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Graduate school abroad – how will it impact my career?

Planning your career after grad school is an important step towards reaching your goals in life. How will the choices you make about studying abroad impact your career?

Sometimes it is hard for us to plan a few years forward, but in the case of grad school abroad, you should view it as a step on the way to something.  Gone are the days of paying $50,000 a year and just going abroad to have fun. If you can afford it just for the experience or have full funding from other sources – good for you, though most people cannot afford it (and even those who can should plan ahead as well – this time in your life will not return), and therefore should plan how grad school will fit into their career trajectory.

The economy around the globe in recent years forces us to be very deliberate in our choices regarding study abroad. If 6-8 years ago, international graduates had a reasonably high chance of finding a good job in the country where they studied (especially in the fields of business, engineering and law), since the economic crisis in 2008, it has become much harder.  This is not to discourage you from trying – there are still many people who are able to find jobs even now, and graduate school abroad can set you up for career success in other countries as well, but you must calculate the risk and see how it will fit into your future career.

There are three main factors that should be considered when making the decision to attend graduate school abroad that can impact your career: The field of study, the target country and the school / university that you are targeting.

The field you choose is important – If you studied a general field for your undergraduate degree and have several options to choose from for your graduate studies, consider which fields are currently trending positively in the global market and in your target country, but also remember to consider how it will be like to go back home after your studies and find a job in that field (believe it or not – most people go back to their home country after completing their studies). If you are completing a specific undergraduate degree (e.g. Engineering, Law, Biology), look into the situation in your field in the countries you are targeting. Examine which fields are in high demand in the target country – such as engineering and nursing in the US are now.

The geography is important – Think US vs. Europe / Asia in 2007 – it may have been promising to find a job then in the US, but those who graduated one year later in 2008 in the US faced a big challenge and may have been better off studying in their region. If you can choose a field that is transferrable to other countries (including your home country) - that is best. The goal should be that even if you are not able to find a job in the country you are studying in, you will go to your country or to another country and be in a better position than you were before you went to study abroad (and will be able to repay the loans you will take out to fund your studies). If there are indications that the markets in the country you are targeting are on the way down, or that the field you are considering is unstable, consider postponing your studies for a year to see what happens, or apply to more than one country / field of study. 

The school is important – Seeour post on the ranking of schools. The school you attend is probably the most important factor in determining your next step after school and how high you can go quickly. There are exceptions of course, but going to a leading school (Ivy League in the US, Oxford or Cambridge in the UK etc.) will make it much easier for you. In many cases, employers will actually come to look for talent on your campus in these schools, so you will have a direct opportunity to meet them and impress them. Remember though – the school is only the way to open more doors for you – you will still need to work hard and prove yourself when you are already on the job. You won’t be able to ride the “I went to Harvard” card forever…


So how do I decide?

The combination of these three factors: The field of study, the target country and the school / university, should help you make a better decision. Put together a roadmap / flowchart that will simulate your career outcomes following the choices you make on graduate school. Start by choosing a field of study and country and then narrow down a list of schools / programs that could be suitable for you. You can use our acceptance predictor to narrow down your list of potential schools. Then, go to the internet to see what the graduates of this school are doing today, or try to connect with a person who has already studied there (www.gradtrain.com/search) to understand where it can lead. Read about the situation in your field in the target countries and in your home country. Repeat the same process for all of the fields and countries you are considering. Now that you have the full picture, you can decide if this is the right field to pursue, do you need to do anything to improve your chances against the known rivals in your dream schools (seeblog on reach, match and safety schools), and perhaps to even consider not travelling abroad for school at this time until the economic situation abroad improves.

Generally, graduate school abroad can set you up for academic and career success. This is an experience that will open your mind and expose you to different cultures and can be a life changer. The choices you make will have an impact on your career, jobs will depend on it – whether it be in academia or in the private sector and you will need to spend large sums of money to fund your studies. Therefore, you should consider these factors early on to guide you and set you up for success.

Go to www.gradtrain.com to use data tools to assess your chances of acceptance and find a coach who has been through the process successfully and can guide you to make the right decision.   


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