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You need to know: the 9 most common application materials

TOEFL, GMAT, personal statement, essay, application form... what do all these terms mean?

So you've decided to go for a study abroad program. But now, you look at the list of the things you need to submit to the school, and all kinds of words you've never heard keep coming up. The GradTrain blog is here to clear things up a bit with an application dictionary.

So here we are with 9 most common expressions about applications to universities abroad and their meaning:

1. English language certifications – Many programs ask you for English Certificates. The point here is that you've got to prove that your English level is good enough for the program you’re applying to. If you are applying to a graduate program, most universities require one of the two tests below (we have a full blog post about this topic):
  • TOEFL  - take this if your dream school is in the US or if you have not decided in which country you would like to study.
  • IELTS  - take this if your dream school is located in UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland or South Africa.
For more information on the differences between TOEFL and IELTS see here.

2. Standardized tests - if you are applying for a master’s or PhD program, most universities require one of the tests below:
  • GMAT – generally, you’ll need to take the GMAT if you want to study business (MBA & PhD).
  • GRE – most likely, you’ll need to take this if you are applying for a degree in Finance, Economics, Public Policy, Social Sciences or International Relations. The GRE is becoming more popular for MBA as well, so watch the trend!
  • SAT/ACT - these are standardized tests that serve as a criteria for admission in some North American undergraduate programs. Each school may have its own requirements. There is a cool map here that shows the trends.
3. School or college transcripts – the program you are applying to wants to know how well you did in your previous educational institution. A transcript is a document which reports the courses you have taken and the grades you have earned. It may contain information like how often you were evaluated, all courses taken, all grades received, all honors received and degrees given to you. We recommend that you start contacting your former school about 2 months before the application deadline, as it may take them time to produce the document. Ask them both for this and for number 5 on this list.

4. Degree certificates - when you finish a degree, you always receive a certificate or diploma. The school you apply to requests this as a proof that you've actually completed your studies.

5. Personal statement / essay / statement of purpose - it’s time to promote yourself! Be creative and write a 500-800 words essay (exact length may vary depending on the school). Each school and program has specific requirements. You should take some time to think and include in the statement every relevant experience, ranging from academic, sports, volunteer, leadership, etc. In a nutshell, explain your reasons for wanting to study the course and why you fit in. Some things you should not do on the personal statement:
  • Avoid long sentences.
  • Do not state the obvious, such as “As you know, being communicative is important for a marketing career.”
  • Avoid rhetorical questions, such as “And why should I study in the University?”
  • Don't be negative.
  • Don’t be too abstract.
This may take some time to do. Start doing this around August or September (depending on the program you are applying to), when collecting other documents. For more on the personal statement, click here.

6. Research proposal – some Master’s / PhD programs ask you for a document in which you need to provide a detailed description of your proposed research program. We suggest you start working on it together with the personal statement.

7. References / recommendation letters  - these are letters in which someone important who knows you well will attest to your qualities, capabilities and fit to the program in order to help convince the admissions committee that you are a great candidate. For tips on recommendation letters, how and when to obtain them, check out "The 10 Commandments of Recommendation Letters".

8. Application form – each program provides its own online application form. As the name says, this is a form to submit your information and pay a fee to allow the school to . This should be filled out along with number 9, in the end of the process, around December/January depending on the program.

9. Financial Aid Application – this is typically not one of the required documents for the application. Rather, it’s an option provided by some of the schools to request a scholarship or tuition discount. Usually you need to provide information on your financial situation. In some programs you submit this request together with the regular application. In others you submit it separately. As a general rule, especially in top schools, requests for financial aid do not influence your chances of getting in, so it doesn't hurt to fill it out if you need it.     

Don’t forget: each school has its unique calendar and requested documents. Therefore, the dates and expressions written here are a general overview and not necessarily your target school’s requirements.

If you have any questions about this or other international education topics, check out our forums. Also, be sure to follow our blog through the “Follow blog by Email” on the top right of this page.


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