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Handbook of studying abroad

Studying for masters can in itself be daunting let alone studying abroad.

In this post of mine, I'll try to break down some of the key steps or aspects one can follow to make the process a little simpler.

Before we begin, why should one go through this handbook?

Personally, I myself have been to some of the famous consultancies in Hyderabad to just get an idea of how one needs to apply to these universities and the complexities involved in it.

The common element amongst all of the consultancies is that a lot of their "plans" or "guidance" is tailored to those who want to

  1. Change stream to Computer Science

  2. Move to US / Canada by hook or crook

Given their narrow scope, it becomes hard when one tries to seek help in applying to Thesis or non-conventional courses. Nonetheless, it is good to visit these consultancies just to get an idea of things. (I went not once but twice just to see if they change their stance or give some additional information but nope)

Back to business.

How to select a university?

  1. Top-Down Approach

Go to QS world ranking / QS country ranking (if you're sure of the country) and sort them in ascending order of their ranks and select a range of ranking (say 1 to 50 or top 100 etc).

Once a range is finalized, browse through the courses available and relevant to you in those universities. If you like a particular course, note down key requirements (country requirements + course requirements) like

1. English Requirements and minimum scores required (IELTS / TOEFL / Duolingo etc)

Pro Tip: -> Certain universities exempt you from proving your English proficiency if you've studied in a university whose medium of instruction is English (you'll require an official document stating this) or if you've scored above X marks in English in 10/12 class.

2. GRE / GMAT. If yes, GRE general or GRE subject to both.

3. CGPA Requirements

At times, you'll have to convert your CGPA into a percentage or maybe into 4 points or 5 point CGPA system.

Pro Tip: -> Most of the universities have country wise requirements mentioned separately which mention the basic requirements.

I usually combine this top-down approach with the subject wise ranking of universities as well.

Example: Karolinska University is a life-sciences only university that comes 2 in the subject rankings but wouldn't even feature in the top 10 universities list. Hence, you'll unearth precious unique universities. Also, this acts as a double-check of the universities.

2. Based on Job Opportunities / Visa Restrictions / Financial Affordability

This requires extensive research in order to narrow down on universities.

Ex: -> Germany scores well on job opportunities for mechanical engineers and financial affordability but the downside is that the application process is tedious and that one needs to learn German.

-> Canada scores well in terms of settlement options as one can get a Canadian PR (Permanent Residency) in 2 +1 years.

-> Australia scores well in terms of job opportunities for earth sciences and commerce-related jobs.

-> UK scores well in terms of relaxed entry requirements. It is also offering a 1 + 2 years condition less visa.

Even within a country, the location of the university can make or break deal.

Ex: Within the UK, London is expensive and can cost around Rs 1,00,000 per month but other places would cost less than that. If you're someone who's tight on a budget, the extra twenty or thirty thousand will mean a lot.

How to IELTS

Why on how to IELTS and not how to TOEFL / PTE etc? Because I gave IELTS.

I gave IELTS Academic computer-based test and obtained an overall band of 7.5 with 8's in both Listening and Reading (expected >8), 7.5 in Speaking, and a 6 (expected >7) in Writing.

IELTS is an English proficiency test that's scored out of 9 and has 4 individual sections, namely Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. One's overall score and the individual score is equally important.

Pro Tip: -> It's good to have an IELTS Academic overall score of 7 or above and no individual band less than 6.5.

The scoring sections of IELTS are Listening and Reading.

Listening: Divided into 3 parts consisting of 3 different audio transcripts with increasing levels of difficulty.

Reading: Divided into 3 parts consisting of 3 different passages with increasing levels of difficulty.

Both Listening and Reading have 40 questions each and a score of 35+ in each of these sections is pretty much achievable.

Speaking is also divided into 3 parts wherein you have a conversation with an examiner (more like a responder to your answers). The first section is to introduce yourself. Second, they give you a topic and ask you to speak on it for 2/3 minutes. Third, is a follow up of the second part wherein they ask questions based on what you've told in the second part.

Speak with confidence and try to use 5/6 not-so-frequently used words and you're set to get a good score.

Pro Tip: -> Browse YouTube to understand the dynamics of the speaking test. It will give you an idea of the type of questions one can expect in part two. Be prepared to answer questions such as Do you like jeans or not?

The Legendary: Writing

The writing section happens to be the trickiest as one can't predict how and on what they'll judge you. It is divided into two sections. In the first section, you'll have to describe a graph (line, bar, pie etc). In the second part, you'll be asked your opinion on a topic. You can go for the topic or against it.

Ex: Is today's generation too reliant on digital tools?

Pro Tip: -> Make sure to not answer in a redundant manner. Try to draw meaningful conclusions and weave sentences together.

The entire IELTS can be prepared in a month if you're good at English. Try to start with Listening and Reading and then progress slowly into Speaking and then into Writing. Try to figure out if you're comfortable with computer-based or hand-written exam.

Pro Tip: -> Try to solve as many full test papers as possible so that you get used to the test format.

Making an application

Documents necessary:

  1. Passport

  2. Degree*

  3. Full Transcript

  4. English Proficiency Score / Exception Document

  5. GRE / GMAT score

  6. LOR x 3

  7. SOP

  8. Full CV

The application process is linear (at least to the British, Singaporean, and Swedish universities I applied). Some of the things to keep in my mind while applying**:

  1. You'll just have to pay once even if you're applying to multiple courses within the same university.

  2. There's an option to apply for financial aid during the application process itself.

  3. You'll have to send your IELTS/TOEFL/GRE/GMAT either electronically or upload the TRF.

**Varies from university to university.

The Timeline

A lot of universities have a deadline for their application one year to six months before the course starts. If you're planning to join in the August/September 2022 intake you'll have to complete your application by November/December 2021.

The deadlines vary from university to university and from country to country but it is good to be prepared with all the above-mentioned documents at least one year before applying so as to have sufficient time for the Visa processing.

Congrats! Depending upon the consultancy you choose to go you've saved Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000.

You're now ready to go!

Pro Tip: -> You still need to verify if the facts published on the university's website are true or not, understand the student life, figure out scholarships and the best way to answer those is StuCo.

StuCo (, where we connect aspiring students with current students of a particular university so that they can have a one on one conversation discussing matters ranging from scholarships to living costs to insider tips.

It is something I'm working on to make university hunting easy :)

Apply here: to speak to students already studying abroad in your dream university.

PS: Could be slow as we're still sorting a lot of things.



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