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Across The Pond: Applying To College Overseas

Going to college in the UK felt like a silly dream from sophomore year that only became a reality as I entered my senior year and began my applications for schools abroad. With plans for studying abroad for college, there were many steps I had to take to even consider studying outside of the United […]

Going to college in the UK felt like a silly dream from sophomore year that only became a reality as I entered my senior year and began my applications for schools abroad. With plans for studying abroad for college, there were many steps I had to take to even consider studying outside of the United States. If you are a rising senior or don’t know whether studying abroad is right for you, here are some tips from a major procrastinator and an over-thinker.

Low Fees, But Limited Choice

The UK application system is done through the UCAS (Universities and College Admissions Service) system — you can view this as a Common App equivalent. It has a place for deadlines, notes, an online checklist, and is where you build your application. The information needed does not vary too much. The main differences are the essay, inputting your grades, and the reference. Your application will cost only about $30 for five schools, but you are limited to five schools for the entire application. I only applied to schools in England, but other countries have similar systems.

SCOIR Is Not Your Friend

There are some helpful aspects of SCOIR, but the main appeal of the program for Christian Brothers is how easy it is to send letters of recommendations, transcripts, and other information needed from counselors and teachers. The UCAS system does not use SCOIR. The organization of having schools you are considering, applying, and have applied to is helpful, but if you want to check off the requirements for your application, SCOIR will not help you.

Letters Of Rec Do Not Exist — Focus Instead On References

On the UCAS application, your reference is sent in before your application is fully sent and you must have it completed before applications can be sent in. Ask a teacher or counselor you are fully comfortable with answering questions about you. The UCAS system will ask for a full contact and email your chosen reference directly with their questions rather than asking for a letter of recommendation. And this must be done before your application can be submitted, so ask early! 

Finances Are Different, But Not As Scary As You Think

Unfortunately for those coming from abroad, international students are cash cows. Tuition is subsidized if you live in the UK. The good news is that as an international student, you don’t have to wake up with a stupid accent singing “God Save the King” and eating beans on toast. The bad news is you will be paying more for tuition. Each school’s tuition and financial aid differs, but the schools I was interested in ranged from $20,000-25,000 a year. I also applied to Ithaca College in New York, which is about $35,000 a year. Tuition fees are not more than in the States. Myth busted. 

Personal Statements/Essays Seem Daunting, But Manageable

A big struggle I had was writing my essay because I worried about how to go about it. UCAS stresses that the Personal Statement is very important to your application. The UK schools expect you to know your major going into the application process and your essay is not milking your childhood trauma or community service into an essay like the one I wrote for the Common Apps. They are looking for why your major of your choice was made for you. I worried about how to justify my choice. I mean, I was still debating on my major a month before my application was due. That’s not ideal. Here’s the thing — I worried over nothing. They want you to be concise. They want you to brag about yourself and talk about what you love.

I started my essay with the following sentence: Continuation of my study of English Language would free me of the imprisonment of “being a noun” as both Stephen Fry and Oscar Wilde define in their pursuit of a “dynamic life.” Intriguing, but to the point.

I wrote another for the University of Brighton who asked for another essay about my interest in their journalism major. “While I love both English and Journalism, above all I have an affinity for writing and its power. When I started to concern myself with current events at the beginning of my high school career, I could truly understand the importance journalism had on communities I helped to aid.” I would read that essay for sure.

If you start with “I want to study (your major here) because-” and you fill in the blank, you will be fine. And here’s some information and terrible advice. I didn’t have anyone look over my essays, and didn’t get rejected. You should not do that, but I say it because I legitimately thought what I wrote was awful. I gave myself so much grief for my writing, and I didn’t have to be so mean to myself. 

You Don’t Owe An Explanation As To Why You Want To Study Abroad

My dream has been to travel, and I have always wanted to study in the UK. I don’t have a perfect reason for going or for why I prefer the UK to America, and I don’t need one. I don’t blame people for being curious or asking about the appeal, but ultimately your decision and your reasons for applying are between you and maybe your parents.

Ask Your Counselors For Help

I did a lot of my own research, but staying organized, asking the counselors questions to keep you on track, and adding information from past students is very helpful. I didn’t ask as many questions as I should have, fearing they wouldn’t be able to help or that I was too late in the process. None of the counselors will chide you or make you feel stupid for asking questions right up to your deadline, so don’t let that stop you. 

Standardized Testing!

The UK school system needs standardized tests to determine placement: AP, ACT, and SAT scores count more than your grades each semester. That is not to say that those are not important either, but UK schools won’t care as much about your A in Christian Morality. For example, the University of Manchester is a school I looked at which takes qualifying grades such as an SAT of 1290 or 3 5’s on separate AP tests which should be relevant to your major. I consistently remain a mediocre test taker, so if that’s you, get it together and study for your exams. 

Conditional Offers: The Worst Of The Worst

When I think about conditional offers, I want to tear my skin off of my body in two pieces, then rip that up again and again and again until I have a pile of skin confetti. Conditional offers look like this: “This offer is subject to you obtaining a US High School Diploma with overall GPA 3.2 and 5 in AP English Literature and Composition”. Things get mixed up between the two countries so I’ll translate: “You’re in, but you weren’t smart enough on your application, so meet these qualifications or else”.

This is not a “no”, but actually a “yes” with an asterisk. I received varying conditional offers ranging from getting three 5’s during this AP season (unthinkable) to just graduating with above a 3.0 (easy money). When this happens, you put in your first and second choices to confirm you are willing to go to the school of your choice provided you meet each condition. If you don’t make your conditions for your first or second choices, you get put into Clearing, something that allows you to maybe receive offers from other schools or your school of choice might offer you another major. So don’t panic. (I say that as someone who is still waiting to hear back from a conditional offer and I am panicking). 

I made a tremendous amount of mistakes during this process and still received offers. I had a meltdown about the date of my application, thinking I was going to miss it, but I had the date wrong; it was January 25, not 15. As mentioned before, I wrote my essay on my own with just the tips from the UCAS website, a few examples online, and my determination to reach the deadline with a finished product. DO NOT DO THAT.

But, if someone like me, who is utterly clueless and cried at least ten different times throughout her application process, can turn in her application and receive actual offers, you can too. Studying abroad takes multiple forms depending on the country, school, and how long you plan to study, and while I can share my experiences, my journey across the pond will differ from yours.

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