How to Study Abroad in 2021: A Step-by-Step Guide

Is studying abroad on your mind, but you’re not sure what it involves? We must admit, the entire process might seem a bit difficult. But if you know each step that needs to be taken and how to prepare everything you need, you’ll find yourself studying a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree abroad in no time.

This is our comprehensive and easy-to-follow guide on studying abroad. We’ll go through it step-by-step, and by the end, you’ll have most — if not all — the information you need to prepare for an international study experience.

Let’s dive right in!

1. Determine how much you want to spend on your education abroad

Studying abroad is many things: exciting, challenging, empowering, lifechanging, but not exactly cheap. Of course, some study destinations are more affordable than others, but it’s good to know early on how much you’re willing to spend.

Tuition fees for Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes vary significantly, but there’s always something for everyone’s budget.

Bachelor’s degrees tuition range

Master’s degrees tuition range

Don’t forget to take into account living costs as well. Depending on the city and country where you’ll live, you can spend anywhere between 300 and over 1,000 EUR per month.

Tips and tricks

  • Some of the countries with the highest tuition fees are: the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK, Singapore.
  • Student loans are one way to cover the costs of your education but don’t be too eager to apply for one. Many students regret this decision and, in the US, for example, you have to pay the money back even if you drop out or don’t graduate.
  • You can work while studying, but only part-time, and this can increase your stress levels. If you decide to do this, make sure you follow the rules and regulations; in many countries, international students can only work for a limited number of hours per week.
  • Public universities in Norway and Germany offer free degrees to all international students, regardless of their nationality.
  • Students from the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) can study for free in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden as well.
  • Most public universities in France and Austria offer study programmes for under 2,500 EUR per year to all international students.

Discover some of the most affordable EU countries for international students.

Map of the world, all study destinations

2. Decide what you want to study

Some people knew what they wanted to become ever since they were very young. Others discover later on, during high school. But for some, the decision is still not clear even weeks before applying to degree-level studies.

You can always choose one of the most popular disciplines. This often guarantees that you’ll be in-demand on the job market and you’ll earn a very good salary. But choosing to study something you don’t like just for financial reasons isn’t always the wisest decision. With that in mind, these are some of the most popular disciplines out there:

Other ways to discover what discipline matches your personality are:

  • Take Studyportals’ personality test.
  • Think about what you enjoy doing, what you like doing, even without external rewards.
  • Look at the people you admire and ask yourself if you’d like to do what they do or something similar.
  • Read or watch student reviews of multiple disciplines to get a better understanding of the curriculum, the effort required, and the outcome of studies.
  • Eliminate the things you don’t want to study; not knowing what you want often clears the space to figure out what you actually want.
  • Look at various job descriptions, career paths, and opportunities available. Which ones attract you the most?
  • Take a gap year! Spend one year volunteering at home or abroad or get an entry-level job — it will help you learn more about yourself.

Learn about different types of Bachelors you can study abroad.

Learn about different types of Masters you can study abroad.

3. Decide where you want to study

Your budget and favourite discipline have a big impact on where you want to go abroad. But there are other factors you need to consider before choosing this or that country. Here are a few questions and suggestions that will help narrow down your search:

  • Are you willing to study in a country where English isn’t widely spoken?
  • Do you want to work during your studies? If yes, check which countries have favourable policies for international students.
  • How important are social life and extracurricular activities to you?
  • Do you want to live in a big city or in a quiet town?
  • Are you willing to commute to your university?
  • Do you want to study in a country that’s relatively close to your native country?
  • Do you love travelling? If yes, pick a country with lots of connections and opportunities in this direction.
  • Try picking 2 or 3 ideal destinations. Then start comparing the pros and cons of each.
  • Take Studyportals’ country test.

If you apply to universities in multiple countries, your final choice might not be entirely in your hands. Let’s say you applied at universities in the UK, Finland, and Germany. But only those in the UK accepted you, despite Finland being your ideal destination. Keep this in mind and give it a chance. Remember the saying: when one door closes, another one opens.

Find Master's degrees abroad

4. Choose your favourite study programmes and compare them

You’ve reached the point where you know the country and discipline you want to study. Congrats! But now, which study programme should you choose? Each university offers one (or multiple) study programmes in the same discipline.

Each programme has a specific curriculum and various academic goals. You need to be very careful before choosing — you don’t want to end up realising, halfway through your first academic year, that you’ve enrolled in the wrong degree.

The simplest way to avoid this is to always check the programme’s overview or list of courses. See what you’ll study and how. Some degrees are more focused on theory, others on practice. Have any questions? Never hesitate to contact the university. A representative should be more than happy to help you.

