Studying abroad was a big step for me as a graduate student at Moscow State University. As soon as I learned about international cooperation programs, I immediately became interested, and a year later I was already a PhD-student at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands.
But how do you choose a program, a university, and prepare for admission? In this article, I share a few important aspects that will help you make the right decision and save time in preparing and collecting documents.
Step 1: Choose a program
The first step to studying abroad is to choose the program you want to study. This can be an bachelor, master or PhD program.
A bachelor’s degree is the first level of higher education, which involves gaining fundamental knowledge in your chosen field. A bachelor’s degree can be taken after high school.
A master’s degree is a continuation of higher education aimed at more in-depth study of specialized subjects and at gaining practical experience. Master’s degrees usually run for 2 years, and you can enter such programs with at least a bachelor’s degree.
The PhD (Philosophiae Doctor) is the highest level of education, which provides a scientific degree and requires original research and writing a dissertation in your chosen field of study.
Some universities and countries may offer scholarships or financial aid for international students. It is important to decide what academic fields you are interested in and choose a program that is appropriate for your level of expertise.
Step 2: Choose a country and university
Once you have decided on a program, the next step is to choose a country and university. You need to research the various options and choose the one that best suits your goals. Investigate which country has cutting-edge research on your topic, where grants are available, and which programs are appropriate. Consider factors such as the reputation of the university, quality of education, availability of financial aid, and research opportunities.
How did I choose the Netherlands and the University of Wageningen? It made sense for me as a soil scientist, because it is one of the leading Life Science and agro-research centers. And I found my supervisor on the website by selecting the topics of articles that interested me the most.
Step 3: Search for information on university websites
Once you have chosen a university, the next step is to find information on the university website. It is important to make sure that you understand all the requirements for admission and what documents you need to submit. In addition, it is often necessary to prove your foreign language skills by taking an international exam. Give yourself at least a week to peruse all the sections of the website, programs, researchers, and their topics to figure out who to write to, how to present yourself, and what to focus on.
Step 4: Writing a motivational letter
One important entry requirement is that you write a motivational letter describing your motivation and why you want to study in your chosen program at this university. This may include a description of your academic achievements, work experience, and research projects. The motivation letter is the most important step, as you articulate your goals and objectives. Describe how you see yourself as part of an academic program and why you should be accepted. Motivation is the main argument in any case!
Step 5: Preparing Documents
Preparing documents is a very important moment that shows your willingness and ability to follow clear rules. It took me several months to gather all the necessary papers, notarized copies, letters of recommendation, etc. Take your paperwork extremely meticulously and seriously. If you deviate even slightly from the formal requirements of the program, you may not be hired just because you did not form a correct file. Bureaucracy is an important part of the process, if it says “do it this way”, you do not have to make up an elephant to do it your way.
It’s important to ask for recommendations from the people who know you best and can describe your academic or professional accomplishments. I have had recommendations from the department chair and the dean of the faculty. Recommendations need to be stamped by the institution.
Each university and country may have its own requirements. Some of the common documents that may be required include a graduate degree, a resume (CV), a letter of motivation, and an English-language certificate.
Step 6: Interview
When you have gathered all the necessary documents and learned about your financial options, you can apply to study abroad. You can apply online or through the mail, depending on the requirements of the university. I sent all the documents by email. After a while I got a reply, in which I was invited to an online interview. This meeting lasted about an hour, two professors were talking to me, they asked me questions about my specialty, skills, clarified the goals of the task, also answered my questions about the university.
After the interview I was sent an official invitation letter, which should have been attached to the competition for an Erasmus grant. The whole procedure of collecting documents and going through all the steps from the interview to obtaining a visa and admission to the program took me about a year.
Studying in Europe was for me an exciting and useful experience that allowed me to expand knowledge, learn new skills, make friends in academia. It is necessary to prepare and spend enough time to find the right program, university and financial opportunities. By following the steps mentioned above, I hope you can make the most of the opportunities that study abroad provides.