One year ago, I made the biggest decision of my life so far - I decided where to go to university. I had applied to universities in the US and the UK, invested a lot of energy in the process, and now it was finally time for me to decide where to go. Luckily, I ended up with a few alternatives, most importantly two of my dream schools- UPenn in the US and UCL in the UK. Despite my previous preference for American colleges, I decided to go to UCL. However, I realized that it was pure luck that I ended up with a good alternative for me, given the many applications I’ve sent to universities that I didn’t even want to attend. Now I want to share my top tips for making sure you end up with the best alternatives out there for you.
As you might know, applications for universities abroad require a lot of time, energy and money. Hence, it is important that you make wise and informed decisions throughout the process, to make sure you spend your money and time in the best possible way. Most application guides focus on how to ace admission tests or essays, or how to best position yourself for the university you apply for. However, an equally important factor is often overlooked- namely whether the university that you apply for actually fits you and your aspirations. If I had done the research correctly, I would have changed half of the 12 applications I submitted, and saved myself time and money in the process. If you are currently in the process of applying abroad, please make sure that you don’t make the same mistake that I did. Do you research and make sure that every institution and programme that you apply for is the right one for you. That way, you will maximise your chances of ending up at a place that you love. Ask yourself the following questions:
What kind of life do I want to lead?
When I applied, I didn’t even think about the location of the school, or what a typical day in the life of the students at that specific institution was like. For instance, I didn’t know anything about Greek life at American universities, which is a big factor for the social life on campus, especially on UPenn which was my dream destination at the time. Also, I applied for both schools in cities and on the countryside, even though I know that I would hate living far from a major city. I didn’t think much about whether I wanted to live on campus or in my own apartment. All of those things make a big difference for where you will actually enjoy studying. It is really important to figure out whether you want to live in a “campus bubble” on the countryside, or a more independent environment in a big city. Do you want to attend a large university or a small one? Looking at the universities that I applied for, they all had very different character, and I would definitely had streamlined my choices more, were I to apply again. Try visiting as many schools as possible before applying, it gives a great feeling of what kind of life the students are leading at the different schools.
What modules/courses will I be taking at this university?
I was so caught up with finding the most prestigious names that I missed finding the perfect programs. At the end of the day, I didn’t know what kind of courses I would be taking within the liberal arts system in the US. I didn’t know that there was a requirement for science and mathematics even if I wanted to study Politics or Sociology. At the British schools, I only looked at the name and description of the course, rather than what modules were offered within the faculty. I even missed that my chosen programme is primarily focused on Eastern Europe. Make sure that you would love to study your chosen subjects, because in the end, it is good grades that lead to your dream job, not only the name of the institution.
If I get accepted to this university- will I actually want to go there?
When I visited the schools I applied for, I realised that I didn’t want to attend most of them. Frankly, the application fee for at least a few of the institutions were completely wasted. If you don’t have the possibility of visiting the universities you apply for, make sure to talk to people who study there. Don’t only ask for their application tips, ask how they are finding life there. What do they enjoy? What don’t they enjoy? I spent so much time focusing on how to make my application perfect that I ended up forgetting thinking about life after applications. After all, life does not end when you are finally done with the application process; that’s when it starts. Make sure that your chosen institution will give you what you need, both in terms of education and life outside school. Where will this degree take me? How will my life change, if I decide to go here? What will I enjoy, what will I miss? Try to think along those lines, and you will give yourself the best possible chances of being happy with your final choice.
Finally, I want to highlight that it is not the end of the world if you end up making the wrong decision. You always have a new choice, and it is never too late to change course in life. However, you should at least try to do sufficient research to maximise your chances of being happy. I am very satisfied with where I am today, and I am confident that I made the right decision, but that is only due to luck and a last-minute realization of what my priorities were. Don’t do the same mistake as I did- do you research! And lastly, good luck with your applications!
If you have any questions on the application process or what life at UCL is like, don’t hesitate to reach out to me: firstname.lastname@example.org