By Sojourner White
With the breadth and depth of options emerging for graduate study in countries around the world, students have many opportunities to choose from for their master’s and/or doctoral degree. Amongst the Google searches for programs in your areas of interest, scoping out the possible faculty partnerships, writing essays, and collecting recommendations, a prospective graduate student cannot forget to fully analyze the differences between staying in your home country or leaving. It’s not a decision to make overnight and can require much reflection. Get your pen and paper ready – here are five things you need to consider.
1. Cost of living and relocation
Understanding how the cost of living and possible relocation costs will factor into your graduate expenses is vital to your graduate experience! This can often slip through the cracks of all that information, but don’t let it. Most prospective students get preoccupied by tuition costs, but how much they’ll have to spend to live is equally important. Costs to think about include rent, utilities, public transportation, groceries, travel to and from your home country, etc. Use that to calculate how much, or little, you may need to take out in loans or if you need to work while in school as well.
Speaking of loans, some students who do not get fully-funded choose to take out loans to live. Others choose to work part-time, or even full-time, to cover their expenses such as rent and food. The choice is yours. Just figure out what you need and how much you need to make it through those years in the beginning. It will make it easier for you to know what to expect.
2. Scholarship opportunities and federal aid for international students
In addition to the cost of living prices, let’s talk about money some more! To minimize the cost of grad school to zero, or at least get close to zero, you will definitely need to look into scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, and financial aid. This means combing through the prospective institutions’ website to see the different offerings for domestic vs. international students and checking with your own government’s requirements for international study if you want to use their financial aid. In some cases, a program outside your city, state, country, etc. can offer better services than others.
3. Duration of the program
The program length for graduate schools on an international scale changes depending on the country and continent you choose. For example, most U.S. institutions have two-year programs while European programs are known for their one-year intensives. Some other things to look out for include whether or not you have to pursue an internship or practicum during the summer months, which would prolong your stay. Do you have the summer off to work and make money between terms? Are there summer classes in-person, online, or via study abroad? The duration of the program also influences cost per semester or quarter and should be calculated into your expenses needed due to cost of living. These are key differences to calculate how long you are willing to live and learn in a location for an extended period of time.
4. Language of instruction
Graduate school is challenging in and of itself and to add a new language on top of it can be even more difficult. Yet, this does not mean it can’t be done with the proper channels of support. When selecting a graduate program in a country other than your own, be sure to double-check the language of instruction. If you are trying to learn a new language during the process, also see what services are available. You may have to take a language entrance exam to qualify for the graduate program in another program. Some schools even offer classes in multiple languages; however, this varies. Speak with the admissions counselor or the contact person for your graduate program to get any questions clarified before going through the application process.
5. Handling the mental stress of graduate school away from home
Homesickness is real, and with the fast-paced style of graduate school it can be even tougher to handle than normal. When you choose a program abroad, or even away from home in-country, you are choosing to change your physical and social environment too. Do you need to talk to your family every day? How will that factor into time differences if you choose a program abroad? If you are someone who needs to be around family, friends, and other loved ones, going abroad may be a bigger mental and emotional challenge than an academic one. To plan for this ahead of time, talk with those key people in your life to determine how you all will keep in contact and support each other – such as creating a weekly check-in schedule.
Additionally, culture shock can further exacerbate your mental stress in graduate school abroad once the adrenaline of a new environment subsides. When comparing programs abroad, ask and see if the university offers support in this area, whether in traditional therapy/counseling models or a special person that has expertise in working with international or out-of-state students. Knowing there are measures in place can be beneficial to help guide you if or when you need it.
In the end…
Picking a graduate program is your decision. You have to enroll. You have to evaluate the pros and cons. You have to decide what you want to get out of your program and what you need to be successful; however, you define success for yourself.
It is imperative to think about how going abroad can impact you mentally, just as much as how it will advance your career. You have the final say and while it can seem daunting, when you know, you know. Whether you stay in your home country or go abroad, graduate school will be worth the investment and an experience you won’t forget. Choose wisely!
Sojourner White holds a Master’s of Social Work in International Development from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to graduate school, she taught English in Spain as a Fulbright Fellow and served in the AmeriCorps program Public Allies. She currently does intersectional race and health equity consulting with organizations to redesign their practices for more equitable, community-minded outcomes. You can also find Sojourner writing on her travel blog Sojournies, where she offers tips and resources to encourage students and young professionals to make travel part of their lifestyles.
© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved