I love my work as an education counsellor to students here in Hanoi, where I am based. The decision to study abroad is a big one. I focus especially on the teen: the person who will venture to the other side of the world, to study in a new culture, a new education system, and in a new language. For them, this takes guts, planning, and a whole lot of comfort with the unknown. It also demands a big adjustment for the family; the support and guidance system to that teen. Families fund this educational endeavour with hard-earned savings, sending their beloved child to the other side of the world, trusting that they will be ok, that they will grow, learn, and develop as a person, and as a global citizen. Sometimes this decision comes easily; more often it comes as a result of many challenging dinner-table conversations.
Studying abroad requires the weighing of many factors and considerations. Choosing where you will study depends on these, and that means before you choose a destination, you need to think about your priorities.
Job opportunities and the possibility of Permanent Residency abroad
Here I find that one of the most common goals I see in young applicants is not only to study but also the chance to live and work abroad. For parents this is about opportunity; skilled jobs in Canada, the US, and Europe often pay much better than their local equivalents, with more opportunity for upward mobility than might be possible in Viet Nam. Even if it is just for a few years, work experience abroad impacts employment prospects for those who return home. To be sure, improved English proficiency is always a big benefit for employment as well as personal life. For students, a life abroad can seem like a beautiful dream, free of everything boring and normal about home, full of new friends, opportunity, and freedom. Part of my role as a counsellor is to balance the beauty of the dream with the realities of the challenges, as well as to prepare the student for this importance of personal responsibility.
Successfully staying abroad after graduating requires a focus on career training, networking, and work experience, and some schools are better at these things than others. Quite commonly there are smaller universities that give more attention and support than many of the bigger institutions, which are well-known and get high rankings.
Canada is appealing to students because it offers all the key features of the typical dream. The universities are of high quality. There is a work permit available, from the time of arrival. The “co-op” system provides practical work experience during the degree, and ensures graduates leave with much more than a piece of paper. Most valuably, for Bachelor degree graduates there is a three-year work permit that can also lead to Permanent Resident status and citizenship. So my work involves creating a plan that covers where to study, what to study, and how to point towards longer-term goals while keeping options open.
Questions commonly turn to “rankings”. In fact 75% of my conversations with parents begin with this. Like all parents, they know their own country best and the systems of other countries are difficult to understand or even imagine. Naturally nervous about finding the right school in an unfamiliar country and education system, rankings seems like the safest way of ensuring a good education. I try to explain that focusing on rankings can make sense if the focus is also on “name brands” and bragging rights associated with a number. In that case, picking schools off the Maclean’s list, or the Times World Uni Ranking makes sense. But before we rush forward with that plan, I like to check that students and parents aren’t trying to use ranking as a proxy (substitute) for something else. Career opportunities abroad, chances for internships and coops, networking and graduate mentorship, research possibilities – the availability of these is not a function of ranking.
When it comes to Canada, rankings especially makes little sense. There are no actual official rankings – just private companies coming up with their own lists. Almost all Canadians go to universities that receive public funding, and thus the quality is consistent, from school to school. In fact, tuition prices for Canadians are pretty much the same across all universities, a fact which shows the consistency in quality. Within each Canadian province, the tuition prices are similar – whether the university has 1,000 students and only a small global reputation or is a well-known university of 50,000 students.
For many families, finances play a big role. Schools readily list their tuition fees for international students online. For Canadian universities, even this can be confusing. Some list the price “per credit” but it is not easy to know how many credits in each semester or for a complete degree. Some include extra fees in the tuition price, and others do not. Even more difficult is to understand the scholarship options at each institution. It is also important to know if the scholarships are for “entry” only (just the first year) or if the student can earn the right to renew the scholarship every year, through grades and participation.
So, comparing the likely price after taking all of this into consideration can be complicated and this is also a big part of my counselling work. This is why CUAC is so important – they work closely with the universities to get an accurate picture of the finances, making your decision clear and simple. With their help, you can have an idea of how likely any scholarship is, or what amount it might be.
Importantly, when it comes to Canada, is that the tuition for Canadians is controlled because they are paying the taxes that contribute to the university budgets. But for international students there is no control. It means one Canadian university can charge $8,000 Canadian for one year of tuition but $52,000 for international students for the same program. Another can also charge $8,000 but will charge international students $19,000. Why the difference? Some of it relates to rankings. The more and more parents rely on rankings the more and more those universities raise the prices. But another reason is some parts of Canada have lots of opportunity, but not enough people. The lower tuition is a way that universities help their province by attracting students to come, knowing that those students will be more likely to join society through work and social life, once they see the charms and opportunities of life there.
There is a lot to think about. The choice to apply to study abroad is a big commitment for the student, and for their family. Before the school list is chosen, ask yourselves some important questions.
What is our budget, and how important is that budget in our decision?
What outcomes are we looking for? What are we expecting the student to get from this?
What professional plans do we think our student will have, after their degree?
What kind of learning environment would be best for the educational and personal needs of our student? How much support is needed, and what would make them most comfortable and likely to excel?
Talk about these things, together as a family. Then talk to people who know about the range of options available to you, who can advise you about the financial aspects, the educational support, and the application process. Then – with your goals clear and your plan in place – it’s time to apply.
Cristina Bain is an education counsellor with her own practice in Hanoi, collaborating with CUAC to help students find that “perfect fit” university in Canada.
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