Here you’ll find a collection of the most frequently asked questions regarding how to study abroad. Find information on where to study, how to apply, entry requirements, getting a student visa, tuition fees and funding, finding study abroad scholarships and other practical information.
There are many reasons why study abroad programs are becoming so popular. For most international students, the appeal is likely to be a combination of gaining a high-quality education, experiencing immersion in a new culture (and often a second language), gaining a global mindset and expanding future employment prospects.
For some, the prospect of leaving home and heading off into the unknown is daunting but studying abroad is also an exciting challenge that often leads to improved career opportunities and a broader understanding of the way the world works.
The type of experience you have during your time abroad will vary hugely depending on where you go, so make sure to pick a study destination based on your own personal interests as well as the country’s academic reputation, in order to keep a healthy work/play balance.
Choosing where in the world you wish to study is not always an easy task. As well as your own personal interests, you should think about practicalities such as the costs of studying in that country (both tuition costs and living costs), your graduate career prospects (is there a good job market?) and your overall safety and welfare.
You should also think about what sort of lifestyle you wish to have during your studies. Do you want to live in a big city or a small university town? Do you want arts and culture on your doorstep or world-class sporting facilities? Whatever your interests, be sure to match them up with your study destination so that you really give yourself the best chance of loving your international experience.
Once you’ve made up your mind about where you want to study, you should start to think about choosing a program and a university, if you haven’t already. You can research leading universities with the QS World University Rankings®, use the subject rankings to discover universities which are best for your subject, and also consult national rankings of universities in your chosen destination.
You’ll then want to look closely at the courses offered by the institutions on your shortlist, as well as researching the local area and lifestyle, admission requirements and costs.
Once you’ve firmly decided on your program and institution, you should start to think about your application(s). Application processes differ depending on the university and the country, but generally each institution will provide full details of how to submit your application on the official website.
In some cases, there is a two-step application process for international students. This means you must submit two applications: one for a place at the university and one for a place on the course itself. This should be clearly stated on the university’s website. If you still have questions about the process, you should contact your chosen university directly.
If you think you might need a student visa, remember that in most cases you won’t be able to apply for one until you have received a letter of acceptance from your chosen university. Each stage can take several months, so allow as much time as possible.
The length of time you spend studying abroad will depend on the program and level of degree you’re undertaking. Generally, an undergraduate degree will take three or four years of full-time study (for example, in the UK the typical length for most subjects is three years, while in the US the norm is four), while a graduate degree such as a master’s degree or equivalent will take one or two years. A doctoral (PhD) program will usually take three to four years.
At many universities across the world, there is also the option of studying abroad for a shorter period of time. Student exchange programs allow you to study abroad for a year, a semester or even just a few weeks. Information about these shorter programs should be available on the website of the main university you plan to enroll at, as well as the university you’d like to be hosted by.
Considering your application as early as possible is the best way to go. After all, the sooner you gain acceptance into a university, the sooner you can arrange your travels. To avoid disappointment, note down all the relevant application deadlines (set out by your chosen university) in HUGE LETTERS on your calendar.
Application deadlines will be different depending on the school, but, for programs starting in the fall (September/October), applications will generally be open from early in the year (January/February) until the middle of the year (June/July).
Entry requirements vary widely between universities and between countries, so be sure to check the information provided by your prospective university before submitting anything.
Speaking generally, however, if you are applying for an undergraduate degree you will be asked to show that you have completed your secondary education to a standard that is in line with the required grades (e.g. your GPA, A-level grades or equivalent) for the program you’re applying to. If you have an international qualification and are unsure whether this is accepted, you should contact the admissions department of the university.
For non-native English speakers wanting to study in English-speaking countries, it is also highly likely that you’ll need to provide proof of your English-language proficiency by taking an English-language test such as TOEFL or IELTS. Similar tests may be required for those studying in other languages. For more information about language tests, refer to question eight.
You may be asked to provide some supporting documentation as part of your application. Once again, requirements vary depending on the country and university, but international students are often asked to provide the following:
- Passport photos for identification
- A statement of purpose
- Academic references/ letters of recommendation
- Certificate and transcripts of your secondary education
- Proof of English-language proficiency (e.g. a TOEFL/IELTS certificate, for schools in English-speaking countries), or other language test
- Admissions test results (e.g. GMAT/GRE results, for graduate programs)
This depends on the country you wish to study in, and the language your course will be taught in. If you’re not a native English speaker but wish to study a course taught in English, you will have to prove you can speak the language to a fairly high level, by providing English-language test results. This is to ensure you will be able to follow your course without any comprehension problems.
English is also used as a language of instruction in a number of other countries worldwide, particularly for graduate programs and business degrees. English-taught courses will be advertised on the university’s website and can sometimes be searched for using a centralized database run by a national agency.
Common tests accepted as proof of English proficiency are the TOEFL and IELTS. If you need to prove your proficiency in a language other than English, there are also similar tests in other languages, such as the DELF/DALF and TCF-DAP (French) or the DSF and TestDaF (German).
