Finding higher education abroad can be very stressful and complicated if you don’t know where to begin. Despite having great GPAs, extracurricular activities and aspirations, most students fail terribly due to a lack of proper study abroad guidelines. Each country presents its unique challenges and opportunities for international students. Successfully exploring all the opportunities will provide you with the best outcome. As most students don’t know where to start, we thought we'd write an article on “How to Study Abroad: Higher Education 101”.
Well, leaving your family support system behind is no easy task. Inappropriate information on how to study abroad may result in significant financial challenges, failure to complete your studies, failure to manage a proper part-time job (if you are willing/able to get one), not being able to communicate with your peers and faculty members and failure to secure a job after graduation. Needless to say, there are many other issues.
It would be best to choose your Study abroad destinations based on your interest, course curriculum, future job prospects, living costs, part-time work opportunities, weather preferences, student opportunities at your future school, etc. Knowing the factors mentioned above in-depth will eliminate the likelihood of future difficulties.
Due to those small silly mistakes, many international students became illegal aliens before completing their studies (A BIG NO!). They pose a risk of jail-time, waste a large sum of money and possibly wreck their personal and family's lives. So, you better equip yourself with 'the right information on how to study abroad'. Another common mistake we see is that a student enlists the help of 'agencies'. Using these so-called expert education agencies not only increase your chance of getting deceived (and losing a small fortune), but it also increases the chances of getting banned permanently by that country (if your agency provides falsified/misinterpreted documents).
It would be best if you avoid any study abroad consultancy services or agencies because:
They get a hefty commission for every student they refer to a university or college (Which means their priority is their profits). The commission amount varies. For example, the average commission per student for the USA or Canada, or the U.K. varies from 5–10%. Australia or New Zealand universities pay much more, around 10–25% for each student. So, whose interest is served in this the most? Who is the winner? Will your interest be served over there?
They ask for money for each step of your application process (which 100% you can do yourself). Though some only expect you to pay after acceptance, it will cost you a fortune to pay for the things you can do yourself!
A simple mistake can end your higher education journey. You don’t need an agency to learn the answers to how to study abroad. Many agencies will prepare applications on your behalf (as is their service), and you won’t get access to them. A student should be responsible for writing a statement of purpose (SOP), NOT ANY AGENCY. There have been instances where agencies submitted falsified or misrepresented documents that lead to the student being banned for 5-10 years, or worse. You can blame the agency, but, it will be of no use because the embassy will hold you responsible, no matter what.
We firmly believe that if you can make the crucial decision to study abroad, you are very much capable of doing everything else yourself.
The requirements for an international student vary from university to university and/or from country to country. Most international students are required to have the following:
Grade-12 level of education: Most colleges or universities require at least the completion of a grade-12 level. The examples can be A-levels, Higher Secondary School Certificate Examination (HSC), International Baccalaureate (I.B.), Senior (Upper / High) Middle School Graduation Certificate, GED, etc.
English Language Proficiency (ELP): International students are required to prove their English language proficiency (If taking courses in English, of course) by at least getting a 6.0-6.5 IELTS academic score with no less than 5.5-6.0 on any band. Some schools require higher scores. You may also consider seating for other ELP tests such as TOEFL, CAE, CPE, etc. Suppose your previous medium of instruction is in English (At least two years of senior level or higher classes) or your first language is in English and you can prove it with proper documents, the school you are applying to may exempt you from ELP requirements. Students of Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, for example, are not required to take a ELP test. Note, your test cannot be more than two years old at time of immigration.
Aptitude tests: Most colleges or universities require students to submit SAT or ACT scores during application submissions. Even if this might not be a mandatory condition from the college or university you are applying to, you should consider taking one because a good score will significantly increase the chance of getting an admission.
Recommendation Letter: Before applying, try managing to get at least 2-3 recommendation letters. Your guidance counselor/teachers at school must write your recommendation letters. Sometimes, the college/university may provide an option to submit a professional recommendation letter. If your employer is willing to write it, you should submit it also.
Write an excellent application essay: This is one of the most important parts of your application. An excellent application essay will create some magic that you may never think of. Learn more about the Do’s and don’t of writing an application essay.
Apply: You must submit your well-prepared application after the portal opens, but before it closes. The probability of getting admission may increase with anearly application, depending on the institution. These days, most schools accept applications online. So, there's no reason to waste your time lingering. Some schools may require sending hard copies of documents such as transcripts, test scores, etc., directly to them, from the source, in a sealed envelope, after submitting your application.
Get Accepted: An offer letter from a college or university will bring you one step closer to materializing your Study Abroad dream. Getting an offer letter is just the beginning; students must apply for a student visa/permit to pursue the intended degree. Apply for it and Fly! (Sorry, not quite yet!)
The majority of international students worldwide study at their own expense or at least partially. Full scholarships for international students are rare and it's a highly competitive endeavour. These are the most common types of scholarships, from schools, for international undergraduate students:
Merit-Based Scholarships: Most universities or colleges offer a few full-scholarships, also known as full-ride scholarships, to international students. Very few international students entering that particular university, in any year, receive this type of scholarship. Full scholarships generally cover full tuition, fees, accommodation costs, food costs, and monthly allowances. There are also some partially funded merit-based scholarships available to international students at each university.
Need-Based Scholarships: Need-based scholarships are provided to international students based on their needs. These types of scholarships may take both student merit and financial need into account or only need. U.S. colleges or universities offer need-based scholarships to international students.
Need Blind Scholarships: All IVY league schools offer these types of scholarships to international students. Your financial capacity would not hinder your admission decision. If you are accepted, they will offer you the rest of the required amount in the form of a scholarship/tuition reduction to continue your studies.
