You may not have considered studying abroad for graduate school — but it is a viable option for a wide variety of fields.
As the U.S. job market becomes increasingly competitive, the demand for employees with international experience is swiftly growing. Studying abroad in graduate school can give young professionals an attention-grabbing edge when applying for jobs, especially in fields such as international relations, business, or communications.
Unlike undergrad study-abroad programs, for which students tend to report self-discovery and cultural immersion as their top takeaways, graduate study-abroad programs are much more academically-driven and subject-focused. Grad school study-abroad programs often center on field research — so choosing the right location is a key priority for students (think access to labs, libraries, and other academic facilities).
Most grad study-abroad programs are taught in English, so foreign-language fluency is rarely a requirement. Since most programs are offered through grad students’ home universities, the abroad components are tailored to fit with the rigorous schedules and heavy academic commitments to which students are already accustomed.
Short-term study abroad opportunities are an increasingly popular and attainable way for graduate students to enhance their studies and mix things up while pursuing an advanced degree. MBA programs and law schools both have very active study-abroad markets. MBA students are typically offered the opportunity to study abroad during the summer between their two years of study, while law students are encouraged to study abroad after their first year and to pursue an internship in the U.S. after their second year.
About half of U.S. medical school programs also offer some kind of study-abroad option. Most of these last about a month and do not interfere with academic requirements or delay the pursuit of a degree. The short-term nature of these programs provides a great opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a focused goal or topic (field research, thesis work, or internships) while still getting to experience cultural immersion.
Program logistics depend on the country as well as the school or provider. Many study-abroad programs will offer housing accommodations, but if you’re heading abroad for an internship, you may be on your own when it comes to arranging a place to stay.
We recommend creating a list of everything you are responsible for coordinating — visas, housing applications, emergency contacts, financial aid, and so on — to help keep you on track as you prepare to go abroad. Your graduate school or home university’s study-abroad office can also help advise you on finding housing, applying for a visa, and finalizing your academic and travel arrangements.
There are two ways you can study abroad as a graduate student. First, you can enroll in a U.S. graduate program and then study abroad as you fulfill your degree requirements, as described above. If your graduate school doesn’t provide many short-term study-abroad options, or if you are seeking a more immersive international experience, you also have the option to pursue your entire degree at a foreign university. Foreign programs are often cheaper and shorter (and cheaper because they’re shorter) than U.S. grad school programs.
Graduate schools in many locations want to create an international student body, so they make an effort to admit students from a variety of countries. Depending on which career or field of study you’re pursuing, a foreign degree can give you a competitive advantage when applying for jobs. Plus, you have the added benefit of exploring a new place and experiencing its local culture for an extended period of time!
Just keep in mind that at a foreign university, the support systems in place for grad students are tailored to that country’s job market. (In other words, if you plan to return to the U.S. after graduating, the career guidance you receive may not be as relevant to you as it would be to local students.) Do your research ahead of time, and identify the kinds of academic and career supports you will need; stay regularly connected to your professors, advisors, and career office so they understand your situation and can help you with your goals.
Don’t worry! There are plenty of grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities specifically for graduate students pursuing higher education studies abroad. Fulbright, Gates-Cambridge, and Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships (to name a few) offer the chance to study for free at some top international institutions. Follow this link to check out a few other funding sources.
Whether you’re studying in the U.S. or abroad, you should consider filing a free FAFSA form. The FAFSA website includes a list of all international schools that participate in the U.S. Federal Student Loan Program. You can also find additional information on federal grants and other aid programs on the Student Aid site.
If you’re convinced you want to study abroad, but not convinced that grad school is the right choice for you, that’s no problem! Consider teaching English abroad or volunteering for an international service organization. These programs still provide a unique learning opportunity, help you stand out in the job market, and broaden your global perspective. Many short-term international volunteer programs will provide housing, food, and international insurance in exchange for your work.
Looking for a place to start your search? Consider the Abroad101 directory of short-term grad school programs or Noodle’s study abroad search.
Whatever you choose, and however you pursue it, don’t forget the most important part about graduate school study abroad — you get to experience a new culture, challenge yourself, and see the world in a new way!
You may not have considered studying abroad as a graduate student, but there are opportunities in many fields. Whether you’re an aspiring doctor, lawyer, businessperson, or scholar, there are exciting (and perhaps unexpected) education options abroad.
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