As someone who was not certain about what to do after high school, I decided to explore several disciplines before narrowing down on one and did an undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts and Humanities. While my Liberal Arts degree helped me recognise my inclination towards Economics, Business, and the Social Sciences, I still had not zeroed in on any one particular field I wanted to get into when I graduated. Initially, I decided against applying for a Master’s program immediately after graduating. I wanted to continue studying but also needed a little more time exploring my areas of interest and gaining clarity.
This is when I came across a Master’s program at Sciences Po, Paris, which seemed to be the right fit for me. Having majored in Economics during my undergraduate studies, I had developed an interest in the broader social sciences and in courses such as the Political Economy of Development, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Sustainable Development. The Master’s in International Management and Sustainability (formerly called Economics and Business) at Sciences Po seemed to incorporate all of these aspects well and really sparked my interest. What I needed was more perspective and this two-year Master’s course would do just that for me. As opposed to a conventional business school or an MBA, a school like Sciences Po and the multidisciplinary approach of the program would allow me to study a combination of courses in management, social innovation, and sustainability.
The application process was fairly straightforward, as with most European Universities. For Sciences Po, I was required to submit an application form, a Statement of Purpose, two letters of recommendation, my resume, and my official academic transcripts. I found this information about the application process and the course requirements on the university’s website. Consolidating all the information about the application requirements and corresponding deadlines on an excel sheet helped me figure out the next steps and stay on track. As getting documents from the university and recommendation letters from the professors can take time, I made sure to request them well in advance.
Once I got admission into the university, I was glad to see that a lot of information was easily available online – the visa process, financial aid options, finding accommodation, about studying and living in France, and the culture there – provided by Campus France, which operates within the French Embassy in India in close cooperation with Alliance Française. They have offices in over 10 major Indian cities and aspiring students can get the relevant information they need from them easily.
Contrary to what most students might assume, limited financial resources do not have to be a barrier to studying in Europe. For international students in my university, the tuition fee was €14,700 per year, to be paid in 4 instalments, and there were several scholarships students could apply for to help meet this expenditure. Scholarships are generally offered by the university or by the French and Indian governments as well. There are over 500 French government scholarships for Indian students including the Charpak Scholarship Programme run by the Embassy of France in India. Additionally, scholarships such as the Emile-Boutmy scholarship at Sciences Po and the IDEX scholarship at Universite Paris Saclay, are offered by the educational institutions specifically for their students. The scholarship applications can close a few months before the course application deadline, and it’s critical to plan accordingly.
Since I had missed the scholarship application deadlines, I had opted to apply for a student loan. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that there are challenges in securing a student loan. Having adequate financial backing to provide collateral security is essential to obtaining one and may not be the most accessible for everyone. Whether through a scholarship or loan, with a little research and planning beforehand, one should be able to find the right kind of financial support for their plans to study abroad.
Apart from the tuition fees, there are other expenses as well to consider. To obtain a long-stay student visa for France, international students are also required to show proof of funding of tuition fees and a minimum of €615 per month to cover living expenses, for the academic term. While it would vary from one student to another, in general, monthly living expenses including rent would come up to €600 to €800 per month in Paris. This amount would be smaller in other parts of France. I set my monthly budget to around €700 per month, barring initial expenses while settling in.
Finding safe and affordable housing options in Paris can seem a little daunting at first, especially because of the language barrier. However, resources provided by the university and Campus France can be of great help as the first place for students to look through. Additionally, Facebook groups catering to international students and students from your university can also be a great resource whilst finding safe, suitable accommodation within your budget. However, it’s important to verify all the details before signing a contract and it’s best if one cross-checks with their university where possible, to avoid falling prey to fraud.
Even with all this in place, when the time comes, moving to a completely unfamiliar environment by yourself can still be a little overwhelming. I personally had a lot of apprehensions – What is the first thing I should start with once I reach? Which SIM card is preferred by international students? What is the best route to take to university? – and many other questions. Getting in touch with course alumni and other Indian students over Facebook helped settle a lot of these doubts as they guided me through the immediate steps and basic dos and don’ts I would need to take upon landing in Paris.
Once I got to France, I began attending orientation programs and social events organised by my university at the beginning of the semester. This made it easier to integrate with my peers. Apart from Google Maps, apps such as Citymapper were particularly useful to figure my way around the well-connected public transport system.
Another aspect I absolutely enjoyed while living in France is how student-friendly it is. Students under the age of 26 qualify for many discounts and deals (and some even free!) for visits to museums and the cinema (including the Louvre), for the transport card, and for meals at the CROUS restaurants, to name a few things. This is why the first thing I did after setting down was to get my student card from my university. Travelling in France, or within Europe is super easy thanks to a whole range of trains and flights to pick from – which you can get at decent prices if you plan well in advance.
What also helps is that students are allowed to work at least 15 hours a week. There are several part-time opportunities available, which you can find out about student groups and the university itself as well. It’s a great way to support yourself financially, or even save up to travel around Europe.
What made my experience in France even more fulfilling and enriching was learning the French language. Most universities, including mine, offer French classes for international students. I found that language was a rather important factor for those planning to pursue higher studies in Europe. Although many programs and courses are taught in English and do not require you to be proficient in French, learning French can open up many more avenues of work, make it easier to get by and communicate in everyday life, and really immerse yourself in French culture.
If one plans to learn French before travelling to France, Alliance Française can be the perfect go-to. Knowing French also helped me break out of my comfort zone and interact with a diverse set of people.
From an academic standpoint, the flexible nature of applying to a two-year programme, which gives one the option of taking a gap year in between to gain work experience, enabled me to figure out where my interests lie and boosted my employability.
This program prepares students for a variety of careers ranging from business development, consulting and finance to CSR and Philanthropy. Apart from the mandatory foundational courses in a management course, the programme gives the option to choose from a wide range of electives, allowing students to tailor the programme as per their interests and career goals.
Eager to work in the social sector, I chose courses such as the Political Economy of Development and Microfinance, while many of my friends with plans to work in Finance or Management Consulting opted for courses such as Asset Management and Digital Innovation.
Having completed my gap year, I am now set to continue the second year of my Master’s. Owing to the pandemic, my university has adopted a “dual campus” model, wherein a digital campus will allow students to learn and complete their courses remotely, while the physical campus will also be open for tutorials in small groups, project work and supervised community activities. By linking them, the course will remain flexible and ensure continuity as students unable to make it back to the EU can complete their entire course online. The university even set up Zoom accounts for all the students and provided guidelines to ensure a smooth transition shifting to online classes.
There are things about living in France that I miss, though. What I enjoyed most about studying in Europe was the chance to travel. In my year there, I got to travel to three different countries and explore the south of France as well. Many countries in the Schengen region are easily accessible and have decently affordable flight/train tickets when planned and booked in advance. If you know what your academic calendar looks like, and manage your finances well, you can even travel to a new place every weekend!
Exploring and experiencing different places and cultures is an integral part of the EU journey that broadened my perspective and introduced me to different ways of life, languages, history, food, and people. It not only shaped my worldview but also taught me to embrace challenges and forge friendships, all while enjoying the French ‘art de Vivre’!