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A Complete Guide to Study Abroad (2020)

Whether you’ve been planning to study abroad for years or are only now considering it, the entire process might seem daunting.

How do you decide on the right destination? How to shortlist universities for an MS? What will these universities look at in order to evaluate your profile?

This and more is exactly what we’re going to cover today.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Why study abroad?

6 Reasons Why You Need to Study Abroad:

Wondering why study abroad? Here are the top 6 valuable reasons you need to know to get the right answer if you aspire to pursue higher education. Study abroad is the best ever option if you are planning for Undergraduate, Graduate, Masters, Ph.D. or whatever it is.

6 Reasons to Study Abroad

1. Global Exposure:

Perhaps one of the most important benefits to studying abroad is the opportunity to gain a more global exposure to the world. You’ll have the rare chance to interact with students and professors from various countries and this will help you grow in more ways than one.

For starters, if you study abroad alongside students from different cultural and academic background, it will help broaden your perspective in terms of how you think and how you respond.

Your thought process will become much more advanced and sophisticated because of the diversity of thoughts, viewpoints, and styles that you will come into contact with simply by studying abroad at top universities.

2. Emphasis on Practical Training:

Due to a lack of infrastructure and an emphasis on rote learning, most students find themselves lacking in the practical knowledge they need to succeed in the work-place.

When you study abroad in countries such as the US, UK, Australia, Europe, Japan or Singapore, you’ll have access to better infrastructure which translates to a more hands-on approach to learning as well.

You’ll be encouraged to use the lessons you learn in the classroom in a more practical setting. This in turn, will better prepare you for the work space.

3. Cutting Edge Technology & Research:

Universities abroad do tend to have the most cutting-edge facilities, world class infrastructure, and technology. You will gain a lot of exposure to these amazing opportunities in universities.

In fact, one of the main reasons most of students prefer to do their research or Ph.D. in international universities is because of the advanced technology and infrastructure available in those universities.

4. Excellence Across Diverse Fields:

Universities abroad tend to be excellent in multiple programs, not just one or two. For example, if you take good universities abroad they are good not only for engineering but possibly for business and medicine as well. This means you have access to schools of various disciplines, each operating at very high standards.

5. Job Opportunities for study abroad students :

Once you graduate from top universities abroad, you’ll find a lot of job opportunities. A lot of employers today are looking for graduates with international study or work experience.
Even if you do decide to return to your home country, you will definitely find better job opportunities here as well owing to the fact that you’ve studied abroad at a reputed university. Employers understand the value of a university that has cutting-edge technology and encourages practical learning.

6. Attractive Compensation:

One of the advantages of studying abroad is being greatly compensated for the same. From a survey, it is found that the study abroad students earn 25% higher starting salary compared to those who didn’t study abroad. This fact makes the investment you put into studying abroad worth it. The returns justify the investment and then some.
These are just a sampling of the many reasons to study abroad and gain experience and exposure.

Chapter 2

Top 5 Exams To Study Abroad

Now that we’ve elaborated on the many advantages to studying abroad, you may have decided to pursue your higher studies at one of the top universities abroad. But this raises the question – Are there any exams you need to take before you can study abroad?

The answer is YES. Depending on what you want to study and where, you will be required to take one or two tests. So let’s take a look at the top 5 exams taken every year by students that plan on studying abroad.

GRE – Graduate Record Examination:

This is one of the most popular tests taken by aspirants to study abroad. According to the ETS report, a total of 321,228 (United States), 80,123 (India) and 58,679 (Mainland China) took the GRE test between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017. This number has been increasing every year which clearly indicates that students are inspired to pursue their education universities abroad.

The GRE exam is taken by students looking to pursue their Master’s or PhD abroad. It tests you on 3 different skills – Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative and Analytical Writing skills. You can take the GRE test 5 times a year with a minimum of 21 days between retakes. Here is the complete guide to the GRE exam. If you are planning to take the GRE test to study abroad, start by taking a sample test to see where you currently stand and how to design your preparation.

Grab the free resources for better GRE preparation:

  1. GRE Practice test
  2. GRE App specially designed to score high.

GMAT – Graduate Management Admission Test:

The GMAT was created in collaboration with faculty of graduate management programs and is taken by aspirants wanting to get into top business schools abroad. GMAT is designed to test the problem-solving capabilities and analytical thinking abilities of students. These skills after all, are very important for business management.

The GMAT test is accepted by about 2,100 universities around the world, offering 6,000 programs.

Like the GRE you can attempt the GMAT test 5 times in a year and you can take the exam to study abroad once every 16 days. However, you are limited to a maximum of 8 attempts in a lifetime.

SAT – Scholastic Assessment Test:

Want a Bachelors from a university abroad? The SAT is taken by students planning to get admission into undergraduate schools. Mostly students who aspire to pursue their undergraduate courses in the US and Canada who are required to take the SAT exam. This study abroad exam measures the student’s ability in 3 areas – Writing, Math and Critical Reading.

The SAT is conducted 5 times a year and you can every chance to attempt it. These SAT scores are valid for 5 years.

