Studying Abroad

After your studies at Ghent University

Learning more, gaining competitive advantage through being more attractive to employers at home and abroad, broadening horizons, improving language skills, meeting people from different cultures, for personal growth, new challenges, because I know someone who has done it and says this was the best time of his/her life… there are as many answers as there are people.


Finding out on your own what exactly you need to do and know in order to apply, secure the funding, relocate etc. is part of the process; however, it may help to have someone point you in the right direction, quick and simple. So, here it is, the world’s shortest manual on what to do if you consider studying abroad after you have finished your course at home.

  1. Think about it
    Think about why you want to go, what you want to get from the experience, discuss it with your friends, colleagues, parents, partners, pets… Confront your expectations, think about your options, possible alternatives and be realistic. Although a decision to study further, and particularly abroad, is rarely a bad decision in itself, you may be driven towards certain countries or universities or away for the wrong reasons or have unrealistic expectations about these places because you have visited them before as a tourist (not a student). You may have unrealistic expectations about your own competencies at the moment (e.g. studying in a foreign language). You might likewise think you are not capable enough and in fear of rejection decide not to apply at all, which would similarly be a mistake. You will find out about the requirements well in advance to make that decision (see step 2) and there is always a bit of “not sure until I get the letter” feeling present in any applicant, but as they say: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” (Wie niet waagt, niet wint.)
  2. Choose a place (country, university) or places
    This may depend on the specific field of your study, on professors you want to listen to/work with or simply on the languages you speak (if you have never spoken e.g. Italian before, it is advisable not to go study in Italy, unless you find a university that has courses in the language you know.)
  3. Go to the institution’s website and look for relevant information for future students
    These will often be found under menu items such as: How to apply, Applying, Foreign Students, Master programmes etc. Simple information may be provided on the website, most often accompanied by a larger brochure in pdf to be downloaded from the website (you may often request them in print as well). Although these brochures are sometimes tedious to read, this is necessary, as these documents encompass crucial information (from the forms you need to fill out, documents you need to enclose, to the dates, possible funding etc.)
  4. Funding
    Applying for funding is most often a procedure that is independent from your application to the University, which means that the deadlines for applying will differ from the ones for University (application for the programme). A common mistake is to wait and submit the application to the University (or its Board of Graduate Studies) first and to only then look around for funding (or to think you should first wait to hear if you have been accepted and then look for funding). In the latter case, you are most likely going to miss your opportunity, as the deadlines for funding may finish even before the deadline for the application to the University. In both cases, the procedures take several months (e.g. in the UK, the deadline may be in December, while results could be disseminated from April to August).
  5. Timing: Plan it well in advance
    (ideally about a year before the proposed start of your course)
    The application phase may take several months, as you will have to fill out a form in a foreign language, submit references (allow at least a month or so for contacting your referees and allowing them time to write you a recommendation. Rushing your referee is never a good idea. Do not assume they have nothing else or more urgent to do first. They may also be away on a conference, on a holiday or not receive your email due to technical reasons etc.), submit a language certificate (e.g. IELTS, TOEFL etc.), attesting to your sufficient knowledge of the teaching language (in the documents, mentioned in step 3, you should find out what is required as the minimum score), submit the copies of your diploma(s) and mark transcripts, submit a CV, motivation letter and often (depending on the programme and degree – taught vs. research degree, all taught courses vs. taught + a thesis) also a research proposal. Compiling all this can sometimes take very long (as, for example, the referees cannot be reached, the language testing may be organised only once every three months or so etc.), not to mention translating the documents and writing it all in a language that is not your mother tongue. Allow extra time to check that everything is there, that it is as grammatically correct and well presented as possible, before sending it off (in the required way).

Good luck!
PS: We would be happy to hear from you (while you’re there or when you return) what your impressions were of the school you went to and of the whole experience, further suggestions for this webpage etc. And of course, if you think of returning to do a doctorate or a postdoc back in Belgium, “durf denken” of UGent.

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