Planning for overseas study as a mature age student or adult brings a unique set of challenges, on top of the usual. There’s a lot more to consider in your decision to study abroad, and there are often more responsibilities to face when planning to move to another country.
But if you’re like me, the experiences will be daunting, demanding, but ultimately very rewarding.
And having gone through it myself, that’s why I’m here, ready to help you chart out the best way to approach preparing for an international education as someone who is older, and with work experience and a prior degree under their belt.
Understand your reasons to study abroad
There can be many reasons to contemplate a second degree or upskill into a Master’s degree, and you’ll need to think long and hard to get to the underlying motivation to determine if it’s the right choice for you.
Maybe your career has hit a growth ceiling in your work industry, or you’re looking for a new or different challenge, or your experience has given you the insight into how you want to grow and advance your career. All valid reasons, but it’s important to make sure the benefits are worth moving to another country for study.
To make sure you’re making the right decision, it’s worth researching all your options. Could the growth ceiling be crossed with technical training or a shorter course? Is the new challenge you’re looking for perhaps available without a degree?
If the benefits and your passion still reside in studying abroad, then at least you know you’ve made the right decision. However, it’s only after you’ve analysed your motivations you can be completely confident with the decision for undertaking international study. Until you’ve sorted that out, maybe do a little more research before rushing to quit your job!
Choose the right course
This advice is applicable to any prospective student, but doubly critical to international students who are taking this step later in life. Choosing the right course often sounds like an abstract idea, but it’s something that requires time to identify.
My decision to pursue an international degree was fuelled by several reasons and there was a lot I was leaving behind, including a leaving a broad range of work experience in a completely different industry to the degree I was pursuing.
Therefore, when I was choosing my course, it was important for me to look for universities that welcomed my diversity of skills and work experience, and practical courses that let me build relevant expertise in the industry I was looking to gain employment in after I graduate.
Similarly, you’ll need to identify what you want out of the course and only then can you begin narrowing countries, universities and courses.
Don’t plan in a vacuum
If you’re considering an international degree in your late-twenties or early-thirties, chances are that you may be in a long-term relationship, married or even a family person with dependents! I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this, so it’s important you don’t keep anyone out of your plans!
It’s important to be realistic with your study abroad goals. You can’t make a decision as monumental as this without accounting for how it will impact your partner or dependents.
If your parents are old and, in your care, are you able to setup adequate care for while you’re away? How do your study plans impact your partner’s career, will they put it on hold for you or are there growth options for them as well?
These, and more, are the tough questions you need to address while planning, so it’s important to include your partner and family in your decision, and ensure you have the support in place to achieve your study goals.
Nail your financial planning down
If you have a partner or family and they are traveling with you, or you’re leaving other dependents behind, you must have a reasonable financial plan.
International education is expensive, especially when you take into account the currency exchange rate. Tuition fees, cost of living, accommodation and air fare all add up, and you may find your savings dwindling rather rapidly if you’re not careful.
In my experience, no financial plan is perfectly aligned with the reality of living as an international student and you might need to consider an additional source of income while you study.
What you can do is plan your existing finances and learn about the job market (from part-time work to odd jobs) and your work rights of the country you are going to. If your partner is accompanying you, investigate work options in their field of expertise as well.
You can start initial applications in the days preceding your travel, so that you have potential interviews lined up right after you land. The hustle, as they say, is real.
Work out your medium-term goals
It’s all well to have your course and university figured out but you want to have a reasonable post-study plan worked out. This means having an idea of what you will do after you’ve completed your degree.
If you’re already considering staying to get foreign work experience, research your post-study visa options and discuss how that would impact your partner’s career or your dependents.
Do your research on how saturated the job market for your target industry would be, and whether you’d be better off considering other countries.
It’s also important to make sure you have all the required paperwork (such as police checks from your home country, or older academic documents) sorted out before you fly out, especially if such paperwork requires you to be there in-person.
To summarise, my advice is, as you may have figured out by now, research, communication and planning!
Prepare for a tough transition
I’m not going to lie, after years working in the industry, it was a challenge to adjust to an academic environment. Then add culture shock, adjusting to life in a new country, finding work, meeting new people and yeah, it’ll be a lot.
Some may find it easier than others depending on your personality and how long you’ve been away from study, but it’s very likely that you will struggle initially with adjusting to the change from work to studying.
My recommendation? Put in some extra effort in the first semester. Don’t blow off studying for the myriad of social events off and on campus.
Instead, you might have to put off exploring your new city and country in order to dedicate more time to get used to studying.
After a couple of months into my semester, I found that I’d adjusted well enough to studying that I could start properly enjoying socialising and exploring my new surroundings without any impact on my grades.
The transition from work to student life may be a bit challenging at the start, but, with the right amount of research and preparation, I can confirm that it is absolutely worth it!
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