Preparing for university applications: advice for international students

It can sometimes feel a little overwhelming when it comes to picking the right university. Ryan Hinchey, International University and College Counsellor, ACS Cobham International School, compiles tried and tested tips for narrowing down their choices.

Relocate Global Guide to Education and Schools in the UK 2019/20

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 At ACS, our International University and College Counsellors have extensive experience with university applications. Students don’t have to worry about the unknown or the different systems for each country, as they’re supported through each application.

Which universities are right for you, and how do you apply to them?

When it comes to choosing the right university, there are so many options available. The US alone has more than 4,000 universities, so it’s essential to understand the different systems and what these overseas institutions require.Applications for university can be either centralised, with one governing body controlling how students apply, or decentralised. In the UK, this centralised process is UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), which requires students to meet minimum entrance requirements as well as submitting a personal statement and academic references. In Australia, the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) covers most universities in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).In the US, as well as in France, Germany and Spain, there is a decentralised system. Each university is applied to individually and can establish its own set of values and requirements. These can really vary; US universities, for example, are known for reviewing an applicant on a holistic basis - encompassing grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, essays, rigour of curriculum etc.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsThere are of course always exceptions to this, for example, students applying to university in the Netherlands can do so through Studielink, which requires one application at a time through a centrally managed process. However, students can also apply directly to the university in a way which is not be possible in the UK.So, as you can see, there is a lot of variation in the way universities across the world work; and that’s where our International University and College Counsellors are especially invaluable to all ACS students. Each student looking to apply to university is able to consult with their counsellor to identify which system would be best suited to their requirements, then they are able to tailor their application accordingly.

Things to consider

One thing that is important to be aware of when comparing studying in the UK to elsewhere is that the approach to individual degree courses can differ quite significantly. In the UK students are encouraged to decide their degree course based on the career path they want to take. In the States and some European countries, however, there is no expectation that students have a special focus, and they’re encouraged to try different subjects before narrowing down their interests.So, if an individual has a clear subject passion or a distinct career path, then a British university may be the best option. And if they’re still unsure where their career will end up then perhaps a university abroad is the best choice.As well as considering whether a student is best suited to a British university or an overseas university, it’s just as important to consider which type of university they’d be suited to. For example, extroverts are more likely to thrive in a large university while introverts may be better suited to a smaller campus.The size of the university is not the only thing to consider, the style of learning is also something to think about. Some courses are heavily lecture-based and others are made up of smaller, interactive sessions. By identifying first which learning style they prefer, a student is more likely to enjoy the course.Once students have narrowed their choices to their preferred universities, it’s important to be aware of application dates; especially if they’re applying to universities in different countries. In the States, because applications are decentralised, most schools advise their students to submit their applications by November or December, and regular offers are made in January or February.

Research is your best friend

When reviewing a top choice university, the most important thing to understand is the differences between each system. If a student ends up applying to multiple countries, they should utilise the different application methods to present the attitudes they think will best fit the university – it’s the one opportunity to showcase themselves.Overall, it boils down to research. Before any student starts a university application, they should research as much as possible about their chosen universities and the courses available. The more information they have, the better informed their decision will be.Finally, it’s important for students to speak to their current teachers and allow them to assist with their choice. At ACS, we work with all our students on a one-to-one basis to help them understand themselves and the global higher education options open to them.Applying to university can sometimes appear overwhelming but it doesn’t need to be if students utilise the support available to them.

What do universities really want?

Jeremy Lewis, Head of School at ACS EghamInternational SchoolWhen it comes to completing a UCAS application it might feel a little unfair that the grades students work so hard to obtain aren’t the only thing that universities take into account. The reality is that universities want students to bring more than just a qualification to the table. Based on the results from our admission officers research conducted in 2017, I’ve collated the most important things to consider when completing a UCAS personal statement.

Positivity is key

Today’s students must demonstrate that they’re ready to knuckle down and work hard. That they’re not just applying to university for the social side but they will be able to cope with the workloads of their chosen degree course and thrive at a higher level of education.It’s not only about good grades, applicants can demonstrate a studious attitude in their personal statements by presenting personal projects they’ve taken on to expand their knowledge. Showcasing time management skills and the ability to manage workloads is really important. For example, universities want to know that applicants have a good work ethic and they’re prepared to put in the hours.

Demonstrate your passion

All students need to show a passion for their chosen subject to help secure a place on their desired course. Independent extended interest in a subject that goes above and beyond what’s required in the classroom, personal achievement and extracurricular activities can all help to highlight a passion for a subject.

Do you have what it takes?

According to last year’s survey, almost half of admission officers in the UK feel students aren’t ready for the step up to higher education.Nine out of ten officers cited students’ inability to think and learn independently; while three quarters believe new students lack social skills and, even more worryingly, a lack of common sense.The best universities look for personality as well, so it’s important to demonstrate commitment and determination in the statement – 91 per cent of university admissions officers actively look for evidence of these qualities in applications.Involvement with any committees or school councils are all worth mentioning as well as any additional qualificationss, such as music grades, or courses such as lifeguarding or first aid that they’ve undertaken.

An inquisitive mind

Almost all university admissions officers (91%) actively look for evidence of an inquiring mind in student applications – showing intellectual engagement via independent study, personal interest or specialised knowledge.
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