The prospect of studying in another country is an exciting one but it requires a lot of forward planning. Discover what you'll need to put in place to ensure that your study abroad experience runs as smoothly as possible
International study is one of the most eye-opening adventures you can experience. But why study abroad? Some of the advantages include:
- experiencing a different culture
- learning a new language and transferable skills
- accelerating your personal development
- gaining new academic perspectives
- boosting your employability.
You should begin researching your study abroad experience 12-18 months before you actually travel - doing so will give you plenty of time to sort out applications, funding, visas and more.
1. Decide where to study
When picking a destination to study abroad the world really is your oyster. A plethora of countries boast world-renowned education systems and globally-recognised institutions, so the first step is to narrow down your options.
Ask yourself if you'd like to stay closer to home by studying in Europe or whether you'd like to spread your wings and go further afield. Are certain countries well respected or recognised as being a hub for your area of interest? If you're planning to work abroad upon graduation you might want to base your choice on where you could easily find employment.
The budget that you're working with will also dictate where you can study - gaining a degree in some destinations costs considerably more than in others.
Think about your cultural horizons too. If you've always wondered what it would be like to live in a particular country, now's the time to try it. If you want to learn a certain language, head to where it's natively spoken.
2. Choose your course
More often than not you'll find that the majority of foreign universities provide qualifications comparable to those offered in the UK, for example Bachelors, Masters and PhDs. Look into how long they take to complete as this can vary depending on where you 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, before visiting university websites and talking to lecturers, tutors and careers advisers.
You also need to check that the qualification you receive will be recognised in the UK and, if you're currently in UK-based study, ensure you can spend time abroad and still complete your degree on schedule. Avoid programmes that don't transfer academic credit towards your award.
3. Search for funding
Overseas tuition fees vary widely. Some countries, including Australia and the USA, set very high fees for international students while other countries, such as China, are much more affordable. Some destinations such as Iceland and Norway don't charge tuition fees at all.
Discuss funding options with your chosen university. There are many scholarships and bursaries available to help with the cost, including those from external bodies.
Sometimes funding for international students is harder to come by so if you're struggling to find support, or you aren't eligible for schemes that are in place, consider other options such as crowdfunding or working while studying. In order to earn while you study you'll need to fully research the working rights and restrictions of foreign students.
However, as well as meeting course fees you'll also need to cover the cost of living. To secure your visa it's likely that you'll need to prove you have enough money to live off while in the country.
4. Apply for your programme
As with courses in the UK, the earlier you apply the better. This can be even more important when studying abroad, as you'll have more 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.
5. Obtain your visa
If you want to study abroad you must get the appropriate visa to allow you to do so. As the UK is no longer a part of the European Union (EU), students will now need a visa to study in EU countries as well as the rest of the world.
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.
For help and advice on completing study visas, contact the embassy or consulate of the country you'd like to study in.
6. Find accommodation
Many foreign universities offer on-campus accommodation but there are cheaper alternatives available. International institutions usually help students from other countries to find accommodation, so take advantage of any assistance provided.
You could ask to be put in touch with other international students on your course or in your department and see if you can find shared lodgings.
It's likely that the bulk of your search will be done online so make sure opportunities are above board before signing any contracts. If you can afford to do so it might be worth visiting your chosen destination to research accommodation options in person.
7. Make friends
Moving to a new country is a whole lot easier if you feel like you have made friends before you get there. A lot of universities run international student events to help foreign students prepare for and integrate into their new surroundings, so make sure you attend these. By doing so you'll meet other students embarking on an adventure abroad. Some institutions also run buddy systems to help you settle in. Get in touch with your university's international or admissions office to see what support is available.
Use social media to reach out to other international students who will be attending your chosen university to strike up a connection.
Once in your new home, look into joining clubs and societies of interest where you can meet likeminded people. Learning the native language will also help with making new friends.
8. Manage your budget
Saving money ahead of international study is often overlooked, so create an action plan and begin saving well in advance. Price everything up in advance, from university and accommodation costs to the amount you'll need for leisure activities and personal care. 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 stretch quite as far as it does in the UK.
To make the most of your leisure time you'll need spare cash. You'll also need cash to pay for travel home as and when you need to.
Research the best credit cards for students and use this in an emergency. Speaking of emergencies, make sure you have some money set aside in case any unforeseen circumstances arise.
9. Sort health and travel insurance
There are numerous student insurance options available. Insurance is essential and often a requirement of your visa application, so be prepared to pay extra for comprehensive cover - it's worth it.
Some countries require you to have vaccinations before you enter. Others, such as New Zealand, have very specific healthcare obligations that must be met.
Regardless of where you're heading to, 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.
10. Complete 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.
Make sure you have all the necessary documents and copies of them just in case. Convert cash into the local currency so you're not arriving with empty pockets. Jot down a list of local emergency numbers and make a note of your address in your new country. It might also be worth investing in a spare mobile phone so you remain contactable even if you loose or damage your first phone.
Ensure that you know which airport you'll be landing at and what the public transport is like once you touch down.