6 Questions to Answer When Choosing a Country to Study Abroad

If you are reading this, chances are you are considering leaving your home country to study abroad. While some might not consider it an endeavor worth the time and psycho-emotional investments of introspection, critical thinking and planning, the financial implications are steep to the majority and as such, decisions on studying abroad should be holistically objective and data driven.

My purview on this subject is informed by personal experiences and interactions with a plethora of African students who leveraged on study opportunities in top education destinations like Canada, Germany and the USA as well as countries usually on the peripheries of consideration like the Netherlands, Norway, Russia and Estonia.

Education as an investment Is already a ubiquitously established proposition. Money and Time are two of the most pronounced expendable resources involved in education. Everything relating to formal education rises and falls on money and time. The two quantities are not mutually exclusive within the framework of education investment as one invariably influences the other. The more years taken for a college degree usually translates to more money spent on tuition and living costs. In the same vein, a cumulative period of 6 years spent in obtaining an undergraduate and a Masters degree most often has higher rewards in terms of compensation and job prospects as opposed to 2 years of a National Diploma.

So without further prevaricating, let us jump into the 6 questions everyone should answer before deciding on which country to study in.

1. How Much do I have to spend?

Benjamin Franklin famously said “An investment in Knowledge pays the best interest”. Far be it from me to contradict a great man of such erudition and substance, but it is not always the case. Often times the Return on Investments for education are well below the threshold for what should objectively be considered profitable.

Think about it.

Imagine investing north of £80,000 (57 million Naira) for a UK engineering bachelors degree only to return to Nigeria for a job that pays less than 6 million Naira per annum. Could that objectively be considered a good return on investment? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps it is a matter of personal opinion informed by individual value systems and expectations.

Nonetheless, going abroad to study is often a capital intensive venture and decisions to this effect should be made with due consideration of one’s available financial resources. What is your budget? Is your budget consistent with the financial implications of your education goals? Are there options to boost your financial bandwidth? Who is funding your education? Can your sponsors comfortably support you for the duration of your study?

I have taken the liberty to classify certain countries on the basis of the financial implications of obtaining a university degree as an International. This is strictly from the perspective of tuition costs and does not factor in living expenses. This classification is applicable for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

CATEGORY 0: These are countries with institutions that do not charge tuition fees to International students. Admission into schools in these countries are often competitive and may come with a requirement to learn the local language. Countries in this category include: Germany, Norway, Czech Republic, France.

CATEGORY 1: These are countries with minimal tuition fees for International students. Tuition costs in these countries range from 1500 euros a year (730,000 Naira) to 12,000 euros a year (5.8 million Naira). Admission into schools in these countries are not necessarily competitive Countries in this category include: Greece, Spain, Russia, Ukraine, Cyprus, Romania, Turkey, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ireland.

CATEGORY 2: These are countries with tuition fees on the high side for International students. They consist of countries generally considered as top destinations for International students due to their high academic standards, high standard of living, technological advancements, job opportunities and post study pathways to residency. Tuition costs in these countries range from 5 million Naira to as high as 20 million Naira a year. Countries in this category include: UK, USA, Canada and Australia.

Sounds like a lot of money??

NO WORRIES. Absolutely no need to fret.

With the spectrum of opportunities and possibilities available, it is not merely a case of cutting your coat according to your size. Many countries have schools that offer significant funding and scholarship opportunities to International students. Some Governments also offer financial aid to International students on competitive basis. We will examine this in Point 6.

2. What are the minimum admission requirements?

So after narrowing down your options on the basis of finance, you have to consider the schools and programs that match your aspirations. Every program has minimum academic requirements that must be met before one’s candidacy is considered eligible. These requirements include but are not limited to:

  • Grade Point Average
  • Standardized Test Scores (eg: SAT, GRE, GMAT)
  • Language Proficiency (eg: IELTS, TOEFL, A1 German Language Test)
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Personal Statements / Statements of Purpose
  • Work Experience

Meeting these requirements do not necessarily guarantee admission but at the very least, makes you eligible for consideration. Some schools place a lot of emphasis on parameters relating to one’s academic and cognitive abilities usually in the form of GPA or standardized test scores. However, most schools tend to take a holistic approach towards admission. A holistic approach deprioritizes numerical elements of one’s academic record in favour of a broader perspective. This approach considers students to be much more than the sum of their parts. Consideration is given to things like recommendation letters from academic and professional sources, professional experience, voluntary experience as well as essays in the form of Personal statement / Statement of Purpose. Essays are a fantastic medium through which you can showcase yourself as a suitable candidate for the program in particular and the school in general. It offers you a chance to exhibit creativity and evince your aspirations and goals.

It is very important to ensure you meet the requirements before applying to schools in order to save time, resources and emotionally energy. A good strategy would involve reaching out to the admissions department to obtain specific information prior to applying. For instance, if you have an IELTS score that is slightly lower than required, you could find out if concession can be granted to you given English is your first language and you obtained a first degree with English as a medium of instruction.

3. What is my ultimate goal in going abroad to study?

The end justifies the means. True, but you have to know what the desired end is. This would help you map out your goals and the success criteria.

