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Steps while deciding to Study Abroad

Do you have a passport? It is important to know this before you start the process.

There is always a methodology that one must follow if you wish to study abroad. Remember, it's an investment of time and money and thus the decision on what to select and how to select is the key. Here are some logical steps that you must follow:

  1. Initial Thoughts: Often times you think and just keep thinking. Simply, pen it down. You must know what you like and the rule says: "Study what you like". Because only then you will be able to do well. For instance, I get a lot of students who wish to study FINANCE because they think they will have a better future. However, you can easily make out that they won't be able to study finance at all because all the while in the counseling session they only spoke about strategy and marketing. Never make this mistake
  2. Decide and select your course: The logical step after point one is to read through a lot of courses that interest you and even randomly. Mind you, do this without understanding the prospect or checking out the rankings because most often than not, you will only realize that the number of rankings you find will increase you dilemma. Once you feel you would enjoy studying a subject (or a course), finalize it. Remember - the key is the course content and nothing else. To add, also consider the next point while deciding on your course
  3. Career Goals: Check if your selected course content leads you to become what you always wanted to do in life. You don't want to join a marketing company after you've studied banking and finance, do you? Write your goals and believe me, these will change over time. But at least you had a start to the correct method of a thought process. Also remember, be a little realistic. For instance, if you know you are going to join your business in the future, you might as well study something that you feel will help your business rather than deciding to study which will simply buy you a degree. However, as advised the path that you must follow is: "Study what you like" but add the spice of pursuing it as your career 
  4. Select Universities: Now that the course has been decided upon, start looking out at two things a. universities offering your kind of course and b. rankings and ratings of the universities. In stead of comparing countries, the best is to look how good a course is and it's standing. Ask yourself a simple question. Assume you wanted to study an MBA, would you mind studying at an IIM Ahmedabad or alternatively, a Masters in Management at a London Business School? Well, if you ask me, I would not mind studying either of these (if at all they accept me). Thus, comparing courses and universities is acceptable but comparing countries should only be an option if you have implied benefits of going to that country like your brother or sister lives there and thus you can believe it will be easier for you or if you are obsessed with a specific country (for all what you have heard) and only wish to ensure that you spend a really good time studying there (the experience) and such other factors. But remember, not many help you with the money you are paying or developing a career as you may personally have to and thus boiling down to best study options is the best bet
  5. Check entry requirements: Do check the entry requirements otherwise you are only wasting your time. As a fresh graduate, you cannot join the MBA at a London Business School or at an NYU Stern (as we all call it). You must get realistic. It also involves money for eg. if you apply to a list of about 8 US universities, it may cost about Rs 40000 to Rs 50000 only in the application process. Thus, randomly applying is useless. The entry requirements will also tell you whether you need to give a GMAT or GRE or SAT and / or TOEFL or IELTS. These are some of the most popular tests accepted worldwide. All Universities (in general) mention the list of documents that are required to be submitted while applying
  6. Register for test dates and gather your documents: If you have a meeting in Bangalore at 5pm and you have to fly from Mumbai, will you catch a plane that starts at 3pm? Check the test dates, register for these, as early as possible. This approach helps as you would also then have the timesheet by when you MUST finish your preparations. I would believe IELTS / TOEFL requires 5 days to 15 days for preparing whereas GMAT / GRE / SAT may take anytime between 1.5 months to 3 months (depending whether you enjoy or hate Math and English). Another benefit of taking the test early is that if you had a bad test day, you know you have time to give it again. Well, that does not mean you keep appearing for the test. Ensure that your first shot is the best one. While you are preparing for the test, you can start collecting your application documents. Some of these are common like your mark-sheets and / or transcripts (sealed), recommendation letters (at least 2, US will require 3 and should be sealed), personal statement (SOP), work experience letters (if any), extra curricular activities' certificates (if any). Start noting down and writing your essays (especially in case of US) (these generally will come with some word limits and thus require some brainstorming and editing. Thus, do it in advance).  
  7. List of Universities: In general, as a thumb rule, unless you are certain, if you are applying to the US, select a maximum of 8 Universities. If it's the UK or Canada, apply to 4 to 6 Universities. Other countries may have less number of study options and thus it will be easy to understand whether you stand a chance of getting through, while doing your research. Again the most important part is to correctly select the Universities. You can't apply to all 8 of the likes of an LSE or Harvard. Ensure that you also have at least 2 Universities where the chances are that you will get through
  8. Apply: After gathering all documents and closing in on your test dates, decide a date when you will make out the applications. You DO NOT need to wait until you have given the test (like GMAT, TOEFL). These scores will have to be sent by the testing agencies and Universities may not accept the photocopies you send. Furthermore, because your list of Universities is ready, these tests allow you to send scores for FREE to 5 Universities of your choice (in general). You will save some money because otherwise you would have had to pay for these 5 online only for sending (reporting) these scores to your selected Universities later. Apply to these Universities online or by paper (as suggested on their website) and send out the application documents. It is always nice to drop in an email to the University to check if they have received your courier. Report your test scores as and by you get them
  9. Collect offers and finalize: Once you have had your admission offer letters (or I 20s) and / or decline letters, check when you have to reply to them or accept the offer. It is assumed that through the above process you would have prioritized your choice of University. The day you hear from your best choice, accept it or wait until you receive replies from most (if not all) and then decide carefully. Accept your offer and check with the University if they wish to supply you with any other useful information that may help you. Many Universities may require you to make an advance fee payment, which you must pay and get the next letter (of confirmation) that arrives from the University. This document will generally be required to make a visa application also (like US University may ask you to fill an I 20 request form or a UK University may issue you a (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) CAS) 
  10. Visa: Check the visa process while you were applying for the Universities. It is important to prepare for your visa application in advance as some countries like UK and Australia will require you to show the funds for at least a specific period before you can apply for your student visa. Take the appointment as required (in advance) depending on how soon your documentation will be ready. Once you have applied, it is only in the hands of the visa officers to decide. If you have been accepted go to the next step; otherwise check the reasons for refusal (if available) and prepare to reapply
  11. Pre-departure: If you wish to live in the Universities' accommodation, you must apply for this in advance. Thus, as soon as you have an offer, ensure that you also check this bit of information at least. Check out and buy your insurance, do your medicals, buy forex, attend a pre-departure briefing (if known where to go) and get answers to questions like how to open a bank account, what is the life going to be like, about food, etc. Ensure that you also book your tickets as soon as your get your visa (or at least block book it) because most students would be travelling at the same time like yourself (evidently) and there might just be some rush