Other factors worth looking at are:

  • the duration of studies: most Bachelors take 3 or 4 years to complete, while Masters take 1 or 2 years. But there are exceptions! Highly specialised disciplines can take 5 or even 6 years of studies. This will also increase your expenses, so don’t overlook this factor.
  • full-time or part-time: each approach has its benefits; part-time studies allow you to work on the side and take care of other responsibilities. Full-time studies will take less time and will allow you to enjoy the full on-campus experience.

If you want to apply for a Master’s degree abroad, Studyportals comes to your aid. On our website, Mastersportal, we have an awesome feature that allows you to quickly compared your favourite programmes. You only need to create an account, select your favourite programmes and ta-da, you’re ready to see them side by side.

Learn more about Studyportals’ comparison tool.

Studyportals' comparison tool example

5. Apply at multiple universities

Even if you have top grades and an impressive motivation letter or essay, you shouldn’t apply to only one university. It’s true, you might get accepted, but what will you do if you aren’t? This is why you should apply to at least 2 or 3 universities.

You can apply to more than that, but keep in mind that in some countries, international students can apply to a limited number of universities.

The process is easier if you apply to higher education institutions that are in the same country, but it’s quite common for students to select universities from multiple countries. Just make sure you read the admission requirements carefully and follow the procedure:

  • some countries use a centralised system, through which you apply to multiple universities
  • in other countries, you’ll need to apply individually to each university
  • some universities only ask for digital copies of your documents
  • others require physical copies to be sent via post in addition to the digital scans

Learn more about how to apply to universities worldwide.

Read about common documents required for the university application.

Discover how to write a successful motivation letter.

6. Pass your English language test if you haven’t already

To study an English-taught programme at a university abroad, you’ll first need to provide evidence of your English language proficiency. Most universities accept one of the following English language certificates:

You’ll need to pass one of these tests before your university enrolment. Depending on your current English level, you might be able to pass a test with only a few days or weeks of preparation. But if your English could use some improvement, take at least a few months to prepare.

International English exams evaluate 4 main skills:

  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Writing
  • Reading

The format of each test is different, but it involves listening to speakers with various accents, answering multiple-choice questions, writing letters and essays, answering questions based on different types of texts, and many other types of tasks.

The best advice we can give you is not to treat these tests superficially. They will evaluate your grammar, vocabulary, understanding, and many other abilities. As long as you become familiar with the test format and practise long enough, you should be able to ace any test.

Learn more about IELTS vs TOEFL vs PTE Academic.

Find Bachelor's degrees abroad

7. Apply for scholarships

This step is related both to your budget and to the university application part. Why? Because in some cases, you apply for a scholarship during your university application. In others, you apply for the scholarship afterwards or after your place is confirmed.

What you need to know is that there are different types of financial aid programmes:

  • scholarships
  • grants
  • student loans
  • military aid

Some of them need to be paid back, while others, like scholarships or grants, don’t. But scholarships and grants are given away just like that. You need to meet the application requirements. And there’s a wide range of requirements out there.

Some are awarded based on academic achievement, others based on financial need, other for research purposes and so on. Don’t hurry up to apply if you don’t meet the criteria. Chances are, you won’t even be considered.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to find scholarships to study abroad.

Bonus round: we have our own scholarship, the Studyportals International Distinction Awards, and you can apply right now!

8. Confirm your place after receiving the letter from the university

This is, by far, one of the most enjoyable and rewarding steps. You’ve found the ideal programme, you’ve passed your English test, you’ve applied, and now the university’s response has arrived — you’ve been accepted!

Congrats! You’re on your way to quickly become an international student! But what if you’ve been accepted to multiple universities?

Well, you’ll need to look over the options carefully and make a decision. If you already have a favourite, it’s easy. If not, don’t hurry up and answer immediately. Take at least 2 or 3 days to clear your mind and see what option is best for you.

Afterwards, send the confirmation to the university and make sure they receive it. During this process or after it, you might be asked to send additional documents or official copies.

9. Apply for a student visa (if required)

Not all students going abroad need to apply for a visa. But if you do, do your research properly. There are many documents necessary, and the issuance of the visa can take from a few weeks to a few months! This is why you should apply early on so that you won’t miss the beginning of your studies abroad.

If you’re an EU/EEA student enrolling at a university in the EU/EEA, we have excellent news: you won’t need a visa to study in a European Union/European Economic Area country if you already come from one.

In all the other situations — with a few exceptions — you will need a visa. Here are a few examples:

And the list can go on and on. The main piece of advice here is: you should check if you need a visa early on and learn how long it takes until a visa is issued. Then, based on when your studies are scheduled to start, apply for a visa so that you’ll receive it in time.

