dunedin: If you want to take advantage of all the South Island has to offer, then Dunedin is a great location. Even with Dunedin being more remote, students never feel bored because there’s so much to do. Bus tours and journeys by way of train are also easily accessible so there should never be a dull moment.

Queenstown is a great destination to travel to in New Zealand
“Queenstown is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I had the pleasure of visiting 7 times and each time it stole my heart and took my breath away.” Photo & caption: Sarah Bonneson, University of Rhode Island


Your GPA will determine your acceptance at these schools.

To apply for the University of Auckland and University of Otago, students are expected to have between a 3.0-4.0. Students with a 2.8-3.0 are still encouraged to apply and may be admitted on a case-by-case basis.

For AUT University students are expected to have between a 2.5-4.0. Students with a lower GPA may be admitted on a case by case basis.

Still want to learn more? Ask a question of our New Zealand team. Or if you know which school is right for you – Apply now!