Pros and ( Cons ) of getting a Master’s Abroad (from an American's perspective) part 2


*Disclaimer: I'm just going to jump right in here. Also, sorry this is so long but it’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to.

+ // The grade scale makes it more difficult to get in with average undergrad grades Despite what I mentioned in the last post about the pro’s being that they’re more lenient, standards are still very high to get in. For those of us that didn’t have stellar grades in our undergrad you better hope you did something else to make up for it. I went to a small liberal arts school, which like many others had a set of core classes all students were required to take regardless of their major. In the UK, that doesn’t really happen. That’s why their undergraduate degrees are 3 years instead of 4 and the marks you receive really do matter. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t matter that I did really well in my major because that D that I got in Ecology (despite being a Theatre and Accounting double major) counted just the same as my A in Individual Income Tax.

+ // The grading system will freak you out Seriously. I can’t remember where exactly I found this conversion chart, but it was a lifesaver. After receiving my first paper back, which had generally positive comments from the reviewer but what I thought was an awful mark I had my first breakdown of the semester. I thought I had failed, and was incredibly embarrassed to share my grades. I had a couple people tell me that it wasn’t actually that bad but I thought they were just being nice, until R and I had to sit down and talk about it. Let’s just say, it fell within the ‘B’ range on this chart, but it took me a couple more essays (and slightly improved grades) to come to terms with the fact that if you get a 70 you’re pretty much exceptional, and as long as it’s over 50 you’re doing well and there is no cause for concern.

+ // Must have financial backing I am very fortunate that my family is in the financial position that they are, because the most challenging requirement for the Tier 4 student visa was the proof of funding. Basically, not only did I have to prove I had enough funds to cover the cost of the course (which I did through a US student loan), but I had to also prove I had enough to cover living costs, which they deem to be £820 per month (outside of London) for the duration of the course (9 months in my case). So I had to show that I had access to £7,380… or roughly $11,250 at the current exchange rate. You can do this through bank statements (yours or your parents/guardians), loans, or scholarships- or a combination of those. So you’ve either got to save up, or have a very good plan. This money doesn’t necessarily have to be spent while in the UK… they just want to make sure that you have money to fall back on since they don’t allow you access to public benefits. Although my expertise is just in UK requirements, most visas are similar. For example, Ireland has a requirement that you show access to €7,000 (about $8,000 currently) but additionally you have to have your own medical insurance which can get pricey (the UK lets students on courses longer than 6 months have full access to the NHS which was truthfully a God-send for me).

+ // Work restrictions If you’re like me, you will get bored out of your mind without something other than class to occupy your time. The UK is very generous in that it allows international students to work up to 20hrs/week during term time, including volunteering and 40hrs a week during breaks. This is totally different wherever you study though. The main reason I chose Northern Ireland (the UK) versus a similar course in Ireland was that Ireland doesn’t allow international students to work at all (unless of course its an unpaid internship). Places like Australia have similar requirements to the UK but are a bit more lax with regards to how they’re counted, since they restrict to 40 hours a fortnight (so if you work 30 hours one week but only 10 the next it’s no big deal) during term but there are no restrictions on holidays.
*If you do get to work and you want to feel like a rockstar even if you’re just waiting tables part time, convert your weekly take-home into dollars. It’ll make you feel better all the time.

+ // If you’re going a couple years after you finished your BA, a majority of the other students will make you feel ancient I know it sounds silly, but there I was starting my master’s at 26 (a perfectly commendable age in the US) surrounded by many students who were fresh faced and 21. I know, to some of you the 5-year age gap isn’t a big deal and generally, it isn’t. I know many people younger who I respect and admire and get along really well with, but lets just say many of us were at totally different points in our lives and it was a bit disconcerting to be on the upper tier of the age range for me. I mean, many were still in school learning about planets when Pluto got demoted.

+ // It will take a while to get over the homesickness Here’s another area where I completely lucked out, but was still not completely immune. I came to Belfast the first day I was legally allowed to, but it was a full month before my classes actually started. I was lucky in the sense that R had an apartment all set up for me and thanks to him I already had a support network when I got here. I also happen to be abnormally close to my mom and was able to chat with her daily. However, a month in a new city without a job or classes was pretty taxing for me. I missed my friends and being able to call someone up to go for lunch or a pedicure, and since I didn’t have a car and we lived just far enough out of town that a walk to get groceries or have a coffee wasn’t completely viable at the time (I have since become MUCH better at walking places I need to go). The busses into town and to school were regular and cheap, but it was all so different from what I was used to that it was incredibly overwhelming. If I wanted to cook I had to convert recipe measurements to the metric system and learn new terms for common items (zucchini, eggplant, and ground beef became courgettes, aubergines, and mince).

No matter what position you come in, the little things will add up and for some it may happen faster than it did for me. The best advice I can give here? Make international friends. Not only will you automatically have something in common with them, among many other benefits (to be covered at a later date) but also there will be different aspects of your new life that will make you homesick. While you may be missing Target and fluffy pancakes, your friends may be missing pierogis or Carnival. The ability to share these foods and traditions, or even just reminiscing about ‘things back home’ to someone who has never been there before is truly the best cure and together you can all celebrate the things that makes your new home special.

From reading many an expat blog, I know sometimes studying abroad all sunshine and roses.  Truly, it is for the most part. I tried to cover some pros and cons that maybe have been overlooked and could apply to everyone (and maybe aren’t so obvious). Here’s the thing: if it’s financially viable and you can afford to take a year off (or were planning on doing the degree anyway) then I 100% say you should go for it. Since my move out of the US in 2013 I have gained not only a Master’s degree, but I’ve also gained so much knowledge that cannot be taught. I was able to make friends that I connect with on a much deeper level, and have been able to distinguish parts of my life that are worth fighting for and parts that need to be let go. Sure these things may have happened eventually if I hadn’t taken the leap, but I can guarantee that I don’t regret a day of it.


  1. Yes, work restrictions and being home sick are the worst. I think I also get "food- sick" were I just want Mexican food and can't find it anywhere in Indonesia lol
    Melanie @

    1. I know that feeling! My mom had to send me a care package of cold-brew tea. twizzlers, and easy-mac within the first couple months, and if someone would set down a large bowl of cheese dip in front of me right now I'd probably name my first born after them!