Before taking a language test, make sure you confirm which results are accepted by your chosen school to make sure you don’t waste money on the wrong test.
As a prospective international student, it is relatively unlikely for schools to expect you to attend an admissions interview in person, although this is not unheard of – especially for the most competitive programs.
Some universities hold international interviews in various locations around the world, so you may be expected to attend one of these. There is also a growing trend of using video interviewing. This is like any other interview, with a prearranged time and date, but will take place online, via an application such as Skype.
10. After gaining a letter of acceptance, what do I do next?
Congratulations, you’re in! Now all that’s left to do is to prepare for your studies, pack up your life into a single (large) suitcase, get your travel documents in order, apply for your student visa, research your accommodation options, and look for funding… don’t panic, it’ll all be worth it!
In fact, as soon as you gain acceptance from a university, the first thing you should start to consider is your travel documentation. Ensure you have a valid passport and travel insurance, as well as a student visa if you need one. Make sure you have sufficient time to get your passport/visa approved so that you’ll be able to travel legally.
For more information on what documentation you’ll need to travel, you should visit the government website of your chosen country to find information for travelers, visitors and international students (e.g. Gov.uk for UK travel information). All the travel information you need should be listed on these official sites.
Alternatively, you can ask your university for guidance. Often, admissions departments will help you to prepare for your travels, and, in some countries, they even apply for the student visa on your behalf. Make sure you check with your university, however – don’t assume someone else is going to sort everything out.
11. Do I need to apply for a student visa?
Student visas are a big question for those who want to know how to study abroad, though not all international students will need one. If you’re an EU citizen planning to study in another EU country, for instance, you don’t need a visa.
However, as a rule of thumb, if you come from outside of your chosen country’s geographical region/continent, you will probably need to apply for a student visa. This usually only applies to longer periods of international study; if you’re participating in a shorter exchange, last three months or less, a tourist or visitor visa may suffice.
To find out for sure, check either with your chosen university or the government travel website of your country of study.
12. How much does it cost to study abroad?
To work out the cost of studying abroad, you need to consider the average tuition fees for international students in your chosen country, as well as the cost of living.
As a point of reference, the average tuition fees for international students studying in the UK start at £10,000 (~US$14,200) a year, with an additional £12,180 (~US$17,300) per year needed to cover living costs (with more needed if you study in London).
In the US, the average yearly tuition fee is US$25,620 at public universities and $34,740 at private universities with an additional recommended budget of at least $10,800 to cover your living costs. With these yearly figures in mind, remember that undergraduate programs in the US tend to last a full four years.
13. Can I get financial aid to study abroad?
Although many international students may find it difficult to get a student loan to fund their studies, there are a myriad of other funding opportunities available to make studying abroad more affordable, including scholarships, fellowships, studentships, sponsorships, grants and bursaries.
Your chosen university is perhaps the best place to get funding information relevant to you, so make sure to scour the school’s website for advice or contact the school directly. This is also where information about study abroad scholarships offered by the university and other external organizations can be found, along with details regarding eligibility and how to apply.
Many scholarships are granted based on academic merit and are highly competitive. There are also lots of funding schemes targeting specific groups of students, such as students from developing countries and women studying male-dominated subjects.
14. Where can I find study abroad scholarships?
Study abroad scholarships can be found in many places. Your first port of call will be the website of your chosen university, where you’ll find information on available scholarships. Sometimes the university will also list external scholarships, such as those offered by the government or business partners of the school. If not, you should research governmental schemes in your home country and your country of study, as well as funding offered by external organizations relating to your field of study (e.g. an engineering firm might offer a scholarship for engineering students).
15. Where will I live during my study abroad program?
If your chosen university has readily available campus accommodation, it is likely that you will be able to apply for a place in these student halls. If this is not the case, you will need to find your own accommodation.
If money is no object, you can consider renting your own flat, while those on a smaller budget can find shared accommodation with other students or use spare room listings found online. In all cases, you should make sure you do your research before signing anything or handing over any money. Your university’s student support team and student union should also offer advice on how to find accommodation locally.
16. Can I work during my studies abroad?
This will depend on whether or not your student visa allows you to work. In some countries there are restrictions on the amount of paid work you can undertake during your studies. Often there’s a limit of 20 hours’ paid work per week during term time, with full-time work permitted during holidays.
If you don’t need a student visa, it is more likely you’ll be able to work as many hours as you like, as long as this doesn’t affect your studies – but check with the university and/or official government site. If you do work during your studies, it’s not a good idea to rely on your wages to fund living costs, and in many cases you’ll need to prove you already have enough money to support yourself when you apply for your visa.
17. Further questions?
If you have any more questions regarding how to study abroad, that haven’t already been addressed, feel free to ask them in the comments below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can! You may also be interested in attending the World Grad School Tour, which offers the chance to meet universities from around the world and get advice for your application.