Choosing a destination for your Masters studies is one of your most important decisions. Particularly if you want to study abroad, it is essential to consider factors such as the language of tuition, cultural fit, industry focus, learning environment and peers, and career prospects. The language of local business needs to be considered, as well as visa and work permit regulations.
Recent years have seen a huge surge (tenfold since 2002 according to a 2016 report from EUPRIO) in university courses taught in English in European countries where English is not an official language. The same report found that 80% of English-taught programmes were at Masters level. Note however that, although English is frequently used in courses, it may be less widespread in the regions themselves. Prestigious universities and B-schools in the UK and the US have always featured prominently in any rankings. Universities in these countries are popular not only because English is the first language but also because they offer varied and lucrative employment opportunities. Although rankings invariably lead with schools in the US and Europe, you should, however, cast your net wide while researching where to study.
To guarantee a worthwhile postgraduate experience and feasible career prospects you should consider many factors while selecting the country or region for your studies. It is important to scrutinize all aspects of your study destination.
Language of tuition and local language
What language is spoken in your chosen destination? If your chosen programme is taught in English, but it is not widely spoken off campus, will you feel comfortable if you cannot speak the local language? This is crucial if you plan to stay on and work in the country concerned, but it is also important for the duration of your studies – usually one or two years. Check whether you can find internships or part-time student jobs without the local language. Having at least some basic knowledge or plans to attend a local language course prior to or during your studies can make a difference.
“When you are in another country, you need to do what it takes to learn the [local] language, and ‘what it takes’ is doing whatever you can to really immerse yourself in the language,” advises Nyan Storey in an article for Erasmus exchange students in Masters Portal. “For the first two or three weeks, this might be less difficult. People are full of ambitions of learning the new language and discovering the country. It becomes more difficult as soon as people begin tiring out. At that moment, groups tend to form loosely around common languages.” So, as difficult as it can be to judge in advance, give it some thought and decide on the best option for you - opt for a country where English is widely spoken even it is not the native languages, start learning the local language in advance, or be ready to immerse yourself in the new language environment and make the most of it.
Considerations about the local cultural setting apply with equal weight. Even if you are really open and curious about new cultures, a degree of culture shock is inevitable on relocation. Study your new home in detail – the local way of life, the values, culture, and traditions. How do you feel about them? For example, if you are used to a high level of privacy and you go to a more open and communicative culture, will you be able to adapt? Are you willing to stay for one or two years and perhaps live there subsequently?
The bonus of studying abroad is that it will “internationalise” your CV and show that you are adaptable and mobile, but this experience should be thoroughly planned in advance. It can be very helpful to pay the country of your choice a visit for a short-term study trip, either an exchange programme or a summer school during your undergraduate study. In this way, you will gain some experience of a setting close to that of a Masters programme.
Learning environment and peers
Last, but not least, taking a close look at the profile of your peers in the countries that you are considering is definitely worthwhile. You may assume that you will be spending a year or two with people just like you, who share your values, lifestyle, and professional interests. However, the cultural, academic, and personality mix in a Masters classroom can be quite diverse and depends on the location as well as the recruitment policy of each university.
The best approach is for you to decide on your preference and then evaluate your options. For example, some universities and their regions are highly international, while others cater primarily for local students.
Immersion in the professional environment of your field of specialisation adds greatly to your studies, as well as to your career prospects. It is only natural then to target destinations which provide the right professional setting for you. There are countries and regions “branded” for certain industries. Germany offers at least ten Masters programmes taught in English in the field of automotive engineering and is home to industry leaders such as BMW, Daimler, and Porsche. France and Italy are known for fashion. The US, of course, is famous for high-tech innovation in California’s Silicon Valley. The San Francisco Bay area has thousands of startups and successful multinational corporations alike.
The industry focus of a region results in close ties between local universities and local business and you can expect to benefit from professionals on campus, practical projects, and internship opportunities focused on the vocational area of your choice.
If your post-graduation goal is to develop your career in the country where you studied, you should research all the practical details well in advance. Start evaluating your career prospects by checking visa and work permit regulations and follow any developments that could change the situation. Brexit cannot be ignored by those wanting to study and work in the UK. Although it may have a short-term desirable impact for overseas students, such as a weaker pound, remember that if you are an EU citizen you should monitor permanent residency regulations and the right to stay and work in the UK. EU students may also find it harder to obtain and repay loans, but the full effects of Brexit are still evolving. The situation in the US too remains unpredictable. Students from some “proscribed” countries are concerned that that they might be unable to participate in overseas corporate assignments stipulated by their degree.
Another aspect that needs advance research and planning is the language of local business. Check out your prospects for a starting job if you only speak English. Is a mastery of the local language a prerequisite for career growth? “If you’re a foreigner, finding a job in Denmark is not easy. If you have an education from within Denmark, that’s a good start. When people ask me if speaking English well is enough to get them a job, the answer is no. I suggest you put all your effort into Danish classes from the start,” recommends Kay Xander Mellish in her blog on how to live in Denmark.
The reputation of schools internationally or in different industries depends to a certain extent on their place in the world. Prospective students should ensure that “the programme is well recognised internationally and in the professional scene as well, thanks to their accreditations, alumni network, and rankings,” advises Renaud Henrion, head of Recruitment and Admissions for Masters programmes at Emlyon Business School (France). “In terms of judging the quality, reputation, and recognition of a Masters programme nothing speaks louder than employers,” emphasises Nick Barniville, associate dean at the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) (Germany).
There are certainly other factors to consider when selecting a destination for your Masters studies. Climate can affect your overall happiness and performance, just as crowded cities are not for
This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2017-2018 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “An Explorational Journey”. An online version of the Guide is available here.