Getting a degree abroad
You made a decision that you want to study overseas and you narrowed down your choice to a specific set of countries and you chose a faculty that is aligned with your basic goals in life.
Now you want to get together a list of potential Bachelor or Master programs abroad.
Finding the right university abroad is not an easy task by any means. Students searching for a higher educational institution in their home country can go to an open day or get someone in a matter of hours who went there, and to top it all, they grew up knowing instinctively which universities are the best in each professional field. In some cases students are planning their university application for months or years and got all the personal support to make an educated decision.
How about you?
You just decided to get your degree overseas and you have to set up a brand new global scale to evaluate your opportunities and avoid some sizable mistakes. You want to choose the best available study abroad program, but you can not really take a good grasp on what does 'the best' mean on a global scale.
Exchange students have a supporting framework that erases most of the administrative hurdles, but limits the freedom of university choice to the partner universities of the host university. Individually arranged exchange programs present almost the same challenges as international full-degree programs. Third party study abroad programs usually do everything for you, as long as you pay for it.
In this article we guide you through the most important elements of the most common study abroad programs and give you tips on how to prioritize them when you apply for a higher educational institution in a foreign country.
Guide to choose a study abroad program
We collected the steps and some of the most important factors to choose a study abroad program. As you are looking through the steps, you will realize that you have to examine several underlying questions to select the most suitable program abroad. For that very reason we included the key decision making factors after the steps of finding a program. You will have to go through these factors multiple times to digest and be able to apply them to your current life situation.
Steps to find the best available program in your field
1. Search globally
First look at the global university rankings regarding your chosen faculty in order to get the feel of the international educational landscape on the field of your interest. The links below point to global university rankings that help you to explore the top programs:
2. Compare alternatives
Scrutinize the websites of the top ranked universities from at least 5-10 foreign countries. Examine institutions from the countries you initially targeted and compare them to the institutions of your home country. You have to check out a wide range of programs to canvass your opportunities and live up to your potential. By doing a profound research on the official university sites you will be able to define 'the best available' Bachelor or Master programs on the market.
3. Specify location
You have seen where the leading institutions are located and saw what they can offer. You checked their Bachelor and Master program descriptions and some of them seemed more sympathetic than others. At this point you should be able to reinforce, narrow down or even finalize the list of potential countries. In case your home country is the absolute industry leader in your chosen field, you may need to consider applying at home and do a double degree or an exchange year abroad.
4. Profound research
Now filter for the targeted countries on the university ranking sites and choose minimum 10 universities from each preferred location. Gather information on the official site of the institutions, check their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, search for open and closed Facebook and LinkedIn groups to see the latest news at each institution (you can also see if your friends liked their page) and ask your friends who possibly know someone who went there. At this point you should be able to narrow down the list of potential programs to about five.
5. Direct contact
It is recommended to get in touch with the international office or student organizations of the most promising institutions to remove all doubt regarding the application process. Ask questions about the admission procedure, required documents and try to get in touch with the local international student community. The best would be to contact former or current students to get the latest information. Remember, the application may cost money, but it is always free to ask. So ask. Always.
6. Make a decision
Finally you have enough information from various sources to compare different Bachelor and Master programs. The goal of this comparison is to assemble a list of institutions that meet your criteria and you have a reasonable chance that you can fulfill the application requirements. Make up your mind and choose some institution that are worth the time to prepare the application package.
Submit your application to as many institutions as you wish (maximum five sounds rational, but it is your decision), especially if there is no registration or processing fee. Get more information about the application process to study abroad.
Read further to see the most important criteria to consider when comparing Bachelor and Master programs all over the world!
The number of enrolled students
You have to examine this factor in the context of the target country, because a university with 10 000 enrolled students in Switzerland is relatively big while in the US or the UK it may be the size of a faculty. Use search engine searches if there is no enrolment information displayed on the site. Bigger universities usually have more variety in programs, international students and networking opportunities (private colleges might be an exception to that).
Look through the required entry exams, language certificates, medical and insurance papers and the related costs of all these. The higher the competition, the more documents will be asked from you and the more entry exams you need to take (some are pricy). If you think you have the slightest chance to get in, go ahead and submit your application to the top institutions you favor, but choose some lower ranked ones (that still meet your basic criteria) to ensure your place in a higher educational institution abroad - you can decide later if you actually want to go there or try again the next term.
Quality for money
Look at the cost of the program and check the university rank. Top ranked universities in some countries have insanely high tuititon fees while in other countries you find some top programs free of charge. If you are willing to sacrifice the time to check Bachelor and Master programs in several countries, you may find a polished diamond that's a steal at that price.
In case you really want to get in to that upscale program, then think about ways to finance your study abroad program. We recommend to apply to the best possible place you can afford without stressing about the 'how to pay for it' question.
The dream combination if you get admitted to a top ranked university where there the tuition fee is low or there is no tuitition fee at all. Yes, there is free higher education in many countries, especially if you are a citizen of the economic area of your host country.
You can get admitted to globally recognized institutions for free or for a low tuititon fee in:
Grants and support
Some full-degree programs offer grants based on your ongoing academic performance and some give you a symbolic fee on a universal basis. It might not be obvious where to find it right away, but look for additional support: maybe the institution offers free dormitory placement, travel or insurance support or other perks. You might be able to afford a wider range of programs if your living costs are decimated. Most likely you will have to ask these questions from the international office or from someone who went there.
Length of the program
The duration of a Bachelor degree may be 3-4 years, master degrees take usually 1-2 years and combined degrees in some fields (e.g. health care) may be over 6 years. Studying abroad for more than a year is a serious commitment, so think about how much time you are willing to spend away from your home and what you get out of it.
