12.01.2014 Finding the Right Fit When Studying Abroad
The St. Petersburg Times *Issue #1779 (38)
Wednesday, September 25, 2013*
Finding the Right Fit When Studying Abroad
By Olga Kalashnikova
The St. Petersburg Times
Entrance and language proficiency exams are an important part of
It’s never too late to study abroad, but to fully integrate into a
foreign country it is often best to start the educational journey while
still a teenager.
“The student, graduate, young specialist, experienced CEO or business
owner will always find an appropriate course, acquire additional skills
and earn a prestigious diploma,” said Irina Sledyeva, director of
AcademConsult, a St. Petersburg firm specializing in sending Russian
students abroad to study.
“Yet in this day and age, one cannot be sure about integration into the
host society. To involve oneself into the social fabric of a country as
well as the academic process, one should travel to study abroad at the
age of 12 or 13 years old.”
“Such students not only receive a foreign education, but also have an
opportunity to make real friends, to feel like a citizen of another
country and to partake in its culture.”
Young people are better able to acquire new knowledge and adapt to
changes in environment, which is why many school-leavers or graduates
choose to study abroad. Language teachers see an obvious advantage – not
only do young people learn a profession, but they also acquire foreign
“This experience can have a beneficial impact on a young person’s
destiny,” said Yelena Yarovaya, director of EgoRound educational center.
“If he or she integrate successfully into the cultural and linguistic
environment, they may have a chance to remain in the country legally and
find a job, or marry a local resident.”
Adults usually go abroad to take part in programs that are
under-represented in Russia, be they MBAs or special design courses. To
choose the best country for the prospective student, both parents and
children should try to look as far into the future as possible. For
youngsters, it’s important to first know first the university they will
attend and only then to look for a school abroad that could help prepare
them for the chosen course of study. For older students, AcademConsult
advises that the country where they want to gain professional experience
be chosen first, and only then should an educational institution or
program that is suitable be sought.
“If you want to stay in the country where you are going to study, you
should understand the demand for the occupation you will have. Moreover,
the price of education is also an important factor. In some European
countries, such as France, Germany, the Czech Republic and the
Scandinavian countries, higher education is free of charge for
everyone,” said Yarovaya.
“To enter university, one needs to pass exams and provide proof of
language skills. Some universities and colleges offer grants for
education. Yet, even if you do not pay for your study, you have to live
somewhere, which means you will need to rent a room or a flat. Look
carefully at all these factors and you’ll be able to understand where to
find the best education within your means,” she said.
According to data from AcademConsult, the average price for education
and accommodation is about 25,000 euros per year. Prices for education,
however, vary widely and can be anything from 6,000 to 80,000 euros per
“Many educational institutions demand that applicants older than the age
of ten take language tests. Sometimes it is just a small test of foreign
language skills and sometimes these are very serious exams in various
subjects followed by an interview,” said Sledyeva.
The most widespread exams are international tests that assess knowledge
in a specific language — the American TOEFL and the British IELTS for
English, and the DALF for French and DELE for Spanish. In Germany, all
students are required to pass the DSH German-language test. Among other
popular tests, AcademConsult consultants mention those that test logic
and math skills, and the GMAT exam, which is necessary to attend an MBA.
The IELTS exam is, first and foremost, a general test of English, which
is also used by the British, Canadian and Australian immigration
services to assess those wishing to live and work abroad. Yet, the most
common reason for taking it is the wish to study at universities in the
“The candidates I see in St. Petersburg are often young professionals
planning to emigrate, or undergraduates planning to follow their first
Russian degree with a masters degree abroad,” said Alan Maishman, an
English-language instructor and Director of Studies at the Lexica Centre
of European Languages in St. Petersburg.
“Occasionally, we see school leavers who are hoping to do their first
degree overseas — often in Finland. The IELTS exam isn’t designed for
younger children, so those going to primary schools in the U.K. or
Switzerland for example, are assessed in other ways.”
IELTS is a multilevel exam with candidates graded on a scale of one to
nine in the skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking. Most
universities will require an average grade of 6.5, though it will depend
on the course of study.
“For example, law will require a higher language ability than design.
The grade also depends on how prestigious the institution is. I always
advise candidates to take an IELTS preparation course — ideally they
will already have an Upper Intermediate or Advanced level of English,”
“Teaching IELTS students is very rewarding. For some students, it
changes their lives dramatically. I now have ex-students with successful
careers in “blue-chip” companies, living in the U.K., Australia and the
U.S. It’s great to be associated with such positive outcomes,” he said.
In addition to knowledge, students need to address certain
practicalities and start preparation long before beginning study. A
student visa, for example, demands more documents than are required to
travel as a tourist. Some of the documents need to be translated into a
foreign language and notarized.
“Sometimes one needs to provide bank statements showing a relatively
constant balance over a period of several months or a certificate from
the police that says you have not engaged in any criminal activity,”
said Sledyeva. “One has to apply for these well in advance in some
instances and wait until the documents are ready before applying for a
Students should also investigate a potential institution’s requirements
for entering a bachelor’s program if it is to follow directly after
leaving secondary education, or be aware if the subject of the potential
master’s degree program should match that of a previous qualification.
On Sept. 19, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev approved a list of foreign
educational institutions whose qualifications are recognized in Russia.
The list includes 201 organizations from 23 countries. These
institutions occupy the top three hundred positions in the Academic
Ranking of World Universities, QS World University Rankings and The
Times Higher Education World University Rankings. For the first time,
such a document details how Russian and foreign degrees and
qualifications correspondence to each other.