Study abroad: How to carefully choose a university and secure a seat

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Published on 2024-02-16 at 10:00 by Natallia Slimani
Nearly half of the international students admitted to Canadian institutions have been facing visa rejections over the past months, with certain public colleges in Ontario experiencing the denial of thousands of admitted students.

Analyses by the Star have revealed worrisome insights into Canada's international student program, which has become a significant financial pillar for higher education institutions. The program is currently facing scrutiny for its integrity, with even the federal immigration minister criticizing its current state.

According to a policy analyst, the influx of below-standard applications is a direct result of aggressive recruitment strategies by schools aiming to maximize international student enrollment.

Understand the landscape

The past several decades have seen exponential growth in the study abroad sector worldwide as more students look for educational alternatives outside of their home nations.

This is often driven by the pursuit of higher quality education, exposure to diverse cultures, and the promise of better career prospects upon graduation. Countries like Canada, renowned for their high academic standards, inclusive society, and welcoming immigration policies, have become particularly attractive destinations for international students. However, the allure of studying in prestigious destinations comes with its challenges.

Concerns regarding the integrity of the international student system, such as the ones we've mentioned above, have cast a spotlight on the importance of choosing reputable institutions.

Critics and officials, including Canada's own Immigration Minister, have voiced apprehensions about the exploitation of the system, likening it to a "puppy mill" due to the influx of subpar applications and the aggressive recruitment strategies of some educational institutions.

These issues make it especially important for prospective international students to do proper research before committing to an institution. This research should go beyond the quality of the education provided and also take into account whether the college or university in question adheres to ethical recruitment practices.

Research your options

Here are some key factors to consider in your research process:

The quality of education you receive remains the core of a worthwhile study abroad. Make sure to carefully look into the curriculum offered by the university for their chosen program, the teaching methodologies that will be used, the depth of the subjects covered, etc.

Research the qualifications of the faculty members, their research interests, publications, and contributions to their field. A faculty with a strong academic background and industry experience can provide valuable knowledge and networking opportunities that extend beyond the classroom.

The availability of state-of-the-art facilities can greatly enhance your academic experience. Look for information on the university's libraries, laboratories, technological resources, and other learning environments. Facilities that support your field of study, such as specialized research centers or innovation hubs, indicate the university's commitment to providing students with the tools they need to succeed.

A university's reputation can provide an indication of its overall caliber and the worth of its degrees in the international labor market. Although reputation shouldn't be your only consideration, attending an institution with a stellar reputation in your field of study can lead to opportunities and provide you with a competitive advantage in the workplace.

Accreditation from recognized bodies ensures that the education provided meets certain standards of quality and integrity. It's crucial to verify that the university and its programs are accredited by relevant authorities. Additionally, the recognition of degrees by international bodies and employers is essential, especially if you plan to work internationally or pursue further education elsewhere. This recognition signifies that your degree holds value across borders, facilitating global mobility in your career.

University rankings can provide a snapshot of an institution's standing in various aspects, including academic reputation, employer reputation, and research impact. While rankings are a useful starting point, they should be complemented with firsthand accounts from current and former students. Student reviews and online forums offer insights into the student experience, covering aspects that rankings do not, such as campus culture, student support services, and the overall community atmosphere. Engaging with these sources can paint a more comprehensive picture of what to expect and help identify universities that match your personal and academic preferences.

In addition to all of the above, it's essential that you look into the university's credibility as well as its policies towards international students. This may include acceptance rates and how international students are treated generally, in addition to the previously listed aspects. Examining the university's history of accepting and assisting international students can provide information on how inclusive it is and how strong its international community is. Seek out initiatives like language assistance programs, orientation sessions, and cultural immersion experiences that are specially tailored to help international students adjust to their new environment.

Through a comprehensive approach to university research, which takes into account both quantitative metrics and qualitative experiences, you, as a student, get to make a more well-informed judgment regarding your educational choices.

Check if the chosen program aligns with your career goals

The next thing you should consider when planning your study abroad is the academic program itself. It's essential that the program you have chosen aligns with your long-term career goals. As a prospective student about to commit to long study hours, you should look into your chosen program's accreditation, the curriculum's applicability to contemporary industry standards, and its commitment to academic honesty and ethical behavior.

Another thing to consider is the success (or lack thereof) of the program's graduates in the job market. Universities often publish employment statistics, average salaries, and the types of industries or companies where their graduates find employment. High employment rates and successful placement in relevant fields suggest that the program is well-respected and effectively prepares students for future careers.

For many international students, studying abroad is not just about earning a degree but also about improving their chances of employment and immigration in the host country. Investigate how the program supports these goals, whether through Optional Practical Training (OPT) opportunities in countries like the United States, Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) eligibility in Canada, or similar schemes elsewhere. Programs that give unambiguous routes to work experience and possible residency show that they comprehend the goals of international students and are essential in helping them reach their objectives.

