Excited by the idea of studying abroad? Even if it's your preferred option, it takes some planning to make the most of your time…
International study is one of the most eye-opening adventures you can experience. It comes with numerous benefits too - such as:
- experiencing a different culture
- learning a new language and transferable skills
- accelerating your personal development
- gaining new academic perspectives
- boosting your employability.
However, it requires an incredible amount of planning, and you must be willing to do much of the legwork yourself. Therefore, you should begin your research 12-18 months before you actually travel - doing so will give you plenty of time to sort out applications, funding, visas and more.
Once you've created a shortlist of countries and institutions, there are several more steps to take before you can pack your bags. Here's how to make a success of postgraduate study abroad…
Choose your course
When you've selected your country of study, research all of your shortlisted programmes to discover which one's right for you. You could begin by discovering how your potential institutions rank globally in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-16, before visiting university websites, and talking to lecturers, tutors and careers advisers.
Seek the opinions of those closest to you, and only take the plunge when you're fully committed. Ask yourself practical questions, such as:
- Do you want to live in the city, or are you looking for somewhere quieter?
- Will you fully embrace the student lifestyle?
- Will you learn the language?
You also need to check that the qualification you will receive will be recognised in the UK and, if you're currently in UK-based study, ensure that you can spend time abroad and still complete your degree on schedule. Avoid programmes that don't transfer academic credit towards your award.
Search for funding
Overseas tuition fees vary wildly. Some countries, including Australia and the USA, set very high fees for international students. Degrees in others, such as China, are much more affordable. However, you must also bear in mind the overall cost of living - not just the tuition fee.
To secure your visa and eligibility for a place on the course, you may need to prove that you have enough money to meet living costs. You should check with individual institutions to find out what the requirements are.
Apply for your course
As with courses in the UK, the earlier you apply the better. This can be even more important when studying abroad, as it will give you time to prepare.
The best way to ensure that you get onto a course is to speak directly to the department you're interested in, as many universities will help you through the application procedure. A 2:1 or 2:2 are usually adequate entry qualifications. However, some countries require students to pass entrance exams before they're accepted.
If you're heading to a nation where English isn't the first language, make a note of the level of proficiency you need and allow yourself time to reach the required standard. Most universities offer courses in English, but some seminars may be in the native language - so speaking the local lingo will help to ease you into your new surroundings.
Obtain your visa
If you're studying outside of the European Union (EU), you must get the appropriate visa as part of your application. Give yourself plenty of time to sort this, and also consider whether you'll have to renew it at any point during your stay.
Immigration legislation changes frequently, so refer to the relevant national websites for the most current information.
Budget for your trip
Saving money ahead of international study is often overlooked, so create an action plan and begin saving well in advance. Some university websites provide estimates of your outgoings - use these to your advantage.
The cost of living abroad can be huge, so your money might not go quite as far as it does in the UK. To make the most of your leisure time, you'll need spare cash.
Don't forget to factor living costs into your planning. Many universities offer campus accommodation, but there are often cheaper options available.
Get insurance and check your health
There are numerous student insurance options available. Insurance is essential, so be prepared to pay extra for comprehensive cover - it's often worth it.
Some countries require you to have vaccinations before you enter while others, such as New Zealand, have very specific healthcare obligations that must be met.
Regardless of where you’re heading to, you should visit your doctor for a full medical check-up before you leave. You can sort out ongoing prescriptions or specific medical requirements with your GP too - just leave enough time to arrange this before your departure.
Make your final checks
Ensure that your passport is valid for your entire stay. Renewing is possible in a foreign country, but waiting in long queues and filling in forms won’t be the highlight of your trip.
Finally, you should figure out exactly how you're going to get to the campus. Ensure that you know which airport you're going to land at and what the local transport is like once you touch down.
The ultimate guide to postgraduate study
The essential guide to funding, choosing and applying for your ideal postgraduate programme.