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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.