Once you have answered the “what” and “where” of your plans to study abroad, it is time to ask the next important question: “How.” Before you jump into action, it is best to work with an outline.
If the admissions process unnerves you, use these questions as a checklist to help you manage all processes smoothly:
1. Am I early/late to start the application process?
Typically, colleges open the application roundabout a year before the term. For instance, if you are planning to join a school in the Fall term of 2018, you could start the application process as early as August 2017. However, we would strongly recommend that students begin the application process a couple of years in advance so that you cannot only stay ahead of the deadlines but also build a compelling profile. Starting early gives you ample time to take the recommended standardised tests, organise finances, research colleges, evaluate your choices, etc. Having said that, you can still make it to the finish line in about a month from the application deadline.
2. What documents do I need to apply for higher studies?
We find students overwhelmed by the huge task of documentation. Universities abroad ask for a variety of documents, including the completed application form. In general, most colleges ask for the following: 1) Statement of purpose/essays, 2) Recommendation letters, 3) Transcripts, 4) Standardized test results 5) English proficiency exam scores, 4) Financial documents including proof of assets and investments, and 6) Visa forms. In addition to these, based on your course, you may be required to submit additional documents like a portfolio.
3. What tests do I need to take for my choice of university?
Most universities require applicants to take standardised international tests. Most colleges will ask that you take the GRE for an MS program in fields other than business, law, and medicine.The GMAT exam, for a graduate program in business management, is accepted by most top-level institutes. All international students also have to take the TOEFL or IELTS, that test your English language proficiency. Students applying for an undergraduate program are required to take the SAT and ACT tests. Make sure to review your course website to find out about exams that are a prerequisite for your program, the typical score range and, if applicable, the waiver eligibility requirements
4. What kind of candidates are admissions officers looking for?
If you find the entire admission process daunting and want to know how to improve your admission chances, you should understand what makes a poster candidate for admissions officers. A blazing academic record with a below average performance on extra-curricular activities will not help you shine through the admission process. Admissions officers look for a well-rounded personality, instead of one-dimensional geniuses.
Admissions officers like candidates who display passion and dedication to their work. Candidates who can articulate their views clearly, and write strong essays have a better shot at success. Other factors such as mathematical proficiency, attention to detail, ability to work independently, and leadership skills are also important.
5. How can I avail of financial aid?
There are two kinds of financial aid available to international students. Colleges offer: a) Merit-based scholarships, for special skills, or abilities and b) Need-based scholarships, based on financial need. Connect with the international or financial aid department at your targeted universities, and ask them what options are feasible for you, based on your profile and course.
6. Where can I find affordable accommodation outside the school campus?
Almost every international university provides on-campus accommodation for first-year undergraduate students to help them acclimatize to the new surroundings. Once you have settled down in your new place, you can start exploring options outside the campus. Talk to the international students’ advisory board and current students/alumni for recommendations on off-campus accommodation. You may find many affordable housing options close to your university campus. If you are keen to live independently, you can look for shared home options. Many social media sites, housing websites, and college campuses list apartments available on shared basis. These are typically fully furnished apartments you could just move into with your luggage.
7. What is the next step after sending in my application form?
College websites generally provide a detailed timeline on their admissions process, and when you could expect a response. So, while you await a reply, revisit the college information booklet and scan for important information about accommodation, financial aid, on-campus work opportunity, cultural events, international student initiation programs, and others. You can also use this time to connect with the alumni on email or chat and learn more about the colleges of your choice.
8. How can I be better prepared for a foreign education?
Plan in advance. The application process may be tedious if you are not organised. Create a timeline for each activity and set up a calendar of important deadlines. This way, you don’t miss out on important events. The documentation work may take longer than expected. So, reserve some buffer time to make sure that you have ample time to complete all paperwork.
Another way to prepare ahead of your study program is to experiment by living independently. Get used to tackling problems without assistance. Pick up important life skills such as cooking quick meals, washing your laundry, balancing work and home, and budgeting for all expenses. These life skills will strengthen you once you live alone abroad.
9. What is the weightage given to academic record/statements of purpose/other achievements?
Universities have their own internal criteria for candidate selection. While the academic track record, GPA and test scores do have an important bearing, admissions officers also give weightage to the SOP(Statement of Purpose)/essays. Your SOP, for example, is your mission statement: a write-up about your life goals, achievements, dreams, and your plans. With a strong SOP, you can flesh out a story about who you are and what you want to be. You can display your clarity of thought, powerful communication skills, and a fearless voice. Make sure to create a powerful essay about yourself. Other criteria such as Letter of Recommendation, work experience, and special achievement certificates also play an important role in selection criteria.
10. If I receive a rejection letter, what are my chances if I apply to the same course?
In our experience, we have found that a rejection letter is an eye-opener for most candidates. A rejection should not cause you to feel desolate. There could be many factors that went against your application, including those not in your control. So, begin by taking rejection in your stride, and look for the next best options. If however, you are resolute about reapplying after the rejection, look for the university’s rejection procedures. Some allow you to apply for an evaluation of the rejection. Others give you a detailed feedback about why you got rejected in the first place. If you feel that you can overcome the rejection, by improving on your application profile, give it a shot. If you decide to take a year’s gap to improve your test scores or get some work experience, make sure to prepare a convincing story about this move.
It is a good idea to keep all your options open when it comes to applying for higher studies abroad. Since time plays an important role in decision-making, you need to start early to ensure that the admissions process is a smooth ride.