Studying for an international Masters can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your personal and professional life. Access Masters has therefore decided to clear up some common misconceptions about heading to graduate school abroad.
Choosing to pursue a Masters degree abroad is associated with benefits that go beyond expected academic gains. International students stand to be exposed and shaped by a new environment, forge more independence, and improve their command of a foreign language and intercultural awareness, to name but a few positives. It would be a pity to miss out on this enriching experience because of a wrong idea, right? Here are five of the most widespread myths about international Masters programmes:
You need to enrol directly after your Bachelor’s.
Many choose to gain some professional experience after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree to get a taste of the job market and have more time to think about what they want to study and what type of career they want to pursue. Actually, work experience is slowly becoming a must for students. Martin Birchall, managing director of the research firm High Fliers Research, which produces data on graduate recruitment, says: "Work experience is no longer an optional extra for university students, it's an essential part of preparing for the graduate job market."
In fact, many international Masters programmes require participants to have work experience before enrolment. In most cases, these are specialised programmes that accept students who already have knowledge and skills in a particular field. This is often the case with Masters studies that have a very strong quantitative emphasis, such as Finance, Economics, and STEM, but not exclusively. Other types of programmes require experience, too. For instance, the International Media Studies programme, a collaboration between the University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhine-Sieg (Germany), the University of Bonn (Germany) and Deutsche Welle, requires applicants to have at least one year of professional experience in a media-related field acquired after the completion of their first degree.
Even if you enrol in a programme that does not require it, having work experience will be very helpful. Your knowledge and skills will not only enable you to achieve better grades, but you will also be in a position to enrich the programme and those of your classmates who have no professional experience.
You are too old.
Many graduates choose to enrol in a Masters programme in their early twenties, but there are plenty of ‘post-experience’ programmes designed specifically for more experienced applicants. Many believe, erroneously, that they should obtain a Masters degree before they turn 30, or even earlier. Debbie Alves, an international economist, does not agree.
“At 38, I entered one of the best programmes in the world to earn a joint Masters in International Relations and International Economics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, in Washington DC. On my 40th birthday, I turned in my thesis, sat my comprehensive exams, and six months later passed my Russian proficiency exams and my oral exams. You’ve never seen a prouder graduate.” She admits that it was not easy, but the experience was totally worth it: “It wasn’t a magic wand — I didn’t wake up with all my fantasies fulfilled. But I became a far better consultant, and a much better citizen.”
You are never too old for an international Masters degree as long as you have a clear plan how to use the degree to your advantage afterwards.
I should study in the country where I would like to live and work.
Not necessarily. Obtaining a Masters degree abroad will actually be considered a significant advantage by employers in your home country. Of course, there is nothing wrong with studying at home, and you can also study for an international Masters in your country. But it will be much easier for you to stand out from the crowd if you gain academic exposure abroad. A diploma earned from a foreign school tells your employer that you have international experience, are not afraid of challenges, and are willing to expand your horizons. It also shows that you are flexible and have the ability to succeed professionally in adverse conditions. Besides, many students are excited by the prospect of acquiring skills and knowledge in a foreign land and then applying them in their home country.
It’s too costly.
International applicants will be glad to learn that more and more opportunities for financial support are becoming available. Many universities now offer scholarships targeted at international students. All you need to do is find them and apply for them. Make sure to contact the international department of the university you want to study at to ask about available scholarships.
Tuition fees and living expenses can vary greatly between different subject areas, universities, and countries. It will be therefore sensible to research the Masters market in different countries in terms of costs. It is useful to know, for instance, that EU applicants pay no tuition fees for Masters programmes at public universities in Germany, Denmark, Austria, and the Czech Republic.
Studying abroad is too difficult.
Studying for an international Masters abroad is as exciting as it is challenging and the prospect of having to overcome a language barrier or live in a foreign country far away from your friends and relatives may appear too daunting for some. They are worried that they will struggle to adapt to the different teaching methods or even that they may feel like outsiders.
Fortunately, there is help available. Universities are aware of the difficulties international students may encounter. Therefore, they provide student services to programme participants to help them settle into their new home and lifestyle. From advising you on student visa details to providing language courses, universities try to help international students feel supported and accepted.
The international Masters has the potential to enrich you in multiple ways, but you must know what you are getting into. Every adventure requires preparation and this one is no exception. And once you enrol on your dream Masters programme, be prepared to work hard but also to enjoy yourself.