Top tips for postgraduate studies overseas

Unlike the plethora of websites that exist in the UK on postgraduate study options, there are no such one stop shops in the cyberspace beyond our shores.

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Quite simply, the range of courses and institutions is too vast. Indeed, those prospective postgraduates who have already looked into overseas study will know this, and might be struggling to find their next step.

Money is surely going to be the overriding concern for most students; primarily, where is it going to come from and how much is required? Those questions rely very much on another dilemma that will present itself to you; which comes first, the course or the institution?

Location, location, location
Drawing up a list of countries can help you to determine what courses are offered by the main institutions there, providing that is you have a broad subject in mind. This will also help you to rule out institutions, or even whole countries, if the type of course you are looking for (structure, duration, content, etc.) is not available. Beginning with a subject or even a specific course title would give you flexibility but it’s still sensible to have an accompanying list of locations, even if they are generic (North America, Africa, etc.)

With a shortlist of courses and countries, your real research can begin. University websites should offer details on everything from academic life and local culture to important facts about the course content, teaching, staff and fees. If you have further questions, contact the university directly before making any solid commitments.

Quality control
You may also want an impartial view on the university, its programmes and academic staff. The Times Higher Education QS University Rankings lists the top 100 in the world (and the top 100 in certain subjects) while former lecturers from your undergraduate days may be able to offer guidance. Also research any partnerships your chosen overseas institutions have with UK universities and gather as much information from the latter as possible. Likewise, careers advisers can offer advice on such considerations and a range of other issues connected with studying abroad.

Money matters
On the money side, apart from the small group of self-funders, most students will be looking for some kind of assistance.

‘It’s absolutely crucial if you want to spend an extended period overseas,’ explains Jean Cater, Assistant Director for The Leverhulme Trust. ‘Fees, study costs and the cost of living combined make it very hard to self-fund. Fees seem to vary tremendously. In some European countries they are very low, but other countries levy very high fees, like in Australia or Canada. Sometimes students have to pay an affiliation fee for access to facilities within the host institution.’

Points to remember

  • Be clear about your intentions.
  • Research, research, research.
  • Explore the university’s facilities. Can you visit before enrolling on the course?
  • Is there a good relationship between staff and students?
  • Will your final qualification be transferable in the global and UK job market?

Funding allows you to focus on your studies without added financial pressure, though you will still need to budget during your time abroad. The Trust itself provides research project funding, fellowships, studentships and prizes across all academic disciplines.

UK students who are successful in their application for funding can currently expect to receive £17,000 per year for maintenance, alongside payment of return airfare, baggage allowance, overseas tuition fees and other discretionary items. 17 awards are offered per year, with competition for places extremely intense.

The Trust is one of many organisations offering funding to study abroad, and again there is no one place to find all of the available scholarships. If you’ve settled on one or a few institutions, contact them directly to find out what is available for the coming academic year(s) and ask what has been available to former UK students.

Also seek clarification on any additional charges they have, for example in the US some prospective students have to pay £50 alone for making an application. Meanwhile, careers advisers may be able to offer some suggestions about funding available from UK-based organisations, or overseas funders with UK representation (such as the Fulbright Commission).

Gaining entry
There may also be additional fees for tests, which is another vital consideration of studying overseas. First and upper second degrees gained in the UK are usually acceptable entry qualifications, though some institutions may consider the length of your undergraduate programme, as they can be shorter than their international counterparts.

Some universities will require you to take additional entry exams, or prove proficiency in the home language. And while it is common to find study delivered in English, you have to consider your environment outside of the lecture theatre and how you are going to converse in everyday situations with the local population. Again, you should enquire with your chosen institutions about language courses available, any additional costs and the duration.

Planning ahead
It’s vital that you take enough time to prepare for studying abroad and, crucially, the application process. It’s recommended that your research should begin at least 18 months in advance, with final choices being made a year before your plan to start the course.

This leaves the next 12 months for your university and funding application(s), for which you will need to co-ordinate references, transcripts and test results, amongst other things. You should also start to consider visa applications and travel and accommodation arrangements, again paying particular attention to timeframes and deadlines imposed by the country you are looking to study in.

All this hard work pays off in the end. Jean says that former students who have received funding from the Trust have been overwhelmingly positive about their experiences overseas:

‘Studying in a different country and environment with different academic traditions and styles is stimulating and allows students to gain knowledge not otherwise available within the UK. Personally, they also gain, improving language skills; becoming more independent; seeing a new country and making new friends

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