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Applying for college abroad has gained a lot of popularity among Indian students in the recent years. Pursuing undergraduate or graduate education abroad offers lucrative opportunities in terms of career growth, access to quality education, experiencing a new culture, broadening the mindset and improving future employment prospects. Although, many students might be reluctant to step out of the comfort zone that their country offers it is a journey that enables one to learn a lot about oneself, face challenging situations and emerge successful by having a better understanding about the world. As one would desire a positive study abroad experience, it is important to wisely invest time and resources in understanding this process so that one picks up a destination, program and university that matches ones interest, future academic and career prospects.

Pursuing undergrad education abroad is a complex and a challenging process. It is a journey which typically begins at the start of the high school (9th grade) and involves taking up challenging courses, preparing for SAT/ ACT examinations, pursuing extracurricular activities and shaping up as a well­ rounded individual. Let us look at various steps involved in applying for college abroad for undergraduate studies:

  • When should you apply?

    The thumb rule is the sooner one applies for admissions, the better their chances are of securing admits. This allows sufficient preparatory time to arrange for paperwork, finances and to fulfil the required visa formalities. Applying early also gives an opportunity to apply to other schools, if one is not selected in their dream university. Moreover, chances of securing scholarships and tuition waivers are higher, if one applies early. It is interesting to note the fact that universities that are highly ranked have deadlines up to one year prior to the start of the program and lesser ranked universities have deadlines six months prior to the start of the course.

  • Number of schools one should apply for?

    Here, it is important to understand that quality is always better than quantity. One good application stands out in comparison to multiple bad/ poor applications. Also, schools charge application fees from international applicants; therefore it is important to prioritize the number of application one desires to send. Gaining admit in a top­ ranking university is usually difficult, therefore one might need to apply to multiple high­ ranking colleges. However, in case if one is applying to low­ ranking universities, as it is much easier to secure admits, applying to just one school should serve the purpose.

  • Requirements to get selected for college abroad

    This is a very tricky question to reply to. To apply for college abroad one needs to understand that every program and university has their own set of specifications and requirements. Furthermore, all the requirements are mentioned and described on the school’s website. Some basic criteria include the fact that the applicant should have completed high school and must fulfil the language requirements as cited by the school. The applicant must also have participated in extra and co­ curricular activities and should have proven their ability in completing challenging courses (Advanced Placement Program).

  • Requirements to get selected for college abroad

    This is a very tricky question to reply to. To apply for college abroad one needs to understand that every program and university has their own set of specifications and requirements. Furthermore, all the requirements are mentioned and described on the school’s website. Some basic criteria include the fact that the applicant should have completed high school and must fulfil the language requirements as cited by the school. The applicant must also have participated in extra and co­ curricular activities and should have proven their ability in completing challenging courses (Advanced Placement Program).

  • Advanced Placement (AP) Program

    This program offers advanced/ university level courses that allow one to earn college credits during high school itself. Participation in AP courses and the corresponding scores in these examinations are globally recognized in more than 60 countries. Pursuing AP courses during secondary school could allow one to skip some freshman courses in the university. At present, there are more than a thousand schools in approximately 116 countries besides the USA that offer AP programs.

  • Applying for the SAT

    One of the important steps of enrolling in a four­ year undergraduate degree program involves having an SAT (general) and if required SAT (subject) score. The admission test requirements are mentioned on the universities website and an applicant should start preparing and practising for SAT while in high school itself and not wait for the last moment

  • College Deadlines

    Generally students apply when they are in their senior year (either fall or winter session). There are different types of deadline such as early action, early or regular decision. Some universities also offer rolling admissions. On average, early deadlines are in November and regular decision deadlines are in January. Even universities with rolling admissions, encourage candidates to apply early, to better their chances of admission.

  • Documents required for undergraduate application

    Besides the standardized test and language scores, there are various other documents that are needed. Also, the application checklist differs from college to college and sometimes even course to course. However, few of the most common required documents included submitting a complete university application form which comprises basic personal details and program details, high school mark sheets translated in English, passport copy, proof of finances, statement of purpose, recommendation letters, essays and sometimes even a resume.

  • To help an applicant prepare for pursuing undergraduate studies, the following 8­ step guide would prove to be useful:

    Two years before joining the University:

    • Step 1: Research and study the universities and programs

      Look into the school’s location, cost of the academic program, the course content and majors being offered and the activities provided by the campus life. These aspects will help one select their top/ preferred or dream destination universities and will help in narrowing down the list of universities one actually aims to apply to.