Here are the free resources for your SAT preparation:

  1. SAT Practice test
  2. Ultimate SAT App

In addition to Standardized tests like the GRE, GMAT and SAT, if you’re planning to study abroad and your home country is NOT an English-speaking country (for ex, South-East Asian countries), you’re going to have to take an English proficiency test as well.

This is to prove to the country to wish to study in that you have the requisite skills to communicate in English so you’re perfectly capable of thriving in your host country. After all, how can you be expected to study or work in the US if you can’t speak English fairly fluently?

The two most popular English proficiency tests are the TOEFL and IELTS.

TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language:

The TOEFL is a standardized exam that tests the English proficiency of non-native English speakers. Countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand accept TOEFL scores for university admits.

This test is conducted over 50 times a year and you can take the test any number of times once in 12 days. There needs to be 12 days between each attempt.

The TOEFL test is different from the GRE in that this test is only testing your ability to communicate fluently in the English language. Studying abroad in a predominantly English-speaking country like the US will naturally mean you need to be able to meet a certain standard as well. There is no Math section. The TOEFL tests your ability across four areas – English Reading, English Listening, English Speaking and English Writing.

Collect the free resorces before you go:

  1. TOEFL Practice Test to skyrocket your score prepared by experts.
  2. Addictive gamified Vocabulary App

IELTS – International English Language Testing System:

This test – like the TOEFL- is mainly taken by the candidates who wish to study abroad or work in countries having English as the language of communication. Just like the TOEFL, the IELTS mainly tests you on the four different English skills – Listening, Writing, Speaking and Reading.

However, the format of the test is quite different. IELTS scores are accepted by every university in many countries like the UK and Australia.

This test is conducted many times throughout the year and there is no limit to the number of attempts. IELTS scores are valid for 2 years from the date the result declaration.

Both the TOEFL and IELTS are equally valid tests of English proficiency.

Chapter 3

Comparing Top Countries to Study Abroad

Let’s take a look at the top ‘study abroad’ destinations – Singapore, US, UK, Australia and Canada.

We’ll compare them in terms of academics and research, career prospects, costs and scholarship opportunities. When we talk about costs we mean the cost of doing your MS and of the cost of living.

When we talk about scholarships, we’re referring to the likelihood of finding scholarships there.

Keeping this in mind, we see there are a lot of advantages for the US and Canada. In terms of academics, research and career prospects – the USA is absolutely one of the best countries to study abroad in.

In terms of scholarships, the US leads again because the number of world-class institutes in the U.S. is unmatched by any other country in the world. This will make shortlisting US universities relatively easier for you. 

Every country definitely has its own top universities. The UK has its top universities – the set of colleges in Oxford and Cambridge.

Singapore has NTU and Nanyang. Every country has a few excellent schools but the number of top universities in USA is very high.

No other country has an equal number of schools that are in the same league as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin-Madison, Yale, Princeton, University of Chicago and so on.

Clearly, if you intend to study abroad, you’ll find a lot of options when shortlisting universities for MS in USA.

Coming to career prospects. The  U.S. and Canada make it very comfortable for you to find work compared other study abroad destinations. Immediately after you graduate they encourage you to take up work there without requiring an H1B if your degree is in a STEM field.

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STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – not management. MBA does not come under STEM. In the US when you find a job you can work after your MS for up to three years without requiring any H1B visa or any special visa.

The same goes for Canada also and that is why we have given them four stars in terms of career prospects.

In the UK and Australia, typically they would like you to return to your home country soon after you graduate and then if you want to apply for permanent residency it’s a completely different process that you have to initiate.

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In terms of costs, Singapore makes the cut. It is less expensive and of course, the U.S. is more expensive compared to other Study abroad destinations on this list.

In terms of the likelihood of finding scholarships nothing beats the U.S.  and to some extent Canada.

Keep in mind, different countries have different rules. For example in Singapore if you study in certain fields and if you were to sign a bond saying that you will continue to work in Singapore for two to three years after you finish your degree, then they will actually waive your tuition fee or a large part of it.

Different countries and universities have their own rules and regulations but on the whole this is one good way to compare all of these different places.

Chapter 4

How To Shortlist Universities

One of the most important things in studying abroad is what factors should you consider when choosing universities? Both sides of the equation are important. You need to know what universities consider when they select students. And, of course, you need to know how to shortlist universities to study abroad.

The most important thing is the field of interest. When we say the field of interest it means the area in which you want to specialize in your Master’s or Ph.D. program. This has to be something that you’re really interested in.

It doesn’t matter for what reason you got into your program in your undergrad, even if you were under a lot of mental pressure – make sure that the field of interest that you pick for your Masters is something that you really care about.

Factors to be considered while shortlisting the universities to study abroad

You’re going to spend two years focused on one subject area which might just have been one of six subjects in one semester in your undergrad.

So for example, if your undergrad has six subjects every semester and one of them is networking, in your Master’s you’ll be spending at least half of your two years on this one something.

So actually pick something that you really care about. The second is the reputation of the university and also of the department in which you’re specializing. This is important because the brand of the university is going to stay with you for life.

