Studying abroad is a prodigious opportunity, but there are many steps I had to take before my trip to Japan became tangible. Hopefully these steps I took will give those seeking to study abroad an idea of what it takes; If studying abroad isn’t on your agenda, that’s okay. I assure I will have more entertaining posts in the near future.
1. Decide why you want to study abroad, then choose a location.
Deciding where to study abroad can seem intimidating. There are exchange and direct programs for nearly any country, but answering ‘why’ will help narrow the choices. Why do you want to study abroad? “To enrich my education experience” is an answer that will not suffice. Reflect on this question before anything else, because everybody will ask. Realizing why you want to study abroad and what experiences you want to have will help you select a destination.
These are the main two study abroad programs my university uses:
http://www.kiis.org/go/index.php and http://www.isep.org/
These are obviously not the only choices, but offer solid examples for locations and programs that are typically offered abroad. Check your university’s study abroad office and website for information; Attending study abroad fairs and international festivals are also great ways to get started.
2. Talk to your study abroad advisors and academic advisors
Speaking with your study abroad advisor will help personalize your study abroad experience. Most advisors will have thorough info regarding your program of interest and will be able to help you select a program that will suit your current major. He or she will also be responsible for gathering some documents and information, so it is advisable that you know how to reach your advisor by more than just email. I started speaking to my study abroad advisor my second semester, but I did not go abroad until three semesters later. Getting information early and knowing what to do = on time applications and less stress. (Trust me, it’s already stressful enough the closer you are to departure.)
3. Choose a program and university that best fits your needs and interests
Choosing a university in another country is a big and exciting decision, but keeping your goals in mind is also important. Wasting time abroad can put you behind schedule for graduation, so try selecting a program that seems like the credits would work with classes you need for your degree. I chose a few universities with Business and Japanese courses so that once I came home, I would get credit for my time overseas. Most universities will not have an exact course list and descriptions for when planning to study abroad, but they usually have older course catalogs to sample what type of classes are offered.
4. Get your passport
Begin this ASAP. I cannot stress that enough. I already had my passport from previous trips overseas, but a passport is definitely the first thing to acquire. The sooner you have everything, the better. (Making copies of your passport once you receive it is also a good idea. A lot of documents require copies of it.)
5. Apply for selected program.
You will typically need: a copy of your passport, physician approval to study abroad, multiple copies of your official transcript, ID photos (typically $10 at your local pharmacy or post office), multiple letters of recommendation, the paper application to study abroad and various other forms that the program may need. My application required mostly basic information/documents listed above and 3 letters of recommendation. In respect of my professors, I asked them 3 weeks to a month in advanced if my professors would mind writing a letter of rec for me. If you ask too far in advance, professors will usually forget; They have many other students and tasks to juggle. Yet too close to the deadline is surely going to make them mad. Feeling the irritability of a professor due to lack of responsibility is not a fun experience, and the professors tend to take those students less seriously. So be punctual for your own sake. Because I had to have multiple letters of recommendation for scholarships that I applied for, I emailed my professors asking them to save the letters of rec they write for me. This way, they only had to change a few words around to accommodate me.
6. Anticipate acceptance letter, and start applying for scholarships
Apply to anything and everything. Every scholarship I applied for, I received. This gave me about $16,500 in scholarships for the year. If you are doing an exchange program, it is usually cheaper than to just directly go to the university and pay. You also do not have to be officially accepted to apply for scholarships, but only to receive them. Talk to your professors and advisors about scholarship info as well; They always know where the best and most prestigious scholarships are.
7.Upon acceptance, Apply for study abroad insurance, Visas, Look/buy a plane ticket and Get your ISIC card
If you receive an acceptance letter, congratulations, but the paper work is far from over. The university overseas should mail a Certificate of Eligibility. Once that has been received, apply for your visa. Getting an ISIC will help you find discount plane tickets, hotels, shopping and more. I saved over $800 on my ticket by booking with STA. (http://www.statravel.com) Study abroad insurance is required and necessary if anything were to happen. Insurance plans are available through ISIC, but the company I used is Insurance for Students. I’m not sure which is cheaper, but the insurance through ISIC is more widely recognized so I recommend it over other plans. Any other documents you may need to collect, always do it ASAP. The sooner the better, because the last few weeks before leaving can seem extremely stressful if underprepared.
8. Submit scholarship documentation
Some scholarships I applied for and received are: The Morgan-Stanley Bridging Scholarship, The Bridging Scholarship, The Gilman Award, and one locally funded scholarship- The Kimbler Award. The first two are only for students studying in Japan, and the documentation is fairly simple. Sign a Terms of Agreement paper; Mail it back; Receive a check in the mail a couple weeks later. The Gilman Award is only available to any student that receives the Federal Pell Grant . The paper work is much more tedious, because it is a government funded scholarship. My other scholarship also only required a signature.
My point of this blog was to encourage you to take care of your study abroad paperwork and details quickly. These are only the main steps I went through, as this can be a long process. Study Abroad is possible, even if you aren’t wealthy. Applying yourself is highly important to make the trip affordable. But, the pay out is worth all of the trouble, promise! If you have additional questions that weren’t covered in my blog, I encourage you to post a question here or by my email (firstname.lastname@example.org).