Somewhere in the chaos of husband’s accident (see earlier comments), I opened an email from a US student asking if I could help. The student has completed their US Associate degree and wants to know if I can recommend somewhere that they can now do a Masters in Europe. These requests do appear from time to time. A couple of years ago, a Chinese student asked me to write a reference to do a PhD in Holland – and they had no idea what they wanted to research, nor under the supervision of which professor. I could not write a reference with that as a base and I never found out what the attraction was in going to do unknown research ‘somewhere in Holland’.
Although many people successfully use official schemes such as Fulbright scholarships or Erasmus programmes to study in a foreign country, there still seems to be a significant number of students, and an even greater quantity of professionals, who have no idea about the opportunities available, or about credit transfer or about degree structures. This is a great pity as there can be much to be gained from taking a flexible or even adventurous view
Setting aside, for the moment, all the language of the Bologna process that is intended to make degree equivalence more transparent, students and those who are considering returning to study in a second country need to start by answering some really basic questions about past study and future requirements.
- What is your highest academic qualification?
- In which country did you receive this?
- How long ago did you receive it?
- Do you still have the certificate? (not essential but it may help
- Do you have the transcript, or can you get one (or do you need to find out what a transcript is)?
- Which subjects did you study within that qualification? Did you do lots of different subjects or was it a very subject-focused qualification? (Note: English Bachelors degrees are mostly focused on one or two subject areas while US degrees have a very broad education requirement as well as the subject-specific major so, whatever your starting point, there are bound to be differences in the ground that has been covered.)
- What would have been the natural next step if you stayed in the country where you received that qualification. (e.g. US Associates Degree becomes a Bachelors then a (taught) Masters. In Europe, Associates degrees are beginning to appear, e.g. in Holland, but they are not normal and Masters degrees may be described as ‘taught Masters or ‘Masters by research’.
- If you want to do research, what work have you done in that area? Have you written any papers yourself? Have you written a dissertation related to the subject but at a lower academic level?
- Will your new studies be work-related or research?
- Why do you want to change countries? (family move, job move, career prospects, superb university/professor, got a grant, etc)
- Do you speak the language in which the course will be taught? Many courses will have a special test requirement for those learning in a second language but, even if you pass that, it is your responsibility to speak the language well enough not to slow down the rest of your class. You may first need a special course such as ‘Academic English/French/Chinese/etc for second-language students’.
- If you need a visa, is there any reason you may be refused one?
- If you want to stay in your new country on a student visa/permit, will the course require you to be in class for enough hours each week?
- Do you know which month the courses are likely to start and how long they are likely to last? Does this fit with the time you have available?
- If you are paying for the course yourself and have not yet moved, do you know how to transfer the money from your current country and will you be allowed to do so?
- If you want to do research or take a specialist course, can you explain clearly and concisely why you want to do that and why you need to do it in a different country?
If you have ‘been there and done that’, please send in comments about the questions you wish you had asked before you even started applying for courses in another country. The choice and application processes will be covered in Part2 and the Bologna process will appear in a different category in a day or two.