There are other scholarships, such as government and foundational scholarships. Please note that these scholarships are often extremely limited and highly competitive.
The scope of opportunities for International students looking to study abroad in graduate degrees is much better than for undergraduate students. The average tuition fee is lower, with plenty of scholarship opportunities. Most international students planning to apply for graduate programs are required to have the following:
Bachelor's Degree: Most colleges or universities require at least completion of a bachelor’s degree to apply to their programs. Depending on the program you are applying to, some programs may explicitly mention a few courses you must take as a prerequisite. The average CGPA varies but most commonly, you need to have at least:
CGPA of 2.75 (on a scale of 4) or 75% percentile marks. OR,
CGPA 3 (on a scale of 4) in the last two years of your education.
English Language Proficiency (ELP): International students are required to prove their English language ability through at least a 6.5 IELTS academic score with no band score less than 6.0. You may also consider sitting for other ELP tests such as TOEFL, CAE, CPE, etc. If your undergraduate medium of instruction was in English and you can prove it through proper documents, the university you are applying to may exempt your ELP requirement. Students of Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, for example, are not required to take the ELP test.
Aptitude tests: Many colleges or universities require students to submit GRE or GMAT scores during application submission. The requirement for aptitude tests varies from program to program. Some colleges or universities might recommend it only, rather than making it mandatory. A good score will significantly increase the chances of getting admitted.
Recommendation Letter: Before applying, manage to obtain at least 2-3 recommendation letters. Most of the recommendation letters must be academic (from your university faculty members). Approach those faculty members who know you well, for a recommendation letter. For professional programs such as an MBA or MTEI, a professional recommendation may be required from your employer.
Write an excellent application essay: We can’t stress the importance of an excellent application essay enough. A well-rounded excellent application essay will significantly increase your chances of getting admission. Learn more about the Do’s and don’t of writing an application essay.
Apply: Yes, apply as early as possible to your graduate program. Generally, graduate application for international students is open from September to March. Applying early will increase your chance of getting an acceptance letter. Some schools may require you to send hard-copies of documents such as transcripts, test scores, etc., directly to them, from source, in a sealed envelope, after submitting an online application.
Get Accepted: Congratulations to you if you get an admission offer. If not, don’t be heart-broken. Prepare for the next-year application phase and prepare it as strongly as possible. If you receive your acceptance letter, then you are one more step towards achieving your dream. Now it is time to prepare your student visa application. Apply for it and Fly!
As many international students look for opportunities to study abroad for free, you should keep in mind that scholarships for international students are very competitive and very limited. Students who score full-scholarships have great application profiles. (By the way, it doesn’t mean that you need to have high CGPA. High CGPA helps, but it is not everything.)
Before we start looking at study abroad for free opportunities, at the masters level, let’s learn more about the types of graduate programs:
Thesis-Based Programs: Thesis-based programs offer generous funding opportunities to international students. As thesis-based programs are research-based, you will be able to avail yourself of different types of funding. You can apply for all 1-5 mentioned scholarships (mentioned in the next topic). Please note that most thesis-based programs require students to arrange a supervisor before application submission.
Course-Based Programs: Course-based programs have a limited number of scholarship opportunities. You can apply for 1st and 5th scholarships. The scope of others is extremely limited.
Professional Programs: Professional programs such as Master of Law (LLM), Masters of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MTEI) offer extremely limited scholarships. You can apply to only the 1st mentioned scholarship. Other scholarships mentioned are extremely rare for international students.
The most common types of scholarships offered to international students are generally the following:
University Entrance Scholarships
Teaching Assistantship (T.A.)
Research Assistantships (R.A.)
Graduate Assistantships (G.A.)
Other forms of departmental funding/scholarship
Government Scholarships: Almost all governments in the world offer merit-based scholarships to attract qualified international students. The examples are Monbukagakusho (MEXT) scholarship by the Japanese Government and the Canada Vanier Scholarship by the Canadian Government.
Foundational Scholarships: Scoring a foundational scholarship is extremely tough because it is allocated for their employees. But don’t despair. Many international students are able to manage to get these scholarships, that fully or partially pay their tuition fees.
All students may be presented limited opportunities to apply for small-grants or partial scholarships if they do well in their first and/or second semester.
The application process for Ph.D. level programs is slightly different from undergraduate or graduate applications. The application process for a Ph.D. level international student starts with finding a potential supervisor first. After a supervisor agrees to supervise/mentor you, you can start your application. The scope of scholarship (all eight mentioned scholarship types) and application procedure is the same as for graduate students.
A common misconception that prevails with international students is that you need to have a master’s degree to apply for a Ph.D. This is not true. Many students directly enroll in a Ph.D. program after an undergraduate degree. Those students who enroll directly in a Ph.D. program have higher CGPA's, significant research experience, great GRE/GMAT and ELP scores, excellent recommendation letter(s) and a wonderfully written statement of purpose.
International Students apply mostly in the Fall, which starts in September. Some universities accept international students on winter or spring terms as well. It is highly recommended that you start preparing your application at least six months before submitting your application. So, if you are planning to apply for Fall ’22 admission, you can submit your application between September ’21- April ’22. Therefore, you need to start preparing from March or April of 2021!
Fall Term: September- December
Winter Term: January - April
Summer Term: May-August
Almost all schools offer classes in all the terms. While undergraduate students must attend at least two terms (Fall and Winter), Graduate and Ph.D. students must attend three terms, in most cases.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is a general outline that will help students see the whole Study Abroad picture. The requirements for admission, steps to follow, scholarship opportunities may vary slightly from country to country. This article is written to provide Study Abroad Information to students willing to enroll at any college or university in Canada, the USA, U.K., Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand.