Grad school Part Deux – the nuts and the bolts.

A few people have asked me how one gets started to get from zero to grad school elsewhere. This will assume that you have figured out some kind of financing (student loans, lends from family or friends, line of credit, savings, etc etc). Read the previous post on Grad School Part I for suggestions on that aspect).


1) Figure out what you want to study (the ‘what’)

Mull over what you’re interested in studying. Keep in mind that you’ll be writing a huge thesis and spend a year or two devoted to it, so pick something that you’re genuinely interested in. Ignore that ‘what job can I get?’ voice, because often, it’s the letters by your name that matter unless you have a specific field in mind. (If you want to be a physicist or a doctor, then a degree in history won’t help you. But if you want to be a journalist/work in the civil service/work for a university/etc etc, the degree is more important than what it’s in. It’s demonstratable proof that you’re to follow through, complete tasks, and write well. And it says that you’re smart). You always do better when you’re working on something you’re passionate about. And this is your chance to totally submerge your brain into a subject. Make it one that you like.

2) Think about where you’ve always wanted to go (the ‘where’)

Once you have an idea roughly of what subject you’re interested in, start thinking about where you want to spend that year (or two). I’m a huge fan of Europe, but maybe you’ve dreamt about ziplining through Costa Rica and using Spanish in your everyday life. This could be your moment. Try to combine what you want to study with an area of the world that you actually want to live in. The world is a big place, so don’t limit your options.

So you’ve considered some ideas of where, and you have a bit of a grasp on ‘what’. What’s the next step, you ask?

If you know what country you’re interested in, do a search for universities in that country and start searching through individual sites. If you want a wider range of options, try using a master’s degree search site, such as:

It lets you search by type of degree and subject, and then gives you worldwide options. It’s very cool.

3) Narrow down to three or four schools

Here’s the hard part. Narrow down your options to a few schools. Some will have application fees, so it’s partly financial, but also practical. If you have far too many options, you’ll get overwhelmed by choice and often that freezes you into inaction. Choose three or four that make you want to leap up and start right now.

4) Spend some time on their international student section.

Think about your situation: are you taking your spouse and/or children? What kind of amenities are there? What’s the daycare situation? Each international department will have an email contact – email them and ask some of these questions. Look into their dorm or residence situation, and then do a search for apartment or flat rentals in that city and compare prices. Consider whether or not you’d prefer to live on campus (convenient, easy to make friends and lots of amenities, but probably smaller and you may have to share), or off (bigger range of options, probably nicer, and more of a ‘resident’ versus ‘student’ experience).

Check what the visa requirements are for the countries you’re interested in. Look at the international embassy in your home country

5) Start applying!

Once you’ve made the decision to apply, you’ll need to check your deadlines and decide what year or semester you want to apply, and dragoon some references. While some of you will be coming straight from an undergrad degree and will easily have academic references, those of you who have been in the workforce won’t have that. As I was the latter, I sent in three professional references. Explain your situation to the advisor (who you  will have hopefully emailed by now) and see what they suggest. You’ll also need to send in some academic writing samples – dredge something up from the undergrad days if you can, or write something new. Make sure to proof it well and that you’re genuinely proud of it before you send it in.

6) Wait!

Depending on when the deadlines are and the school itself, getting an answer make take a week or may take six months. I knew within two weeks, but it may take awhile. If you haven’t heard in a few months, email and ask where it’s at.

7) Acceptance! Hooray!

If you’ve gotten into more than one school, you need to sit down, make a pros and cons list, and really think about what you want.

Once you’ve been accepted and have a date for the start, you’ll need to look into applying for your visa if you haven’t already. Go to the country’s embassy website and start the procedure…keep in mind it may take awhile, so check your time limits and give yourself plenty of time.

8) Get ready to go.

airport sign

Get letters from your bank and collect six months of statements, as this may assist you in setting up a new bank account in the new country. Sort out storage for your possessions, set up a free web-based email address (Hotmail, Gmail, etc), buy your plane ticket. Work out your accommodations for the first month or two in the new city (or get residence confirmation if you’re staying on campus).

9) Start learning!

Good luck! Have a fantastic time and enjoy the process.


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