Too scared to take the plunge and sign up for that postgraduate degree? Not sure whether you'll fit in that graduate school? Can't decide whether you should take up Course A or Course B, C, D?
Thanks to the folks at US News, here's a guide on what you can do to help you through this. The key word is: Baby steps. There's no need to just scan, do some online research and put a deposit down for that MBA.
As international students, there can be too much at stake - forgoing that job offer back home, postponing seeing your family and friends for a few more years, extending the already difficult long-distance relationship with your significant other. And all for a postgrad degree that you might end up not liking.
Here are three smaller programmes you can sign up for to help you with this:
1. Study abroad
Many universities now provide opportunities to study abroad DURING your degree - that's right, your week, winter, summer, semester or even a year abroad in a foreign university will count towards graduation.
Sports is a big part of American campus culture. Source: Shutterstock
Egyptian national and American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates student Catherine Masoud credits her semester spent Virginia Tech as part of her undergraduate degree for helping her decide whether to go to graduate school in the US. Today, she's a doctoral student in chemical engineering at the University of Texas—Austin.
Masoud explained that her social life with grad students she lived with at Virginia Tech's dorms showed her how life as a graduate student in the US might be like.
"They were all hardworking people but they also knew how to have fun," Masoud says. "And, I thought to myself that if they could do it, I could definitely give it a shot as well."
2. Study exchange
Exchange programs allow students to study at partner universities, for either a semester or a year. Chiara Cigliano from the University of Naples Federico II spent a semester abroad at the University of Manchester. In a blog, she wrote about how she took every spare moment to fully immerse herself in the UK, traveling to cities like York, Liverpool, Leeds and even to Wales and Ireland. It's something she wouldn't have done back home because she thought she would always have had time to.
"'There is always time’ makes you not do things you want to do, and keep doing things you don’t want to. It makes you stay in friendships and relationships you don’t really want anymore, and ignore big flaws (yours and other people’s), and not appreciate enough what you have around you. Then you jump on a plane, and land in a small apartment 20 minutes away from the University of Manchester, and turn your life around. You get another perspective. You get a deadline. You start to do things," Cigliano wrote.
At some universities, exchange programs involve hundreds of students from abroad. Director of the University of Central Florida's UCF Abroad division Kevin S Konecny says UCF had 160 in-bound exchange students during the 2017-2018 academic year. He says the university has 50 Reciprocal Student Exchange programs agreements with international partner universities abroad.
"The benefit to the international students is that they are meeting American faculty, fellow students and staff at the university in addition to citizens in the local community. All of this is of benefit to the students as they engage a different cultural context," Konecny says.
3. Summer school
University of Edinburgh Summer School students taking a bus tour of Edinburgh. Source: Facebook/@summeruoe
These courses usually take place between May and August - students will be able to visit cities (during festival season!) as well as attend classes to boost their CVs. At the University of Edinburgh Summer School, there will be at least 18 hours of supported academic teaching time per week, supplemented by development and reflective sessions. A full induction and graduation event for the course will be part of the programme too.
Jeff from China said: During the program, I had numerous opportunities to get to know people from all the world, which not only exposed me to all kinds of language but also drastically enlarged my horizon. I am really glad to be involved in this program and only wish I could have more experience like this!
Crossing continents to study in a foreign country go beyond just passing national borders. You will be facing an entirely different education system as well. At the California State University, Los Angeles, its five-week or 10-week summer sessions allow students to experience the "American style of higher education".
Becky Bishop, international program developer at Cal State—Los Angeles' College of Professional and Global Education said: "The American style of higher education requires the student to actively engage in the learning process."