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Study abroad application

Date of publishing: 2016.09.20     Published by Attila M.

The basics of application

You scanned through dozens of websites to find the most appealing foreign universities. Now that you narrowed down your choice to a couple of institutions, it is time to get started with the application process to study abroad. It may seem complicated at first glance, but if you compare it to the paperwork you did to get into higher education, it really isn't that bad.

In this comprehensive guide we give you tons of useful tips not to miss anything and to successfully complete your study abroad application. Also we collected the hidden application costs that often arise when one wants to study abroad. There are always institution specific details, so after reading this article please check the latest info on the site of your host institution and home institution in case you participate in an exchange student program.

When, where, what?

You made a decision, you want to study abroad. Now you have to check the application deadlines to see when you can start your study abroad program.

The application period for international studies is usually open from January till June for the fall semester and from September till December for the spring semester. Some higher education institutions require you to submit your application one year in advance, just like the exchange student selection process may start a year before studying abroad. Where do you have to hand in your application to study abroad?

You have to apply at your home institution if you want to do:

  • an exchange semester abroad / exchange year abroad (with a partner institution)
  • a double degree program (where one diploma is issued by your home university)

You have to apply at the foreign institution if you want to do:

  • a full-degree bachelor or master program abroad
  • an exchange semester (or year) at a host institution that does not have a partnership established with your home university (note: check for credit transfer rules)

Documents to study abroad

You already got together a list of potential study abroad programs. The application procedure varies by institution even within a country, but the following documents are almost always needed for full-degree international students and exchange students as well. Always check the website of the foreign institution or get in touch with the international office to clarify what exactly you need to complete the study abroad application process.

1. Application form

Nothing extraordinary here, you fill out an online or paper based application form to study abroad. You have to give some personal data, a list of emergency contacts and information about your previous education.

2. Learning agreement (only exchange students)

International exchange students must prepare a preliminary list of courses they want to take when they are studying abroad. Before going abroad, you have to discuss either with your professors or with the international office which courses can be transferred to your home university. The learning agreement follows you throughout your semester abroad, so be sure you send a copy to your international office as soon as your host institution approved it.

3. Transcripts of previous semesters

You have to scan the official transcripts (translated) from your past academic semesters or the pages of your diploma attachment. You grade point average should be displayed for each semester.

4. Scan of previous diploma

In case you are doing your first degree, you won't to forge one. However if you have 3 diplomas, most likely you have to scan the highest degree (Master > Bachelor) or the most relevant to the study abroad program you are applying for.

5. Valid passport or national identity card

If you need your passport to travel to the host country, it has to be valid 6 months after the end of your study abroad program.

6. Birth certificate

Full-degree international students who want to study abroad in a different economic region most likely need to submit their birth certificate as well.

7. Travel insurance

Most foreign countries ask for a travel insurance in advance for the whole period of your study abroad pogram. Sometimes your choice is narrowed down to an exclusive list of travel insurance providers, you should always check the related consular information about the host country insurance requirements.

8. Clean bill of health

You may need to provide proof that you received vaccinations against exotic diseases. You may have to get checked for contagious viruses, acute illnesses - you name it. Some countries will not even issue your visa without these medical records, so get them as soon as possible.

9. Certificates of language proficiency

Depending on the language of your study abroad program, you may need one of the following language certificates to start finalize your study abroad application:

  1. TOEFL, IELTS in English speaking countries
  2. CELU, DELE in Spanish speaking countries
  3. DELF, DALF, TCF, DAP in French speaking countries
  4. DSF, TestDaF, Goethe institut in German speaking countries

Take some online tests to figure out your current leve lat a certain language. Prepare for your upcoming language test the help of the official test guidebook. Give yourself time, often 2-3 months or more may be necessary to reach the required level.

10. Admission tests

Both of them check your English and quantitative skills and they are usually required by business schools. Again, use the official GMAT or GRE handbook to prepare for the test. Take your time, especially if your quantitative skills are a bit rusty.

11. Motivation letter / Study abroad essay

This is a crucial point of your study abroad application. You have to give the best of you, you must show who you really are and why are you worthy of studying in a certain foreign institution.

12. Resume / curriculum vitae (CV)

Considering the standard in your host country you may choose the Chronological, Functional, American, Europass, LinkedIn or Creative CV style.

13. Academic or professional letters of recommendation

Over the years of your education you must have liked some professors and surely there are some who saw something in you. Approach these professors and do not be shy to ask for a recommendation. Unless you were the worse student in their class, they will be happy to write a couple of lines about your qualities. Sometimes professors are busy, but want to help, so they will ask you to write a recommendation letter and they will sign it. You don't have to mention this when you submit the recommendation letter.

Assemble an outstanding resume / curriculum vitae (CV)

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to writing your resume.

