Having gone to college on both sides of the Atlantic, I know studying abroad can be rewarding but also a bit of a challenge.
My first course abroad was my undergraduate degree – psychology at Trinity College. My motivation at age 18 was that I wanted to get out of Dodge.
Within days of my arrival, I had a nose ring. Which is to say, the experience of studying abroad fostered a sense of independence and autonomy.
I’m from the US and had been in Ireland only once before, for a cousin’s wedding when I was 11. It took me a while to figure things out: like opening a bank account, remembering which way to look before crossing the road (the signs helped), finding a place to live, making friends and being able to follow a conversation (I know it’s English, but still).
Which brings me to my first tip: give yourself time to adjust. When you move abroad to study, everything about your life will change, so don’t expect to settle in immediately.
At least once in the first few weeks, if not days, I thought, “What have I done?”. But it really did all work out in the end.
Let’s face it: going to university abroad, even at postgraduate level, isn’t just about studying. It’s about experiencing a different culture, meeting new people and collecting experiences.
When I was at Trinity, and then years later doing a master’s in journalism at DCU, I was glad I decided to do a whole course abroad, rather than a semester or two. I met students on exchange programmes, and they clung to each other rather than making new friends. The next tip: mingle with the locals. It’s the best way to get a sense of a place. I made Irish friends by reading road signs aloud in Irish, which they found hilarious! I ended up scoring invites to visit friends’ families in different parts of the country, a brilliant way to travel.
Applying to do a postgrad abroad is going to be a little more paperwork-intensive than applying to do one in your home country. When I was applying to law schools in the US after my undergrad at Trinity, I had quite a few more hoops to jump through than my peers who had stayed home.
For example, the Irish marking system is so wildly different to the American one, I had to have my grades translated by a “credential evaluation service”.
It took time and cost a couple hundred dollars; according to the World Education Service, the current price is $205 (€180) for an evaluation of transcripts and $30 (€26) to send the report to each additional college you’re applying to.
Extra little requirements like that made the process more time consuming and expensive. So give yourself enough time
A lastminute.com approach to your postgraduate application abroad is probably not going to work out well for you. Check the deadlines and write them on your calendar in blood. Give yourself a couple weeks more than you think you’ll need. Unforeseen glitches can add days or weeks to the process.
When I was applying for the journalism master’s in 2013, I had a small problem with my application online through the Postgraduate Application Centre (PAC), which many Irish institutions use.
Because of my unconventional education path, I had more documents to upload than there was space for online. I had to make a few calls and get tech support to work magic so I could upload my mountain of documents.
Even though it wasn’t a huge problem, and the tech support staff at PAC were really quite helpful, it took a day or two to sort out. If that had happened on the the application due date, it would have been a catastrophe.
The cost of a master’s in Ireland versus the US wasn’t the only reason I decided to study here, but it was a factor. The one-year MA at DCU is listed this year at €13,300 for a non-EU student. In the US I would have paid at least double that, especially since most programmes are two-years long.
One last thing
The international office at your university will be a great resource. Especially at the start of your course, they’ll put on events and give you information to help you acclimatise. It’s especially useful for support in dealing with visa or entry requirements.
They are there to help, both during the application process and after you arrive. Use them.
I vividly remember an international student orientation event during my first days at Trinity. An American postgrad gave the sage advice: “Never ask for a ride in someone’s car in Ireland. Here, it’s called a lift. A lift.”
Studying abroad requires a little more admin than staying in your home country, but it’s worth it. I speak from experience.