A Guide to Applying to Universities Abroad

Studying abroad wasn’t the first thing on my mind. In grade 11, I imagined myself studying at a place like St. Xavier’s in Mumbai. However, after doing some research, I realised that the kind of teaching, facilities and quality of research, at least with respect to the natural sciences, were far superior abroad than at home in India.

Deciding to study abroad isn’t an easy decision to make. It’s not easy to adjust. It’s definitely not cheap. There are so many unforeseen events which are possible and your family is going to be hundreds(possibly thousands) of kilometres away. However, studying abroad will give you an experience of a lifetime and exposes you to many new things. Along with my parents I decided to apply to a few universities abroad. I applied to universities in the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Japan(slightly unorthodox, I know). This will be the first in a series of guides I will be writing. This is a general overview of the steps involved.

Step 1: Start trying to figure out what you want to study. This is a very important step. When you apply to universities, you apply for a particular programme(major). In general, you have to follow that programme throughout the duration of your study. Personally, I knew I wanted to study physics. So, I didn’t have to think about this too much. 

Step 2: Get your parents on board with the idea of you studying abroad. It’s never easy for them either. Also, they are the ones who are going to be paying for your education(most probably). Many(try most) parents are reluctant at first. Try to educate them about the various benefits of such an education and help them understand that it is okay to let go at some point in time. Proving to them how responsible you can be is a great starting step. My parents are the ones who suggested that I study abroad as it would give me a much better education in physics than I would get over here.

Step 3: Along with your parents/guardians(or whoever will be paying for your education), discuss and decide what your budget is going to be. Make sure your parents are okay with it. We decided on an annual budget of around ₹15 to 18 lakhs for the entire duration of the study. Some of you might have a bigger or smaller budget. 

Step 4: Make a shortlist of the countries and universities you like(which fit within your budget). Make sure they offer the programme which you are looking to take. If they don’t, it’s of no use. Check and see if the student ratings of the programme are good. Student reviews are super important. Try to get in touch with students at those universities who have studied/are studying programmes similar to the one you are looking at. Check the university rankings too. They aren’t that big a factor at the undergraduate level but graduating from a good university with top grades puts you at an advantage while applying to top post-graduate programmes.

Step 5: Check the requirements of the universities as well as the programmes which you are applying to. Most universities have a set of required documents common to all applicants as well as some subject specific requirements. Generally, programmes have a minimum grade which you are required to have to apply. It’s great to apply to an Oxford or a Cambridge but the chances are you won’t end up being admitted. Make sure you have the grades to apply and choose at least a few universities you like which you are confident you will get an offer from. Also, make sure to check the deadlines for applying to these various universities. You don’t want to end up missing the deadline.

Step 6: Look around for various scholarship opportunities. Many universities have multiple scholarships on offer for students with excellent grades. The University of Hong Kong for example has scholarships(ranging from half-tuition to full ride) for Indian students taking the ISC/CBSE examinations and achieving a percentage of 96 or higher.

Step 7: Start preparing all the various documents which are required by the universities which you are applying to. Your personal statement, statements of purpose, motivation letters, school transcripts/report cards, predicted grade lists and recommendation letters. For the recommendation letters, decide in advanced and let the teachers know as soon as you know you want a recommendation letter from him/her. Most schools which have students who go abroad will know how to go about the various documents. Many foreign universities also require an English proficiency exam score such as IELTS or TOEFL. Make sure you do the test and keep it ready.

I tried to get everything ready as soon as possible before applying to various universities. Start on your personal statements soon. It’s never going to be perfect the first time. Write and rewrite until you are happy with it. 

Step 8: As the applications open, start applying. Pay the application fees and submit the various documents they’ve asked for. Chances are, since you’ve already kept everything ready, you’ll have everything on hand. Application procedures for most universities are fairly straightforward. They vary from country to country and university to university.

Step 9: After applying, check your email regularly. Universities will normally email you in case there are other documents they require from you. Also, all their acceptance or rejection letters are sent by email. Most universities give conditional offers of admission subject to your result in your final examinations. 

Step 10: Now just wait until you get your offers of admission/rejection. If you get multiple offers, you need to decide which you feel will be the best fit for you. 

I will also be writing individualised guides on applying to universities in different countries. If you feel like, go ahead and check them out.

Picture credit goes to the University of Oxford(ox.ac.uk)


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