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Top tips for a successful international university application

To make your study abroad dream a reality, a successful application is essential. Universities receive tons of applications from ambitious international students, so it’s really important to make yours stand out from the crowd.

Here are some of the best ways to make sure your application wows admission teams and earns you a place at your perfect university.

Find your dream university

Get started early

The general rule is the sooner you start your application the better. Applications can take time and effort to complete properly, so don’t leave it until the last minute to get started.

Find out when the application deadlines are for the universities you want to apply for. Make sure you submit your application well in advance of the deadline - some universities look unfavorably on submissions sent in close to the closing date.

Not only that, but many programs fill places as they receive applications, so if you leave it too late, all the slots may be already filled. Deadlines differ from university to university, and from country to country, so make sure you know exactly when you need to apply by.

If you’re planning to go straight to a university abroad after you finish school, you don’t have to wait until you’ve got your confirmed grades. Universities can offer provisional places based on your predicted grades and other aspects of your application, like your extracurricular activities.

Apply to the right number of universities

It is well worth applying to several universities to improve your chances of gaining a place. If you only apply to one or two programs and are unsuccessful, you may have missed your opportunity to study abroad.

You shouldn't apply to loads of universities because not only will it be a lot of work to complete lots of applications, but most universities charge a non-refundable fee. That means it could be quite expensive if you plan on applying to more universities than you need to.

A sensible approach is to choose around six to eight universities you want to attend made up of:

  • Two or three ‘stretch’ universities, which may just be out of your reach - there’s no harm in aiming high
  • Two or three target universities, which should be your favorite options you could realistically achieve
  • Two safety universities, which you should have no problem getting a place at to guarantee you'll be offered a place somewhere

Make sure you only apply to universities you’d be happy to attend. There’s no point paying an application fee if you know you would never accept your place if successful. Here’s how to work out which universities are right for you.

The number of applications you can make may be limited depending on the country you want to study in. For example, in the UK you must apply through UCAS, which only allows five course applications.

Make the most of your personal statement

For most university applications, you’ll need to write a thorough and enticing personal statement, or an essay showing your knowledge and passion for the program you’re applying for. These can make or break your application, so take the time to get them right.

This is your golden opportunity to let the university know why you’d be the perfect fit for their program. It’s also a way you can give yourself an edge over other applicants, especially if your grades could be higher. Here’s everything you need to know to write the perfect personal statement.

Include your work experience

Being able to include relevant work experience as part of your application can give you a real advantage over other applicants.

In some cases, work experience can help you get a place on a program even if you don’t have the required grades. For example, if your GPA is below the required level, but you have strong work experience in a role related to the subject, some universities will still offer you a place.

If you are applying for a postgraduate program, work experience can be vital. For example, to get a place on an MBA program, having several years of experience in a management role is usually a requirement.

If you don’t have any work experience, think about getting a part-time job, internship, or doing some volunteering. Even if you won’t have started working before you apply, you can still include your plans in your application. It’ll show your passion for the subject, and that you have a strong work ethic.

Submit all the requested documents

This is an essential part of your application, and getting it wrong by missing any documents or sending incorrect information could scupper your chances.

All university applications require you to submit a range of documents including things like your academic transcripts, personal statements, references, and identification documents. You can find a breakdown of what you’ll usually need to submit here.

Missing one document, or sending in something incorrectly, can stop your application in its tracks and set you back weeks. Taking the time to make sure you’ve got everything you need, formatted correctly, and translated if needed, will give your application the best chance of success.

Get the application process right

The way that you submit your application can be different depending on the country you want to study in.

In many countries, you will need to apply directly through the university’s website, and submit all your documents to them. However, in other countries like the UK as mentioned above, you must apply through a centralized platform that all domestic and international students use.

It’s really important to make sure you know how to submit your application - if you submit your application directly to a university in a country that uses a centralized application portal like UCAS, you could waste valuable time.

Make sure you’ve got funds in place

As an international student, you’ll need to show that you can afford to pay for your program and to support yourself while you study. Part time work opportunities can be limited when you study abroad, so you’ll often need to show you can afford all of the costs when you apply.

For example, to study in the UK you’ll probably need to supply a bank statement to show you can at least afford the full tuition and living expenses for one year to receive an unconditional offer.

If you have your funds spread across different accounts it is worth trying to consolidate it all in one place. Not only do many universities ask for one bank statement showing all your funds, but it will also make your application easier.

Get the best results you can

This may sound obvious, but one of the most important factors to any successful application are strong academic results.

It is possible to be accepted even if your grades don’t meet the entry requirements, but exceeding them will really boost your chances. Putting in the extra effort in your final school exams, or when completing a bachelor’s, is one of the best ways to supercharge your application.

Don’t forget your English proficiency test too - most programs taught in English will require you to take a test and get a minimum score. Make sure you put the time in to prepare and practice for the test - a good result will really boost your chances of success.