Arina, our expert in higher education, has gone the whole deal of being an international master’s student herself and study abroad for free. Check out her story on how she passed the IELTS exam, picked the right program, dealt with paperwork, hunted down scholarships, aced the admissions process, and immersed herself into the global student community.
Back in 2017, one of my buddies pulled a spontaneous move and flew to the US for some career-changing courses, aiming to settle down and work there. When I asked, “Wait, can you actually do that?” he was like, “Oh, you can do way more!” He told me about all the opportunities for higher education abroad.
At that time, I already had a bachelor’s degree in service and tourism, a decently forgotten English, and about five years of volunteering and working experience in the restaurant and tourism industry under my belt.
Program Choosing, Documents Gathering, and the Copy Center Chronicles
So, I did some math after checking out the jaw-dropping tuition fees and living costs abroad, and it turned out I’d have to squirrel away my hard-earned paycheck for a solid decade just to make studying overseas a reality. Well, that didn’t sit well with me, so I went on a hunt for programs that potentially offered students full funding, covering all expenses. Time was ticking away, deadlines were approaching, and I finally settled on the following scholarship programs that provided excellent financial support:
The list of documents required for applications was pretty standard. However, for each program, there was always something to tweak, refill, or sign again. That’s when I became a regular at the local copy center, endlessly scanning and copying a gazillion papers. I needed the following for almost every program:
- Translations of my high school diploma and university degree
- Language proficiency certificate
- Two recommendation letters
- Academic résumé
- Motivational letters
- Additional essay for funding
Preparing for the IELTS and Battling the Imposter Syndrome
Getting ready for the English language test turned out to be one of the most time-consuming and a money drain. I went with the IELTS Academic and spent nine months preparing for it. I started with some group courses, but then continued preparation on my own.
Quick tip: Find the test prep format that works best for you, the one that’ll actually get you the results you need. And figure out which section (Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking) gives you the most trouble and devote some extra time and effort during your prep. Admissions committees pay attention not only to the overall test score but also to the results in each section. For me, writing was the most challenging, so I made sure to pay some special attention to it. I also recommend to take a few one-on-one sessions with a teacher so that you get feedback and evaluation of your speaking and writing
I often freaked out, thinking I might be in way over my head and that no university would ever want me. I mean, my grades were just okay, I didn’t have any international achievements, and my English was far from perfect. But I kept pushing through, ’cause you never know until you try, right?
Quick tip: Start working on your profile as early as possible. Try to understand what kind of students they’re looking for in your dream program and work on filling in the gaps you currently have. Maybe you need some extra courses, volunteering experience, or even conference attendance. You got this!
Interviews with the Admissions Committees, Nerves, and Crappy Internet
So, after submitting all my applications around December-January, I received an invitation for an online interview with Central European University in early March. They promised it would be a chill and friendly chat, a chance to meet the faculty members, and a discussion about my background and motivations. This online interview style is pretty common among many universities, no intense grilling or wickedly tough questions. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for it at all.
Quick tip: Review the information about the university and the chosen program in advance, go through your résumé and motivational letter again. Also, prepare a few questions for the interviewer. Not having any questions ain’t gonna impress them; it often indicates a lack of interest from the student in the educational institution. That’s why it’s a good idea to come up with 2-3 questions about the workload, the educational approach of the program, group projects, and extracurricular activities.
Now, let me tell you about my interview experience. I was a bundle of nerves! I was worried about my English, my not-so-perfect background, and to top it off, my internet decided to take a vacation and slowed down to a snail’s pace. But I pulled myself together and rocked that interview: answered all their questions, talked about my passion for the program, and even asked a few questions.
My Aussie Million and an April Fools’ Offer
The second half of March was a total bummer. My applications for government scholarships in Turkey and Australia got rejected. And to add insult to injury, my application for a state scholarship in Hungary got turned down as I messed up, rushed things, and forgot to send in important documents.
Quick tip: If you’re applying to several universities, make sure you stay organized and keep track of all the deadlines and required documents. Don’t miss out on anything. Stick to those deadlines set by the universities because, in most cases, they won’t even consider late applications.
Just when I thought my dreams of studying abroad were crushed, I got a call from the University of Melbourne in Australia. The admissions guy wanted to know if I got approved for the government scholarship. When he found out I got rejected, he still offered me a spot at the university without the scholarship. Lucky for me, I had all my documents ready to go, and within a week, they sent me an offer with a 50% discount on tuition. It felt pretty awesome, but here’s the catch—I couldn’t afford the rest of the expenses on my own. So, I had to give the university a call and turn down the offer due to financial reasons. But a week later, they hit me up again with a revised offer. They offered a 70% tuition discount and a small grant for other expenses. Now, I just needed to come up with a little over a million rubles to cover the remaining costs. I didn’t have that kind of cash lying around, so I had to say goodbye to Australia, my dreams of Melbourne, and my hopes of hanging out with those giant spiders.
Quick tip: Stay in touch with the admissions team at the university, both before and after you get an offer. Keeping that communication flow going helps you clear up any confusion, get answers to your burning questions, and sometimes even negotiate a better financial package.
Now, let me tell you about this April Fools’ surprise. On the evening of April 1st, I opened an email from Central European University. And guess what? They accepted me into their Master’s program in Cultural Heritage, and they’re funding the whole thing! Tuition, accommodation, insurance—you name it. They even threw in a sweet monthly stipend. The best part? They have campuses in Hungary and Austria, so I’ll be studying in two awesome countries. I didn’t know much about Hungary, and honestly, I was so nervous I even forgot what language they speak in Austria. But hey, after calling the university and confirming that it wasn’t some prank, I accepted the offer. Boom! I’m off to Europe to chase my dreams!
