Study abroad is becoming a popular destination for UK students, and while there has been lots of debate around whether it's the increase in tuition fees that is driving people to consider alternatives overseas, the reality is that the reasons are far more habitual.
We asked around 500 school leavers and students earlier this year if they had any plans to study abroad. We found that almost a quarter already had arrangements underway, and a resounding 73% were either strongly interested or considering it, only 4% had completely ruled it out.
Their main motivation reflects what has lured many generations before them; an unquenchable wanderlust and appetite for adventure. Second only to this was a desire to build an international career, while less than one in ten said that they were unsatisfied with options in the UK.
The increase in interest for overseas study has also been evident in our own services. Since we launched information devoted to helping students thinking about study abroad three years ago, we have had more than 20,000 registrants, and the last 18 months saw the largest growth with a 50% increase in the number of people signing up. Visitors to the study abroad pages of prospects.ac.uk have also risen - the first quarter of 2012 has seen a 14% year-on-year increase.
From talking with students who are considering an education overseas, we have found that there is a lot of uncertainty and concern about the practicalities; where to go, how it is funded, what life will be like.
This premise was reflected in the survey. We found that people were particularly worried about language skills and whether a qualification from a non-UK university would be recognised by employers when back on home turf.
Unfortunately the research process for study abroad is never going to be easy as unlike the plethora of websites and information sources that exist about a UK education, there is no such one stop shop beyond our shores as the range of options is simply too vast.
So, where do you start? If you have a broad idea of the topic you would like to study, compile a list of countries, which you can then use to focus your research - reviewing the courses are offered by the main institutions in each area, while helping to rule out universities, or even whole destinations, if the course you are looking for isn't on offer there. Prospects.ac.uk features information about more than 50 countries, providing details about courses and institutions, the application process as well as advice on funding and how widely qualifications from a particularly country are recognised by employers.
Once you have a shortlist of courses and countries, university websites will become invaluable, providing information about academic life, course content and fees to local culture. For an impartial view, you may be able to vet your chosen institution closer to home. Ask your own university careers services and lecturers and check whether the overseas institution you have in mind has any partnerships with UK universities.
How to fund an education outside the UK is one of the greatest concerns among prospective students, and also the source of a lot of speculation. Nearly one in five people in our survey cited their reason for study abroad as a way of getting a cheaper education. However, a third said that if there was anything that would deter their decision to go overseas to study, it would be financial.
It's a common mistake to assume that a qualification overseas will be cheaper than one from the UK. Most students will find that they need some kind of financial assistance to help with fees, visas and applications as well as living expenses. There is an array of schemes available, information sources include: Association of Commonwealth Universities, Fulbright Commission, Postgraduate Studentships, International Federation of University Women and Association of MBAs.
If you're serious about study abroad the research and time put into making it happen can be well worth it. Providing the opportunity to travel and immerse yourself in a totally different culture, expand your world view, and take advantage of more employment opportunities as business becomes ever more global - it's clear to see why study abroad will continue to be a popular choice for students for many years to come.