How to Earn a Graduate Degree While Traveling Abroad

by Julie Sweet

You have a dilemma: you want to travel abroad and see the world, but you also want to earn a graduate degree. The good news is that the two are not mutually exclusive; you can do both!

Pursuing an online graduate degree will allow you to study anywhere in the world, while you expand your horizons and learn about new cultures.

A street full of colorful houses

You don't have to choose between advancing your career and the once and a lifetime opportunity to travel the world for months, or years, at a time!

To gain the most out of your time earning your graduate degree while traveling abroad, keep the following tips in mind:

1. Choose the Right Program

For a variety of reasons, this is the most important decision that you will make. Just because a school offers a graduate degree program, doesn’t mean the degree is worth pursuing.

A graduate degree should enrich your life in some way.

For example, if it’s required for your future dream job, then it is a no-brainer. However, some graduate degrees are not required, but they are “preferred” by many employers, so obtaining one might make you a more attractive job candidate. Ideally, earning a graduate degree will result in a higher salary. Even if earning a graduate degree doesn’t change your employment situation, the degree should provide you with more information, skills, and knowledge.

But that’s not the only criterion you need to consider when selecting an online graduate degree program. Like almost every other thing in life, online degree programs vary. The program should be engaging and challenging, so that you can get the most out of the learning experience.

You want an online degree program that has the same level of credibility as an on-campus program, so that it will prepare you to reach your career goals.

2. Stay Connected

A fast, reliable Internet connection is vitally important to earning an online graduate degree while traveling abroad. You will need the ability to view classes, contact your instructors, download information, submit homework and other projects, and interact with your classmates. It will be very frustrating trying to do this with spotty WiFi reception.

You’ll need to plan ahead for internet connection (sometimes even before you select a degree program). 

Contact the hotels or hostels where you will be staying to see if WiFi is provided or not, and come up with a back up plan if it is not. You might need to increase your wireless plan so that it includes enough data to tether your laptop to your phone during your travels, but there are many other ways to find a WiFi connection when you are “off the grid” too. You could also look into using internet services, like Boingo, that connect you to hotspots and third-party locations regardless of the country you’re in.

Lastly, one obvious, but nonetheless essential, requirement for staying connected while traveling abroad, is whether you decide to use a laptop or a tablet to “attend” class and complete assignments. OH, and make sure your adaptors will fit in the country’s outlets where you’ll be traveling to!

Road sign with European city names on it

When you aren't tied to a physical classroom, you can explore many places as you complete your degree abroad.

3. Sync Time Zones

Another consideration when earning an online graduate degree is recognizing time zone differences between the schedule of your online courses and the location(s) where you will be traveling. Depending on where in the world you are, it may be 2 p.m. for you and 3 a.m. for your instructor.

Differences in time zones can greatly affect response times from your instructor and your ability to communicate with your fellow students.

However, the timezone of your instructor will also determine when a live class is offered, and when assignments and tests will be due. These are all extremely important things to be aware of, in order to make your experience earning your graduate degree while traveling abroad a success.

4. Understand Commitment Levels

Depending on your major, some online graduate degree programs will have more rigorous degree requirements than others. There’s a big difference between one project a week and three projects a week; likewise, between writing two papers a semester and writing six papers a semester. While you want a rigorous and academically challenging online degree program, the whole point of traveling abroad is to gain new experiences, and you’ll need time to do that. You don’t want your graduate degree program to be so challenging that you don’t have time to do anything but prep for class, otherwise there is no point in being abroad!

Consider starting out with only one or two classes, until you are comfortable with both your new surroundings and your new online degree program.

5. Stay on Track

Since you’ll be in a wonderful new location, it will be easy to get caught up in the excitement of the new culture and put off your assignments until the last moment. However, this is not a good idea. When you don’t attend to your homework assignments in a timely manner, there will be potential for them to snowball out of control. If this happens, you will likely become frustrated and want to drop out of your degree program! Avoid this by preparing for it ahead of time.

Commit to being disciplined enough to stay on top of your work at the beginning of your program, and your travels, so you can prevent stress and frustration.

6. Create a Schedule

You may be traveling abroad for a variety of reasons. You may be sightseeing, volunteering for a humanitarian organization, or you may be gainfully employed. Regardless of your reason for being in a foreign land, you need to create a schedule to ensure that you remain on track.

The best way to stay on track is by creating a schedule, so your school time becomes habitual. If you plan to be out all night, it may be best to study in the afternoon, so you can sleep during the morning hours. You might plan to go sightseeing four days of the week, and do schoolwork on the remaining three days.

Whatever type of schedule you create, it needs to be something that you can do consistently to maintain order and organization, and ultimately success in earning your degree abroad.

Outdoor working space

Finding places with WiFi in advance is important, so that you never have trouble attending class.

7. Expand Your Horizons

Although you will be pursuing an academic degree online, take advantage of the opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and learn more about your surroundings as well, and tie this learning into your degree program.

For example, if you’re earning a graduate degree online in education, visit some schools in the locations you travel to in order to observe their education system. If you’re pursuing a graduate degree in the field of medicine, look for opportunities to visit hospitals and other types of medical facilities.

These international experiences will expand your horizons and help you see your profession in a new light!

Also, don’t forget to share your travels with your instructors, classmates, friends, and family. You may discover that they have hospitable friends or relatives in the locations you are traveling to who can offer tips and advice to enhance your trip too.

Traveling abroad may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so you should definitely take advantage of it, but there’s no need to put your graduate degree on hold.

With a little planning and preparation, you can combine the two to gain invaluable knowledge and unforgettable experiences all at the same time. Jump on the opportunity to earn your graduate degree abroad now!