7 things to note if you are considering going to an overseas university
‘Tis the season for university applications.
When I was 16 with barely any outlook on life, it took a great deal of courage to tell my parents I’d rather pursue my interests in poly than go to JC. Three years later, it’s even harder to tell them I don’t want to stay in Singapore to further my studies.
In no way is this choice an easy one to make. Not only is overseas university expensive, the physical and emotional distance is sure to put an inevitable strain on most relationships as well.
But with the right reasons and a whole lot of determination, this leap of faith could become less scary than it seems.
Before you make this decision on a whim and potentially regret the next few years of your life, here are seven things to take note of if you’re planning to go overseas for university.
1. Be aware of the costs
Furthering your studies overseas means that you’ll be an international student, so it’s a given that your school fees will be significantly higher than others’.
While it may be quite tricky to save money in this area, it is possible to have fewer academic years of study. Through advanced standing, you need not take certain modules as you may have already completed the relevant subjects at your prior course of study. As you’ll have fewer subjects to complete, you’ll thus be able to complete your university education quicker, saving you up to a year’s worth of school fees!
There are also the options of applying for overseas scholarships, as well as bank loans. However, these scholarships could come with a bond, and the loans would be a serious commitment to repay after you complete your studies.
If money remains a big issue, you can always try your luck in overseas exchange programmes in local universities, where you can at least experience uni life overseas for one semester.
School fees aside, student accommodation costs could be over $1,000 per month, and the cost of travel will contribute to your expenditure as well. Not to mention the lack of cheap hawker centres and coffee shops could drive up your spending on food too.
All things considered, your monthly living expenses could easily rack up to over $2,000, which could put a real strain on you and your family’s finances.
However, it is possible to reduce these costs. Instead of eating out for every meal, home-cooked meals are probably much cheaper, and choosing to stay near your university can save you transport fees as well.
2. Be convinced of your reasons for studying abroad
As I’m currently doing a Diploma in Mass Communication, I’m hoping to study something different in university to improve my existing skill set.
From my research, I was intrigued to learn that there were so many different types of university programmes in the world, some offered only at certain universities, and was inspired to explore these options.
At the same time, after being exposed to so many different types of people in poly, I wanted to expand my social circle beyond Singapore and meet people from other countries too, which strengthened my interest in studying abroad.
I then spoke to my friends and teachers who have studied abroad to find out more about their experiences, and was reaffirmed that this was the right next step for me.
However, my parents weren’t too sold on the idea of sending their child overseas to study. Every time I brought up the topic at the dinner table, they’d laugh it off with the same expectations of me going to a local university.
But my conviction helped me persevere. I listed down my reasons, my friends’ and teachers’ experiences, even the most basic housekeeping matters and how it could work out, and turned it into a PowerPoint pitch to my parents.
No pitch is complete without a Question and Answer (QnA) session, and the research I had done allowed me to successfully answer the additional clarifications they had. After some discussion between themselves, they too were convinced, and gave me the green light.
3. Familiarise yourself with your education
Just like poly courses, university programmes are made up of subjects and electives which determine its curriculum. As some programmes allow you to choose your subjects, you get to decide what you learn and are responsible for your own education.
This could be a good or bad thing depending on what you want out of your education, but that’s why it’s important to thoroughly research every course and read up on the subjects you could find yourself taking. And because you’re not going to a local university, this information doesn’t come as easily as asking a friend of a friend what to expect from certain modules, because you might not know anyone studying at that school yet.
It’s a long and tedious process, but treat it as something you’re doing for yourself in the long run. Should you ever find yourself disagreeing with anything being taught in the syllabus, it’s better to let this discontent affect your decision on whether to go or not.
4. Know your accommodation options
Thanks to the power of social media, it’s not difficult to find a number of accommodation options available, besides on-campus lodging.
Not only are there whole apartment buildings designed for student living, you can also opt for private apartments to share with a friend or two.
However, all types of accommodations have their pros and cons. Some may offer a more “complete” university experience resembling local universities’ hall cultures and such, whereas some may be nearer to the city for more convenient grocery shopping trips.
Some other factors to consider include the distance from school, so that you can simply walk to classes instead of taking a bus, as well as the amenities in the area, such as a laundromat if your accommodation doesn’t have one, or a 24-hours McDonald’s, in case you find yourself in the worst case scenario that you’re out of food at one in the morning.
5. Plan well and make good use of your time abroad
Because you’re in charge of your schedule now, it’s optimal to plan your time well to make the most of your university life. As you get to determine the outcome of your timetable, there’s a chance you won’t have classes on all five weekdays.
There’re a lot of things that can be done in this free time. Although it’s not mandatory, you can join clubs and societies to befriend other students, or go for networking or volunteering opportunities to build up your portfolio.
Since you’re staying there for a few years, you can also use that time to go sightseeing or do activities unique to your country, such as hiking at locations much higher than Bukit Timah Hill, or enjoying a weekend at the beach if your city is near the sea.
If you’re concerned about your expenses, you can even apply for a part-time job with your student visa as well. However, do keep in mind that as international students, there’s a limit to how much you’re allowed to work in a week.
Alternatively, there’s no harm in using that extra time to study, or simply resting.
6. Prepare to meet a lot of people from all over the world
It’s scary to be alone in a foreign country by yourself, but knowing that at least 100 other people are in the same situation as you is slightly comforting.
Extroverts would be very happy to know that there will be a lot of socialising to be done with other students, but if you’re an introvert like me, you can probably expect yourself having to step out of your comfort zone a lot.
Things could get awkward when making new friends, but being in similar situations establishes a common ground between you and them, so as uncomfortable as you may feel, try to approach these scenarios with empathy and you might find yourself forming some surprising connections.
Do go onto your school’s forum pages to read up on other freshmen’s plights, and perhaps even take the chance to get to know them. After all, you’re going to be there for a while.
7. Stay up-to-date on COVID-19 rules
Even though most countries are beginning to open up, it’s hard to say that the pandemic is officially over. It’s still important to take note of the constant COVID-19 updates in the country, and more specifically in your city.
Not only do you need to know this information to have a better understanding of the requirements and procedures when entering the country, you’ll also have to be in the know of these ever-changing rules during your stay there.
In the terrifyingly unfortunate event your country goes into a lockdown, you’ll have to know how to respond to these changes quickly to ensure that you are safe and know where to get help.
If you’re unsure of where to begin your research, a good place to start is the health authorities of the university’s country. If you need more information, you can try contacting the Singapore-based embassy of the country as well.
An overseas university experience is by no doubt vastly different from going to local universities, but it doesn’t have to be tougher. With these seven tips in mind, you might have a clearer idea of what to expect for your overseas university experience. All the best for your applications!