With winter beginning to show its first signs, another season has slowly crept up: the college application season. As students in and out of school scramble to finish their applications, be careful to avoid some common mistakes and make the best use of your resources.
1. Make a budget
One of the biggest factors that should be taken into consideration whether you choose to study here or to apply overseas is affordability. Having a predetermined budget before you select universities will relieve you (and your family) from last minute headaches. Take enough time to sit down with your parents, or whoever is sponsoring your education, and discuss an annual or monthly financial plan. The plan should include your tuition fees, living costs (food, transport, utility bills), and medical/health fees.
2. Don't depend entirely on scholarships or aid
Choosing universities that you can afford only if you are able to secure a scholarship may leave you with very few options in the end. Although you should still apply to them as there's a good chance you might receive the scholarship, it'd be safer if you also apply to a university that you can afford even without a scholarship. Find out the amount of financial aid that you may be eligible for based on your family's income and your nationality. A quick Google search reveals plenty of online tools that help you calculate the percentage of aid you may receive.
3. Start well in advance before the deadline
Applying to a university is way more complex and lengthy than it seems, a lesson I learned the hard way. Each university you apply to will have its unique set of tasks that range from writing essays, collecting specific documents, getting them scanned or mailed, and in a lot of cases, filling out the dreaded financial aid applications, some of which require you to collect your parents' or sponsor's tax returns. There's a reason universities specify their deadline. It's so that you can plan ahead and save yourself from stressfully writing five essays in a day. It also gives your counselor and your teacher(s) ample time to write your recommendation letters. This brings us to our next point –
4. Inform your counselor, teachers or employer before starting on your application
Universities abroad almost always require that you submit reference letters. These help the admission officials to get to know you from an instructor's perspective and can be very helpful in making your application stand out. Your teachers may have already written recommendation letters for students before you, so they are well acquainted with the university's' requirements. So they might even have some helpful tips for you.
5. Don't shy away from consulting study abroad organizations or facebook groups
Most of these organizations are comprised of professionals who excel at helping students get into universities of their choice and also help counsel those who are unsure about their major or which university they want to apply to. There are helpful Facebook groups such as Bangladeshis Beyond Border that are dedicated to discussions on studying abroad. Instead of stressing out by trying to solve everything on your own, reaching out to someone and asking for help makes things a lot simpler.
6. Your Essays Do Matter
I have seen a lot of my friends put off college essays until the very last and treat them as secondary priorities. Your essays help the university to get a better insight on who you are as a person. An admission officer will almost always be able tell an impersonal, rushed or plagiarised essay from a well thought out, structured and eloquent one. A lot of universities consider essays to be an essential part of their admission decision so it's a good idea to have enough time to write, revise and perfect your essay before the deadline. Also, never have someone else write your essay. Aside from the ethical dilemma that arises from this, colleges want to know you. You don't have to be the greatest writer in the world as long as you can express yourself fluently.
7. It's okay to take a gap year
Actually, it's sometimes better to take time to reevaluate your college decisions. If all of this seems too overwhelming for you and the thought of universities still seem a bit too foreign, it may be better for you take time off and apply next year. A gap year often makes your chances of getting into a competitive school much better. You can take up an internship or an employment, master new skills and have enough time to think about what you want to study and where you want to do it. During this time, you might get the dreaded question from relatives and friends - “So, when are you going to a university?” it is still important to remind yourself that all of it will seem insignificant once you reach your end goal.
Remember that when you are applying to a university, your own requirements and needs matter first and foremost. A university might not be right for you despite being the alumnus of your relatives or peers/being affordable/ having a top ranking. So choose wisely, and do not get stressed out.
Samiha has recently completed her A Levels.