Top 3 mistakes to avoid when applying for college or grad school abroad
It was 2006, and I was a sophomore in college at Ohio University. I had always loved travelling, and the idea that I could do part of my studies abroad and get credit toward my degree was fascinating.
There's really no better way to get to know a culture; as a student in a foreign country, you're not just a tourist and you're not just a professional living and working overseas. The benefits of studying abroad are incredibly unique.
But I definitely made some mistakes that could have been avoided had I hired an expert consultant early on.
Mistake #1 - Roping a signifiant other into going with you
Knowing that I was still a little unsure of myself, naturally, I talked my college boyfriend into going with me, too.
Let's just say we weren't together by the time we came home, and I missed out on the chance to truly expand my social circle overseas (in addition to spending a large part of the time I should've been exploring instead having the 'what are we' conversations).
Mistake #2 - Ignoring opportunities to get scholarships to study abroad
At the time, I didn't really speak other languages, so despite the fact that OU would've given me scholarships to study abroad in places like Denmark, Argentina, etc., I chose Adelaide, Australia.
(Nowadays, of course I know that English is widely spoken in places like Denmark, so I would've been fine!)
But Australia, one of the best places for study abroad, was a nice soft landing for someone who wanted something different but relatively similar.
It ended up being much different than I expected. In a good way.
In fact, it was such a good way that I ended up going back to Australia to complete my entire master's degree abroad a few years later in Sydney.
And better yet, I found out I was able to use U.S. federal financial aid through the Direct Loans program to help me with my tuition and living expenses, despite the fact that it was an overseas university.
However, I definitely did not know where to look for scholarships until I began working in the higher education industry myself, which makes me feel like I missed out; there's a lot of scholarship money out there that doesn't require repayment.
But Mistakes 1 and 2 (among others) could've been avoided had I not made Mistake #3.
Mistake #3 - Not working with an educational consultant
Even though I had already spent a semester of study Down Under, knew the education system, had friends there, etc., I was still lost when it came time to actually finding the best fit for me in terms of program, university, city and cost.
There's a big difference between living and studying in a city versus just traveling through.
I soon learned that despite Sydney's beauty, it came with a price, and depending on where I was going within the city, all the waterways and bridges--though gorgeous to look at--meant that the time spent sitting in traffic added up.
How could I have known though? I had loved my time in Sydney as a tourist for a few days!
But going through the application process for a degree abroad alone? Also stressful.
How was I supposed to know what the student culture and campuses were like from afar? How could I get the real, inside scoop on university life, where to live, etc.?
There's just something incredibly helpful about having your own advisor to help you stay organized, meet deadlines, understand entry requirements, provide advice, get you to think outside the box, help you solve problems along the way--and just serve as a general sounding board.
While some universities do have local offices in North America, for the most part I couldn't find the right contact, and regardless, I knew their advice would come with a slight bias, if you know what I mean.
Basically, I didn't really have any support through the process that was 100 percent neutral and with my best interests in mind.
So I ended up choosing a program based solely on location (close to the beach at UNSW Sydney), never having visited it in person and completely ruling out other cities that have so much to offer but are lesser known (such as Perth, which later became my favorite city in Oz and where I ended up living for four years afterwards).
Truthfully, I would also come to learn that actually, the University of Sydney campus is a lot more beautiful than modern UNSW.
USyd looks more like what I was used to after studying in Athens, Ohio, so that 'historical' element was lacking in my UNSW experience (though I didn't even consider that as an important factor when applying).
Did it work out in the end? Yes.
Could I have been better prepared? Absolutely.
Could I have saved myself a lot of time, stress and money by working with the right consultant ahead of time? There's no doubt!
Google is great, but nothing outweighs the advice of a specialist when it comes to an investment as significant as a degree overseas--especially from someone who has done it herself.