Getting a Master’s or PhD Outside the U.S.
I’ve been thinking about grad school pretty much since I was in undergrad a solid 3.5 years ago. I went back and forth (even applied and got accepted to one), but never committed because I couldn’t determine what exactly I wanted to do. Now, after several years of life experience and discernment, I have a better idea of what I want to pursue. I just have to decide where to do it.
Choosing Your Degree
Sometimes your undergraduate degree has a direct path into a postgraduate degree. If you’re pre-med, you’re going to med-school. If you’re pre-law, you go to law school. But sometimes it’s not as cut-and-dry. Megan majored in Classical Violin while in undergrad and now she’s getting her AuD – a doctorate of Audiology. I studied Journalism in undergrad and I’ve been looking at grad programs in Journalism, Film, and even Business.
You can use tools like the Princeton Review to search for courses in the U.S. You can narrow down by state, size of school, type (public or private), and the programs you’re interested in. The Princeton Review also provides test prep tools, access to study courses, and even free practice tests online to prepare you for the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, and more.
If you’re looking to go somewhere outside the U.S., I really recommend MastersPortal. It functions similar to PR in that you can search for programs by country, degree, and your budget. Keep in mind that many of the countries you’ve heard that you can study for free in may charge more for students not from that region. Example: Many schools are free for students who live in that country or in the EU/EEA, but for students from non-member countries, you will pay the international student tuition.
Determining Your Budget
Because you may have to pay an international student tuition, plus the normal costs of books and supplies, and your living expenses (housing, food, transportation), it’s good to set a budget. If you’re planning on taking out loans, do some research and determine how much loan money you want to take out, and how much you may be able to save to put towards your expenses.
Keep in mind, your budget may also determine which schools and locations you will be able to attend. Going to a private school in the heart of London will cost substantially more than a public school in smaller city in Germany. Determining your budget will either allow you more freedom or restrictions on searching for schools.
Narrowing Down a Location
Once you’ve set your budget, you can now do research on which locations and schools offer programs to fit your needs. If English is your only language, you also need to be sure the school teaches the program in English. If you’re completely bilingual, that will offer some flexibility, but please do not assume that just because you passed your required semesters of Spanish or French in college means you are capable of completing a master’s program taught only in that language.
I would suggest making a list of all the schools you’re interested in, and do some research on the cities and countries they are in.
- What is their population size? Do they have a community of expats? (Though part of the appeal to going abroad is exploring a new culture, it’s always good to have a community who understands your own culture.)
- What is the city like? Modern or historic? Urban or rural? Near to nature? What is their public transport system?
- Would you be willing to learn some of the local language to be able to do things like buy groceries, order at a restaurant, or ask for directions?
Applying for School
When you’re picking a few schools to apply to, there are lots of important things to think about. Use these questions to determine which schools are right for you.
- How many graduate students study there? How about in your program specifically?
- What type of further studies or work do their graduates do after obtaining their degree?
- How many international students do they have? What type of services do they offer international students in terms of helping them integrate in the local community? Do they have allocated housing for international students or a housing service to find apartments in the area?
- How many scholarships do they have for international students? If your program is longer than one year, are you able to renew scholarships?
Obtaining a Visa
This one can be the hardest one because it differs by country. I’ve found this website by NAFSA (Association of International Educations) to be helpful. StudyAbroad.com provides a breakdown of some common things you might need to provide for a visa application. The most reliable website is the U.S. Dept of State which allows you to select the country you’ll go to and provides links to pertinent organizations like consulates and the departments of the country you wish to go to. The State website also is updated regularly with new policies and regulations concerning Americans living abroad.
Applying for Scholarships
As part of your research, you need to find out which scholarships your school offers that you meet the minimum qualifications for. Apply to ALL of them even if you *think* you won’t get it. Better to have applied and not get it than never know in the first place.
For additional scholarships, refer to Go Overseas’ post (updated Oct 2016) that has a wide list of resources for both undergrad and grad programs. StudyAbroad.com also has a broad list of them. The amounts vary between a few hundred dollars, to enough to cover an entire year.
Pro-tip (seriously, I’m a former college counselor!): the more work a scholarship requires to apply, the less people actually submit an application. Sometimes a scholarship offering a lot of money will only get a few applicants due to the amount of work it takes. So if you meet the standards for a scholarship that requires essays or references, put in the work. You may be rewarded generously.
The first thing you should do is contact your school and ask if they have specific housing for international students or if they have a service to find housing in the local area. Hopefully they do one or the other, as finding housing on your own can be extremely difficult. In some places, it’s hard to find landlords who will rent to international students, or in some countries the standard lease agreement is longer than your study period. In Belgium, the standard lease is three years, and you’ll have to pay more to end it early.
If your university does not have dedicated housing, or a housing service, it would be a good idea to get connected with current international students and see where they are living. Often they can share advice about local landlords or companies who are willing to rent out to an international.
If you’re an American who has gone to university abroad, leave us your tips in the comments below! If you have more questions about pursuing school abroad, ask us and we’ll do our best to find you an answer.