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Things to consider for the international student…and their parent

The rand is weak against the dollar and will most likely weaken further in future, thus education abroad will become costlier.

Every parent dreams of providing the best education for their child. After all, it offers your child a wide array of opportunities to learn varied skills. In a globalised world, borders are not barriers anymore. Therefore for more and more parents, seeking the best possible education for their children may even mean sending their children abroad.

If that’s the case for you, then you better start preparing for it as early as possible. The popularity of international schools has risen sharply in recent years, with pupil numbers more than tripling in the decade to 2012 to reach three million worldwide. It’s a trend that has been driven by a variety of factors, such as:

  • The opportunity to develop language skills, since most international schools teach not only in English, but are multilingual;
  • cultural experience and a global perspective; and
  • the opportunity to develop an international network of friends and contacts.


The best options are not just in the UK and US – there are more than 6 000 international schools worldwide.

A good international education does not come cheap. Even medium-priced boarding schools in the US and UK tend to charge at least US$40 000 a year (for tuition and accommodation), and the most expensive will typically charge more than US$50 000.

If your kids are young, then you have enough time to start investing for their educational needs. But if you’re sending your child abroad in the next one to two years, getting a grasp of the various aspects of international studies can come in quite handy. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you and your children contemplate offshore study.

When to begin planning 

To start with, studying abroad needs meticulous planning to put things in the right place. As far as possible every move should be preconceived. The decision to go abroad for studies should be made at an early age. The cost of educating your child is a significant expense, irrespective of whether your child attends a private or a public school and whether that school is within South Africa or abroad. Many parents do not plan for this huge expense until the bills are almost due.

The key to successfully educating children is preparation and planning from their earliest years.

By some estimates, annual increases in education costs can be as high as 10% to 15%. An education-planning calculator helps you to visualise various scenarios assuming savings over a period. It will help you to determine how much to put into the education fund on a regular basis to meet a goal. You can create different scenarios by entering different data as appropriate. Remember to factor in exchange rate changes if your children are to be educated abroad. What can you realistically afford? Do you even know?

Counselling session 

It is necessary for parents to educate themselves well about the various academic courses being offered in different countries, their advantages and further career opportunities. By educating yourself you can easily pick the right college programme for your child. This, like most things, is easier said than done. It is for this reason that I would suggest considering searching for and using a mentor. Someone who has been there can share their first-hand experience with you and your child. One may even go for a counselling session and discuss important things like aptitude, courses, colleges, the application process, working out the best option if a college accepts the application, visa formalities, pre-departure workshops and then the final departure. As you can see, there’s a lot to take into consideration and it’s not a matter of simply packing your bags and going. Speaking to someone who’s already done what you’re attempting to do will make things ‘easier’.

This preparation may take eight to ten months, or longer. Be cautious, though, as some counsellors may push the child towards a certain course and university because of their vested interests. Some counsellors are paid to direct traffic towards certain universities and courses. Do your research well before interacting with them. Ask the right questions and make your own informed decision.

Although preferences could vary, it’s best to choose the course, then country and finally the university – in that order.

Some may want to pursue the chosen course in the best university(ies), so wherever these ‘bests’ are located, automatically becomes the destination country. This makes the choice simpler but may add to your costs

Also to consider is that in most fields developments are continually happening: opinions are changing, and new data is being formed. As such, newer courses keep coming up and not every university may offer such courses, especially specialised ones, that your child wishes to pursue.

Choosing a country

Once you’ve chosen the course, you need to make a call on the country you wish to study in. The process to apply for a course in different countries may vary a lot. In some countries, only one application needs to be submitted for more than one college, while in other countries you may have to apply separately.

Social and cultural fit may come in the way, especially if you have chosen a country, but your family doesn’t want you to go there. Also, remember that all countries may not give you a permit to work post-studies. 

Choosing a university

Finally, choose a university based on your budget and the university’s reputation. You should ideally also look at the university’s faculty and job placement record. Create a list of five to ten universities and pick one after careful evaluation. 

Currency fluctuations

If you’re leaving your country, it’s fair to say that a major portion of the international studies will be denominated in a foreign currency. For ease of doing business most universities that offer cross-border applications will denominate their fees in US dollars. From a South African perspective, the rand is weak against the dollar and will most likely weaken further in future, thus education abroad will become costlier.

From here, if the rand depreciates further, then on a four-year course you may need more rands than originally budgeted for to fund the dollar cost of your education abroad. Therefore, do not consider annual costs and instead consider the total budget, keeping currency fluctuations in mind. One may open a bank account in the name of the child abroad and deposit certain funds to hedge against such fluctuations.

Is it important to ensure that not all your savings are in rands?

Exposure to a diversified currency portfolio typically reduces exchange rate risk. It is important, particularly if you have obligations in foreign exchange, to hold some foreign currency in your domiciliary account or in an offshore account. 

Become social media-friendly

Keeping in touch with your children when they are away studying abroad cannot be ignored. Calling them frequently might surely work but not always – not to mention the cost of doing so. The roaming rates in South Africa are a crime. So, become social media-friendly and stay connected with them through sites like Facebook and video calling tools like Skype, Viber, Google Hangouts, etc. WhatsApp is also a saviour.

Social interaction aside, this also assists with the aspect of safety. Your child’s safety is an important thing to consider when sending him/her abroad. You can’t watch their back all the time any more. So, taking safety measures like ensuring you’re able to reach them and keep tabs (to a reasonable degree) on what they are doing and with who is vital.

Considering applying for a health insurance that covers all the required emergency situations when your child is alone and away will be of great help.

Extra travel costs

Since your student is in a part of the world that he or she has likely not been to before, it’s natural for them to want to explore a bit during free time. That could be as simple as sightseeing in the city where they’re living, or as extensive as quick trips to other cities or even countries on the weekends. Discuss potential travel plans with your student ahead of time and be clear whose responsibility it is to cover these extra costs.

Evaluate the career opportunities realistically, both abroad and within your country, before planning for international studies. The potential of getting a job immediately after studies will be different for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Also, the geopolitical developments play a role in impacting the same. International education comes at a high price but can be highly rewarding if planned well.


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