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Applying To Study Abroad: Where To Ask Questions

While on your way to a foreign university, a lot of questions are likely to arise that Google cannot answer.
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Seasoned students and alumni who are already enrolled in programs or have jobs that you are just aspiring to will come to your aid.

In this article, StudyFree account manager Victoria Potapova is sharing where to find them, how to overcome your fear of asking a stranger, and what exactly to ask.

How Experienced Students Can Help

Deciding on a destination and a university is clearly difficult. You need to thoroughly gather information about each option and take a lot of aspects into account. Googling articles and watching videos on YouTube is certainly useful because it will help you get a general idea about life and study in the country. However, there is a good chance someone else’s experience will not give you answers to specific questions.

University websites provide only general information about programs and campuses. Since the institutions want to convince you to choose them, all the descriptions are pretty appealing. Obviously, though, you cannot tell from the wrapping whether the program is right for you.

Talking to current students and alumni will give you a full picture of what it is like to be a student in the country and university you pursue. You can ask important questions about the study process, professors, student activities, everyday life, part-time jobs, and internships. 

Where To Look for “Respondents”

Social networks are your best assistants here. If you have decided on a country, but have not yet picked a university, you should subscribe to communities of students specializing in your field in the country you chose.

Look through subscribers of the official Facebook and Instagram pages of the university, department, and program. Active students often leave comments on announcements and news. A lot of universities have such pages. Among them are, for example, Tor Vergata University in Rome, the University of Toronto, and the National University of Singapore, just to name a few.

At large universities, there are separate social network communities for almost every major. Students join them to discuss exams, share tips, and just talk about everyday life. For example, this is the Instagram page of Nanobiology at the Delft University of Technology. You can also look for active students in common interest communities, such as, for example, the French Society at the University of Oxford.

Many universities hold online open days. There, you can talk to students who work part-time in the admissions office and know a lot about the admission process. Don't be shy to ask for their personal contacts and permission to write to them when you have questions.

Some study program websites have pop-up chat boxes where student volunteers are willing to share their experiences. You can see an example of such a chat at the University of Amsterdam website.

How To Overcome the Fear of Writing to Strangers

It's only scary and uncomfortable the first time. Remember that people are generally happy to help, and international students know very well what you feel right now. They still remember what it's like to have a lot of questions, not know where to seek help, and be really nervous about all this. The Pay It Forward principle works great in the student community. Soon, it will be you who share the experience with young fellows.

Your skills of writing to strangers with relevant experience will come in handy when you start looking for a job. In the business world, asking a stranger who works at your dream company  

for an informational interview on LinkedIn is a common thing because it's the only way to get advice from an insider.

Keep in mind that you can also write to international students from other countries, and not only Russian ones. This way, you'll gather more information from different members of the international student community which will help you get a broader picture.

In this case, try to put it as simply as possible when contacting a person on social networks. A template message could be as follows:

Hi, _____! I hope that you're doing well. My name is _______. I'm so excited to apply for _______ program at ______ university. As I can see you are a student there right now. Would you mind sharing some of your experiences and thoughts on the education process/student life?

The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get any reply. That's okay! This will happen a lot in your academic and professional life abroad when you deal with professors, apply for a job, or look for an internship. Just move on to the next person.

Improving Your Chances To Get a Reply

To gather more information and increase your chances to get a response, you should write to at least three or four people for each university and major you are interested in. Different stories and perspectives will give you a deeper understanding of student life in the country and university that you picked.

If you have a lot of questions, it's better to break them down into categories to ask several students. For example, someone will share the technical details of admission with you, and another will tell you about life on campus.

We advise you to follow some basic etiquette rules. Be polite and keep it short. Don't take advantage of people’s kindness. Check out all available sources before asking extra questions on the topic. And of course, don’t forget to thank people for their time. 

What To Ask

When preparing for admission, it feels like your head is about to explode from all the questions. This is why we advise you to group them by topic and then structure the answers using a table. Here is an example of how you could categorize your questions: 

Questions about the program and the admission process:

  • Do grades on my diploma/certificate matter to be accepted into the program? If so, what is the passing score?
  • What should I pay special attention to when writing a motivation letter and personal statement?
  • Does it make sense to apply to several programs at the same university?
  • How many hours a week do classes take on average and how much time do I have to work independently?
  • Can I select subjects or does the university set the list?
  • Is there an opportunity to ask professors additional questions outside of class hours? 

Questions about infrastructure and expenses:

  • What do you like and what don't you like about the university and its student community?
  • Is the city good for students? How does the public transport system work? Are there discounts for students?
  • What are the amenities on campus (cafes, libraries, study rooms, etc.)?
  • How much money do you spend on living expenses every month and what exactly are the expenses?
  • What scholarships, grants, and benefits are international students at this university eligible for?

Questions about student life:

  •  Does the university offer extracurricular activities for students?
  •  Are there opportunities to develop employability skills (CV and interview workshops, job center training, etc.)?
  •  Is it possible to get academic and moral support (catch-up classes, study groups, psychologists, etc.)?
  •  Are there volunteering opportunities?
  •  What sports, cultural, and arts communities/associations does the university have?

Questions about housing:

  • Is it possible to get a room in a dormitory and what do I need to do for that?
  • Is the dormitory far from the campus?
  • Are the rooms large? Will I live alone or with roommates? Is there a kitchen to cook?
  • Is the dormitory quiet enough to study? What about security?
  • What options are available if I don't get a room in the dormitory? Where should I look for a room or apartment?

Questions about employment:

  • Is there an employment center at the university that helps students find internships, part-time jobs, and full-time jobs after graduation?
  • What companies does the university cooperate with for internships?
  • Does the university hold job fairs?
  • What does the career path of an average graduate of your major look like in 2-3 years?

Support by StudyFree Mentors 

If you apply abroad with the help of StudyFree, you can ask mentors from our community for any information and support.

Darina Zotova, StudyFree community manager:

StudyFree is a community of over 500 alumni and winners of prestigious scholarships. They are willing to share their experience with students who are just at the start of their path to getting admitted to a university abroad.

We have over a dozen communities around the world. There, you can find answers to all kinds of questions, including where to apply, how to prepare, how to live in another country, and what the career prospects are. 

Our students get access to the best admissions tips. You choose a program on the platform and then read all the secrets of how to get admitted that the alumni of the program eagerly share. You also get access to examples of all documents and motivation letters.

You can attend online events where community mentors share their real experiences. The admission process is not only about success and triumph. It’s about overcoming difficulties too. Our mentors openly talk about their mistakes and failures so that you do not follow in their footsteps. And of course, there are success stories that always bring encouragement and confidence.

You can take part in valuable training sessions on different topics by our mentors. Among them are how to pass IELTS at the first attempt, how to find a part-time job after you enroll in a university, how to build an international personal brand, and many others.

If you want to analyze your case in detail, you can buy a consultation with a community mentor in your area. Together, you will go over your particular situation, and the mentor will share his experience and give advice based on all the nuances.

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