Studying Overseas

A mother wrote to me: “I have a 20 years-old daughter who will graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics next year. I would like to send her to study in the U.S. I read your blog and want her to study for a Master’s degree in Computer Science so she can get a good job. What does she need to prepare? What problems does she need to avoid to be successful in her education? Please advise.”

Answer: “You wrote that you want her to study Computer Science but did you talk to her and asked her whether she wants to study this field or not? If your daughter is not sure of what she wants, she needs to do research to get a better idea of what this field requires. Before making a decision, she must take the time to seek information from multiple sources before deciding what is best for her. Most successful students know what they want and are well prepared ahead of time, so they are ready to do all the work required to be successful.

If your daughter wants to pursue the Master’s degree in Computer Science, she must choose a specialized area where she will learn the specific skills needed for her career. For example, Computing Security, Embedded software, Database, Data mining, Cloud Computing, Robotics, Machine Learning , Artificial Intelligence, etc. It is VERY IMPORTANT for her to investigate several schools to identify which one has the Master’s degree courses that specializes in the field that she wants to study BEFORE applying. Of course, she must choose the specialized field of study based on what she is good at and what she is interested in. She may need to do some investigations on the prospect of future job opportunity and select the only area that she feels comfortable with. After all, it is her future.

A good Master’s degree program is different from the Bachelor program as it focuses on the developing of specialized skills instead of general skills like the Bachelor’s degree. Most companies hire graduates with a Master’s degree based on these specialized skills, it is important to know which one is in high demand to ensure a successful career employment. Most Master’s degree programs require applicants to have a higher level of academic achievement and they must excel at reading, writing, and analyzing skills.

Each year, hundred thousand of foreign students came to study in the U.S. Most parents expect their children will do well but I have seen some failed in U.S schools because they do not know which direction to go. Many do not have a good career plan to follow. Since the school allows students to switch the field of study, many often jump from one field to another, when they did not do well in a field. Basically they just “float in the university stream” until they find something that they can do well. That is why it often takes five or six years before they complete their education and sometimes they end up with a degree completely different from what they had originally applied. It is one of the common problems among foreign students.

To study overseas requires a lot of preparation in both language and maturity. I have seen many students being overwhelmed by so much information, so many things that they must learn. Although at first, many have difficulty with the English language, overtimes, it can be improved. However, many have a problem with the vast amount of information that they must learn since they do not have good reading skills. Students who used to memorize materials to pass exams will have difficulty because there are so many articles and books that they must learn for which they cannot memorize them all. Many told me that they have no idea of what they are getting into as they are not prepared to read that much. Studying overseas requires certain responsibility as the learning is very intense which require students to managing their time effectively. My advice to you is to make sure that your daughter is well-prepared before going to study overseas.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University