Applying to graduate school abroad is exciting, but also arduous. It has all the necessary steps of any university application – forms, essays, and financial aid – but it’s also in a different country, so there are visas and laws to know about as well as cultural differences to consider. It’s a lot to tackle, but don’t panic! Put down the paper bag, there’s no need to hyperventilate. With a few tips and a deep breath, you too can figure out how to make going to graduate school abroad a reality.
1. Budget, Budget, Budget
Graduate school abroad can cost quite a bit of cash money, and that can start right at the application stage. Application fees to the school itself, fees to apply for student visas, flights for visits, renewing passports if need be, and on and on. Cheap graduate degree programs for international students in Europe do exist though– and even almost entirely free programs in Germany – but many graduate schools abroad will still charge higher fees for foreign students. Also, keep in mind exchange rates! With all of the different puzzle pieces, budgeting becomes even more important, so start budgeting early on in the process.
2. Not All Grad School Abroad is Created Equal— RESEARCH
Getting a graduate degree abroad isn’t just challenging because, you know, it’s grad school, but there are also cultural differences to keep in mind. Even when you attend graduate school abroad in English (if that’s your first language) it doesn’t mean there won’t be confusion. Many academic terms and financial terms can differ between countries, and that becomes a problem when trying to fill out paperwork! Keep this in mind while you’re filling out yet another form, and don’t feel silly asking for clarification; it’s better to feel a little silly rather than to have something turned in that was filled out wrong. You wouldn’t want one little form to stand between you and your dream of going to graduate school abroad.
3. Three words: Grad School Checklist
Oh, there is so much paperwork and so many deadlines! Get yourself a handy agenda, a Google calendar, a new-fangled app…a personal robot secretary? Whatever helps you keep yourself organized! A simple spreadsheet with each university and their requirements could help. The necessity of a grad school checklist cannot be overstated. Write the deadlines down. Start early–I truly know, as the queen of procrastination, how hard that is, but start early! Treat yo’ self for every task you get done, whatever helps you stay on top of things.
4. Narrow Down Your Choices
Ok, yes, it would be super fun to go to uni in Iceland or in Peru–but do you speak Icelandic or Spanish fluently enough for a master’s course in it? And yep, the schools in Australia, France, and Estonia all sound amazing, but do you really have time to get all those graduate school applications in before the deadline? Reign in that adventurous spirit just a tiny bit so that you aren’t applying to five schools on every continent! But, of course, also make sure to have some back up schools.
Take a realistic look at your calendar, your budget, and your graduate school timeline, and see where you are able to apply to without breaking the bank or giving up sleep for a month.
5. Apply For that Visa in Plenty of Time
Don’t be in the situation of getting into your dream grad school abroad and then missing your student visa application window! Each country has different legal requirements, and they can change, so make sure to check them on their official websites, and call up an embassy if you have any doubt. One of the best tips for applying to graduate school is to apply early; although don’t be earlier than their application acceptance window. And yes, that application is daunting, but you can do it! There are a lot of resources out there that will walk you through the steps. Get to Googling and ask people who have overcome the challenge of going to graduate school abroad for help.
6. Realize It Will Be Stressful (Breathe)
Stressed out yet? Ughhhhh this is a hard time. Trying to figure out not only the financial commitment, what program will be a great fit, and what the legal requirements are if you want to work, we know it can get very stressful. That’s normal. It doesn’t mean you are bad at applying to graduate school abroad, and it doesn’t mean you’ll fail before you even get to grad school. It just means you’re human and you’re doing a stressful thing. Don’t feel like you’ve messed up because you are stress eating cheese at 2 a.m. Just make sure to breath, rest, exercise, and seek support from loved ones.
7. Check Out Scholarships for Graduate School Abroad
Scholarships for graduate school abroad do exist—although not as commonly as scholarships at in-country universities. However, some governments actually have scholarships to send their citizens abroad! It doesn’t hurt to look into what scholarships are available for you. There are scholarships based on country of origin, on financial needs, and on what you might want to study, from STEM fields to the arts!
8. Think About The Career Impact
Attending grad school abroad can show that you are brave, adventurous, and globally-minded— all good things! But, depending on what career you want to go into or what country you want to land in, different programs might fit better. Example: shorter European PhD programs are sometimes not accepted for academic programs in the U.S. The title of my British master’s degree throws off some American employers (again, with those different academic terms!).
Consider your timelines, too. How does your graduate school timeline fit into your career trajectory? If you follow all our tips for applying to graduate school will you have time for your normal life/? If applying to grad school abroad takes you away from working full-time, there’s a lot to consider.
9. Write a Killer Personal Statement
Show them that unique spirit and gumption that has driven you to pursue going to graduate school abroad! As an international student, you’ll want to tell the story of why you’re leaving your home country to take this leap overseas. What drives you? The unique program? The chance to live in another culture? Their academic reputation?
Remember—academic cultures differ, so what might make a good personal statement for applications to grad schools in the U.S., for example, isn’t necessarily good in the U.K. The U.S. puts a lot of emphasis on volunteering and being well-rounded, while graduate schools in the U.K. are more focused on academic performance (says the woman who spent way too much time making sure “urban gardening” was included on her application).
10. Forget About It. Really.
After you’ve turned in your graduate school applications, written some scholarship essays, noted next step deadlines in your calendar, and effectively gotten all your ducks are in a row…forget about it all. There is nothing more you can do until you get an acceptance letter, so do your very best to forget. Go out with friends, get fresh air, and step away from that spreadsheet! You’ve put all your sweat and tears into your application, and you’ve followed all our tips for applying to graduate school, so waiting in a stress ball on your couch won’t help anyone. Go about your life, and let it be a sweet surprise when that acceptance letter comes. And, if you follow this advice, that acceptance letter will come.
Breathe Again. You Got This!
Applying to graduate school abroad is a whirlwind of stress, anxiety, immigration forms, essays, and—oh, no, don’t cry, it’s going to be fine! You’ve got this. I have faith in you. You’ve got everything it takes to make your dreams of going to grad school abroad a reality. You’ve got all the tips for applying to graduate school you need to ace the application process.
It’s the next big step in your life that should not be taken lightly, but also maybe not-too-seriously either. Just don’t forget to tell your loved ones about your decision too. With these tips in your back pocket and spreadsheets that would make Bill Gates himself weep tears of joy, acceptance to your dream graduate school abroad is inevitable. Remember: breathe.