It is not an easy task. With thousands of universities to choose from abroad, how do you determine which one is right for you? You can spend days and days researching and looking at all the different schools out there, but the reality is that your final choice will result in giving up on one opportunity to pursue another. It’s just a matter of picking the right, more logical one.
Coming from someone who’s just gone through the process of picking a grad school overseas, here are my tips to help any prospective, overwhelmed student out there with their decision by highlighting the five main factors to consider when choosing a university abroad.
Location, location, location! At least that’s what they say in the movie-biz and real estate. Why? Because it’s appealing and the easiest of all the factors to relate to. From pictures, articles, movies, and word-of-mouth, usually everyone has an opinion of a country or place. It is important to consider what you want out of the location you will be living in for the next several years. If you love architecture, culture, and history, then a university located in Europe will probably draw you in. More into sun, surf, and seafood? Then Australia or coastal USA cities will likely suite you better. With the location factor, remember to consider your hobbies and passions, which can thrive depending on the environment you immerse yourself in and are things that shouldn’t be sacrificed.
Not surprisingly, more significant than location is the university itself, considering you will be spending the vast majority of your time there, as opposed to exploring the streets of the town where it resides. That being said, this factor will also take up most of your research time. Some of the essential questions to ask are: How many students go there? How well is it recognized? Do you want to get a degree because of the school’s reputation or its educational system? At some point you will find that you need to address what you are really going to university for, and this is when the next factor comes in. And if you are still having trouble deciding, speak with a professional education consultant, who can shed more light on the matter.
This factor is the most fundamental, as it begs you to ask the question, “Why am I going to university in the first place?” Some people know what they want, and some don’t and hope to find it at university, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you do know what field you want to study (science, art, music, etc.) then you have to find out if the university you are looking at offers the degree and how established/well-regarded their program is. Some schools may not be as world renowned as Oxford or Cambridge, but their specialties may be the best in the world, and the same goes for the reverse. You should consider how reputable the staff and professors are and what courses the schools offer.
Supervisor/Project (for Masters and PhD students)
If you looking abroad to further continue your education with a research-based Master or PhD degree, while all the other factors still apply, finding the right supervisor/project is key. It’s all about connections. You need to find a supervisor that you can work with, that motivates you, and has an interesting research project that you can be passionate about. Thus, contacting a professor prior to applying is highly recommended. Other considerations are having the right research team, working/learning environment, lab/mechanical resources, and incentive of publication.
Last, but definitely not least, is the money factor. A huge hurdle that stops potential students from studying abroad are the frightening tuition fees. But fear not, as where there’s a will, there’s a way! There are tons of scholarships that you can find on the internet, and many universities offer an international-fee scholarship to lure students from abroad. Canadian student loans are also available and support not only national, but international studies. Other things to consider are family and friends with connections abroad. It is important to also realize that tuition is not the only expense: the cost of living varies substantially depending on the country and location. Cost of food, housing, and transportation will likely be the majority of your expenses, so it’s worth knowing ahead of time what to expect. Finally, don’t forget the cost of relocating, as international flights are pricey and you must ask yourself how often you want to fly home.
Considering these five factors will allow you to understand not only what you want out of school, but what you want out of yourself. Remember why you want to go abroad in the first place, as you may question it multiple times during your search. I considered it a rewarding venture that I was keen to pursue in my initial search for grad school, and what drove me was the chance to have exposure to a different country and academic culture. International students at universities enable both sides to benefit from the cross-fertilization of culture, ideas and knowledge.
Now, if you really want to get nerdy you can make a spreadsheet like I did and weigh the factors. It helped me narrow down my options to a handful of great choices. Thus, after you’ve done your research and logically narrowed down your options for schools aboard, you may find yourself stuck between some equally great opportunities. At this point, I’ll leave you with some advice someone wise once said: Sometimes you just have to put aside logic, and do what feels right.
Stephanie Sykora holds a BSc from UVic, Canada in Earth Science. You can follow her blog www.exploringthearth.com (twitter@stephsykora). She is currently pursuing an MSc at the University of Tasmania, Australia.