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Applying for higher studies abroad

Farah Naz Aditi | Thursday, 19 March 2020


As more and more students aim to pursue higher education in their respective fields, a growing number of them are planning to attend universities abroad. This is the combined result of the blurring international boundaries, advancement in information technology as well as the economic prosperity that the country achieved significantly in the last decade. What was once a dream is now an everyday phenomenon. However, as increasing number of students plan to go abroad for studies, there remains numerous questions-- the answers to which could pave the way to a better and informed decision.

When to start preparation

One of the most important questions that needs to be answered is-- when is the right time to start the process. This is particularly important because most universities have a single intake in a year and the process of application is lengthier than it seems at first. If one plans to apply abroad, the answer to this question is to start right away. Applying abroad often requires students to take standardised aptitude or language tests, preparing for which can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. Thus, it is only advisable that once the plan is set, preparation should begin.

Taking the tests

Most universities abroad require candidates to report the scores achieved on language tests and aptitude tests for admission. This particular step can be a good differentiating factor. Good scores will definitely bar one from rejection. It is a good filtering mechanism for institutions, which receive thousands of applications and set a minimum score to make it to the next level of assessment.

In case of language, the two most popularly taken tests are TOEFL and the IELTS. Both the tests are universally accepted and requires the candidate to be tested on English reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.

GMAT and GRE are the two aptitude tests taken for graduate admission. The tests check the candidate's quantitative, verbal and analytical skills on a broad level although the format varies to some scale. A common query faced is - what is the difference between the two tests. The GMAT is taken for applying to business schools, particularly for an MBA degree whereas the GRE is more of the general test. The tests are interchangeably used nowadays, with little preference of one above another but it is best to check the particular institutions' requirement before sitting for the test. The takeaway is that both these tests require adequate time of preperation for scoring high and as such the sooner one starts prepping, the better. In fact, students in their undergraduate can take the tests in their semester breaks or free time since the scores are valid for five years.

The application process

The first step is to do some online research and make a list of the universities one intends to apply to. Students often use rankings such as the QS or Timer Higher Education to assess a university. Although this might be a good way to conduct the preliminary assessment, the final list should take factors such as - course content, employability, tuition fees, scholarship options, living conditions etc. into account. This is a very crucial step of the application process, since a student will dedicate considerable amount of time applying to the selected universities and meeting their requirements. Moreover, some universities offer significantly better deals than others-- hence the need to dig into the details. 

Once the list of intended places to apply is finalised, the next step is to create a profile in each of the university's websites and go through the online application form.  Most universities require filling up an online form with basic information, educational history, standardised test scores, extracurricular activities, interests and some essays to know the applicant's motivations and goals.

Once the rest is filled out, the challenging part of the application is the essays or the statement of purpose that the university requires. This is one of the deciding factors for admission and as such requires extremely well written answers. Each candidate's life is different, each essay will tell a different story but the one tip that will always work is to be candid about one's motivations and goals and to lay out in very precise and concrete words, how this education will be a valuable addition to his/her life.  Sloppy and fake essays will take one nowhere, thus it is important that one spends enough time on this to present one's case.

Once the form is completed, an online payment fee is to be paid using dollar endorsed credit cards before hitting the submit button. Submitting the application well before the deadline is important since technical glitch might delay the process abruptly and hence a buffer of two/three days before deadline is helpful.

Things to remember

Not all applicants will be successful in their very first attempt. Some might get admitted, but no scholarship. Some will face visa issues. Thus, it is important for one to remember that it is a lengthy process and starting the process sooner will result in a greater chance of success. While applications often have multiple stage deadlines, early applications are often considered more for scholarships and funding than late ones. Thus, applying within the first slot is recommended. This will also give one more time to prepare for the physical and emotional burden of relocating to a foreign land.

Applicants need to keep in mind that this opportunity to study abroad is a great exposure and all good things come at a price, which they should be ready to pay with their efforts, time and commitment.

The writer has recently completed her BBA from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. She can be reached at farahaditi9@gmail.com