Student Visa and Relocation
So, I’ve got an awesome offer from a university abroad—half the battle to study overseas is done. Now, the next important step for all you international students is getting that visa and preparing for the big move.
Quick tip: Universities often host webinars for foreign students, where they explain how to apply for a student visa, taking into account the specific requirements of each country. You don’t want to miss out on those events, trust me. Another handy resource for up-to-date information on student visas is the embassy of the country where your university is located, back in your home.
I had to get a visa for Hungary because that’s where I was going to study. The document package was pretty standard: my ID and foreign passport, a filled-out application, a couple of photos, proof of where I’ll be staying and my insurance, and a bank statement showing I had enough money to cover everything. Luckily, my university offer took care of insurance, tuition fees, housing, and even provided me with a scholarship, so I didn’t need some of those papers. Just to be safe, I attached a bank statement with a few thousand euros in my name. Besides sending in the documents, I also had an interview with the consulate in English. They asked me about my program, why I wanted to study there, and how I planned to pay for everything. It was great that I had a fully funded offer to talk about. A few days later, I got an email saying my application was approved, and not long after that, my passport with the visa showed up in the mail.
Planning the move was a hectic experience, trying to get everything sorted in just a couple of months: quitting my job, packing up my stuff, throwing a goodbye party with my buddies, and soaking up those last moments back home. I was already on a plane from Moscow to Budapest at the end of August, thinking all the hassles and paperwork were finally behind me, and nothing but carefree college days lay ahead.
First Days at the University and the Georgian-Madagascan Party
Even before arriving in Hungary, my university started helping international students with their adaptation. We regularly received emails with introductory materials about the university and the start of classes, life hacks about living in Budapest, and the overall student life abroad. The university also created a social media group so that students could get to know each other online, find their future classmates, and connect.
The Central European University campus and library in Budapest
During the first days of classes, there were many orientation tours around the campus, getting familiar with all the tech and research facilities of the university, and a few informal parties where everyone was mingling and making new connections. And on top of that, each program had individual department meetings where professors and program coordinators helped students create effective schedules and address any additional questions.
Central European University, let me tell you, is all about that international vibe. People from over a hundred countries have been calling it home for years. There were 11 people in my group, and all the guys came from different countries. Since I was staying in a student dorm, my social circle was growing by the day. I had breakfast with students from Colombia and went to the local gym with guys from France and Iran. One Friday, as I stepped into the dormitory garden, I stumbled upon an impromptu party with people from more than ten countries. They taught me the art of Georgian toasts and introduced me to a future lawyer from Madagascar.
School and the Professor’s Office with a Dog
The workload in my program was pretty intense. We had lectures five times a week, with like 2-3 classes each day. And on top of that, they bombarded us with a ton of material for self-study. We also had individual and group projects that we had to hustle on during our free time. Plus, the university always organized extra meetings with cool guest professors and other student events that were totally worth checking out.
In my master’s program, they were all about academic writing and presenting our projects. It really helped us sharpen our communication skills, academic English, and public speaking. And if we had any questions or stuff we didn’t get, we could ask the professors for one-on-one consultations. By the way, our academic English professor had a sweet office setup where he would chill with his dog. I guess having a furry companion around made everyone ace the subject and crush it in Academic English Writing.
A party with the professors at the end of our first year
The classes themselves were interactive and super useful. We talked about all the latest scientific articles, dug into practical examples, and even got to visit some companies and organizations that could potentially be our future employers.
Free Time, Student Vibes in Europe, and Life with a Master’s Degree
Even though grad school kept us pretty busy, we always managed to have some free time traveling and having a blast. Since my master’s program took me to two different countries in Central Europe, we had so many budget-friendly travel options. My buddies and I always took advantage of those sweet student discounts to attend cultural and entertainment events. I mean, when you’re a student, getting a free ticket to the Vienna Opera or hopping on a train to a festival for a couple of euros is the real deal.
Those two years of student life were intense, productive, and all sorts of wild. I even scored a grant for an internship at this Hungarian company, volunteered as an English teacher for underprivileged kids, worked as a professor’s assistant, and dealt with online learning during the whole pandemic chaos. Plus, I made friends from all over the globe and graduated with top honors. Can’t complain!
During my first year, I started helping people with their applications to foreign universities. Eventually, it turned into a professional interest, and now I’m part of the LinguaTrip crew, where we help future students get into their dream schools. Every day, my students and I dive into university research, tackle those application documents, and submit our killer applications. The best part? Seeing my students land those acceptance offers, thanks to our hard work together. It’s seriously awesome to know I’m changing their lives by helping them study abroad.
Almost all of my friends from school stayed in Europe. Some started building their careers, while others continued their studies in doctoral programs. Some went back home and received awesome job offers from top companies, and a few students moved to the US and Canada to pursue their doctoral degrees. Either way, studying abroad turned out to be a significant milestone for each of us, allowing us to achieve our goals and gain unforgettable experiences.
Quick tip: Develop a clear plan for your application preparation and stick to it. Remember, the key stages on the path to applying for a foreign master’s program are:
- Thoroughly research and select programs
- Ace the required tests
- Gather all the necessary documents
- Submit your online application on time
- Nail the interview with the admissions committee
- Get an offer and apply for a student visa.
Stories like Arina’s are inspiring, right? They make you want to gather all your documents, pack your suitcase, and head off to study in another country. Sign up for a consultation and our experts will help you choose your path to higher education abroad.