This post was triggered by a recent meeting I had with a school friend. I met him after almost 30 years and he was narrating his story. Like many, he was forced to take up an engineering line (civil engineering) based on his entrance exam marks.
He took up a tough field job in a civil engineering firm in India for a couple of years and hated every single day. He said his real career breakthrough happened when he went abroad for his Masters degree (MS in US) and changed his career completely from civil engineering to technology.
The best part of the story – he graduated with zero debt!
While the temptation to study and work abroad is high, there are roadblocks that stop many international students from getting there. Among the biggest hurdles you’d face as an Indian student while thinking about an overseas education is the cost of getting the international graduate or post-graduate degree.
What if you could get your cake and eat it too? Many international students are doing just that.
You’ve probably read these related stories of other Indian students who studied abroad (MS and MBA degrees) at the top universities for free. Here’s a sampling.
- Guide to MBA Scholarships
- MIT MS in US with full scholarship
- Stanford MBA with full scholarship
- How I got a free MBA in USA and saved 70 lakh rupees
- Full scholarship for MBA in US with stipend for Indian student
- Carlson MBA admit with full scholarship (and no application fees!)
- Full MBA scholarship & graduate assistantship in second attempt
As the focus is on getting a free masters degree, we aren’t listing the partial scholarship stories even though the funding amounts were substantial.
How do they do it? Some folks mentioned in the blog posts above have very strong profiles (IIT, McKinsey etc) that helped in cracking into the elite universities. However, most are regular folks who adopted not-so-regular application strategies to get special treatment from the universities.
There are different avenues to explore in order to bag the ultimate ‘deal’ in higher education.
How to study abroad for free as an international student
1. Choose the right study abroad destination / country
There are countries where the colleges don’t charge a tuition fee at all. Consider Germany as an example, where tuition is banned by many states. Strange, you might think. But government views education as an investment rather than an expense.
There is a catch though. For many of these free degrees in Germany, the medium of instruction is German. Brazil also has very low tuition for foreigners, but again the language challenge comes up.
If the language unfamiliarity is a turnoff for you, there are other countries that offer free education (or very low tuition). Norway and Slovenia fall in that list.
Now the issue is that these names don’t come up when you think about the best study abroad countries for Indian students. If you are among those who aren’t comfortable to manage such a big cultural transition, you could stick to English speaking countries and still manage to study abroad for free.
2. Choose the right degree (MS vs MBA vs PhD)
Popular study abroad countries like the U.S. don’t have tuition free colleges. But they have a huge amount of financial assistance options (scholarships) for international students.
But all degrees aren’t created alike. Take the example of Masters degrees – MBA, MS, MPhil, MiM. You are more likely to get scholarships for an M.S. than for an MBA.
An MBA is considered to be a commercial degree, which gives excellent returns to students [read this post on MBA salaries after 3 years]. So why subsidise the education for them?
Which is why even without the tuition waiver or scholarships, the cost of an MBA is several times more than an MS degree. In absolute terms, a 25% MBA scholarship at a top business school is equivalent to a full scholarship in many MS programs.
Doctoral level education (PhD degrees) get some love too in some countries. Finland offers PhD degrees for free. But you’ll bump into the same cultural issues as mentioned in the earlier point. In many countries, you could get your entire PhD funded if your research topic falls in the high-priority category for the professors, universities and funding agencies.
3. Apply early in your career
While you are still in your earlier twenties, you are more likely to apply to programs like MS, than for MBA. So in some ways, this is linked to the earlier point about choosing the right degree, but it still deserves a separate mention to highlight the mentality of the course designers and the scholarship decision makers.
The perception of the admissions office changes when they see applicants with significant experience. They think such students have spent enough time working, earning and saving. They are capable enough to pay the tuition fee without needing much support from the university.
When you are applying earlier they know your bank balance isn’t as colourful as your facebook profile, and not getting any support might scare away the good students.
4. Crack the study abroad entrance exams
Irrespective of the degree or the country, all universities want to look good to external evaluators – like leading publications that come out with worldwide university rankings where they pitch colleges against each other and try to rank them on the same scale despite the huge subjective differences.
There are two dimensions that are talked about the most – placement statistics (average salaries) and selectivity (where entrance exam scores count a lot).
Your GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT scores matter a lot in that race. The higher you score, the better your odds of getting extra honey on your bread. English proficiency exam scores (TOEFL and IELTS) are important too for getting an admit, but not as crucial in scholarship decisions.
Here’s one story where high GMAT scorer got a full-tuition scholarship plus stipend despite having a common (IT Male Engineer) profile.
5. Explore alternative financing options
Sometimes free money (i.e scholarships with no strings attached) isn’t easily available, especially at the top universities. However, some might want you to sweat a little and earn that money, in return for a waiver or a lower fee structure.
Graduate assistantships (GA) are the biggest sources of financial aid for international universities. Read more about how graduate assistantships work.
If you think about it, it’s a win-win situation for both, universities and students. As a student, the overseas education experience ceases to be just an academic exercise as you get to work abroad and develop practical skills.
The university isn’t under undue pressure to distribute free lunches and strain its resources. Instead of hiring expensive professionals from outside, they can tap into the global resource pool in their backyard and get some basic work done in-house.
Apart from these, many of the regular tips that we provide on the site about improving your chances of getting into the top universities (develop a strong profile, select the right universities, present yourself in the best light in your applications) are more relevant that ever if you are expecting more than just an admit.
In your quest for a free education abroad, if you need help with profile building, university selection and application improvement, send us an email [info at mbacrystalball dot com].
We look forward to hosting your ‘How I got into a top university and managed to study abroad for free’ story on our site soon.