Study well! Make a living. Do attend the libraries and read well, it helps.

Scholarships: If you apply early and have been a good student during your academic career and / or have been great in some sports or any other activities, it is always worth giving it a try for some scholarships. You may be in for some useful luck!

Students Network: Remember there are students who are already studying at the Universities you have selected. They are very useful and helpful too when you ask them some questions about the place, the university, the cost involved, etc. Online networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and such could be very useful during these times. Again, please understand select your sample correctly. Eg. You must explain to the student you are talking about what you think and your plans. Do not blindly accept it. Because they may have had different plans altogether when they would have decided to study at their Institution. Also, please ask more than one student at a specific university to ensure more students have similar opinions or no

Cost of Studying: It would be great if someone completely paid for you but you must know that studying abroad involves some cost and it could be heavy on some pockets. You must factor in your tuition fees plus living costs and / or any other expenditure like your insurance, phone bills, electricity bills, etc. While selecting your Universities having 2 to 3 optimistic options is a reasonable idea but if you know you are facing issues with finances, you may want to recheck and reassess your decision (although nowadays there are programs available for nearly all budgets and then you have some scholarships, discounts and installment options. Lastly, you have education loans (In India, you can get up to a maximum of Rs 20 lacs towards your tuition as well as lodging and boarding and traveling. Thus, don't panic. Research well and correctly)


This process has been written by Vishal Badani, one of the leading overseas education consultants in Mumbai. He is the Director at International Learning Warehouse (ILW) - Overseas Education Consultants and has counselled 1000s of students personally



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