4 things to consider before starting your post-graduate journey abroad

4 things to consider before starting your post-graduate journey abroad

The decision to undertake postgraduate studies is, in my opinion, one of the major ones you’ll make in your adult life. The costs of tuition and other expenses for the year or two that you’ll be spending in school make it imperative to weigh all your options before making a decision as to what and where you want to study. This requires lots of research – research that you would have to commit to doing. Besides the seemingly obvious things like the school’s ranking, location, costs and available scholarships, and how far the nearest African restaurant (or, in my case, barbershop) is from your campus, there are a few other things that I’ve come to see as equally important factors to consider before making the big jump.

Insiders’ perspectives about the programme:  Before saying yes to any school or programme, you want to find out as much about it as possible and in as much detail as you can. Find out if the degree is general or specialised, whether you’d be required to do an internship or write a thesis or do both (one reason I chose my school was that a 6-month internship was a requirement for graduation and I didn’t have to write a thesis), what the employability rate is for alums of the school – particularly those who read your programme, whether the school is a target school for the sort of firms you’d like to secure an internship or graduate role with. On a deeper level, reach out to current and immediate past students on LinkedIn, particularly international students - and no, it’s not stalking if it’s on LinkedIn and you do it the right way. Once you establish a connection, try to schedule a call and ask all the questions. Find out from them what the intensity of the workload is, how relevant the courses are to the job market, whether your schedule would allow you to take on a student job and/or have a social life, what their experience was in looking for, and landing a role after graduation (if their LinkedIn profile indicates so). I found out more about what to expect from my courses this way than from anything an admissions officer told me, and even leveraged some of these connections for class projects and assignments.

Structures for linking students to the job market:  This is connected to the previous point, but what I want to emphasise here is the need to find out whether your prospective school has formal structures for linking students to the job market, because not all schools do. Does the school have a career resource centre or career service personnel who can guide your search for an internship or job? Does it organise virtual and in-person networking events or provide access to subscription-based job advertisement sites like Jobteaser or Highered? Is there a vibrant alumni network that you can tap into or that connects current students to opportunities in their places of work (LinkedIn has a useful feature that allows you to see employees who attended a particular school)? Combining a full-time graduate programme with active job searching is hard enough; you want to go to a school that has some structures in place to help you on the job finding front. At the very least, you’re paying all that money for the service.

Your student visa and related conditions: This is even more critical if you plan to stay on in whatever country you settle on at the end of your studies. If that country happens to be in Europe, you’ll typically be granted a student visa - valid for a year and subject to renewal depending on the length of your programme. Most countries also allow for some extension at the end of your studies to allow you to look for a job, after which you would have to return to your home country. In the UK for instance, the recent introduction of the new points-based immigration system allows international students to apply for the Post-Study work visa, which allows them to stay up to 2 years after completing their masters’ degree. For Ph.D. graduates, this extension goes up to 3 years. For France, the Autorisation Provisoire de Séjour (APS) is a one-year residence permit that allows international students to stay on for a year to look for a job or start their own company after graduating from a French higher-ed institution. Meanwhile, Germany grants only an 18-month extension. Knowing ahead of time what conditions apply to the country you're considering would inform your post-graduation plans and whatever strategy you choose to implement those plans.

Language requirements for school and the job market: The European job market can be tough to navigate as an international student, especially if you are an English speaker in a non-English speaking country. While you may get away with studying for your post-graduate degree in international universities where English is the medium of teaching, it’s an entirely different ball game when it comes to finding a job. Most jobs require you to be conversational in both English and the national language, which is not surprising considering that the average educated European speaks at least two languages proficiently. For one, in a non-English speaking country, you are more likely to work with more clients who do not speak English than those that do. Also, it’s just a way to ensure that you can integrate well within whatever team you would be working with. It’s very rare to find colleagues chit-chatting in English over lunch or by the coffee counter in France, for instance, even if they do work in English or even if they cater to English-speaking clients. In Germany, your offer may be conditional on attaining considerable German proficiency within a given period. In Luxembourg, you can manage to get by on English but that's only because the country probably has more working immigrants than any other country in Europe. Overall, your understanding of language and culture definitely plays a huge role in fitting in with teams at work and cannot be overlooked, which is why recruiters make a big deal of it from the start.

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