This must be a vital part of your decision making process. You have check the program syllabus to see the core subjects, electives and additional program features, such as an inbuilt study abroad semester or double degree opportunities and required internships to complete the program.
When you are doing a full-degree in a foreign country, you can apply for a double degree or exchange program there too. You should check the pages of the international office to see the currently active student mobility programs and available partner universities. So that means you study abroad in a study abroad program. We officially introduce the term 'studyabroadception'.
Statistics like 'students to international professors ratio' or 'domestic students to international students ratio' do not necessarily reflect how international the institution really is. You better take a look at the institutions' website and check the size of the international office, pages for incoming and outgoing students, the number of student ambassadors. Then go ahead and check their Facebook and LinkedIn groups designed for international students. If the last post was 3 months ago and the only comment is a spammy ad, then you have a pretty good idea about how international they are.
Expected salary after graduation
It is some very fancy statistics, because it gives you the illusion that you can calculate your exact net worth 10 years from now. While averages give you a good reference point, they won't forecast your future. You might get a more accurate estimation of your future salary if you check actual job offers in the country where you plan to work. In any case, use that data with caution, and work hard to pull up the average salary after you graduated!
Study abroad goals
You must have a set of academic, professional and personal goals before embarking on any kind of international program. Academic and professional goals usually revolve around exploring something new, setting a different professional direction in your life, gaining international experience in a certain field, preparing for your dream job, becoming an entrepreneur, networking or just making a bunch of money.
Think about what you want exactly and write it down. Write it on paper. Get a piece of paper and a pen and jot down your academic, career and personal goals and then start looking for Bachelor or Master programs. It is a million times easier to find the program you need, if you know exactly what you want from said program. Agree? Then get your paper and pen.
Host country and host city
International students most of the times choose the host country or geographic region first and only after that they move on to searching for specific institutions. That seems logical, because the study abroad experience is primarily influenced by the host environment. In order to maximize your performance and experience, you need to choose a country and city to study abroad that best fits your skills and needs. In many cases a vacation or an exchange semester inspires students to set their mind on a specific country, so if you already made your country choice, then read further!
What do you want to study abroad?
There is a wide range of faculties offered from arts, humanities, business, engineering, natural and social sciences to medicine, but hopefully at this point you already have an idea about what do you want to study abroad. Some faculties naturally project a clear career path (like medicine) and thus require advanced life goals, while choosing business studies you will have a number of career options. You may even decide what to do with your life in the last semester of your studies. On the other hand it is highly problematic for internationaal students to change faculty in the middle, so take your time to choose the right Bachelor or Master program abroad. Don't spare your time on doing your research, if you have really no idea where to start, fill in a Myers-Briggs personality test to discover your strengths and career options.
Top 10, Top 1000 or top down?
Career advancement and networking are the buzzwords of professional life. Target host institutions that are among the top performers in your field of interest and most probably you will have access to unthinkable amount of cutting-edge technology, conferences and opportunities to get in touch with respected professors, guest lecturers and industry leader organizations.
This statement is true not only for the top 10 but for the top 1000 universities in the world. Work hard and do your best to get into the highest ranked university in a given country, but don't feel disappointed if you are admitted to your second or third choice only. Your study abroad experience is essentially defined by what you make of it, not by the prestige of the host institution.
Future career opportunities
You studied abroad for a semester or did a full-degree program in a foreign country and this may help you to distinguish yourself on the job market. However you must have a good understanding of how your diploma will be viewed in the country where you want to find a job after graduation. This should not present any problem in case you get admitted to an institution from the top thousand, because their reputation will do the lion's share of the work.
However much lower ranked universities may raise the question: does the degree abroad advance your career and life goals or does it rather create an administrative hurdle to practice your chosen profession? If a diploma issued by a foreign country is not compatible with the educational system (and job market) of your home country, you may face some unprecedented challenges.
University degrees from developed countries, or from countries that have stronger economic ties with your home country are generally accepted, but you may need to dig deeper (check job descriptions, ask friends, high school or university professors) if you want study in a foreign country that fits the 'exotic' or 'unusual' basket from your country's point of view.
That is one of the trickiest things out there. You want to improve yourself on the personal level, you want to do some traveling and you also want to have fun while studying abroad. At the same time you want to keep up your grades and find a decent workplace upon graduation. Certain countries, institutions and faculties offer more personal space for you and allow you flexibility in the syllabus. Other institutions will go hard on you, have a strict schedule, classes every day, presentations, essay-writing, consulting projects, internships paired with fierce competition between students. It really depends on your personality what kind of workload is the most suitable for you. For instance if you have your own projects and part-time work on the side, then the latter educational style might not be for you. On the other hand if you perform better under pressure and you truly want to focus on your academics, you might even enjoy a stricter system.
The type of workload has an effect on the classroom atmosphere. Competition between students prepares them for reality and raises their ambition. However some countries and some programs may go a step further and make it a merciless head-on-head last man standing competition, that can lead to hostile learning environment and causes constant stress for those who are not among the top students. Maybe this environment boost your motivation, maybe not. The only way to gain information on this subject is to find former or current students of the institutions you targeted and ask them about the type and amount of workload and the relationship between students.
Full-degree abroad versus exchange semester
Doing a full-degree abroad is great, but in case you have a good chance to get into a much higher ranked university in your home country, it may be better to apply at home and do an exchange program at a partner university. More and more institutions, especially higher ranked ones, offer programs where there is a semester designed exactly to study abroad (so you don't lose time because of your exchange semester). In any case, we recommend that you apply for full-degree programs abroad and at home as well, so you will have plenty of options.