Studying abroad is always a personal experience, and what we all know about it is from word-of-mouth, so you can’t really pinpoint how everything will be at your university or how it will all go.
Still, we asked our University Application Experts what are the most common mistakes they think students make when considering an international degree, and what are the things they should consider before packing that huge suitcase and running to a foreign classroom.
1. Applying to a Master’s with the wrong Bachelor’s degree
We all live on hopes and dreams, and, some of us, whenever we get a new idea, we tend to stick with it and change course randomly. That’s easier said than done, however.
When you apply to a Master’s degree, you can’t apply to a discipline completely unrelated to your Bachelor’s. Or, worse, you can apply, but nothing guarantees you will get accepted.
If you studied your whole Bachelor’s to become a psychologist and then suddenly you realise you want to be an engineer, you can’t just apply for a Master’s in Constructions and hope for the best.
Nope! You need the right base to build an education on.
You can construct this base, don’t worry: take some independent classes, participate in some of the pre-Masters your future university might offer, go to a Summer School or 2, but don’t throw yourself in a pool without knowing how to swim!
2. Considering only the tuition fees when budgeting for your degree
When you’re considering how much money you would need for your international experience, it’s easy to go and search for the cheapest tuition fee, thinking this is the way to go and save money, but that’s not always the case.
For instance, Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland) may even offer free tuition fees for EU students, but they also have some of the highest living costs in Europe, if not in the whole world!
Even if you may be saving some money on the tuition fee, you may be spending 10 EUR on a menu that would only be 2.5 EUR in Greece, so the whole “ha-HA, I’m saving so much!” will just jump out a very expensive window.
And it’s not only food what you should consider; keep in mind the accommodation, travelling costs, supplies for you uni, clothes, transportation, and so on.
3. Thinking your programme tuition is less than it actually is
Let’s stay on this ‘tuition fee’ issue for a bit. Tuition fees have to be researched and you have to understand how they work. Usually, universities show the lowest price you can pay for a degree, but that isn’t usually the one that applies to you.
You can pay more if you’re a non-EU/EEA student, coming to study in the EU, or you can pay more in the U.S. if you’re from another state than where the university is located.
Also, even singular cases, like the Netherlands and Finland, have two types of tuition fees, depending if you already studied at that university already, for your Bachelor’s, or if you had your tuition paid by the government already.
These are just some examples, but the point stays: be very careful with how much you will have to pay and why!
4. Ignoring potential scholarships
Seriously, read all the literature you’re offered! When you go study abroad, you have a lot of options in terms of scholarships.
A lot of students don’t even try to apply for a scholarship, thinking they won’t meet the requirements, but that’s not always the case. It can be based on the country you choose, your gender, the subject, the total income you have, even just an essay; you can get a scholarship if you prove you deserve one, and if you’re a good future investment. So research, research, research!
5. Taking your Visa for granted
Don’t think it will be easy. And we don’t want to scare you with this, but a lot of future students think the visa is a given, not a very important issue.
Once you get your acceptance letter, you should start applying for your visa thoroughly, and be in constant contact with the Embassy of the country you applied to.
Besides students coming from the EU going to other EU countries, all countries require visas; some may have more lax requirements, some expect more documents, but you will still need to get your stuff together and apply as soon as possible.
6. Sending the wrong application documents
This is a problem of nuance, honestly, but some students, especially those who are dealing with this, for the first time, are not sure of the differences.
Countries and governments work differently, and this applies to education, as well. When your future university or the visa office will ask for documents, it won’t just be a problem of sending them via post. You will need to check EVERYTHING: did you translate your documents in English? Was it notarized by someone your future university considers legal and legitimate? Did you convert the grades properly?
These are a lot of things to consider, and, if you ever have any questions, you should contact the international affairs office of your university, because they will help you with the most useful answers.
7. Not checking if you can work while studying in the country
While we’re discussing documents and funding options, let’s mention this ‘work permit’, that a lot of students take into consideration.
If you want to work during your studies, you will only be allowed to work part-time, and you will definitively need a work permit for it!
And there are a lot of facts you should research: you may only be allowed to work on campus, with the university as your employer, or you may need to apply for your post-study work permit while you’re still in your country of origin, or you may not be allowed to work at all, if some requirements aren’t met.
Again, we don’t want to discourage you, but always be aware of what can happen and prepare yourself.
8. Thinking that you are all by yourself in this
I know it can get very overwhelming, especially when you see all of these as a list, but let’s try and put things into perspective: you won’t ever be alone in this.
I don’t know if you noticed, but we mentioned a lot of people and a lot of institutions you could turn to for help: counsellors, the embassies and consulates, the international affair offices, your future university or your current one: everybody there is ready to help you and they have met cases like yours.
Never be scared to ask for help! The first international student probably had the worst of it all, but now, after millions like yourself, everything is paved and arranged so you could ask for advice or simply get through easily.
9. Not having a plan B prepared
Listen, we know you might imagine a certain path for your future, but, usually, things change.
You just have to be ready for whatever happens and always have a safety net: apply to multiple Master’s degrees, figure out what you would do or where you would study in case of anything, or simply think if it’s worth taking a gap year, if your plans don’t go as… well, planned!
The alphabet has 26 letters, so have 1 plan, but 25 back-ups.
10. Giving up after a rejection
Speaking of always having an alternative… Never give up! This is probably one of the most heart-breaking things counsellors have to deal with: the moment a student just gives up.
No! We’re not letting you do this! Because everybody goes through this, one way or the other, and it’s never the end of the world. Yes, maybe a university didn’t accept your application, but maybe the second one will. Maybe the budget you have prepared is too small to cover all your needs, but shrug it off: apply for a scholarship or simply take a few years break, in which you can raise money, and then follow your dreams.
A Master’s degree doesn’t have an expiration date: you can study when you’re ready, and that doesn’t always mean the moment you finish your Bachelor’s. My point is that, the moment you give up, that’s the moment you lose.
11. Applying without being sure you really want to study abroad
Think about it a bit: if you want to go all the way, there are not many things that would stop you.
Yes, some of the logistics will have to be refined: you will miss home, you will have to pick an accommodation, you will have to manage on your own, and so on, but, if you really want to do this for your future, go for it!
Don’t worry about the short-term problems when studying abroad; this whole experience is a full-on investment for your long-term goals and aspirations!