Prepare a strong application

Because of the sometimes tough competition, preparing a solid application is essential to getting into the university of your choice overseas. You can highlight not only your academic prowess but also your distinct personality, experiences, and goals in your application. The following tactics can help you during the admissions process:

  • Since academic achievement is crucial, make sure to highlight your accomplishments in terms of grades, honors, and awards—however, universities also like well-rounded candidates. Extracurricular activities show devotion to your interests, time management abilities, and teamwork. Examples include leadership positions in clubs, volunteer work, sports teams, and the arts. These experiences demonstrate your ability to make a positive impact on the university community outside of the classroom.
  • In addition to the “formal” part of your application, you can use your personal statement to effectively convey your background, reasons for applying, and how the program will help you achieve your professional objectives. It's your chance to show off your enthusiasm for the industry and make the connection between your previous experiences and your future goals.
  • It is essential to clearly state your career goals and how they relate to the program you are applying to. Candidates that have a clear idea of their future and how the program fits into that vision are sought after by admissions committees.
  • Recommendations are an important part of your application because they give an outsider's assessment of your potential, character, and academic prowess. Speak with mentors, employers, or instructors who are well-versed in your successes and skills when selecting recommenders.
  • Some programs may require interviews as part of the application process. Treat these as an opportunity to further demonstrate your enthusiasm for the program and to articulate your goals and experiences. Practice responding to common interview questions, but also be prepared to discuss specifics about the program and how it fits into your career plans.

Navigate the visa process

For every international student planning to study abroad, navigating the visa process is an essential step. As you can see from the first few paragraphs of our article, being accepted to the university you've chosen is just the first step.

You may significantly improve your chances of being granted a visa by being aware of the most frequent grounds for denial and knowing how to properly address these in your application.

There are a number of reasons why visas may be denied. These include incomplete applications, insufficient financial proof, failure to show ties to your home country, or doubts about your intent to return home after your studies. Another common reason is the inability to convincingly demonstrate the purpose of your visit and how it aligns with your long-term goals.

It is critical to demonstrate financial stability. Visa officers must be certain that you won't turn to illegal work to pay for your living expenses, tuition, and other charges related to studying abroad. Evidence can take the form of bank statements, scholarship prizes, or letters from sponsors or relatives attesting to financial support.

Demonstrating your ties to your nation of origin through property ownership, familial relationships, or a job offer after graduation can be as significant. These connections ease one of the primary worries of the visa officers by implying that you have strong motives to return home following your school program.

Many student visas will also have a detailed study plan as one of their requirements. This plan should outline why you chose the specific program and institution, how the program aligns with your academic background or career aspirations, and how the qualifications gained will benefit your future.

As you prepare your visa application, ensure you are accurate, thorough, and honest. Seeking advice from a legal or educational expert with experience in visa applications can also be helpful in making sure your application is as strong as possible.

Use university resources

Most universities have specialized offices for international students that provide a wide range of support services. From filling out your application to comprehending visa requirements and getting ready for your arrival in a new country, these offices are a veritable gold mine of knowledge and support. In addition, they frequently arrange social gatherings, workshops, and orientation programs to assist international students in adjusting to their new surroundings and making friends. A successful study abroad experience can be facilitated by interacting with these services frequently and at an early stage.

The network of current and past students is another priceless resource. Many colleges offer social media groups and online forums where existing and prospective international students can interact, as well as mentorship programs. Here, you can often find advice on everything from where to live, what to study, how to use school resources, to being ready for the job market after graduation. Making wise decisions and establishing reasonable expectations can be greatly aided by this insider information.

Participating in alumni networks can give you access to a community of people with similar experiences and professional doors. Many alums are happy to share their career routes, offer advice, and occasionally even help arrange employment placements. Networking events, career seminars, and alumni meet-ups are frequently held by universities and can be excellent ways to meet people and gain insight from those who have been there before you.

Prepare for your life abroad

To get the most out of their foreign education experience, it's best to start planning for success right after being admitted.

It can be as tricky as it is exciting to adjust to a new culture. It is important to approach this experience with receptivity to further information and an open mind. Use books, videos, and internet resources to acquaint yourself with the host nation's traditions, manners, and everyday life before you leave. Engaging in cultural orientation programs provided by your university's international student office can yield significant benefits and pointers for managing cultural disparities.

Understanding the subtleties of a new educational system, from teaching styles to assessment techniques, is essential for successful adaptation. It's critical to participate fully in class, to ask professors questions during office hours, and to make use of study groups and other academic resources like writing workshops and tutoring centers. Maintaining a balance between extracurricular activities, personal time, and academics requires effective time management and organization.

Working while you study can be a great way to broaden your horizons in terms of your international education. It can help you develop professional skills and provide insights into the local job market. Numerous colleges offer work-study programs, internships, or co-op placements that allow students to work part-time in their field of study.

However, before engaging in any work abroad, make sure that you fully understand the regulations for working as an international student in your host country.

To sum up

Students planning their education abroad should thoroughly investigate their options and make sure that they are in line with their professional ambitions.

Given the intricate nature of visa procedures and the potential challenges involved, it's imperative that students select institutions and programs that not only meet their educational needs but also enhance their prospects for future employment—both in the host country and globally.

Your journey to planning your education abroad should include a thorough investigation of the university's accreditation, the quality and relevance of the curriculum, the expertise of the faculty, and the support services available for international students. Additionally, understanding the success rates of foreign alumni, especially in terms of employment, can offer valuable insights into the program's effectiveness and its alignment with industry demands.

It is also essential for international students to familiarize themselves with the specific visa requirements and post-graduation opportunities in their chosen destination. In doing so, you will not only safeguard your academic and professional future but also increase your chances of a rewarding and enriching educational experience abroad.