Writing a Study Abroad Application? Here is Some Advice.

Advice on landing that study abroad acceptance every time.

Having studied abroad on four separate occasions, I have written my fair share of study abroad applications. These applications only got easier the more applications I wrote and, undeniably, with more travel abroad experience. Wanting to mentor other college students interested in study abroad, I became an Education Abroad Peer Advisor after returning from three months studying abroad in Russia, India, and China in my junior year. One repeated question I got from prospective study abroad students was “can you read and edit my application?” Having read, edited, and advised many students on applications, I thought it would be helpful to compile my suggestions along with the advice of my friend Alex, who is a Senior Program Manager for college short term study abroad programs- an expert to say the least!


Alex’s Advice

I am a big fan of the concept of backward design. In order to write a good application, you need to start at the beginning. What are your personal, professional, and academic goals and objectives? How will this particular program help you to get there? If you find that it’s a hard sell to connect these two, then you may want to revisit your program choice and apply for a program that will help you achieve your goals.

Let me give you an example. At the end of my final year of high school, I took a road trip to Austria (I was living in Switzerland at the time, so it wasn’t that far) and loved it there! I decided that I would learn German and move to Austria one day. So naturally, when I came to the U.S. for college and began taking German classes, I told all of my classmates that I was going to study abroad in Vienna. My overarching goal though was to become fluent in German. When I talked with my education abroad advisor, I learned that most people in Vienna spoke English and that if I wanted to be forced to work on my language skills, I should consider another program in a small town. Ultimately that is what I did and my German language skills dramatically improved!

Once you know what you want and have found a program that will help you get there, make sure to spell it out in your application. At the end of the day, faculty members and education abroad advisors want to help you achieve your dreams!

Here are a few other tips to help you as you compile your application:

  1. Be honest and authentic in your application. Tell YOUR story. I meet with students who are afraid to tell their story, because they don’t think it’s compelling enough, or they think it might disqualify them from a program. Part of telling your story is helping the person reading your application to assess whether this is a good fit for you and the program.
  2. Tailor your application to the program. Please please please do not submit a generic education abroad application! This goes for any job search as well. Research the program online and make sure that your application is tailored specifically to this particular program. Cite particular aspects of the program that are referenced in the online material. This demonstrates that you have done your research and will make your application stand out from the crowd.
  3. Reach out to the faculty member or education abroad advisor. Go to the faculty member’s office hours, get to know them, and share your passion for the program! Faculty members want to know that you are excited about their course, especially if they may be spending several weeks with you.

Remember education abroad programs are competitive. If you don’t get in the first time you apply, ask for feedback, and see how you can improve your application for the future. Your desire to grow and learn will only make you an even more attractive candidate for the future.

Ursula’s Advice

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received on writing applications is the following:

“The application viewer should be able to pick up your application from the pile, read it, and be able to identify it as being yours.”

In other words, make sure to make your application so unique to yourself, that no one else could pass it as their own. The examples you use, your writing style, and the sentiments within your application should be personal and specific to you.

Pick a specific and location and program, then do your homework. There are two reasons why this is important for you as an applicant. Firstly, wherever you are studying abroad, you will be spending a significant amount of time there. You want to make sure that this location and type of study abroad program is right for you. For example, many study abroad programs offer homestays, for language immersion this is ideal. When I studied in Frankfurt, Germany my senior year in high school this was the perfect opportunity for me to hone my German language skills and also learn more about the culture and German lifestyle first hand. Other study abroad opportunities require that you find your own housing within the school’s area If you are looking for greater independence and to take initiative on where you would like to live and who you would like to live with, this is a great opportunity to take ownership of your experience. Secondly, you want to communicate to your application reviewer that you understand the program’s offerings fully and that you would, specifically, benefit from this program and all that it has to provide. In knowing all about the program, you will be able to pick out specific aspects of the program and why you are the perfect fit.

