The Black Girl's Guide To Pursuing Graduate School Abroad

4 Tips to Consider When Pursuing an International Degree

Life & Travel

It seems like every time we scroll down our Instagram feeds, we are bombarded by pictures of melaninated goddesses living their best lives abroad. London. Cuba. Dubai. Black girls are going everywhere – but what about for graduate school?


According to the National Center for Education, Black women are graduating from college at an all time high and are America's most educated group. Of black students alone, black women have earned 66% of bachelor's degrees, 71% of master's degrees, and 65% of all doctorate degrees.

So, I think it's safe to say that black women are killing it.

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Early last fall, I made the decision to jump off the college to 9-to-5 assembly line and apply to various Master's degree programs in London, England. What started off as a fun and semi-sarcastic conversation starter when people would ask the infamous, "What are you doing after graduation" question ultimately evolved into my true preferred course of action for this next chapter in my life. When I interned at the White House under the Obama administration, I interacted with a number of senior officials who had international degrees, but they were rarely women of color. We have the ambition, we have the travel bug, and clearly we have the educational prowess. So if they can do it, why can't I?

Despite the shortage of women of color mentors to guide me on this journey, I was pleased to find a number of resources to guide me along my quest for a degree abroad. And, I would like to share them with you! Here are 4 quick tips to consider when taking your talents global.

1. Understand What Experience You Are Looking For

Are you willing to learn a new language? Are you particular about the prestigiousness of a certain graduate program? Are you here for a good time, not a long time? These are all factors that you will need to take into consideration as you first begin to research international degree programs. The world is a big place, and as expected, there are a lot of program options.

I narrowed down my choices by prestige, language, duration, and international access. Specifically, I limited my research to leading one-year international relations and public policy programs in the U.K. that were located nearby to airports and train stations, so I can easily travel to other destinations in Europe. Europe can just as easily be Asia, South America, or Africa and financial aid packages, networking opportunities, and name recognition vary by school, so start with a big framework and tailor down your schools from there.

2. Make A Timeline

After you have an idea of which school profiles you are interested in, I highly recommend making a comprehensive timeline, which outlines all of your application deadlines, funding deadlines, school login information, program requirements, etc. This is definitely the least glamorous part of the application process, but organization and proactivity are key. Life doesn't stop because you're applying to grad school, so do yourself a favor and make everything as easy to navigate as possible.

Geoffrey Vendeville

3. Be Proactive In Your Applications

In line with making a solid timeline, there are a number of mini-deadlines like external scholarship deadlines and visa applications that can pop up within the overall deadline. Most programs require academic and/or professional recommendation letters and there is nothing worse than having everything ready to go, but you cannot submit your application until your recommender submits their component. That being said, start early. Give yourself time to write several drafts of your personal statement and program-specific essays (if applicable) and reach out to at least double the number of required recommenders. This is especially true for post-grad applicants whose preferred professors may have left the school or are on sabbatical. Many schools have rolling deadlines, but a 3-4 month cushion to get everything in order gives you the opportunity to put your best foot forward.

4. Look Into Different Funding Streams

But actually, look into different funding streams. For many students, myself very much included, I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth and the first question my dad asked me after receiving my acceptance was, "So, who's paying for this?" Depending on your desired program and academic track record, there are a number of prestigious programs that fully fund international graduate degree programs in select countries like the Fulbright Program, Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, and Schwarzman Scholars. These programs aside, tuition fees at foreign universities are often much lower than their U.S. counterparts.

For an example, graduate tuition fees at École Polytechnique (ParisTech) are €15000 per year around $19,000 USD whereas similar degrees from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) are $48,000 per year. Furthermore, some institutions offer specific merit-based scholarships on a rolling basis or are even virtually free for U.S. students (excluding relocation, housing, and visa fees). So again, be proactive and do your research!

There's a whole world waiting for you if you decide to take a chance and pave your own path. Bon voyage!

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