It’s no secret that the cost of higher education in the US is a nightmare and that my generation is defined by student loan debt. A perennial favorite of news outlets is to talk about the cost of education in other countries and how many American students are looking abroad for school.
While they always share the success stories, they never tell you exactly how to find an international university for that degree. In the last year I’ve been doing a lot of research and present to you a guide on finding higher education abroad.
This was the overwhelming question. What schools are best? Who offers programs in English? Where do I see myself living? Does it count in the US?
Most of all, ask yourself why you want to study in your specific field and what you are willing to take on to get there.
For me it had been brewing a while, and if this blog is any evidence then a future working with museums and cultural heritage was what I wanted. This guide will be written from that POV and from my desire to get a Master’s. My location focus is on Europe. The process began in March 2016 and ended exactly a year later for application deadlines. This guide can also be adapted for undergraduate use.
Research organizations in your field that serve as a network for professionals.
I used LinkedIn to search and message people that listed the orgs as an affiliation and noted where they went to school to check out those programs. I also made contacts with individuals through their groups, including one who became my mentor throughout the process. They directed me to other people and I began interviewing them about their experiences to get a realistic picture of the field.
After speaking to roughly 15 professionals in varying areas, I felt adequately informed on what to expect after completing an MA.
Identify a region you can see yourself living and studying in.
I didn’t want to rule out US schools and wanted to compare information to something I felt comfortable with. I looked at states I could see myself living in and then went to each university’s website to search their departments. I made a spreadsheet with each school’s information, a direct contact, and cost. Separate from that I made a notebook of pros and cons for every program.
The listings were generous with US programs, but sparse with international options. I found a global listing on another museum website that gave me the first step in where to look abroad.
The US was the easy part. What followed took weeks of work.
Cross Check, Triple Check.
The biggest hurdle in finding a program taught abroad was finding on that was only in English. TThe problem with many international school listings is that they are never consistent, lack important details, and open up a whole world of new terms and scheduling. Even University websites can be vague about the language.
I used FindaMasters.com, MastersPortal.com, and GradSchools.com to search for specific terms and made a list of schools. I even looked up the schools that attended international school recruitment events to see if they were relevant.It didn’t feel complete, so then, using this amazing map tool, I manually went through every single country and looked up every single university to catch any I missed and confirm that each had what I wanted.
You can imagine the time this took, and so make sure you note every url, email, and program name. Set up a folder in your email for future correspondences and tag email threads with a school name.
I also discovered that “museum studies” was too vague and limiting, and many listings and schools used “cultural heritage”, “heritage studies”, or “heritage preservation”. Expand word choices and if you see a phrase pop up often, write it down and use it in your searches.
Say Hello, Look Up Funding
After dozens of university websites, I finally had a list. By now it was June.
I emailed department heads to ask for more information, hit up students on LinkedIn, and looked through Facebook groups of current students. I narrowed it down again and again, and then moved on to visiting the schools that were local to me in the US. I made appointments and talked to their department directors, including about financial aid.
When my top US school would have cost triple the amount of an EU program, not including cost of living, the list became smaller. Many programs in the EU are for a year and were significantly more affordable.
Tuition for a Master’s from some my selected schools:
(not including living costs or fees)
2 years in the US:
$59,680 (Mid Atlantic School)
$47,653 (Northeastern School)
$33,072 (State School)
1 year in Europe:
$21,015 (United Kingdom)
Unfortunately many US-based scholarships are not applicable to foreign schools, and the few grants and scholarships available from international schools are usually reserved for top GPA applicants. The US Department of Education offers this FAQ with details about Federal Funding and a list of international schools that participate (opens as an Excel spreadsheet). You have to fill out a FAFSA and will need your school’s country code because it may not be in their system automatically.
August rolled around and my list was 4 schools long. None of them were in the US.
See it for yourself.
I thought long and hard, spending weeks to mull every detail over and looked up the cost of living. I researched potential fellowships, the weight of EU degrees in the US, and school accreditation. All of it was a blur and intimidating to make a decision based off websites.
Two of the schools were in the same country within 2 hours distance of the other and they were both having open houses in November. It was the off season to travel and my local international airport had cheap airfare through Norwegian. I found myself on a red eye with only a backpack, arriving to the first open house with an hour to spare.
I am SO glad that I went in person to see these places, because I would have made the wrong choice based off my original list. I made this mistake for my undergraduate degree and was not about to do it again.
Then in the month following application deadlines I had a moment and decided not to apply.