Arranging Studies in Russia

Author: Dimitry Paranyushkin (on 11 Jan 2010)
There are several approaches to arranging study in Russia, and which is best for you ultimately depends on your own needs and your international travel experience. The main avenues for study, with their advantages and disadvantages, are the following:

Directly contacting a Russian university

The least expensive option for language study is usually to contact a Russian university directly. This can be done by telephone, fax, or email. Do not be surprised by slow or nonexistent responses. Email is not checked that regularly at all universities and you may need to follow up with a call. In most universities it is the “International Department” that you should contact, but in the largest universities, there may be multiple “semi-autonomous” departments or structures within the university that teach Russian.

A good way to start is to ask someone to approach the international department at the university you selected and ask if the university would be interested in setting up an exchange. Even if the school didn't do it before, they may be interested in this new possibility. For example, one of our writers from Way to Russia wanted to do an exchange at GITIS – the famous Moscow theater school. She was a student at Toulouse Beaux Arts school back then and simply proposed GITIS to set up an informal exchange: she studies at GITIS for 4 months and in return they send a student to Beaux Arts school in France. The both schools agreed and after a few months she got her student Russian visa and was able to study in Russia for 4 months. This worked because the institutions did not have to do any financial commitments – the only thing they needed to do is to exchange e-mails once and arrange a visa invitation for the students. The students paid everything themselves and found their own accommodation.

Advantages: Cost, especially for longer-term programs.
Disadvantages: Not great administration and communication, especially at the early stages, which can cause delays or other problems that can counter the money saved, especially on short programs. More limited support, which is fine for the most part for independent students, but can be problematic for students who will need assistance with issues such credit transfer and financial aid/payments.

Moscow State University / Photo by Argenberg@FlickR

Moscow State University / Photo by Argenberg@FlickR

Private Language Schools

Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tver, Kaliningrad, and some other cities are home to one or more private language schools. These are private organizations, generally with an educational license, that may or may not actually be located on the territory of a Russian university. In many cases they will collaborate with a Russian university so as to share language instructors and classroom facilities, but otherwise there is no formal relationship. The cost is usually significantly higher than the Russian universities, but allows for short-term study and quite a bit of local support and cultural/sightseeing activities.
Advantages: Good local support, cultural/sightseeing activities, more suitable for short programs (which don’t fit well into regular universities). Generally better communication since they are commercial.
Disadvantages: Such programs and organizations may be problematic if you are trying to transfer credits or use financial aid monies. If you are doing a semester or year abroad as part of your degree studies, the likelihood of the program being approved is probably significantly less than if you are doing the same at a Russian university. This does not speak for the quality of the program, which can often be higher – it is just the way it is.

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Study Abroad Organizations

A study abroad organization works independently to manage and promote one or more study abroad programs. As in any industry, some are excellent value added with a solid reputation, and others should be scrutinized closely by asking lots of questions and asking to speak with former students. Such organizations are dedicated to what they do and have considerable experience with credit transfer and general support throughout the program. While their headquarters is likely located in their primary market (country), they should have people on the ground in Russia. Don’t be shy in asking detailed questions of such organizations – they will charge more than if you contact a Russian university directly, but there is usually good reason in terms of level of communications and support that increase the value of your experience abroad.
Greater level of support, cultural/sightseeing programs, organized travel, assistance with credit transfer and financial aid/payments
Disadvantage: Cost – especially if the level of support provided is more than you need, sometimes too many English speakers around, often limited in terms of study destinations and program types.

Your Home University’s Program

The university you currently attend may have either a study abroad or exchange program with a Russian university (or on rare occasion private language school). Overall this is the most expensive option, but it guarantees maximum credit for the semester or year. As this option can take many forms depending on the type of cooperation between the universities, we cannot clearly list the advantages/disadvantages. Many universities may simply “endorse” a program run by an independent study abroad organization.

Student Exchange Program

If your school or university doesn't have an exchange program with the Russian university you are interested in, you can try to establish this link by yourself. This will take a lot of your time, and you will have to pay for everything by yourself (except the actual course maybe, depending on the university you choose), but you will have an opportunity to study exactly where and what you want.
To arrange a student exchange program in Russia, you should:
1) Get information about the Russian university you would like to attend (website, info in English, leaflets, etc.)
2) Present it to your university and get the official confirmation from them that they would like to establish an exchange link with the Russian university and receive international students from Russia.
3) Send this official confirmation to the Russian university, in addition to some advertising material of your school (catalogues, brochures, etc.) by snail mail, as well as fax. Check by phone if the mail arrived and ask when you can call back for decision.
4) Once the Russian university approves the cooperation, you can submit the first application from your university, that is you! You will be the first exchange student in this Russian university, so they will be careful to get everything right for you.

Some tips for arranging student exchanges:

1) Choose the university that has already some links abroad, otherwise it will be too difficult for them to establish a link with your university and to arrange visa support.
2) Make it clear you're going to pay for everything by yourself, otherwise no one will accept you. Your tuition fees may be paid by the university you're applying to, but only if there's reciprocation on the side of your university as well for their students.
3) It's good to have a person in Russia, who can visit the international office of a university in person and ask all necessary questions; it can often prove very difficult to get in touch with university officials by phone, even harder by e-mail.
4) Exchange arrangements in terms of cost tend to favor European students. Such arrangements can result in American students, especially those at private universities, to pay more than necessary for their experience in Russia.

Important: Regardless of how you plan to enroll for studies, if your aim is to transfer credits you should get the program approved in advance and upon completion of the program, be sure to get a transcript and certificate for the studies.


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