So you’ve figured out why you want to study abroad and you already know which study programme you want to do. You even have a list of the scholarships you want to apply. What’s next? Here are some things that you need to prepare before applying for scholarships/programmes.
The English Test
There are many requirements that you need to do before applying for a study programme or a scholarship. Most programmes abroad, especially in English speaking countries or international English-speaking programmes, expect you to take an English test. There are two very popular ones which you probably already know: IELTS and TOEFL. Most universities accept either but some expect only a specific one. IELTS is based on the British standard, it is usually accepted in Europe and Australia. TOEFL is based on American standard. Each test is different and since I did IELTS I will share my experience with you from my aspect.
I decided to take IELTS because I was more familiar with the British way of English. I bought a book which helped me in preparation before the test. There are four parts in IELTS: listening, reading, writing and speaking. Speaking in IELTS is actual speaking with a person, while speaking in TOEFL as far as I know is speaking to a computer to be recorded. This was also one of the reasons why I preferred IELTS. There is of course no right or wrong way, it’s just a matter of preference. Each section has a maximum score of 9.0, the final score will be the average of all the four sections. Usually universities for Masters degree expect you to have an average of 6.5, this of course depend in each institution. Some faculty, such as English literature, may expect a higher score like 7.0. Be sure you know what score you are aiming for and know your capability. If you feel like you are not capable of doing an “autodidact” learning, join an IELTS preparation group who will help you prepare better.
Do understand that IELTS and TOEFL are not used forever. Meaning that each test has an expired date. For example, your IELTS certificate is only valid for 2 years after you take the test. IELTS and TOEFL are not cheap so plan well! Make sure after you get your result, you have everything else prepared and try as hard as you can for the next two years.
Of course taking IELTS or TOEFL is a gamble but it is one of the crucial documents that you need to have before applying. Since the preparation of the test itself may take some time, make sure you do it way beforehand. It really does need a strategy for taking this test.
Please note that if your previous school was held in English, you may not need to take IELTS or TOEFL. Check you university for this, it can save you time and money. If you are taking a programme in non-English, like French or German or Spanish, make sure you also check out the requirements for the language and take the necessary test.
When studying abroad or applying for a scholarship, it is almost certain that they will ask you for a reference. I was asked for two references for my Erasmus Mundus application. References can be your teachers, someone who knows you academically and preferably someone who has worked with you before. For my application, I picked my thesis supervisor and the head of the faculty as both have worked with me and understood my academic ability. For most applications, they only ask for their e-mail address and they will be asked for the reference separately.
Make sure you let your teachers know that you are putting them down as your reference and in which programme you are applying. If they need to write the reference in English, let them know beforehand too. You don’t want your teachers to ignore an important e-mail from the programme you applied just because you forgot to tell them.
Reference is like one of the secret ingredient. If you pick the right person to reference you then you have more chance of being picked. If you pick someone who doesn’t know you or understand your goal and achievements, chances are your application won’t be as attractive. Choose carefully, as they will be the people that can highlight your success and might open up a way to another success.
Your Degree and Transcript
This is another big deal. If you have your degree and transcript in a language that is not English, like mine is in Indonesian, ask you university for an English version. After that check your programme if they need it also in another language. For example a university in France might need both English and French translation.
My programme was in English so they only needed the English translation. However, I later found out that to make French student visa, they needed the French translation too so I had to have both. It never hurts to have a translation in the language of the location of your programme as you might need it later on. While I was in Romania, they needed to have some of my documents translated in Romanian and I didn’t prepare myself for that. So I had to go to their local notary and translated a document in Romania – it was complicated, but then again I think it would have been quite difficult to find a Romanian translator in Indonesia and I did the whole process with my friends so overall it was bearable. If you feel like you can bring translations from home, do so!
Be sure you prioritize the documents needed by the programme you are applying to. Translations for visa requirements can be dealt later and is usually pretty easy since you would probably get a reference translator from the embassy. So don’t worry so much about that.
Your Motivation Letter
So, you have your IELTS, you chose your references and you have all your degree and transcript prepared. Now all you need to do is create a killer motivation letter.
Here’s the deal with motivation letter. They don’t need to be five pages long listing all your achievements from primary school. It should be short, one page is enough, highlighting your strengths. Be honest and open about what motivate you to choose the programme. Write about what you have in mind after you graduate and why this programme interest you. Write in a formal but interesting way.
You have your transcript to show them your grades, then you have your reference letter to show them a third person’s view on you and now your motivation letter is a reflection of both your personality and motivation. So show them the best, without overdoing it.
So those are the top four items you must have to prepare your next move for studying abroad. Prepare well and hope for the best!