- Praseeja Nambiar, Career and Guidance Counsellor, Stonehill International School, Bangalore
Studying abroad is a life-changing experience for every student as they get a chance to experience the culture, history, and society of a different country. Besides that, they also get to explore and travel.
But the decision to study abroad comes with its own set of challenges. From shortlisting countries and universities to finalising a course and filling out the application form, the entire process can be quite intimidating for any aspirant. Setting realistic goals while college planning can be very helpful in tackling unprecedented issues, especially during the pandemic, when college admission policies have gone through major reforms.
While parents go through college websites taking notes on college and courses, counsellors and students around the world are busy sifting through resources to find the best-fit colleges. Starting early, planning well and keeping options open to fulfill your academic and life goals is crucial when preparing to study abroad.
With over 1.6 million schools in India, an increasing number of students are applying to study abroad. The number of applications from India has increased fourfold in the past decade. Owing to social media, targeted marketing from foreign institutions and an increased number of stakeholders entering the higher education sector, today’s Gen Z is spoilt for choices when it comes to education after high school. From unique course offerings to futuristic jobs, from motivating financial aid options to the absolute freedom of choosing a specific subject combination, studying abroad has certainly become more appealing to more high school students.
International students contribute to a thriving international student community by bridging the gap between cultures. India, being among the top nations to send students abroad to study, universities and higher education service providers consider India a strong market and offer customized options ranging from scholarships, post study-work visas, internships and jobs.
While it does allow aspiring high school students to explore state-of-the-art pathways to follow their passion, it is equally important to remember that it is an investment for life – emotionally and financially. Applying as an international student in a country abroad can come with its own set of challenges. Many aspiring candidates even relinquish the idea of studying abroad fearing the amount of paperwork, lack of confidence, lack of knowledge and sometimes just the overwhelming feeling of leaving one’s own country. Here are some ideas that students and parents can consider while planning for a university abroad.
It is one of the most important aspects, yet one of the most neglected ones. It is good to start planning for undergraduate courses abroad at least three years in advance. The time utilized in planning helps students and parents to avoid pitfalls such as – last minute unprecedented changes in the visa processes, a sudden shift in subject choice or any other unforeseen situations. College planning involves the selection of colleges, majors, identifying financial aid options, customizing the profile as per the university requirement and much more. All of these factors require time. College applications done over a while will garner more offers and better college fits.
Do your research
It is common practice to follow the Internet to seek information or pay a fortune to an agent that guarantees admission. It is advisable to avoid such service providers. Read up about the course on the university website, research available scholarships, living arrangement and visa requirements, by yourself. Ultimately, it is the student who has to manage and resolve matters on the university campus. Hence, it is crucial that the student is completely aware of all the processes for the selected course and the university.
Go college shopping
Gather as much information as possible while selecting your college and course. Read about the university on their website to gain authentic information and compare various universities for the same course. Check the entry requirements for each of your selections and email the university for clarifications. Create a college filter checklist and keep adding as you move ahead in your college selection process. Perform a self-reflection exercise in the form of a SWOT analysis and identity if a particular college/course will make you happy.
Meet the admission officer/admission representative
Many universities conduct online and face-to-face sessions for students and parents to gain access to information related to college life, fees and other selection procedures. It is a good way to understand more about college life. University admission officers give you a glimpse of the university student life ahead and also give you tips on making a successful transition. It is also a good way to get one step closer to your academic goals with an in-depth understanding of the learning environment. It is always a good idea to keep in touch with your admissions representative via email or phone, as applicable.
Join social media and community pages
Social media has helped students and families across the globe connect with prospective universities. Universities have community pages where students can get a much better view of college life outside class. Through the university social media pages, students can connect with alumni, current students and teaching staff along with other volunteers who assist in the admission process. It is a great way to get to know your chosen university through a different lens.
Keep up with your grades
The most important factor in the entire college admission process is grades. Universities across the world use high school grades as the top most filter while selecting candidates. Since grades form such an important part of the application file, a good grade can improve the chances of getting selected at a highly selective university. Most universities offer scholarships based on merit. A positive grade trend is essential for a strong college profile. Universities consider high school grades as an important indicator of college success.
Build a strong activity profile
Your college application file consists of activities that often showcase life skills, demonstrate interest in the selected major and also gives an insight into the applicant’s character. Through enrichment activities, summer jobs, short-term internships, community service and other volunteer activities, students can exhibit a range of skills. Universities look for students who will engage in the campus community and therefore a rich activity list or a strong resume will certainly give you an edge over other applicants. Plan your activities early in high school and continue them regardless of the course or college you select.
Plan your finances
A major cause of concern among aspiring undergraduates and postgraduates is the lack of understanding of the importance of financing higher education. It has been the reason for rising student debts and the increased number of college dropouts. Setting a tuition fee range while selecting colleges can help in choosing the right kind of colleges, in the first place. Students and parents are strongly encouraged to reach out to universities to seek correct information about financial aid, merit scholarships, loans, bursaries, etc. University websites have a plethora of information. Today, we have websites that offer students with assistance to calculate their cost of attendance, based on the university and major. Fees and financial discussions must take place in the initial stages of college planning.
Familiarize yourself with the country you plan to study in. Understand the weather. Living conditions are major contributors to student happiness. Through conversations with university representatives, community page interactions, internet searches, students and parents can ascertain important information like the cost of living outside the campus and rules and regulations for international students. Some countries even require students to be familiar with their native language. Include that in your planning document and prepare accordingly. Some universities require you to take English proficiency tests. it is a good idea to visit the university campus, if possible. With the pandemic and travel restrictions, universities offer virtual tours which can be equally helpful.
Studying abroad helps you appreciate other cultures, learn new languages and gain a greater understanding of the world. These are qualities companies look for when hiring in a dynamic work environment, and such traits will only become more important in the future. Once you meet all the requirements in your study abroad checklist, get ready to have an extraordinary experience at the destination of your choice!