Applying to universities

So you are applying to universities and you already know where you want to go: the continent, the country, the city, the university, the program? Well, we hate to admit it, but that’s the easy part. The next big step is actually applying!

Each university has it’s own admissions process. This process is completely independent and unique to the institution’s preferences and their strategy for finding new students. Still, there are many similarities between the processes and the know-how on how to become an excellent candidate for admissions.

Even though the application processes vary, usually universities ask for an application which includes your high school diploma (and possibly additional exams: SATs, A-levels, Matriculation Examination etc.), a personal statement, a letter of reference and possibly an interview.

Applying to universities

This is how we suggest you get in:

Applying to universities as if they was Ivy League

Ivy League schools (Harvard, Yale, Stanford etc. in the United States) and the Oxbridge universities (Oxford and Cambridge) belong to the list of the very best universities in the world. They are also some of the toughest to get into. We suggest that even if you’re not applying to one of the above mentioned schools, simply pretend that you are! This translates into not underestimating the admissions process and not getting too cocky. It’s better avoid the “this is an easy school to get into” attitude completely.

This approach will make you take the application process more seriously, such as you should. These are some of the most important, or at least some of the most formative years of your life, and you should be on top of this process from the very start. Remember also to demand enough from the program you’re applying for.

Research the application process front to back!

If you already know what is required of you and when it’s required from you, you’ll  be able to avoid any unnecessary panic during the application process. You should always prepare and make requests for supporting documentation ahead of time. This helps to avoid wasting time on certain parts of the application itself, simply because you didn’t have all the details of the process in advance.

High school diploma & grades

Did you have bad grades? Do not under any circumstances let this limit your ambitions! Remember that most universities accept students with average high school grades, and generally understand that many students don’t fully bloom until after high school. Sometimes the passionate students simply don’t have the patience to concentrate on the subjects which aren’t their specific zeal, and this can bring down their GPAs. If this applies to you, don’t stress! Try to make up for it with some after school activities.

Got good grades? Nice one, keep it up! However, keep in mind that there are several other people with as good or better grades than you have who are also applying to the same universities as you are. Being a big fish in your small high school pond means nothing, unfortunately, at a university where you are surrounded by other very bright students. Don’t let this worry too much, as this is a good reality check and will make you a better person in the future. For now, focus on the little things which set you apart and run with them! They will certainly be noticed and help you stand out!

Entrance exams

Some study programs may require entrance exams. Stay focused, motivated, caffeinated and participate in prep-courses if you can afford the time and costs.

Cover letter

Some universities require a cover letter as part of the application documents. It is roughly a 400-500 word statement that briefly describes why you want to study in a specific university. You should also outline how your past has prepared you to succeed in this university and what you’re planning on studying in this university. Remember also to mention how the studies at this university will generally improve your life and career in the future.

Tips on writing this statement: Since you have very limited space to use, get directly to the point. Avoid any unnecessary information, repeating things and being too vague or too descriptive when writing your personal statement. This piece is not about your personality; it’s about expressing writing skills, and a solid interest in the field you’re applying to.

Hobbies, volunteering and extra-curricular activities should be used in this statement to demonstrate your interests. This will help to broaden the opinion that the admissions representative has about you aside from your grades alone. Try to be a bit more specific than just “I love dogs and I want to be a veterinarian” or “I’ve always enjoyed travelling, so I want an international career” – you can do so much better than that! You are the star of your own personal statement, so go ahead and shine!

In case you need an essay …

A longer essay is usually only a requirement when applying to universities in the United States. The topic of the essay usually has something to do with your character and personality. For example, describing a memorable event in your life or describing a person who’s been an inspiration to you. There’s a ton of advice out there on how to go about writing this, as well as coaches who can help you. Google it to be safe, and good luck!

The interview

Be prepared!! Knowing a lot about the field you’re going into, as well as being able to discuss a range of different topics about it will put you at a serious advantage. You certainly don’t have to memorize random facts or statistics, but make sure you have a broad understanding of the subject. It’s always useful to be familiar with some of the more recent developments in the field!

These tips are generally a given, but none the less: Be polite, be humble, be interested and don’t talk too much or too fast. The interviewers are looking for something extraordinary, which sets you apart from all the others. Let your “something special” shine through, and you will be remembered.

Reference letters

When applying to universities, reference letters are most often written by former teachers. Employers are also an option too, if your work position is relevant to what you’re going to be studying.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone from a broader network. Your reference doesn’t have to be someone that you know well on a personal level, but they should have an understanding of your academic credentials and wit.

In addition, don’t ask someone who is too busy, and be sure to ask for the letter early enough so that the reference can provide a text of good quality. Ask a few different people, that way if someone doesn’t come through, you’ll have a back-up plan.

Sending in your application

Many universities have online systems through which you can upload all your application information. However, a number of universities still require paper copies of everything. If this is the case, be sure to calculate the shipping time into the admissions deadline and avoid applying to universities late.

  • Remember that all documents must be as official or professional as can be, with proper stamps and signatures as needed.
  • If you’re mailing documents and cannot send the original copies (like a diploma), get the photocopy notarized.
  • With both online and print applications, send the application in as early as possible. Computers and servers cam malfunction, and postal workers can go on strike – but universities do not often take these as valid excuses for late applications. The early bird gets the worm!
  • Triple check all your documentation before sending it in, and not just in terms of spelling and grammar errors. Do they include all the required information? Are the signatures and dates in the right places? After looking the application over, would you recruit yourself?
  • Is your contact information about to change? Do the university emails go into your spam folder? Make sure that you do not miss any important messages by double checking everywhere you could have been contacted.
  • Has someone else gone through your application as well and given you their thoughts? It doesn’t hurt to have a second, or even a third opinion!

The application process is very time-consuming and sometimes even stressful. However, applying to universities won’t be the last thing you’ll ever be applying for. The skills you gain in the application process are very useful for you in the future as well. Writing cover letters for jobs, applying for grants or scholarships or applying to study abroad programs will be a breeze after this experience! Take this in as a part of the learning experience and remember: if done correctly, this will all pay off in the end.

You made it to the end of the list! That’s the spirit!

We hope that this guide has helped lead you in the right direction. On behalf of the team here at Study Advisory, we wish you the best of luck in your application process!

Already been accepted? Check out what to do next after you get your letter of acceptance.