Landing on your dream campus abroad needs some thorough preparation
Applying to foreign universities can be a complicated, daunting prospect. The United Kingdom, with its numerous world-class universities, has an incredible appeal for students and scholars, and the pressure to make it through in what seems like a rat race can often be debilitating.
When I had first made up my mind to apply to the UK for my master’s, I was not sure of how to navigate my way. With an overload of data about how to get in successfully, I felt as if I was drowning in information yet starving for wisdom.
But as I went about my application, and eventually secured my chosen course at my desired university — a journalism degree at the University of Sussex — I realised that the secret to a successful application lay in keeping things simple.
Here’s a guide to help you with the most crucial steps in applying to the UK universities and landing on your dream campus.
1. START EARLY
Technically, you could apply within a month of the deadline and ride your luck to acceptance at any of the top universities. But the more pragmatic approach is to kickstart preparations for your application a year ahead of enrolment. So, if your course begins in October 2021, you should start getting things in place right away, if you haven’t already. In addition to an early start, maintaining a timeline of the entire process — from application to enrolment — is key, so that you do not get lost in case there are delays or contingencies.
2. SELECT AND SORT
How do you decide what and where to study? The answer usually does not arrive overnight and certainly not without rigorous research. The first step is to make a list of the subjects that interest you and then look up corresponding courses on the websites of the top universities. How to figure out which universities are the best, apart from instantly recognisable institutions like Oxbridge and LSE? Head over to The Guardian’s university rankings or its QS counterpart and explore the databases carefully. You might want to make a longlist of 10 to 12 universities before whittling down to the best three or four. While selecting and sorting, give preference to the standard of the course over the brand name of the institution, and do not forget to scrutinise the modules and the specialisations of the faculty.
3. BUILD A NETWORK
Applying to the UK will require you to speak to a lot of people about a lot of things. So, brace yourself to fire off regular emails, alongside initiating loads of conversations on LinkedIn. Most universities are highly responsive to queries about your course, professors, career path, among others. Take advantage of this to mail university staff and faculty and clarify all your doubts before you actually apply for a particular course. Get in touch with alumni from the institutions on your list and find out how the experience of actually studying at a place compares to the one advertised on the website. Once you have applied, do not stop communicating. Forge a rapport with your prospective professors and classmates and ensure you get as familiar as possible with the objectives of, and expectations from, your course.
4. KNOW YOUR CAMPUS AND CITY
It is a healthy practice to get acquainted with your future campus and city (or town) of residence once you have entered the applications phase. London is much more than its chain of posh cafes, parks and galleries, and Manchester and Liverpool are not all about their football clubs. Britain is an island teeming with history and it is worthwhile reading up on the culture and lifestyle prevalent at your institution as well as the place in which it is located. Not only will this form the building blocks of your relationship with your eventual destination, but the knowledge of your campus and city may even come in handy while writing your application essays and acing your interviews.
5. SEEK OUT SCHOLARSHIPS
Studying in the UK can be expensive, to say the least. At the same time there is no dearth of scholarships, although some of them can be difficult to unearth. Once you have effectively scouted university websites for scholarships and grants, look up the resources of organisations like British Council, Chevening, international trusts and educational charities. Some universities (like Sussex) have specific scholarships for Indian students, so make it a point to enquire about such possibilities from the university administration should such information not be forthcoming in your online searches.
6. SKETCH A BLUEPRINT
When you are taking a step as crucial as going abroad for education, you need to be a miniature artist as well as a landscape painter. In other words, you need to look at the small and the big picture, simultaneously. While choosing which universities to apply to, factor in how they might impact your career progression, how employable their graduates tend to be, and what sort of future might be in store for you once you complete your course. A blueprint need not be foolproof or unalterable, but it definitely needs to exist.
7. ARRANGE YOUR DOCUMENTS
The fundamental challenge with applications is to accumulate all the necessary documents without falling foul of the many rules and regulations. While certain documents like proof of funds, passport photocopies and academic records simply need efficient management, others require efficiency as well as creativity. Crafting a compelling CV and drafting the right Statement of Purpose (SOP) demand practice, passion and persistence. Make sure that you do not submit the same SOP or CV everywhere. Customise it based on the specificities of each institution. Similarly, the Letters of Recommendation (LoRs) that you get from your former teachers should not be generic avowals of your attributes, but should refer to the particularities of your achievements and projects.
8. IDENTIFY YOUR USP
Whenever you are creating an application, there needs to be a synergy behind all your efforts, an overarching vision that says something about who you are and who you want to become. Identifying and consolidating your USP does not merely involve highlighting your academic proficiency or documenting your co-curricular prowess. Instead, it is about telling a story — through your CV, SOP, LoRs, mails and interviews — that sets you apart as someone with a genuine desire to learn, improve and make a difference, no matter your chosen sector or area of specialisation.
9. DO NOT PANIC
There will be times when you might want to give up, when you doubt the need for it all, and simply wish to recoil and stay in your shell. Since an application process is drawn out over several months, it must be accommodated alongside everything else going on in your life. But once you start panicking, things only tend to get worse. Successfully making it to a top UK university is much easier today than it was two decades ago, and Indian students are among the most widely represented international communities in Britain. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the odds are stacked against you. Anxiety and trepidation are inevitable, but do not allow them to create perpetual panic. Instead, set small goals for yourself across the duration of your application, chip away at your targets on a daily basis, and keep faith in your intelligence, energy and enterprise.
Priyam Marik is a freelance journalist currently based in Kolkata, who recently completed his master’s degree in journalism from the University of Sussex