Having said that, you should aim to get the best universities for your profile. Somebody else’s ‘ambitious’ option might be ‘safe’ for you and your ‘ambitious’ might be somebody else’s ‘safe’.  So you want to make sure that the universities you apply to are reputable.

At the same time, the reputation of your department is also important.

For example, if you take the University of California-San Francisco, it is not ranked very highly in terms of engineering courses but for anything related to medicine or biology, it’s one of the best places to study abroad.

All the companies that hire in this field know this, they’re aware of its reputation.

The third factor is career opportunities. Again you have to pick a field once you’ve done your research and you know that there are good opportunities to work afterward and to utilize the learning that you’ve gotten in your Masters in this field.

Location is also important. For example, if you take a look at San Jose State University, it’s not very highly ranked but it’s located in the heart of the Silicon Valley and this will help you find jobs easily. So if you know that you want to work in a technical space, this could go a long way towards helping you reach your goal.

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Of course the other factors that you should consider while shortling universities for studying abroad are how much it’s going to cost you and the likelihood of receiving funding. So this is what you have to think about from your standpoint when it comes to shortlisting the universities to apply to. When looking for answers, there’s a lot of information that you can find online.

How much does it cost to study abroad?

This is the question everyone gets when you think of studying abroad. And the fact is that there is no exact figure that tells you the cost to study abroad. These expenses normally vary based on the country you choose to study.

Let’s look into the estimated cost of studying abroad in different countries.

CountryAvg. Cost per year in USD
United States $32,000 - $42,000
Canada $25,000 - $35,000
UK $35,000 approx
Germany $8000 approx
Australia $28,000 - $35,000
Ireland $25,000 - $28,000
Chapter 5

Factors Universities Consider when Evaluating

Now,  let’s, turn the tables and try to understand what most top universities in the world consider when they evaluate Masters or Ph.D. applicants. They consider several aspects. The first aspect universities want to know about are your academics.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the best way they have of discerning that is through your transcripts, your GPA and your academic credentials. That’s why it’s important to have a high GPA.

Having said that if your GPA is on the lower side but you’ve done well in the subjects that you want to specialize in for your Masters, then you’re safe. You can always make a case for that. You can explain why this is so. But please keep in mind that your academics are a very very important part of your study abroad application.

GRE Scores and Universities

Next, universities look at test scores such as the GRE or the TOEFL. Standardized test scores are very important for the study abroad universities. You might wonder what the big fuss is with GRE scores and universities.

The reason study abroad universities place such an emphasis on standardized test scores is that they help universities compare students from very different backgrounds.

For example, let’s say Student A studied at the University of China and Student B at an IIT. How do you compare these two students both with a 7.5 GPA but in very different academic systems?

This is where standardized tests come in. This is why there is so much focus on getting the right GRE scores for universities.

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They are conducted in a uniform manner throughout the world and therefore it allows universities to compare apples to apples. Students who attempt the GRE from any part of the world can be compared with other GRE test takers because the test is the same for all.

This is why one of the factors to consider when choosing universities to apply to is shortlisting universities based on GRE scores.

In addition to these two factors – academics and test scores – the next aspect they’ll look at is your internships. Those of you who are still in your undergrad make sure you do meaningful internships.

Generally, we encourage that you take your GRE as quickly as possible. This will allow you to free up your summers between years. Between your third and fourth year is the ideal time to do meaningful internships.

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We don’t mean implant training and things like that. By ‘meaningful’ we mean an internship where you make solid contributions to the organization. You should be able to get a strong recommendation letter that outlines what you did on the project and the impact that it made to the organization.

It need not be a company, it could even be an internship at a research lab or with a professor.

Speaking of professors, this brings us to the next aspect of your profile that universities pay close attention to – research work. Any kinds of research work, projects, conferences, workshops, paper presentations – these will be supremely helpful. The more prestigious the journal that you’re published in, the better.

Finally, you have two sets of essays to think about.The SOP which is your Statement of Purpose and typically three Letters of Recommendation or LoR’s.

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A statement of purpose is a one – one and a half page essay that you write with the aim to distinguish yourself from other the applicants. A statement of purpose (also called a letter of intent or a research statement) introduces your interests and experience to the admissions committee.

For more professionally-focused graduate programs, your statement of purpose will primarily discuss how your pursuit of this professional program relates to your past experiences, and how you will use the skills from the program in your future career.

A statement of purpose for grad school is also where you sell the admissions committee on why you belong in their program specifically. Why do you fit there, and how does what they offer fit your interests?

Your letters of recommendation are the only time you have to get other people’s professional opinion about you. Letters of Recommendation-LoR work for you when they present you in the best possible light, showcasing your skills and abilities.

It’s important that you get them from the right people so they have the greatest impact.

Bonus Admissions Resources

Pros and Cons of Pursuing Higher Studies in Non US Countries

Profile Building for Scholarship & Funding

How to write a Winning SOP for Masters Abroad

now it's your turn

I'd like to hear from you

Which strategy from today’s guide do you think will work best for you?

Are you feeling more sure of how to shortlist universities for MS now?

Or maybe you’re ready to start shortlisting some of the best universities in the world.

Either way, leave a comment below right now.

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