  1. First things first: no typos or spelling mistakes
  2. Demonstrate your skills and strengths with specific examples.
  3. Result oriented examples are better than the task oriented ones.
  4. Avoid buzzwords like'creative', 'team player' or 'think outside the box'.
  5. Keep it short and concise, one page is enough, two pages are too long.
  6. Honesty is a factor, don't put stuff on your CV that you can't back up.
  7. Do not worry if you have less work experience, focus on what you learnt there.

A good resume takes time and effort, so you need to spend a couple of hours to find the most appropriate CV format, collect your strong points, write the backbone of your resume and then organize it in a concise and eye-appealing way.

Do not compromise on quality, after all this is how you sell yourself to the foreign institution, your CV will be in front of the recruiting committee when you have the oral interview. You may need professional help to make your CV look alive, translate your CV to a foreign language or proofread your CV to check for spelling and grammar mistakes.

Compose a mind-blowing cover letter / study abroad essay

It sounds like a nightmare for some international students. Either you don't know where to start or you have too much thoughts. You don't want to go with the cliches like you want to gain intercultural experience, you want to practice foreign languages or you want to give a kickstart to your international career.

Obviously it is not advised to list your favorite drinks and party places that you are definitely going to hit up once you are studying abroad. Mentioning your traveling fetish and wish to be independent abroad may also not engage the study abroad recruitment committee.

How to write a killer study abroad essay?

For starters, apply the rules we mentioned in the resume writing section. Second, do your research about the targeted institutions. In this document you state your purpose, you explain why did you choose this institution and how are you going to meet or potentially exceed their requirements. You have a chance to explain, why you are the best for them.

  1. Express your opinion on the local/ global achievements or impact of the host institution.
  2. Write about the courses you want to select abroad and how it helps your career.
  3. Know what kind of candidates they need and give examples why you are the best candidate.
  4. Give a bit of yourself, describe how the host institution is connected to your life goals.
  5. Write about how your strengths can contribute to the reputation of the institution.

Many international students just change the name of the institution to spam hundreds of universities with a study abroad essay sample. University recruiters read dozens of essays a day, you cannot fool them.

By following the points above, the recruitment committee will see that you took the time to write a real motivation letter and that your intent to apply should be handled accordingly.

Study abroad application twists

1. Original documents

Exchange students usually have to bring their original diplomas, transcripts, language certificates admission test results and other documents to the international office of their home institution. Full-degree students are most certainly required to provide these original documents for the foreign institution in the beginning of the registration period.

2. Translation and notarization

International students often have to deal with translating their original documents. Most of the times exchange students only need to translate their documents and the home university sort of automatically guarantees to their partner universities that those documents are real.

This is rarely the case with full-degree international students. If you directly apply to a foreign institution, then beyond the translation you often need to find a notarizer company. That can be a host country consulate in your country or a local company from the host country.

They will officially verify the authenticity of the translated documents you provided throughout the study abroad application process. The notarization is a local verification, focusing on the content of the documents.

3. One or more burocratic steps

Full-degree international students have so much more fun after the translation and notarization. They often have a trip to the local Educational Authorities to get an attesting stamp on their academic records or diploma. That is a local certificate. Then they go for another trip to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a second authentication procedure within the framework of the Apostille Convention. It is an international certificate. If you are unlucky, then the country of your host institution is not part of the Apostille Convention and you have two choices. Option A, you go to embassy of the host country (that is in your home country) or option B, you go to the embassy of your own country in the host country.

4. Cost of study abroad application

You rarely hear about this, so oftentimes you have to face these costs when you already spent a lot of time on submitting preparing and submitting your application to several higher educational institutions.

  • Enrolment fee or registration fee
    Some costs are openly presented upfront, such as the one-time enrollment fee or registration fee you pay to the host institution. Without paying this fee your application won't even be considered no matter what.
  • Translation fee
    In some cases you need a proper translation of your CV or study abroad essay, that may be an expected cost. Besides that you may need a translation of your birth certificate, passport, medical records, academic transcripts, diploma and the recommendation letter as well. Most likely you have to pay on a per character or per page basis and depending on the amount of the work you can get some discounts.
  • Notarization fee
    This is a fee that you have to pay for the authorazitaion of the content of your translated documents. Unless there is an agreement between your home country and host country, you have to notarize most of the documents we listed above. Usually you can expect a per page price.
  • Fees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    In most cases several other institutions ask for a smaller, one-time fee to issue or notarize personal educational documents.
  • Transcript fee
    In some cases your home university may set a price to issue official academic transcripts in a foreign language.
  • Study abroad program fees
    If you applied to study abroad through a third party, you may need to pay a symbolic registration fee. Of course the total cost of the study abroad program is another question, it is not part of the application fees.
  • Medical records
    Certain tests and vaccination may cost you money. Even if the tests themselves were for free, results in a foreign langauge cost extra.

Now you have to wait a bit till you get a positive answer from one of the institutions where you applied. Until that happens go ahead and read more about how to prepare for studying abroad.

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