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“Am I Already Too Late to Study Abroad?” An Expert Opinion on Planning Your Foreign Studies

Posted on Dec 08, 2017
  • When is the right time to planning for my study abroad program?”
  • “Am I too late or too early?”
  • “What do I need to do now so that I can leverage my potential to get into my coveted college?”

As career counsellors, we are often asked these questions by eager parents and students. In India, parents often play the guiding role to help their children go abroad. In most cases, parents even support their children’s foreign studies financially. It is therefore in the best interest of everyone to know what is the ideal time to start planning for higher studies abroad.

What is a Good Time to Plan Your Study Abroad Program?

To answer this question, first let us begin by breaking the entire process of going abroad for higher studies into three distinct processes:

  1. Profile Building to Maximize Your Chances of Getting Admits to Top Ranked Schools.
  2. Identification and Selection of Your Chosen Area of Study
  3. Preparing Your Documents and Credentials to Study in Your Desired School.

1. Profile Building:

“Most universities abroad look for not just academic excellence in your profile, but also other qualities that demonstrate experience, leadership potential, all-rounder personality, community service, and financial stability”

To build a robust profile that will get you into your desired list of colleges, you need to start planning as early as 3 to 4 years prior to the year of application. So, for instance, if you plan to apply in the fall of 2018, you should ideally have started building your profile as early as 2014, when you are probably still in high school. The reason we emphasize on an early start is that it allows you ample time to learn about the pre-requisites associated with applying to different universities and geographies. You also have enough opportunity to build the appropriate profile based on your aspirations.

Most universities abroad look for not just academic excellence in your profile, but also other qualities that demonstrate experience, leadership potential, all-rounder personality, community service, and financial stability. To be able to construct a profile that shows all these attributes would require time and multiple experiences.

A smart student would ensure to check these boxes by consciously engaging in those activities that throw a positive light on his or her profile. Whether it is winning at elocutions, dance, or basketball, all these credentials add up to the strength of your profile.

In addition to building a strong profile, any student planning to go abroad needs to be well acquainted with the academic model, the teaching methodology, and the pedagogy. It would be a rude shock to a student who does not find himself suitable for the academic rigor of international education. An early start ensures that you get familiar with the unknown aspects of education abroad, including issues like projects, internships, classroom interaction, electives, and the like.

  • If you are in Class 8:

Focus on your school grades and marks. Universities look at a student’s academic transcripts of four years (9 to 12). Keeping your focus on your future study plans, try your best to perform well in academics throughout high school. In addition to maximizing your grades, develop other academic credentials by taking tests conducted by national/international educational agencies like Olympiad, Maars, and other such, or publishing research in your area of interest. Remember, your academic orientation will also be judged on how consistent your performance has been.

  • If You are in Class 10:

Experiences and achievements beyond studies are of importance too. Make sure to be involved in a small number of activities: a sport, some art form, writing, research, or community work. It is also important that you show that you rose to a leadership position to position yourself as a leader. Experiences from the activities undertaken could form the backbone of your essays.

2. Identification and Selection of Your Chosen Area of Study

By the time you move on to undergraduate study, you should have an inkling of what you want to study. Do you want to pursue the sciences? Or are you interested in arts? Does computer science engage you? To be able to identify your area of interest, you can either visit for a career counsellor or take some career identification tests that will help you narrow down your choices. Choose a course that best suits your personality. Perhaps your school teachers or tutors may know what are your core strengths. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a program based on career trends or choice of your peers. Depending on your clarity of career goals, you may take as much as 2 years or as less as 2 months to decide on your choice of specialization.

  • If You Are an Undergraduate:

Admission committees recognize hard work and perseverance as a sign of a successful individual. If you are applying for higher studies, universities would want to see your academic rigor at the undergraduate level. Begin your research. Study the following:

  1. Which colleges offer the best courses in my area of study?
  2. Which countries offer the best programs and career prospects in that field?
  3. What are the prerequisites to pursue this program?

Understand how the overall experience differs between countries: US vs UK, and so on. To do your research, it is a good idea to attend college fairs. You can also talk to your seniors, friends and family who’ve been through the experience before. Researching early on will make the college and country selection process less overwhelming.

3. Preparing Your Documents and Credentials.

The actual process of preparing for your study abroad application can take place a couple of years prior to your application. The process will begin with taking standardized tests, such as the SAT for graduate program, the GRE, or GMAT for the masters’ program. Don’t forget to prioritize standardized tests, and make sure your score aligns with the expectations of your target colleges. This indicates whether you will be able to thrive in a competitive academic ambience.

  • Take your tests. Students should take their standardised tests at least 2 years prior to the year of application. This way, if you need to retake the exam, you still have the time. Prepare for the exams at least a year before you plan to take the test. Some concepts may be new, and may require more practice, hence it is always a good idea to have enough time on hand to prepare for the exam.
  • Work with a college counsellor, a senior and your parents to finalise the list of 8 to 10 colleges you will apply to. Read up as much as you can about your shortlisted colleges, so that you are completely familiar with them. Make sure you understand what the program entails, and you like what you are signing up for.
  • Compile your essays. Writing essays takes time, and there are many to write. All the profile building will help you come up with good content. Give yourself a few months to perfect your essays. Start early with your drafts, get feedback, and keep improving till you are happy with the final product. In addition to essays, you will also be required to procure letters of recommendation and your resume. Put in a lot of thought and planning before creating your resume or recommendation letters. Make sure that all the documents are consistent in their portrayal of you as a candidate, and do not send out mixed signals about your profile.
  • Compile your application. Fill in your forms, get your letters of recommendation and finish your financial aid documents and anything else the universities require.

In addition to the documents you can also work on the following:

Sign Up for Internship or Apprenticeship with a Good Mentor:

Enroll in a suitable internship program to widen your experience. An internship adds an edge to your resume, as it shows that you are focused and serious about your aspiration. Furthermore, education in foreign universities relies heavily on hands on approach to learning, and your internships will be viewed favourably, especially if you have maximized your impact during your time there.

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