Applying abroad? A five-point plan
5 Things Indian students should know if they’re considering undergraduate study abroad.
Often I meet applicants who want to study outside India (mainly US and UK), but who seem to be unaware of some of the major components and requirements of the application process. Here is a list of things I wish everyone knew before they think about whether study abroad is the right choice for undergraduate studies.
1.) Different academic criteria count in different places – If you want to study in the UK, your 10th board marks (or 10th standard school marks if you haven’t taken a board exam) and your predicted 12th standard board score will be taken into account for admission. However those who wish to study in the US should know that every school report card and mark sheet must be sent to the college with the application from 9th standard onward. No report card can be omitted. Board scores are also taken into consideration, but continuous assessments from 9th -12th standard are important criteria for US universities.
2.) Application timing – Applications must be submitted 8-10 months before the college year starts (August or September). So for most students this means that around November of the 12th standard application deadlines begin and continue through February for some colleges. For the US, the majority of deadlines are December 31st of 12th standard. Being prepared for application submission takes at least six months, if you take into account standardized testing (e.g. SAT/ACT) and essay writing. So this means that in around May of 11th standard (or 1.5 years before you will attend college) you need to be seriously engaged in the application process, preferably with your testing completed. Often I am contacted by parents whose children complete board exams in March or May and they want to attend college abroad the following August, but by this point admissions decisions have been released. There will not be any seats available at top colleges abroad by this stage. Admission to a less well-known college might be possible, but this represents a significant compromise, which can be avoided if applications are timed properly in the prior months.
3.) Non-academic requirements – Extra curricular activities are important for the US, while experience is more important for the UK. US colleges are seeking a well-rounded class of students—they want the incoming batch of students to fit together like a puzzle of people with different strengths and interests who can add diverse perspectives to the campus. For this reason the application process prioritizes strong extra-curricular interests including sports, arts, music, student leadership or social service (note, this does not mean every student must excel in all of these; choose one or two). On the other hand, UK colleges are most interested in whether an applicant is prepared to commit to his or her chosen course of study. So if you are applying for engineering in the UK, you should have done a project, internship or additional reading, which demonstrates why you have chosen to study engineering.
4.) Testing – Only US colleges require the SAT, but this doesn’t mean there is no testing for UK and Canada. Depending on the course of interest, applications to the UK can require testing. You will only come to know the required tests and their timings once you have decided on your course. For example Imperial College has specific testing requirements for engineering applicants, whereas another college may not require any engineering test. Also, check English proficiency testing requirements carefully – though sometimes applications do not require the tests, visa processing may require it. And keep in mind that some colleges in the US do not accept IELTS, though UK accepts only IELTS and not TOEFL.
5.) Course selection – UK colleges are like India, students select a course and they are committed to study that subject for three years. There is no option to switch, nor are there cross-disciplinary, add-on subjects, such as minors or concentrations. In the US, however, students are allowed to change their major course of study within the four years of their college education and/or add on minor subjects of study. In fact, statistics suggest that at least 80% of US college students change their major at least once. This is allowed because often students discover course options that are more enriching than what they had originally chosen.
These five points reflect the basic knowledge students and their families should have if they want to pursue undergraduate studies abroad. Beyond this there are innumerable nitty-gritty details that need to be attended to before an application is ready. Planning ahead is the best strategy for success.