In April 2018, I had to make a choice that would alter my entire career. With 9 university admits in 6 countries, it was a tough choice to decide which one to go for. However, the best part was that I had quite a few choices in my hand which many students or professionals wishing to start grad school usually don’t have. I have been approached by my readers time and again about their dilemma in choosing a foreign university during the application phase. Here is a bit of advice to help you with your choice of international Masters.
You need to ask yourself “Is The University Worth The Expense?”
Spending a fortune on higher education has been subjected to debate for the last two decades which has actually taken a serious tone after Peter Thiel announced the Thiel Fellowship in 2010 for students under 23 to drop out of college and start their own venture. But according to a report, nearly two-thirds of these Thiel scholars have returned back to school to finish their graduate study. So, university education has still not lost its value.
However, it’s on you to decide if you are willing to spend half the amount on almost the same quality of education by attending a public university rather than a private university without a scholarship. For example, attending Carnegie Mellon University would have cost me $47,500 on tuition fees alone. While in Germany, the RWTH university didn’t charge me any tuition fees. Further, the quality of research at RWTH is at par with the top-notch universities of the world.
2. Does Reputation Matter?
While getting into Oxbridge or Stanford is not a mean feat, being financially stable enough to attend these universities is a matter of concern. Akash Rai, one of my seniors at IIT BHU Varanasi gave up his Stanford admit to pursuing a fully-funded Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne (UIUC). UIUC ranks among the top 20 universities in the world in Mechanical Engineering and it’s considered to be one of the best universities in the US. Attending Master’s in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford would have cost him over $50,000 per year.
It’s not always about the reputation.
In the US, there is a factor of ‘elitism’ associated with the university you attend in your undergraduate. Hence, the Ivy League schools are in great demand. However, when it comes to grad school, those elite schools often lag behind. For example, the prospects of research in Biomedical Engineering seems to be vibrant at UC Berkeley than at Brown University, although the later is a part of the Ivy League.
Consulting firms and finance companies lookout for the brand name of the university you attend for graduation. Yes, the brand name of the university you attend plays a minor role during job hunting.
“However, most of the tech and manufacturing companies look for skills and experience these days.”, says Akshit Arora, a Computer Science grad from the University of Colorado Boulder who started his professional career as a solutions architect at Nvidia and earns way above $130k per annum.
When it comes to World University Rankings, typically 3 rankings are quite well-known: QS, Times Higher Education Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities (also called Shanghai Ranking).
I would not shy away to say that Times Higher Education rankings are biased towards the UK universities and the Shanghai Ranking towards the Chinese universities. Although the QS rankings are neatly balanced, one should have a glance at the rankings published by national bodies of the country before applying to a university.
4. Job Opportunities
While Purdue University in the US is a great choice for pursuing a Ph.D., the job search is often a hectic process due to its location far away from strategic industrial zones. I have seen Indian students ditching a better-ranked university and choosing a slightly lower-ranked university in New York , California or Texas where job hunting is relatively easy.
Similarly, RWTH Aachen is considered to be the best in the field of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering in Germany. But graduates often have to travel to Munich, Frankfurt or Berlin for job interviews. Shubham Khatri, my friend from the Indian Institute of Technology Varanasi, was stuck between ‘Simulation Sciences’ at RWTH Aachen and ‘Computational Engineering’ at TU Munich. Ultimately, he ended up choosing TU Munich for the ease of job search after graduation.
So, are you willing to push yourself during your search for jobs? Are you agoraphobic (the fear of traveling)? The proxomity to industries and startups is also a factor while selecting universities.
5. Post-Study Work Visa
One of the major reasons I didn’t join KU Leuven was Belgium doesn’t offer a post-study work visa after graduating from one of its universities. While top-ranked universities like Ghent University and KU Leuven are super affordable for international students, the lack of a post-study work visa often compels international students to go for a Ph.D.
France, Ireland, Netherlands and Germany are the 4 European countries that have a favorable immigration policy for skilled workers. All the 4 countries offer a job search visa for students graduating from one of their universities. France now offers two years of post-study work option for Indian students while it is typically one year for students outside the European Union or EEA.
Here is a list of Post-study work Visa Opportunities by countries:
6. Cost Of Living
I freaked out the first day I arrived in Dublin. I knew Dublin was more expensive than Aachen. However, the staggering price difference was unexpected on my part. In Aachen, I was able to manage everything in less than €500 per month. However, in Dublin, my expenses are over €1000 per month. I miss the luxury of traveling on regional trains and buses using my semester ticket in Germany.
The cost of living was one of the major reasons I gave up my admit at Imperial College London. If you are aiming for the US and you are stuck between choosing a university in Texas and California, Texas would stand out in terms of low cost of living.
The ‘Cost of Living Index’ by Numbeo gives you an idea about the relative living expenses between cities. Do have a glance at it before starting a school.
7. Language Barriers
Going to France without learning French at all can limit your social life. Several of my Indian friends studying in smaller towns of Germany like Paderborn have reported that their social life was curtailed to just people of India and they were hardly able to make friends. Beyond the IT and academic jobs, most other jobs in Germany require at least B1 proficiency in German.
The language barrier is a major reason which prevents many students from choosing Germany or France as their first study destination. If you are aiming for these countries, you need to learn at least B1 level of language.
8. Flexibility In Curriculum
A flexible curriculum allows you to specialize in your area of interest. Some universities have some unnecessary course modules which may not be of interest to you. Grad school is about freedom in pursuing your interests and exploring the depth of the subject.
You may also want to take courses that may not be relevant to your course of study but the elective is in sync with your broad career objective. For example, if you are keen to pursue an entrepreneurial career at some point in your life, you may want to opt for courses like ‘Project Management’ or ‘Design Thinking’. A ‘Project Management’ course is usually offered by the Faculty of Management or Faculty of Economics in many universities. So, just ensure the flexibility in the curriculum while choosing your university of study.
The German universities are known for their tough exams but relaxed semesters. Unlike the British, Irish or American universities, the scope of extracurricular activities is limited in German universities.
During my study at RWTH Aachen, I couldn’t find any club or society to interact with likeminded people. I was interested in graphic design, entrepreneurship, and business. I found that several French universities also don’t have a diverse range of clubs and societies catering to your interests.
I hope this article gives insight into different factors you must consider before choosing a university for higher education abroad.