Studying Abroad Deconstructed: Myths, tips and advice
You’re taking control of your life. You’re not settling for the status quo. After all, why would you be applying to grad school if you weren’t ready to get out there and craft a life that’s truly worth living?
And, hey, while you’re at it …
Admit it. You’ve entertained the idea. But let’s be real, shall we? There are probably some people in your life who are telling you that it’s a bad idea – it’s not safe, you don’t speak another language, it’s going to take you longer to graduate, it’s totally impractical and you can’t afford it.
Yet how do all of those other people pull it off?
Never fear, you hopeful foreign student, you. We’re here to break it all down for you. When you’re done reading this article, you’ll want to start shopping for suitcases because the fact is, studying abroad is more accessible, more affordable and more beneficial to your education and career prospects than you might have realized.
Let’s look at some common misconceptions that U.S. students may have about jumping the border to study.
I want to study abroad but it’s impractical
“Most students actually improve their GPAs by participating in foreign programs,” says Brent Blahnik, Director of International Education at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay.
“A lot of people think that studying abroad is going to hurt them academically, but actually the opposite is true,” he points out.
But I’m not a language major. Is studying abroad still a reasonable option?
“Long gone are the days where if you want to study in France, you had to be a French major,” says Blahnik. “The vast majority of programs these days are English based. You will run into some programs that have a language requirement, but most do not.”
It’s going to take me longer to graduate
“If the student plans appropriately, studying abroad can actually speed up the time it takes to complete a degree,” Blahnik says. “In a lot of places, foreign students receive priority registration. That means they can more easily get into classes that they can’t get into here.”
“American students are dubious of the UK education system because it appears too good to be true -- getting a master's in one year for example,” adds Lisa Lessware, International Officer at Kingston University in London. “This is a common misconception because Americans are so unaccustomed to other countries' education systems. In the UK, students study for their masters over a 12 month period and no general education courses are required. This is how the masters can be done for only one year’s tuition fees, which is a huge advantage to students.
“Plus, it’s important to stress that the degree you achieve is exactly the same as the one you would have earned in the U.S. -- MA, MSc, MEng, etc.,” Lessware adds.
However she points out that students should realize that while they can earn their qualifications overseas, they will still need to receive professional accreditation in the country where they want to live and work permanently. “For example, a student can earn their LLM in the UK, but they will still need to pass the BAR in the state they wish to practice in. Currently, the only degrees that are not transferable between the USA and the UK are Nursing and Clinical Psychology,” she explains.
I can’t afford it
“Studying abroad is like shopping for a car,” Blahnik points out. “Sticker price is rarely what you pay.”
For example, many student exchange programs allow the students to pay their regular tuition to their home institution.
In addition, people often qualify for financial aid. “Then if you add in the cost for plane tickets, the needs becomes even greater and students may qualify for even more aid,” Blahnik states. He also stresses the importance of applying for scholarships and grants. “It’s free money,” he says.
I’m going to drown in paperwork
Yes, there is a lot of paperwork to consider and leaving yourself ample time to complete it is crucial. But if you keep on top of deadlines, the logistics don’t have to be crushing.
“You want to study abroad; you don’t want to turn it into immigration abroad,” Blahnik says.
Yes, it can be challenging to secure passports and visas, get immunizations, make arrangements to bank overseas, etc. Your best bet is to stay in close contact with your program provider for deadlines.
“There is a lot of detail work,” Blahnik admits. “The deadlines are not a game. People have to realize that they can jeopardize their ability to participate in a program if they don’t get things turned in on time.”
My mom thinks I’m going to get killed by terrorists
“This is everyone’s number one concern,” Blahnik says. “It’s easy to get caught up in the sensationalism of it all. I advise people to look at the real numbers.
“For example, London is one of the most dangerous cities in Europe. But statistically it’s safer than Green Bay, Wisconsin,” he points out. “And it’s also good to realize that most programs go out of their way to ensure the safety of international students.”
Where do I start?
“My advice to an American looking to apply to a school overseas would be to do their research, which can be done online in the first instance,” says Lessware. “You should always try and visit your school in person and it is imperative that you have, at the very least, visited the city you will be living in. If you were thinking of applying to a school in the USA you would never consider doing so in a city you have never been or to a school you have not seen in person. The same applies overseas.
“British schools are very different from American ones, and it is important to recognize that the focus in the UK tends to be on more educational pursuits and less on fraternities and sporting events,” she stresses.
Carlie Blake, Marketing Manager for the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at The University of Melbourne reiterates the importance of doing your homework beforehand. “Do your research,” she says. “Speak with university staff and representatives to find out as much as you can about the program. Some programs include internships, flexible classes or opportunities to study overseas, and some don't. Find out about the academics, who will be teaching the program, and the career outcomes of graduates from the program you're interested in. Then you will be in a position to choose the program and university that bests matches your needs.”
For those who haven’t found a program yet, StudyAbroad.com may be a great starting point. The go-to site for those looking to go abroad offers free listings of graduate study abroad programs, scholarship information and interactive blogs. “A key feature of our site is the ability students have to filter their search based on location and academic subject to find the program that best meets their needs”, said Josh Irons, product manager for StudyAbroad.com. “Once students find programs that align with their interests, they’re able to contact those programs directly from our site and begin the application process.”
Seize the day!
Yes, there is a lot to consider. But look at this way: When is this opportunity going to come up again? If you don’t do it now, will you have the chance again later?
Don’t make this one of those opportunities that you’ll someday look back on and go, “If only I had studied abroad when I had the chance …”
Dive in. Start doing some research. See where it takes you.
Trish Sammer Johnston is a writer based in the Philadelphia area. She received her B.S. in Communications from Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.