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Degree overseas: the pros of studying abroad

Learn skills, build confidence and gain maturity in another country

The idea of going overseas to study can be daunting, with visions of  baffling languages or nights spent in isolation while you are gradually forgotten by your friends and family. However, the benefits of studying abroad - such as broadening your mind, improving  your career prospects and making friends from all over the  world - can make digging out your passport really rewarding.

“Studying abroad is an eye-opening experience,”  says Anna Boyd, event manager at The Student World. “Being immersed in another culture, understanding differences and spotting similarities, living on a beach or in the mountains - all of this will have an impact on every student.”

Overseas study comes in many shapes and sizes. It might be a single semester abroad via an Erasmus  programme, for example. Or you might elect to follow a full three- or four-year degree programme. Whatever your ambition, he key is starting early. Some countries require specific combinations of A-levels from UK students. Germany looks for four A-levels including maths or science and one modern foreign language, for instance, while others, such as the US, value extracurricular activities. Starting  our research well ahead of time can help you make the right choices. “Getting involved in sports, arts and music is also worth considering, as well as gaining experience through volunteering and work placements,” says Boyd.

A head start also helps when it comes to applying, as there’s no convenient application system equivalent to cas or overseas institutions. “Students need to keep in mind that additional tests might be required,” says Boyd.  The application process can require additional documents or official translations, and the visa application for countries outside the EU can also take some time.” However, don’t be discouraged by the formalities. “My advice could be to look at it as if you were applying to a local university,” says Rob Maat, manager of international relations at Fontys International Business School in the Netherlands. “Universities abroad, just like UK institutions, have admissions offices for international students that can help with any kind of question.”

In fact, applying to study abroad could even work to your advantage. You might encounter lower entrance  requirements, or you could benefit from a longer application window. With Australian universities often having two intakes (in February and August) or Canadian institutions, such as the University of Winnipeg, offering three, there’s plenty of flexibility.

As for your course, the academic choices are as varied as you might find in the UK. It’s also an opportunity to explore different teaching methods to see if there’s a style that appeals to you. For example, many Dutch establishments favour problem-based learning and put a lot of emphasis on group work; or the US liberal arts  education gives students a wide range of subject choices in their first two years before they specialise in the  latter half of their course.

“The US is known for continuous assessment, whereas in Europe courses are more specialised and often passing  depends on one or two exams,” says Boyd. Food for thought if you fear exams, or loathe coursework. Cost is a significant issue. While some countries, such as the Netherlands and Norway, charge either low or no tuition fees  r have a relatively low cost of living, others, such as the US and Australia, charge fees running into tens of  thousands of pounds. However, there are a range of scholarships, bursaries and grants available, so thorough  research is key. Likewise, when you’re looking at courses and fees it’s important to check how the qualifications  re regarded. While many degrees are recognised globally, others, such as medicine, law and accountancy, might only be valid in the country you study in.

However, Mike Hill, chief executive at Graduate Prospects, points out that some employers value the skills you gain overseas a great deal. “Qualifications awarded from internationally renowned institutions can be highly regarded by global employers,” he says. “For example, Australian universities enjoy a growing academic reputation, therefore qualifications are internationally recognised and well thought of.”

Wherever you go, the value of overseas study is far more than monetary. Living and studying in another country offers a unique perspective, and provides the chance to travel, learn languages and meet people. Dan Russon, services director for graduate employer Xceed Group, says the skills acquired by those who study overseas are clear. “They are, by and large, better at communicating complex details. They’re also used to being put in group situations and are better at building a rapport quickly.”

Overseas study can make you more employable in other ways, too. “We’re operating in an increasingly global economy, where knowledge of different markets, cultures and languages is very important,” says Rob Fryer, lead of student recruitment at Deloitte. “Studying abroad and acquiring this knowledge makes it a valuable experience for both UK students and employers.”

“I put a premium on graduates who have studied abroad,” says Jonathan Simnett, strategic development director of Chameleon PR. “The experience does broaden the mind. It’s likely students will have had to overcome various difficulties while they were abroad, which adds to their maturity.” Homesickness is a real concern for many.

Never fear, says Maat. “You’re not going off the grid. This might have been true 20 years ago without proper internet or Skype, but nowadays home is just a click away.”

So if overseas study is your way forward, where do you start? Boyd suggests contacting universities straight away, talking to former and current students via social media and generally finding out as much as you can about the countries and courses you’re interested in. The Student World Fairs in October (see thestudentworld.com for dates and details) are also good opportunities to meet representatives from all over the world without getting on a plane. If you’re interested in studying at a US institution, visit USA College Day on 27-28 September at Kensington Town Hall, London, W8. And, of course, all of this is quite aside from perks like the cheap beer in France, Spain or Eastern Europe; the waves and weather in Australia; or the astonishing natural beauty and cultural quirks of the US and Canada. Passports on standby...