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6 Common Mistakes International Students Make While Applying Abroad

The number of students applying to colleges abroad is going up yearly – UNESCO predicted in 2009 the number may reach 7 million by 2020. Of these, more than a million apply to colleges in the US. Over forty thousand get accepted in the UK. Over five hundred thousand foreign students enrolled in Australia’s colleges every year.

But the competition is tough. In order to increase your chances of getting accepted into the college of your choice, avoid making some common mistakes that international students typically make when applying abroad.

Banking only on good grades and extracurricular

Gone are the days when it was enough to have good grades and lots of extracurricular on your “all-rounder” resume. These days, you need more to beat your very strong competition. Instead of looking just like everyone else in the applicants’ line, you need to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

A wide range of interests and accomplishments are a plus. But what’s more important than those is a special area of interest or passion where you think (and can convince the university) that you can shine.

Not having a genuine passion will put your application in the same slot like most other applicants who send in generic applications. If you can identify your passions early in high school with the help of your school teachers and counsellors, you can begin to collect achievements in the area for a lot longer than most students.

Not having a strong “story” to tell

You may not realize that your college application is your story. How you present your college essay and your history will determine the kind of impression you make on those who will review your application.

Remember, at the end of the day the college authorities won’t remember the details but the strong impression of you that your story created for them. It’s up to you to tell your story in the most impactful way. This means only focusing on one or two areas you’re most interested in and presenting your achievements in those areas in an impactful way.

Many of the successful college applicants begin putting their “story” together for college right from the time they begin high school. This way, they have enough time to prepare.

Applying only to high-ranking colleges and not having a Plan B

Many international students make the mistake of applying only to the top-ranked colleges, like the Ivy League colleges in the US and colleges like LSE, UCL, and others in the UK.

When your application gets rejected at these colleges and doesn’t have a Plan B, you’re very likely to give up. That’s the last thing you should do. If the university of your choice didn’t accept you, maybe a second one will.

Instead of going by rankings that you find on websites run by education counsellors, you should make your own rankings. Go by criteria like how well the college fits your needs, how well its program fits your choice of a career, whether the campus culture is a good fit for you.

For instance, if you feel you’d prefer a college without the distractions of big city life for your civil engineering program in the US, you could consider The University of Georgia in the beautiful town of Athens.

Remember, you’re likely to have a better shot at acceptance in a lesser-known college that has an equally strong undergrad degree as a second-tier or even a first-tier university. Not because they’ll take just anyone, but because they receive fewer applications from foreign students who usually go with name brands.

For instance, the University of Illinois at Chicago in the US has an excellent Computer Science program that tied with Caltech at a recently published list of rankings in the Communications of the ACM.

Starting test preps too late

It’s highly recommended that you begin studying for your SATs as soon as you can during high school. Take the SAT II subject tests while the subjects are still fresh in your mind, maybe right after class 10.

Ignoring scholarships

There are a lot of scholarship options when you apply to study abroad. Don’t be like most students and ignore researching this area altogether, under the impression that you won’t qualify. Scholarships can be offered for a variety of criteria, such as your gender, your country, the subject of your choice, the total income available to you, and others. As long as you can prove you’re a good investment, you can find a suitable funding for you with a little research.

Forgetting to budget for more than tuition fees

It’s common for students applying abroad to make mistakes in budgeting for their college course. Sometimes, they think the tuition fees are actually less than they are. For instance, some countries like Finland and the Netherlands have two different types of tuition fees. Non-EU-students who come to study in the EU may have to pay more than the tuition fees listed on the website, which may be for EU students.

Besides tuition, you will also need to budget for things like accommodation, traveling, transportation, etc. When you look at the bigger picture, the cheapest tuition may not always be the best. Denmark, for instance, offers tuition-free education to EU students but the costs of living in the country are impossibly high.

The Bottomline

When you’re applying for college abroad, make sure you’re going in with full commitment and your eyes and ears fully open. Sometimes, applying to a college abroad may not be the best option for you. Some students get carried away by what everyone else (their peers, family, counsellors) advise them to do, without really thinking about what they want. Do you think you’ll be able to handle doing things on your own and missing home?

But if you really want to study abroad, you’ll find it in you to make sure that you’re sending the right application documents, that you’re not giving up after a rejection, that you’re looking for quick and inexpensive money transfer options (like MoneyGram or Western Union) so your college doesn’t have to wait forever for your bank to process a payment.


  1. Modou Lamin Kassama says:

    Thank you much very for such a wonderful enlightment in the aforementioned. Actually, i also do have a challenge when applying because i really do find it hard to trace out the form were applications can be done to most colleges/universities. I look forward to further my education but it is hard on me not able to also find a scholarship. My interest is to do computer science/engineering but most schools i do see don’t offer scholarship.

  2. George says:

    Thank you .it is helpful.it’s been about five years since I looked for a scholarship.Until now it’s a disaster.I give up.that’s the way it is.

  3. Lolly says:

    Students should focus on events after being admitted.Mostly the claw on the part of the students.

  4. Fondo Hassan says:

    Well pinned for the applicants ! I will put this into consideration soon as I start my application in 2020

  5. Sibanda says:

    Forgetting to budget for more than the tuition fees is one of the most common mistakes. This is really an eye opener for students who want to study abroad. Tuition fees might be very low and we just jump to the conclusion that its the best and is affordable. At times cheap things are not cheap. The cost of living in that country would be very expensive in terms of accommodation, food, transport etc resulting in students indulging in uncouth behaviours in order to survive. Some end up cutting short their studies due to failure to meet the living expenses. So there is need to look at the issue of affordability and sustainability before opting to study at international universities and colleges. Thanks for the advice. Forewarned is forearmed.

  6. Obaji Chigozie says:

    A very good one.
    The bottomline of the article got the whole story.. We should learn to know what studying abroad is all about.
    Thank you

  7. Rubina says:

    Thanks for right direction.lt will be helpful.
    Kindly ,give more tips about LSE, LSB etc means commerce field.

  8. Rosa Vicky says:

    I realize ignoring scholarships is a major flaw. The idea of not having the grades or less than average results. But the potential in looking beyond this seeming loopholes and applying rewards courage.

  9. Juliana Adjei says:

    I want a scholarship to study philosophy want to be a counselor.my heart breaks when I see home’s and marriages being broke and children are not getting that love and affection they need to grow to be prominent people in societies which most of them go wayward

  10. Dree says:

    Wow, great piece from scholarship position once again.
    I think the issue of applying only to high ranking colleges without an alternative plan is a mistake that people make every year and the impact has always been more negative.

    The competition for those high ranking colleges kicks many students out!

    Thanks for shading light in this direction and it’s my hope that students will imbibe the lessons of this post!

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