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7 essential tips for students looking to study abroad

Friday August 16 2019

studying abroad

While there are several opportunities to study abroad, many young people are unaware of existing opportunities and those that are struggle with the sometimes rigorous application process. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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While there are several opportunities to study abroad, many young people are unaware of existing opportunities and those that are struggle with the sometimes rigorous application process. Michael Kithinji, a professor at the University of Central Arkansas in the US, highlights important this matter.

At a recent event organised by EducationUSA (an international student advising centre) in Nairobi, Prof Kithinji shared information about the available opportunities there are for studying in the US. From the interactions, it was clear that young Kenyans are yearning for quality education that would see them compete favourably among their peers from around the world.

1. Why Study abroad?

In a highly globalised and competitive world, studying abroad is one way to position yourself strategically in your career path. In the developed world, university students are encouraged to spend time studying abroad before they graduate, to develop valuable life skills needed for personal growth. These include independence and adaptability.

Studying abroad gives you the opportunity to show future and current employers that you have an open mind, are resourceful, and have the inner drive needed to adapt to a different environment. According to a recent survey, 64 per cent of employers think studying abroad is important, while 92 per cent of them admire the transferable skills that are usually acquired from this experience, such as being flexible, and adapting easily to new challenges.

2. Short-term study abroad


To compete with their counterparts from the developed world, Kenyan and African students should consider acquiring international experience. There are several local universities that offer exchange partnerships with universities abroad. If you are a student at a Kenyan university, you can take a semester or a year to study at one of the foreign universities under that programme.

3. International student

The other way you can gain international experience is by registering as an international student at a foreign university. Over the years, many Kenyans have received high quality education from renowned universities across the world. This has led them to become some of the most highly educated and competent people in the world.

While studying abroad can be expensive, there are scholarships and other funding opportunities that can lessen the financial burden. It is courtesy of these scholarships that I managed to finish my Masters and Doctoral studies in the US.

4. University landscape

Developed countries such as US, UK, Canada, Australia and lately China, offer some of the best higher education opportunities to international students. However, the university landscape in many of these countries is complex. By 2018 for instance, the US had 4,298 colleges and universities. Of these, 1,626 were public colleges, 1,687 were private non-profit schools, and 985 were for-profit schools. You should note that in the US, universities and colleges do not offer the same kind of opportunities to international students. Some are more welcoming, and offer better opportunities than others. Public universities are usually cheaper than private ones and in some cases, they offer more scholarships to international students. However, there are more scholarships available at graduate than at undergraduate level.

5. Undergraduate scholarships

For undergraduate students, most universities might require international students to take certain tests. While at the university, you can apply for Merit Scholarship, which will cater for most of your tuition in your first year of study. In the subsequent years, you can apply for the Global Citizen Scholarship, which is renewable for a maximum of three years. If you get both scholarships, you can complete your undergraduate studies almost tuition-free.

6. Graduate assistantships

At graduate level, the most common sources of funding are Graduate Assistantships (GA). As a GA, you work at the university for a set number of hours per week, and in return you receive a tuition waiver, and sometimes a monthly stipend too.

The three typical kinds of Graduate Assistantship positions are: Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), Graduate Research Assistants (GRAS), and Graduate Assistants (GAs) who offer administrative support that advance their professional and/or academic development.

If you want to pursue your postgraduate studies abroad, especially at American universities, you should contact the person in charge of graduate studies in the department you are applying to, and seek more information about the GA opportunities available.

7. Personal statement

While writing this statement, you need to think critically. This could be what earns or denies you a chance at the university. If you are applying for a Masters scholarship, you should start preparing the application essay even before you complete your undergraduate studies.

In addition, do not dwell much on the challenges you went through in your academic journey. Instead, highlight your problem solving-skills.