5 Ways to Finance your Master's Degree Abroad in 2020

This is a question that often gets asked on online forums related to higher education. It is also one that I have personally encountered while interacting with many students looking to fund their masters degree abroad. I was fortunate enough to get a fully sponsored graduate education at the University of Pennsylvania. I thought I would share my experience of funding a master’s degree and some of the lessons that I had learned in this post.

Prior to going abroad, I wanted to set up a business at the intersection of Higher Education and Technology. Given my ambitions, I had no desire to settle abroad and neither did I want to take on the burden of hefty student loans.

I took the plunge and started hunting for scholarships over a year in advance. My efforts ultimately paid off when I was selected for the prestigious Fulbright-Nehru scholarship. It fulfilled all the financial requirements for my MS in the US. However, the funding did come with a few conditions, which were:

  • I had to choose a field that the Indian Government wanted its students to pursue. Lucky for me, Higher Education was one such field.
  • I was required to return to India and spend a minimum of two years working there – which I was quite happy to do.

Key Insights on funding your Master’s degree

If you are a student who is planning to pursue a Master’s degree from a foreign university, here’s an exhaustive list of options that you could explore to reduce your financial burden.

Scholarships

If you are thorough with your research, you can discover and avail many scholarships. While searching, ensure that you keep the following details in mind:

1. Know Yourself. Scholarships are meant to promote a purpose.

  • To incentivize students to study something that might not offer great monetary returns, but have immense social impact.
  • To promote students to work in a certain country
  • To reward a student with exceptional merit
  • To assist a student of a specific economic profile
  • To encourage students from minorities to study overseas

2. Never ignore smaller scholarships.

  1. There are several scholarships that will offer $2000 as a scholarship amount. It may be tempting to ignore those and focus on those scholarships which offer $30,000 or $50,000. However, you should apply for all of them, because if you do end up winning, you would have earned 1.4 Lakhs in a single day! With your dogged persistence and extensive research, you can cover a fraction of your education costs by investing a few hours of your time in writing an effective scholarship essay. 
  2. If you apply for ‘mainstream courses’ such as STEM programs or a professional Master’s program (like an MBA), your chances of getting a scholarship are further reduced. As a result, it becomes even more important to not miss out on these small scholarships.

3. Read the fine print. 

Every scholarship fund usually comes with its own conditions. So, they may even affect your ability to settle in the host country after you graduate. For instance, some scholarships may make you ineligible to apply for an H1B Visa to work. Therefore, it is very important that you are aware of these conditions before you apply for them.

Check out these lists of General and Top 10 Scholarships for Indian Students.

Soft Loans and Education Loans

Soft loans are akin to scholarships, in terms of their selection procedure as well as their clauses. This is because they come with either a 0% interest rate or 1.5%-2% interest rate. An important point that distinguishes them from scholarships is that they need to be repaid after you graduate.

Somewhere between 70% – 80% of students miss out on savings while opting for education loans. However, you could save anywhere between ₹3 lakhs – ₹29 lakhs if you choose the right loan.

You can find a comprehensive guide to student loans here

Assistantships

Each University campus opens up a certain number of assistantships (GA/TA/RA) for Master’s students. This allows students to earn close to $1000-$1600 per month. Additionally, in certain countries (like the USA), international students are allowed to work only within the campus. But the pay isn’t always the same. This is because the hourly wage rate varies between departments.

If your application for such a position does not come with your university offer, don’t worry! You can always write to the relevant faculty member or department heads and convince them of your ability to be able to make a positive contribution. This is a tested strategy that works! It’s definitely worth exploring because it can help you earn between $25,000 – $35,000 over a span of two years.

Family Savings

While it may seem like an obvious choice, you must exercise caution while dipping into their savings. You should always evaluate the opportunity cost of these savings with respect to the student loan interest rate before deciding to use them. Additionally, if you want to increase your chances of getting a Visa, you need to ensure that the money is in your account for a minimum of 3 months before you initiate your Visa application process.

Selling your property

Many students take this route, but this is generally a bad idea, and should be treated as a last resort. Alternatively, you would be better off searching thoroughly for a student loan before resorting to this option. Some banks and lenders are quite flexible with their loan terms. But it is up to you to ask the right lenders at the right time.

Conclusion

What you need to keep in mind is that there is always someone out there who will be willing to lend you money to finance your Master’s degree. It all comes down to who buys into your profile. 

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