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Advice we gave our children about studying abroad

...and the advice we could not give

This week we have asked Mirjam, the mother of one of GradTrain's founders and the mother of 2 children that have studied abroad, to write a guest blog about the experiences of being a parent of children who wish to study abroad. We don't want to give too much away, but the blog you are about to read inspired us to write another blog (for next week) where we will provide a guide for parents who have children who are contemplating studying abroad and who are facing similar experiences as those just described below.

Anyway, here is Mirjam's story:

As a parent you do not have much of an influence over what or where your son or daughter will end up studying. But we told our children: “Do what you love to do and follow your passion.... But if you start something, continue and see it through to the end. Take your exams in time and try to do your best”.

As a parent you are concerned that your son or daughter will go to a good university where he or she gets support and get to meet excellent mentors and professors. That was a concern for us from the start, but the concerns grew once we realized that our children were seeking an education from universities abroad and our questions were multiplied and harder to find answers to. In addition to not really understanding the international education systems, we were also concerned about the quality of life in the places that our children wanted to study. These were places we had never visited, places we did not know and places where we did not know anyone so we did not know how to familiarize ourselves with them and find answers to our questions. Nor did we know how to help our children in the application process that seemed much more complicated than the one we were familiar with at home.

Our son had friends at the University of Manchester who were telling him about the great student social life there. He had multiple choices of universities, but as parents it was hard to find out which would be the best option for him and the best study programs. After a lot of considerations our son went to the University of Manchester for four years. He had a great time, finished his exams and became an engineer. We were lucky and proud, it all worked out for the best, but I will always remember the uncomfortable feeling of not being able to inform ourselves well and help our son through the international application process.

If you have enjoyed this blog, and especially if you share similar feelings and experiences, why don’t you comment on this blog and tell us about it? What was the advice you gave your children and what were the obstacles you faced during your child’s international application process?

The promise of international higher education

...and the pitfalls with no current solutions

Gaining an international education is a good idea for various reasons. As noted in our previous blog post, and as mentioned in a recent study by the British Council, research has consistently shown that students who undertake a period of overseas study are more likely to achieve higher grades, gain relevant and timely employment and earn higher salaries. However, prospective international students have to overcome a wide range of hurdles before they reach their goal of getting accepted to a suitable university program abroad.

Applying to a university program abroad is not easy

Indeed, applying to a university program abroad is a daunting task, that requires not only good grades, but also skillful and strategic decision-making, such as targeting schools and programs, preparing an effective application package, planning course load, securing funding, preparing for arrival and adjusting to a new culture and  language. 

According to a recent study there is a growing drive and ambition among UK and US students to study abroad. However, only 24% of UK students in the study felt they had sufficient information to make an informed decision about studying abroad, 30% felt they had to work hard to find the information they needed and 24% felt they did not have enough information to make an informed decision. Similarly, just 22% of US students felt they had sufficient information to make an informed decision about studying overseas. 

According to another study, 33% of international students studying in Canada reported that communicating and receiving information about the institution they wished to apply to was a problem or a major problem, 25% reported that getting course credits from their home institution acknowledged was somewhat of a problem, 30% reported difficulties in obtaining a study permit, and 20% had problems arranging an interview with an immigration officer to obtain a study permit. Similar results have been found in multiple studies.

To sum it up, applying to universities abroad is similar to jumping of a cliff and hope for the best. 

Educational agents: not the answer to the problem

Based on these disturbing statistics, there seems that at the moment there are no services that can adequately help prospective international students and their families in the international education process. 

It is becoming increasingly common for prospective international students to get help from professional agents when applying to universities abroad. These agents are often paid by universities. However, students have reported difficulties using agents, such as agents trying to steer the applicant away from schools that have complex admissions requirements, charging exorbitant fees but providing little more than advice, or pushing schools that the applicant was not happy with. 

Universities on their hand have reported problems using agents. Forged documentation is rife; one study found that 20% of Australian student visa applications made via agents include forged documents. Universities also feel that agents often lack the knowledge of relevant higher education programs, and often have language and cultural barriers. The outcome is often that universities recruit international students that are not well prepared or do not fit the school, and universities are often compelled to spend additional resources to help international student graduate successfully.

So while there may not be any current solutions, I encourage all of you out there that have or are in the process of applying to universities abroad to share your experiences by answering the following question: what was the best advice you ever got in your international education process?


And please share this post with your friends who also have international education application experiences, maybe they also have a good advice to share. Together we can begin to solve the current problem of a lack of advisory services for people seeking to get into a university program abroad.