Let me just put it out here that if you want to go abroad to study for no other reason than your friends are doing it or everyone seems to be doing it, then you probably should put a hold on your plans and evaluate things critically.

OK. So you opine that you really want to leave Nigeria or whatever country you are from. That is fine. But why? What exactly is your ultimate goal of going to study abroad?

I want to study the UK for greener pastures”. Granted, this is all a matter of personal opinion and perspectives, but that answer strikes me as a one dimensional, low resolution way of thinking because it is way too narrow in mental content and too broad in practical context. Your ultimate goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.

I want to study Computer Science in the USA as they are world leaders in FinTech and I hope to intern with so and so company Now this is a reasonable goal to aspire towards as it, in a few words, meets the detailed requirements for a goal. Surely you should not talk about working in the USA to a US Consulate officer but these are personal questions to yourself that should be honestly answered.

Your decision on a country must be informed by extensive research into the academic and professional profile of the country and schools as may be consistent with your ultimate goal. If your ultimate goal is to gain Permanent residency, then you would be better off considering countries like the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Ireland and just about every Schengen country that offers post study work visa with pathways to permanent residency and citizenship.

Many of these pathways are contingent on obtaining suitable employment which leads to the next point.

4. Are there employment prospects and legal pathways to residency after study?

I started off by stating that education is an investment. For every investment there should be some form of return for it to be considered profitable. This article is not for people with deep, bottomless pockets. It is for people with finite resources and who wish to wisely channel said resources into a profitable educational investment abroad. OK So we move on.

If you are considering a CATEGORY 2 country, as per my classification, then it would probably be best to consider the possibility of staying back there to gain employment. NO?

I mean if you are going to put in 10 million Naira a year in tuition fees alone, not considering the often herculean living costs, would it not make sense to earn a job that pays you in the currency you paid your tuition costs in considering the unfavourable exchange rates to the Naira?

If that makes sense read on. If it doesn’t…well you can skip to Item 5.

Quite a number of countries, including those in CATEGORIES 0 and 1 offer post study work visas to International students on the successful completion of their studies. This could range from 9 months in the case of Estonia to as much as 3 years in the case of STEM OPT for the US. These visas offer International Students the opportunity to stay back and find suitable employment in the country. Should such employment be found, they could be eligible for extended stay in the form of Temporary or Permanent Residency with a legal pathway to citizenship.

Now what is the point of having money if there is no bread to buy? It would make little sense in having a post study work visa if there are really no viable job prospects for you. You should consider countries that have high employment rates with a thriving economy.

If you want to study medicine for instance, the UK would be a brilliant choice because of the perpetual state of job vacancies for healthcare professionals. The UK has one the most successful public health systems in the world. If you are into tech, you may want to consider countries like Ireland and the USA. Engineering on the other hand is quite the hotcake just about everywhere.

You may also have to take into consideration the possible need to pass some professional or licensing exams to obtain permission to practice your career in the intended country.

5. What are the student visa requirements and restrictions?

So after you have gained admission and gotten your funding sorted out, obtaining a student visa is the next hurdle.

For some countries, this is a really straightforward process. You gather the required documents, fill an online application, pay a fee and submit the documents at a submission agency or at the country’s embassy.

For other countries you will have to take part in a face to face interview at the Embassy,.

Whichever be the case, it is important to familiarize yourself with every single detail regarding the requirements. It is incumbent on you to ensure all the documents are in place. Agents can be of great help too, but the buck stops with you.

Take note of the proof of finance requirements which is one of the major reasons why study visa applications are rejected. Ensure you have the required funds available and their corresponding proofs as per the instructions of the consulate.

Visa restrictions are the conditions and limitations which you are subject to as a holder of the visa. This can be in the form of work restrictions. Some countries do not permit a student visa holder to legally obtain employment, others do. While researching it is important you are privy to this detail.

There are a lot of countries that issue study visas with a legal permit to work for certain number of hours per week. This allows International Students to support themselves partially during the duration of their studies.

6. What are the funding opportunities available?

Just because you do not have so and so amount of money, does not mean your dreams of studying abroad are dead on arrival. Far from it. It may interest you to know that there are ways in which you can study abroad at minimal or no cost at all. Of course CATEGORY 0 countries are an option, but you will need proof of funds to support yourself. In Germany for instance, you will need to make a deposit of over 4 million Naira in a German account.

However, there are ways you can study for abroad for next to nothing.

In the USA for instance, there are a myriad of financial aids available to International students on merit. This could be in the form of scholarships, grants, graduate assistantships as well as private student loans. The US Consulate General in Nigeria also offers fully funded US College scholarships to economically disadvantaged, highly qualified students on a competitive basis.

PhD programs in countries like the USA, Netherlands, Germany are usually fully funded with monthly stipends to cater for your personal expenses. Even some Masters programs in the US come with full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend. These are usually available on competitive basis.

IN SUMMARY, these are the 6 questions I believe everyone looking to study abroad must satisfactorily answer before embarking on their journey. It is simpler than you feel yet harder than you think. The bottom line is that you should not jump head first into the waters, but test the depth and temperature with your feet. I wish you the best of luck.

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