How, when and where of studying abroad

Over 3-lakh Indian students are currently pursuing their education abroad, which makes it least surprising that India is the third…

How, when and where of studying abroad

Representational Image (Photo: Getty)

Over 3-lakh Indian students are currently pursuing their education abroad, which makes it least surprising that India is the third largest source of international students in the world, behind just China and South Korea. Every year, a large number of students get in line to fill up applications for what can be a very competitive admission process.

For aspirants vying to study abroad, there can be many questions that might be in their list, including the what, where and how of the matter. Here are top five common questions study abroad aspirants should figure out before venturing out:

Where do I study?


This is, usually, the first question that comes to an aspirant’s mind when planning to study abroad. It is also the toughest decision given that the student has to consider aspects such as the country, the programme and also his budget. Most students are known to figure the country first (Usually considering aspects like cost of living and work opportunities after studies) and then the universities (based on ranking). “When I first started I was confused about whether I wanted to study in Singapore or New Zealand, but then I made a comparison of the work hours and it made more sense for me to study in New Zealand as it allows international students to work for 20 hours a week. This meant more pocket money to sustain myself,” says Florida Barman, who is pursuing Animation at Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand.

When do I apply?

Unlike for domestic application, the admission process for aspirants starts a year prior to their first semester abroad. While mostly prevalent in USA, most countries across the world have three admission seasons, namely, Spring, Summer and Fall. Of these, Fall is the most common season for students to apply as that is the time when most universities open their applications. For Fall, applications open by August and continue till February. In certain cases, the applications might be open even till the end of June. However, students aspiring for scholarships should apply by the end of November or mid-December. Between, February to April, universities start responding to the applications and if they are selected, by May aspirants have to start the financial and visa process.

Which exams to take?

This is, perhaps, one of the most important aspects of the study abroad plan. Students are usually required to take, at least, two kinds of tests – English proficiency and aptitude. Among the English proficiency tests, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and Pearson Test of English (PTE) are highly popular, with maximum students opting for one of the three. Aptitude tests depend on the programme the student wants to pursue and the university he/she wants to study in. Most universities in USA, Singapore, Canada and some universities across Europe accept Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores for their Postgraduate programmes. For undergraduate programmes, students have to appear for SAT. Some universities might have their own entrance test. Also, some universities in Singapore and Germany even accept Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) for MS programmes. For Management programmes, majority of the universities across the world accept Graduate Management Aptitude Tests (GMAT) scores.

Category Exam
English Proficiency Test IELTS, TOEFL, PTE
Postgraduate GRE, GATE, GMAT
Undergraduate SAT


What should be in the application package?

One of the most important differentiating elements of studying abroad is the application package that students have to prepare for their admission. The admission teams of top universities have a very rigorous selection system and require elements that reflect the applicant’s knowledge and participation beyond just academics. “The admissions office checks all the components in the study abroad application package, and your extracurricular activities definitely play a big part,” says Adarsh Khandelwal, Co-Founder, Collegify, an education consulting firm. Here are the some of the elements on the application package for a foreign university.

Statement of Purpose (SOP): As the name suggests, the Statement of Purpose should include the factors behind the applicant’s pursuance of the programme and selection of that particular university. It is, generally, required for admission to both undergraduate and postgraduate programme and has to be written within a limit of 500-800 words in most cases.

Letter of Recommendation (LOR): Letters of Recommendation or Reference Letters are short recommendations that justify the applicant’s submissions-academic transcripts and SOPs. Mostly, students are required to submit two to three reference letters. Applicants who have prior work experience can ask their previous employers to write recommendations for them, while students can approach their professors for the same.

Resume: Along with their SOPs and LORs, students are also required to submit a resume listing their academic and professional achievements.

Essays/Video essays: Essays are mostly asked by management colleges either in written or video format or both. They are generally written or spoken on a set of pre-determined questions.

How do I fund my studies?

Studying abroad can be an expensive affair. In countries like USA, two-year MS programmes could set one back by Rs. 25-30 lakh. And that does not even include cost of living, which is high in most of the study abroad destinations. Most aspirants have the option of taking three funding routes – self-financing, educations loans and scholarships. Most universities offer scholarships to students depending on their merit or financial condition. Besides scholarships, universities also offer opt for tuition waivers. Aspirants also have the option of approaching banks to fund their studies. Bank loans usually cover tuition fees, stationery, hostel fees and additional living cost of the students. Students who are willing to take it a step further can also take up part-time work opportunities while pursuing their studies.