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8 Steps to Doing a Graduate School Program Abroad

by Allison Lounes Feb 10, 2010

I studied abroad in Paris during my junior year of college and fell in love. Although I went with my university’s own study-abroad program that transferred grades and planned excursions, I was well aware of how much more it was costing me, especially compared to the measly tuition of most French universities.

So by the end of the year, when all I could think about was how to come back after graduating, I decided that I wanted to enroll directly in the university where I had studied instead of paying thousands of additional dollars to return with an American graduate program. I was already familiar with the city, I had contacts at the university, and I knew what program I wanted to study. I also spoke fluent French, so I knew that I could enroll directly with the same status as a French student in the discipline I wanted to study.

Since things take a bit more time in France than they do in the U.S., it was a challenge to arrange everything, but when I walked in to register and paid less than $700 for a year’s tuition, it felt totally worth it. Here are some steps to help you plan your own post-graduation study abroad trip.

1. Pick a city and a degree program.

If you want to study abroad, the first thing you’ll need to do is find a university in the city where you want to study. The website should give you information about how to apply and enroll as a foreign student, what the tuition costs will be, and how to get a student visa.

For most European universities, tuition is very low, although tuition for language classes for foreigners can run in the thousands of Euros. Remember that in Europe, students specialize earlier in one particular area and have to start over with a new License if they change subject areas. If you weren’t a history major, you might have a hard time competing with students who took three or more years of only history classes.

2. Find out how to enroll.

In French universities, if you want to enroll in a master’s program, the only requirement is that you only have to have the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree. For some master’s programs, you also have to have a professor who agrees to direct your master’s thesis in order for you to be accepted. You’ll have to research faculty in your chosen discipline and write to them with your thesis proposal to see if they’ll accept you.

3. Have your documents translated.

To apply, you’ll have to send translations along with your original transcripts and diplomas, and this can get pretty expensive. When I had to send my documents, I translated them myself, and found a translator in New York approved by the French consulate that agreed to correct my translations for $10/page instead of the $60/page he usually charged. Check the consulate’s website and call the translators to see if they offer similar deals for students.

4. Figure out where to live.

Not all countries have student housing like the U.S., and in France, it’s pretty uncommon. Since I didn’t get my acceptance letter from my university until mid-July, it was already too late to reserve a room in a dorm. Sites like Craigslist are usually sketchy, and many sites that advertise furnished apartments are catering to vacationing families, not students with budgets.

If you already know the city or have some contacts, try to arrange something in advance. If not, book a few nights in a hostel and set up appointments to see Craigslist properties before you go. Finally, check to see if there are any American organizations in the city that might help expats find housing. In Paris, the American Church on the Quai d’Orsay always has apartment listings posted.

5. Check your health insurance and student loan status.

In France, I was required to pay about $275 up front for a year’s worth of very basic student health insurance, but my student status means that I am still covered under my parents’ plan. Check with your insurer to see if they’ll continue to cover you while you’re abroad if you submit a copy of your enrollment along with an English translation. You can also submit the same documentation to student loan agencies to defer your loan payments.

6. Determine whether you can work.

Student visa laws vary in different countries, so you’ll have to check your country’s requirements on their consulate’s website to determine whether or not you can take a part-time job. Even if you’re not legally allowed to work, you may still be able to take an internship that will give you international experience in your field or babysit and teach English lessons under the table. I could have lived all year on the few thousand dollars I had saved, but chose to teach English so I could travel and indulge in European fashion.

7. Obtain a visa.

This can be complicated, as consulates require many different documents, can change their rules, and often require you to come weeks before your departure. In general, you should expect to bring your university acceptance letter, two passport photos, your birth certificate, and a bank statement to prove that you have enough money to live for a year. Rules vary, and you may have to leave your passport there for them to mail back, so be sure to leave plenty of time!

8. Buy your ticket!

Remember to check airline regulations about extra bags before you book, as you’ll probably want to bring two suitcases to live abroad for the year. When you leave, bring copies of all the documents you needed to get your visa with you, as you might need them to get a temporary residency card once abroad.

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