    • Step 2: Prepare and take the SAT

      Having a SAT score helps to shortlist universities very effectively because programs do give weightage to SAT score while taking an admission decision. Some students also undertake the SAT Subject Tests to showcase their subject specific talent.

    • Step 3: Look into the admission and English proficiency requirements

      While taking admission decisions, almost all universities require the English language proficiency scores. Therefore, students need to either take the TOEFL or IELTS. This is especially true, if the student’s native language is not English or if they have not studied in English medium schools.

    • One year before joining the University:

    • Step 4: Draft the financial plan

      Research the tuition and living costs. Figure out options for being awarded a scholarship/ tuition waiver/ financial aid as an international undergrad student. Applying for college abroad has to be a well­ thought out process and sorting out the financial aspects helps one arrive at a better decision.

    • Step 5: Gather the required paperwork for each college application

      Every college application would have various requirements such as resumes, essays, and recommendation letters. Make sure that every aspect is thoroughly well­ written and proof­ read. Also, make sure the application is completely filled and the relevant places are signed.

    • Step 6: Apply before deadline

      Make sure to submit the application well before the deadline. It would be a smart thing to apply to multiple universities at the same time by filing the application via common application portals such as Universal College Application for UK universities, or Common Application for US universities.

    • Step 7: Arrive at a decision

      Once you start receiving admits or rejects, you will be in a better position to decide while school are you actually attending. This will help you settle your finances, shop as per the weather requirements and connect with friends/ alumni who are either going to the same university or have graduated from that particular school.

    • Step 8: Check and complete passport and visa requirements

      This is the most important aspect and has to be fulfilled in order to gain entry in the foreign land. Visa requirements for every country are different and the required paperwork and the interview formality have to be completed.

    • Key pointers to keep in mind while applying for college abroad

      1. Be open to different possibilities and admission options:

        As a study abroad applicant even if you are very clear or ambitious to aim for few selected universities, you should still apply for universities where you have a realistic chance of getting through based on your scores and GPA.

      2. Be practical and honest about your strengths and weaknesses:

        Spend time in understanding the program requirements and studying if what is being offered truly fits in with your career goals, background and interests. It is also best to contact the international services/ students department to clarify your doubts/ concerns.

      3. Understand the application process:

        Some universities require the applicant to apply via their website; some require the documents to be sent by post. Some universities suggest filing the application via a specific online/ common portal platform. Therefore, before one starts applying, it is imperative to understand the process, so that any hurdle or issues encountered can be resolved much before the deadline. Waiting for the last moment can result in panic and unnecessarily delay the process and lessen the chances of securing admit.

      4. Give importance to minor steps/ requirements:

        Filing in an online application can be tedious and doing it for multiple universities could be confusing. Therefore, it is important to be careful about every single detail that is being asked. Leaving an optional field blank is not really encouraged and one should fill in all the required fields to the best of one’s ability.

      5. Furnish strong documents:

        Good, well­ written and creative documents could help one gain admit even if their scores are slightly lower than the average class scores. Therefore, spending time in writing, brainstorming and drafting strong essays and statement of purpose/letter of motivation can go a long way in helping someone gain admits. As part of these documents, it should be clear to the admissions committee what you hope to gain from the program, what are your academic and professional aspirations, why are you an ideal fit/ candidate for the program and how do you aim to contribute to the college/ university.

      6. Check the paperwork requirements:

        Most of the universities require transcripts/ mark sheets to be submitted in the official language of the country. For example, American universities require documents to be submitted in English. Therefore, if the applicant requires translation services for their documents, the same should be arranged by keeping in mind the timeline and the university specifications. Allowing ample to time to prepare the required documents allows the applicant to make necessary changes, if something is amiss.

      7. Accommodation:

        Once a student is admitted to the University of their choice and their visa formalities are sorted, they should look into accommodation possibilities. Students can either decide to stay in an on­ campus accommodation or rent a place off­ campus. Generally, universities provide on­ campus accommodation at student halls but students on a lower budget can rent a shared accommodation in a flat along with other students. Many a time’s universities international student centre/ student support centre assist and offer advice on finding accommodation closer to the university and in nearby localities.

      8. On­ campus work permit:

        For an undergrad student, on student visa there are restrictions to pursue on­ campus employment as well as off­ campus opportunities. One must check with the international student centre as to what are the permissible hours for different types of employment. Mostly, there is a cap on the number of hours one can work during spring and fall semesters. However, during vacation/ summer­ time one can work full­ time.

      Overall, pursuing undergrad college abroad would be a one in a lifetime experience for an international student and they should put in their best foot forward and strive to submit a good and a strong application.

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