South Lawn of the University of Melbourne, in Australia

10. Choose an accommodation option and make arrangements

It’s important to decide where you’ll live abroad because it will have a major impact, both on your expenses and on your experience. These are the most popular options, together with their pros and cons:

Student dormitories

  • They are also called ‘student halls’ or ‘university halls of residence’.
  • Student dormitories are by far the most affordable option, but you’ll often have to share a room with 1, 2 or sometimes even more students.
  • The costs of utilities are usually included in the monthly fee.
  • Private student dormitories (not owned by universities) are often more expensive than university student dormitories.
  • Many students live in a dormitory for 1 or 2 years to have the popular on-campus experience, and then they choose to rent a private place alone or with friends.
  • Not all universities offer student halls, and often the number of places is limited.
  • The conditions and facilities of each dormitory are different from one university or country to another.

Renting a private flat

  • This is the second most popular type of accommodation among international students.
  • Renting is more expensive than living on-campus, but you can reduce the costs by sharing a flat with other students.
  • The closer you get to the city centre they higher the prices get.
  • Utilities aren’t always included in the monthly fee; this is something you need to discuss with your landlord.
  • You’ll need to pay a deposit that’s worth 2 or 3-months’ rent. This is to cover potential damages or problems you might create. Based on your contract, you should get the deposit back (or a part) when you move out.
  • Some universities assist students who look for private flats and make sure they don’t get scammed or tricked into overpaying.
  • If your university doesn’t provide this support, you’ll need to do research beforehand to avoid scams or other issues.

Living with a local family

  • This is not as popular as the other two options, but it’s chosen by students on a very low budget or by those who want a hands-on experience of the local culture and lifestyle
  • It’s usually very cheap, sometimes cheaper than student dormitories. But this often depends on how you negotiate and what is included in the overall price. For example, some families even offer one meal a day in the monthly fee.
  • You need to speak the local language to live with a family, at least at the conversation level. Or they should speak English well enough. The point is: you can encounter language barriers.
  • You’ll have to share the kitchen, possibly even the bathroom and other utilities. If you’re not comfortable with this situation, living with a local family isn’t for you.
  • It can be a great opportunity to learn local recipes, discover traditions, understand life from others’ perspective, and make friends or deep connections.

No matter which option you choose, prices will range wildly. You can spend anywhere from 100-200 EUR to over 700 EUR per month based on where you want to live.

Always pay attention to the contracts you sign, don’t hesitate to discuss any confusing clauses and don’t take the first option you find. Compare what’s available on the market and then decide. Remember, an informed buyer is an empowered buyer.

11. Decide how you’ll travel abroad

Confirmed your university place, found the perfect accommodation… now, what?

It’s finally time to plan your travel. How will you get to your study destination? Will you travel alone? Do you need to exchange the means of transportation? These are all questions you’ll need to consider.

If you’ll study on a different continent or in a faraway country, taking the plane is by far the best option. Sometimes even cheaper, but this varies on many other factors. You’ll need to check how much luggage you can take with you, as all major airlines have limits. You’ll need to pay extra for additional suitcases or baggage.

Some students might choose to travel by train or bus. This can be more or less comfortable depending on the distance itself and how long it will take to get to your destination. The advantage is that it can be cheaper, and there’s no baggage limit — still, don’t think you can just occupy half of the storage space with your things. Other travellers certainly won’t appreciate it.

For Europeans who move to another European country, taking a car ride, alone or with the family, is a valid option. You get to travel together with the people you love, and they’ll help you set up the place and get used to your new surroundings.

Tips and tricks for travelling

  • Based on the start date of your studies and when you can move into your new place, plan accordingly, so that you’ll get there early on; it’s ideal to have a few days to accommodate to your new surroundings.
  • Check the cancelling or change policy for tickets, especially if you travel by plane.
  • If you need to change the means of transport, think about what you’ll do and where you’ll stay during the layover/waiting period.

Find Master's degrees abroad

12. Decide what you’ll pack and the size of your luggage

How much luggage you’ll take will mainly depend on your means of transport. But no matter how you travel, here are a few items that are essential:

  • Laptop, power adapters and converters
  • ID, passport, birth certificate and copies
  • Medicine or prescription drugs, especially if you have an allergy or other medical conditions
  • A regular backpack for daily use
  • A photo or something to remind you of your home/dear ones
  • Headphones, perhaps 2 pairs in case one stops functioning

You also need to pack toiletries, clothes for different types of weather, towels, and any other items that you use on a regular basis.

Depending on the climate, you might not need to take winter clothes with you. But if you do, you can choose to have your parents send them via post or a specialised courier firm. You can also relax knowing that if you forget to take anything, this option is there.

Don’t bother to take all your clothes abroad, though. The truth is you’ll find plenty of shops where you can buy new ones, especially if you’re going to spend at least 2 or 3 years in your new home country.

And that’s it! You’re ready to go abroad! Excited? You should be. You’re about to begin one of the most interesting, fun, empowering, and also difficult chapters in your life. And you’ll be a much better person at the end of it. Now go and create some awesome memories!

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