The Study Abroad Application
While not every school will use the same application, I am willing to bet that most applications will use pretty similar components. Based on my own experience with the application process, I’ve compiled a few helpful hints to get you thinking on the right track, as well as provide guidance in case you run into some difficulties.
The study abroad application will look almost like a regular college application. Remember how much work you put into those? Put the same amount of effort into your abroad application. Unlike the college selection process, there’s no back up or safety net… you only get one shot at this so you need to do it right.
More than likely, it will consist of the following: A personal statement, letters of recommendation, possible course selections, health clearance forms and a general information form.
General Information Forms: This will probably be just a generic form requiring the basics like personal information, emergency contacts, degree information, etc. Nothing complicated. Just fill in the blanks.
Health Clearance Forms: You’re going to need to get a complete physical, and the doctor will have to confirm that you’re fit enough to go abroad and that you’re up-to-date on all of your vaccinations. Understandably, no country wants a foreigner bringing in diseases. Your doctor will have to fill-out the forms after your physical and send them to the school study abroad office or wherever instructed, so don’t procrastinate on these! Doctors are always busy, and it could be a while before they get yours done.
Possible Course Selections: This may be called either a home approval form, or course approval form. Make sure you’ve looked at your progress toward graduation. Compare classes from your host school’s course catalogue with those classes you’ll need to complete your major/ minor and fulfill general requirements, and also identify classes that just generally seem interesting.
Letters of Recommendation: Depending on how many are required, ask your favorite professors and mentors if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Even if you don’t have a close relationship with any professors, it’s ok to choose a few that you think may have liked you, or in whose class you did particularly well. If they don’t really know you, don’t worry. Professors are used to writing recommendation letters, and will probably have a generic letter that they can use. In which case, if your personal statement is already done, give them a copy along with anything else you think might help them get a better picture of who you are and why you want to go abroad.
Personal Statement/Study Abroad Essay: This is the part of the application that some people dread, and some people love. Don’t worry; I’ll break it down step by step. You already know the reasons you want to go abroad, now you just have to put them on paper to try and convince your school that you should go. Here’s writing your study abroad essay 101:
First, in a nice intro paragraph, explain your reasons for studying abroad. Just give a general overview since you’ll be getting into the specifics later in the essay. Include why you want to go abroad, what originally interested you in going abroad, what school you plan on attending, along with anything else that seems relevant.
Academics are always going to be number one in the minds of your deans, advisors and faculty, so it’s not a bad idea to go there next. Explain how going to class in a different culture will expand your capacity to learn and interpret new information. Let them know if by going abroad, you’ll be able to complete certain requirements for your major or just make progress toward your degree in general. Be sure to mention if there are classes offered abroad that aren’t available at your home school.
Next, go into depth about why you chose the location and the school that you did. Does the school have a great reputation internationally? Do you have family roots in a particular country? Really get into the fact that you want to explore the specific culture of that country or region. The more sincere and direct you are about why you want to go where you’re going, the more likely the study abroad admissions staff will approve your application.
Don’t forget to include personal reasons and interests as well. You still need to be selective in what you write – the study abroad admissions office will need to see that you’re mature enough to live in another country, but don’t be afraid to go beyond academics. One of the biggest reasons I went to Scotland was because of golf, and I wrote that in my essay. I didn’t say I wanted to wake up and be lazy on the golf course every day. I explained that golf is a huge aspect of Scottish culture; it holds a different place over there than it does in the States, and it would greatly help me integrate into the local culture.
Writing Tips for Your Study Abroad Application Essay
Sentences like, “I am excited to learn about the culture of Scotland through golf” are a good start, but something even better might be “It would be the pinnacle of my golfing career to experience the game of golf in its finest form in its birthplace of Scotland. There, golf is not just considered a sport, but also a vital element of Scottish culture.” Make the effort to write with quality in mind and of course honesty.
End the essay with a strong closing paragraph. Express interest in learning about local culture, getting an education not only in terms of academics but in life as well. Be specific and explain your desire to pursue those interests and hobbies that you’ve picked up in college and in life in a foreign country.
This is just as important as any other admissions letter you’ve ever written. Use correct grammar and avoid spelling mistakes. Write multiple drafts and have someone competent edit it for you, better yet, have two. And of course, get it in on time!
Be sincere, be honest, and be smart.
There you have it. Those are my suggested ins and outs of the study abroad application… not as scary as you may have thought.