How to apply for a degree at a foreign university
Every year more and more people choose to apply to universities abroad. Their advantages have always been obvious, like traveling, meeting new people, learning foreign languages, but the reason for the growing amount of people seriously considering studying abroad is the growing awareness of its actual availability. The application process is transparent: everything you need to know about it is on the universities’ websites, and most of its steps can be easily done without leaving home. The myth, that going to foreign schools is always expensive, and it is only affordable for wealthy people, is no longer relevant – there are a lot of different ways to find a scholarship and funding by merely searching the internet. An applicant only needs time and patience.
What needs to be done first is choosing a field, which you want to study, and a language, in which you can do that. If you want to study in a language that is not your native, then you would probably need to take a language test to prove your proficiency. The test’s score requirements depend on schools and programs. English is one of the main options because courses in English are offered in many countries besides English speaking ones, so there are more chances to find various programs in your field in different countries: from Australia to Germany, from France to Argentina.
After choosing a subject, it is essential to make a research and find schools that offer programs in it, and then focus on these schools and their requirements. Some fields of study, like math or politics, due to their popularity are available in a big number of universities. There is no need to be afraid to aim at top schools – it is not impossible to get into Oxford and study English there or go to MIT for Computer Science. World’s best universities usually look for diversity and are happy to take international students. They are also big and rich enough to accept a large number of students each year and offer their own fundings. However, it does not mean that Harvard or Cambridge are equally good for everyone, as there are fields that are better studied in smaller schools. This is why it is important not to just look for big names, but find out which universities fit specific academic interests better than others.
For undergraduate courses the requirements are usually straightforward and include formal documents – most schools ask to fill in a special application with basic information about an applicant, send a high school transcript and mid-year senior grades, school report, which is normally a form completed by a school counselor and/or a school profile, teacher recommendations (often two), finances form, showing your ability to pay tuition fees or a scholarship that would cover it for you, and, most of the times, an application fee. Some schools have financial aid, applying for which is possible only during the application process for the course itself. Depending on a university, an applicant may be required to take a test – it could be a standardized test in a specific subject, like SAT and ACT in the United States, or university’s special written test. All the details about the necessary forms and tests are usually available on universities’ websites.
There are two more personal steps in the application process that not every university has, – submission of a written work and an interview. A written work should not necessarily be on the exact same subject with the chosen course at the university, it can be just related to the relevant field of study as long as it is a thorough academic paper, showing applicant’s ability to argue and support his or her argument. The same with the interviews: they are not exams, even if the conversation ends up in a discussion of an applicant’s academic field, the questions are going to be general, concerning the applicant’s interests in it and motivation for studying both this specific subject and in this specific school. What admissions are looking for, while reading written works and conducting interviews, is applicant’s way of thinking, his or her reasoning abilities, and critical thinking skills. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, in some schools interviews are more like oral exams on specific subjects or even reading lists, but it is rare, and the schools let their applicants know about such interviews from the very beginning.
For those applying for graduate programs, perfect transcripts do not play such an important role as for undergraduates. Occasionally, undergraduate admissions ask for a statement of purpose, which is crucial for applications for graduate applicants. A statement of purpose explains an applicant’s interest in the program and in the school, and it is also not as formal as many people think it should be. An applicant should persuade the readers of his statement not only that he or she really wants to study the course at this particular university, but also that the school and the program really need him or her, and both of them would only benefit if the applicant gets in. This is where an applicant should be engaging and show his personality, as there are many other statements of purpose in the admission offices, and if a statement is full of clichés and does not say anything unusual, then no one will even finish reading it. That is the reason why many students start their statements with personal anecdotes that tell stories from their experience and demonstrate their motivation for the subject they chose.
In addition to a statement of purpose, graduate applicants also need to submit an official transcript of their undergraduate course, a standard CV or resume, written works (usually two), academic letters of recommendation. Sometimes there are additional requirements: to get into a master’s or PhD program in the United States an applicant needs to take tests like GRE or GMAT, in Eastern Europe and Finland there may be entrance examinations, and some universities ask for a research proposal. Research proposal is a summary of the central issues and questions of the research an applicant wants to conduct during the course with bibliography included. The proposal is supposed to convince others of the value of the research and its significance nowadays. Overall, applications for graduate programs are not about how did you do at high school or university, but about ideas you have, how you support them using the knowledge you have gained, and whether they matter in the world of the academia.
Getting into schools abroad may seem hard, but the application process needs nothing more than precision and attention. Once you have a list of what needs to be done and a clear understanding of what universities want to hear from you, then the whole process is just a question of time. Universities’ websites usually provide with good advice based on the courses’ features and even give characteristics of successful candidates, so it is a good idea to thoroughly study all the information that a university offers to its applicants. It gives a clear understanding of which documents to find and even how to describe yourself in a statement of purpose.