Utilize your core competencies and personal unique experiences to stand out amongst the crowd. In a study abroad application, you really want to play up your strengths and emphasize how you will be the one to capitalize on this amazing opportunity because of similar instances where you did the same. For example, when I applied to go on Babson’s Dubai Elective Abroad program, I emphasized how much I wanted to learn, firsthand, about the culture that my friends come from. Here is an excerpt from my application that highlights this:

“At Babson, having such exposure to such diversity has encouraged me to explore the world and travel to the native countries of my classmates I have heard such fondness about. Specifically, I have formed friendships with many individuals from the Middle East. I have been able to learn about Kuwait, Bahrain, Beirut, and Tunisia through the personal stories, experiences, food, and culture these friends have shared with me. However, I aspire to go deeper, and to learn more, I have too many unanswered questions. I am eager to experience, first hand, authentic machos and look up at the Burj Khalifa. I want to know what drives the Emirati people’s decision making and how their ethics are developed.”

Lastly, show a genuine desire to grow and learn through studying abroad. Some of the best applications I have seen have been from students who have never traveled outside of the United States before. The eagerness that they exhibit in their applications is sincere, genuine, and authentic. They articulate what they want to learn and how they think that studying abroad will help them develop a global mindset both as individuals and students. In the end, those who are reviewing your application want to make sure that you will be taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity and that you will be up for the challenge.


Best of luck out there!

How Committing to “Yes” Changed My Life

How saying “yes” is sometimes the hardest part of starting the adventure of a lifetime.

When I was accepted to Babson there were so many things that intrigued me about the college, their Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME) course, where students learned how to start their own business, the large undergraduate international population, where I would meet students from all over the world, and the beautiful campus right outside of Boston. However, it was Babson’s unique study abroad program – The BRIC Program – that excited me the most.

I remember when I was just a freshman at Babson prematurely going into the education abroad office in order to meet with the BRIC advisor. I was so eager to be accepted into the program and take part in a once of a lifetime study abroad experience, traveling with a cohort of 23 students to Russia, India, and China over the course of three months, the first semester of junior year.

However, when I got accepted into this highly competitive program, anxiousness quickly overtook excitement. In all honesty, I was in denial about the prospect of spending a semester abroad in three distinct foreign countries with people I knew very little about. When I spoke to friends and acquaintances about the adventure I was about to embark on, the experience felt very isolated from my own life. Looking at the past BRIC student’s photos, applying for my visa, and attending all of the pre-departure sessions did not make BRIC feel anymore real to me. It was not until I was buying travel necessities, a daunting amount of insect repellent, Advil, and mini travel shampoos, days before arriving at Babson, that it hit me that I was preparing for the completely unexpected and unknown.

I felt overwhelmed, wrestling with so many fears: was I going to get sick? Would I make friends with the cohort? Was I going to miss my family? Would I be able to adapt? I was scared of the future- the worst part being that I had done all of this to myself. I had wanted to go on BRIC, filled out the application, got into the program, and accepted the invitation. It was all on me.

Within days of the program’s start, I convinced myself that I did not want to study abroad anymore. Up until this point, I had taken many risks in my life, yet this time I thought I had pushed myself a little bit too far, questioning if I could take on the challenge. Although my mother assured me that I did not have to go if I did not want to, I knew that I could not let my own fears hold me back from an experience of a lifetime.

It is easy to say “yes” by merely showing up when you are supposed to, however immersing yourself fully in an experience is another story- it takes courage to be yourself.

Once our pre-departure sessions started, my anxieties had not dissipated. I remained closed off from the group, afraid of rejection and being vulnerable with the cohort, all of whom I had not known before. After holding back from volunteering to participate in a group bonding activity, which required sharing a personal story, I realized something had to give. In order to get the most out of the BRIC experience, I found that showing up was just half the battle, I had to dedicate action to words. To learn and grow you have to be vulnerable, make mistakes, and be engaged. As soon as I started to embrace opening up to the cohort, letting them get to know me better, I was able to connect on a deeper level both within the group and with the cultures that surrounded me in each location.

It is easy to look at the program and see how the rigorous course load in addition to the challenge of adapting to three vastly different locations could orient an individual towards growth. Yet, I have come to realize that committing to a challenge is oftentimes one of the most significant and overlooked steps within the entire process.

Sometimes life scares us, but it’s important to recognize these pivotal points in our life as opportunities to reflect on how far we have come and to continue to take leaps of faith, plunging ourselves into new experiences. And this all starts with the commitment to a simple, three letter word:

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