Beijing is a sprawling city of 20 million residents, where skyscrapers are few and far between. Thus, Beijing continuously spreads out and its people need to be served by increasing numbers of metro train lines as well as six ring roads. However, foreign students coming to Beijing will typically find themselves in the Haidian District in the West of Beijing, which is home to most (but not all) of the capital's universities, which includes the two highest ranked in mainland China: Peking University and Tsinghua University.
Beijing is the home of Mandarin, the Chinese language version officially spoken in China. It is the most authentic place to study Mandarin in China, compared to cities that have their own local dialects. As a city with such a long history, students will benefit from magnificent museums and galleries, historic palaces, and still-preserved old Beijing housing.
As China’s national capital, Beijing is more expensive than cities in its provinces, but still with much lower costs compared to studying abroad in Western capitals. The Beijing metro system is an amazing value, costing just cents for a journey across the network. Public bus journeys are especially cheap when paid using a Beijing Transit Card. Thanks to the authorities, entrances to many major museums in Beijing are free.
Food on and around Beijing university campuses is inexpensive, and local students often eat perfectly acceptable street food. There are street markets, grocery stores, and famous markets where foreigners can haggle. Yes, there are high-end malls and top-quality restaurants in Beijing, too, but are usually a bit pricier than a typical student budget can afford.
Of course, the famous Great Wall of China from the Ming dynasty, is the most frequented site in the country. On the modern side there's the Olympic Park from 2008, a contemporary Central Business District, and the 798 Art District.
When studying abroad in China, you’ll want to see more than Beijing. Tianjin is the closest municipality and only 30 minutes away by hi-speed train — it makes for an interesting visit in just one day. Historic Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors can be reached on an overnight sleeper train (this saves on hotel accommodation). Even Shanghai is only five hours away on the bullet train. More locally, the Beijing Rural Area (quite a contrast) is an hour to an hour and a half away by green 900 series public buses. It is always good to check if such opportunities are included in your program.
There is plenty of choice and quality for international education in Beijing, though the overall experience varies according to location. Beijing Language and Culture University has 10,000 students at any one time of which around 6,000 are foreign (a truly international environment).
Capital Normal University is approaching 30,000, but only 1000 are international students (a more authentic Chinese experience in a local residential area). Programs for foreign students in Beijing can be found at most universities either directly or specially enhanced by third party study-abroad providers. In addition, U.S.-based universities often arrange their own faculty-led study abroad programs to Beijing in the summer or (less commonly) the winter sessions.
As the political and economic planning capital, international relations, and economic development are well supported programs and internships are readily available in Beijing too.
Studying abroad in Beijing is not the same as being a tourist in Beijing. The extra advantage is usually a longer time in an amazing world city, and the chance to take courses that encourage, and even require, deeper engagement with the community. The local providers will help facilitate this and give students an inside track. (For advice on engaging with locals, see Beijing's Top 10 Hidden Gems).