Studying Abroad: A Guide Based On My Experiences
If you are planning to study abroad, here is a guide to get you started!
Hi, I am Shreya.
I am from Mumbai, India, and I moved to Dublin, Ireland in September 2018. I study English Literature and Philosophy at one of the top-ranked universities for these subjects: Trinity College Dublin. I am in my second year now, and I proudly say that moving abroad was the best decision I made: it made my life the amazing way it is today.
Although it has been over a year since I have settled in Dublin, I still clearly remember the daunting experience of deciding to study abroad. Right from researching hundreds of universities and deciding on one, to applying for the visa and figuring out where to live: those four-five months were life changing for me.
If you are someone who is planning to go abroad for either an undergraduate or postgraduate course, I am sure you will have a lot of questions, And I am sure you will have new ones popping up every minute. Don’t worry, that’s normal!
To help you get some direction, I have compiled a ‘guide’ to all your study abroad queries. The best part? These are based on my personal experiences!
P.S. I have included a ‘#WhatIDid’ section for most questions where I share… well… what I did!
“Why should I study abroad?”
Oh, you know, the usual:
✔ new cultures,
✔ new traditions,
✔ new climates,
✔ new cities,
✔ new people,
✔ new education systems… the list is long.
The key reason you should study abroad is for the freedom… and the responsibility of having that freedom. Living alone instills a different kind of responsibility, self-awareness and discipline in you. Everyday tasks like waking up on time, cooking your own food and cleaning your room help build these qualities. Most importantly, when you realise that no one is going to tell you to study or finish your essays on time, you become more responsible towards yourself and your dreams. It’s all on you: it sounds intimidating, but you’ll love it.
“How do I decide the country for studying abroad?”
There is no right way to do this.
When I started looking for a university, the only thing I knew was the course I wanted to study: English Literature.
Here’s how I shortlisted my university options:
- Made a giant excel sheet.
- Points included were college name, location and climate, course available, course length, eligibility, tests required, application procedure, application fee if any, tuition fees, accommodation costs, living expenses, scholarship options, visa cost, etc
- Googled the top-ranking colleges for English Literature
- Tip: Start with QS World University Rankings
- Looked up the websites and requirement for each university in my preferred locations
- My preferred locations were UK, Ireland, the US and Singapore
- Noted them all down in the giant excel sheet.
- Compared all the sections in my giant excel sheet.
- Shortlisted 20 universities. Emailed them for details.
- Attended ‘Study Abroad Education fairs’ and spoke to representatives of these specific university.
- Applied to the universities.
#WhatIDid: I applied to 5 universities in the UK, 5 in Ireland, and 2 in the US. Considering the US visa issues, I focused more on Ireland and the UK. Eventually I chose Ireland for its 4-year course and work visa options.
“When should I start applying for universities abroad?”
Each country and university has its own application deadline. Some colleges start term in Spring, some start in Fall. Normally application deadlines are 3-4 months before the beginning of term.
Applications require a Statement of Purpose (SOP) and some Letters of Recommendation (LOR). The SOP is very, very important for getting accepted into a university abroad. Spend 2-3 months on writing it, rewriting it, and… rewriting it. So, even before you start applying, make sure you start preparing these things.
It is important to note that many colleges accept students on first-come-first-serve basis.
#WhatIDid: I checked the university websites, I emailed the staff, I noted down all the dates clearly. I then set personal deadlines to submit my applications at the earliest.
“What are the entry requirements?”
The entry requirements depend on your university, course, modules, and other such factors. Check the entry requirement for the university itself and also for the visa.
#WhatIDid: I spoke to an agent from a ‘Study Abroad’ consultancy who was of great help for my visa application. I recommend approaching someone like an agent who knows the updated visa requirement so that your visa application gets cleared in the first attempt.
“What is the requirement of a second language?”
Again, each university/ country has its own requirements. The most common requirement is results of a test of proficiency in the english language. The three common tests are:
- SAT: Scholastic Aptitude Test
- IELTS: International English Language Testing System
- TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language
Each test requires unique preparation and are graded differently. Each university has its own minimum test score for eligibility. These tests are very expensive (thousands of rupees), so make sure you work hard the first time and score well.
#WhatIDid: I took the SAT for American universities and the IELTS for Irish and British universities.
“How do I decide on the cost factor?”
That is up to you: how much are you willing to spend? Some universities in themselves may have high tuition but the living expenses may be less; or vice-versa. Compare the costs for the total duration of your course (1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years… whatever it may be). Consider the following in your calculations:
- Annual tuition fee
- Annual accommodation fee
- Annual living expenses
- Annual visa renewal fee
- Annual medical insurance
- Miscellaneous expenses (flight ticket for travelling home 1-2 times every year, other trips, etc)
This decision also depends on who is funding your education: are your parents funding you, or are you funding yourself. The second would be likely for Masters’ students.
#WhatIDid: I compared the costs for all the universities. Trinity was the best one for English Literature, and it also gave me the option to study 2 subjects for the annual fee of one subject. Hence I joined Trinity.
“Is any financial aid available?”
Some universities offer scholarships based on your high school/college grades, others have scholarships exams. Some even offer scholarships for international students, more so for those who really need financial assistance. Check the options your university offers.
“Where should I live once I move abroad?”
Most universities offer accommodation on campus for new international students. I highly recommend applying for on-campus rooms: they are cheaper than private accommodations, and save you travel time and money. Also, living on campus means living with students from the same university, possibly even the same course or subjects. This helps settle well in a new city.
If you do go in for private accommodation, pick private student accommodations rather than renting out a room in someone’s home. Student accommodations offer better assurance when it comes to privacy, fixed rent and duration of stay. They also provide good facilities, and living with other students ensures you always have company.
#WhatIDid: I booked the university’s student accommodation for my first year.
“Should I take up part-time work?”
First things first, make sure part-time work complies with your visa!
If you are a first year student, go ahead and take up a part-time job if you want to. If you are in your final year, or planning to study Masters, such critical years will leave you with very limited time for yourself. In this case, it is better to focus on your studies and course rather than a part-time job.
Taking up part-time work is a good way to manage your monthly expenses. But don’t let it compromise your reason for moving abroad and spending thousands of dollars. Prioritise your studies.
#WhatIDid: I did not take up part-time work. I was involved in paid opportunities on campus, such as blogging, photography, Open Day volunteering, etc.
Remember: your university is all about you. So take your time and choose wisely. Enjoy your time abroad!
Need help with your Statement of Purpose? Message me on LinkedIn, tell me that you found me from this blog, and I can help you out!