In recent years, studying abroad has become an increasingly attractive option. While many dream about it, only a few make these dreams reality. Planning is the key to the entire process. One can significantly increase the chances of making it to a great university abroad by simply focusing on the right things at the right times.

There’s no point of spreading oneself out too thin and resorting to multiple sources at once. You are only likely to be overwhelmed and confused with all that comes toward you. The first thing you need to do is gauge whether a foreign education is for you — academically and otherwise.

Talk to students, alumni and possibly professors from the institutions you are considering to acquire an understanding of what you might be getting yourself into. Accordingly, gauge whether you would be interested in pursuing the option further.

Next, talk to your parents and make your goals and plans clear to them while explaining the details, merits and demerits of the programmes. You need to take a hard look financially and ascertain whether you will require external financial assistance or not. Now that you’re firm on studying abroad, you need to strategise. For this, find an educational consultant who understands your goals and is committed to helping you realise them.

The ideal counsellor will give you a comprehensive understanding of the application process. This will help you identify the best institutions and assist you with the preparation of a timeline for standardised tests (SATs, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, TOEFL, IELTS, etc) and essays. Prepare well but account for time that may be required for a second or third attempt (with high costs, you should look to avoid them as much as possible).

Essays are a crucial component of the application and you will need time to write and perfect multiple drafts. Universities abroad seek holistically developed individuals, so you’re going to need a lot more than just good test scores and recommendations.

You will need to start building your profile from a young age by pursuing your strengths and interests. A typical profile includes project work, summer internships, extra-curricular activities and volunteer work. If you already know where you want to go professionally, you could start networking with individuals in the industry to understand the skill set required to succeed and begin working on developing those skills.

This could help you land valuable summer internships in college that could lead to full-time jobs upon graduation. Understand the details of the application process very well. Sometimes colleges have nuanced differences in their processes that might need to customise accordingly. Help your school/ college understand how to draft transcripts and recommendation letter that would portray you in the best possible light.

Don’t hesitate to contact admissions committees with doubts. Work on your applications in such a way that you have a month’s time to go over all your details and possibly edit some essays as well. Once satisfied with your work, compile all documents and mail them out or submit online well in advance of the deadline.

An early submission gives you a better chance of being interviewed and sharing a side of yourself you were unable to in the applications. If you achieve or do something significant in the period between submission and decisions, make sure you contact the admissions office and update them. Don’t be too hard on yourself when it comes to adjusting socially and making friends. Try as much as possible to be yourself.

It’s okay if you’re not dressed like everyone else, or not in the popular clique. Relationships take time to develop and you can’t expect to forge ties like the ones you had with your friends back home within weeks. Studying abroad is not about the fun, games, glitz and glamour of being in a first-world country. It is a serious life-decision.

You’re there for a reason to grow to become an independent and resilient individual and push yourself to discover and realise the potential that may have never known you had. It is a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity offering exciting experiences ranging from learning about new cultures, speaking a new language, making new friends from diverse socioeconomic, political and ethnic backgrounds, to discussing issues you might never have considered.

With each of them, you can discover a new side of yourself, but it’s down to you to seize every moment.

(The writer is co-founder, Collegify)