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4 tips to make your study abroad dream a reality

While international student applicant numbers are consistently increasing, admission rates are decreasing, proving it more challenging to enter the U.S. higher education system today. Even as more U.S. universities are internationalizing, the selection process is becoming more competitive. There are many factors that grant international students a spot in a U.S. university, therefore, students need to be more well-rounded than ever and less reliant on their scores than before.

 Photo by Elisa.rolle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The U.S. higher education market is not as heavily focused on test scores and grades as countries like the U.K. and Australia are. U.S. universities are also looking for candidates who engage in extracurricular activities and community service. Students must really make themselves stand out and highlight what they can bring to the university not only academically, but socially as well.
If you think you don’t have what it takes to be admitted to a U.S. university or have been rejected on your first try, here are some tips to consider for your next round of applications.
1. Consider your options
International students tend to hear more about U.S. Ivy league schools or schools in largely populated, metropolitan U.S. cities. They learn about these schools through media and never really get to know many of the other great schools and programs around the country. Ivy league universities are extremely selective and have very low acceptance rates so applying to lesser-known schools will give you a better chance of getting accepted. Universities and colleges that are not located in the most populated cities, such as the Northeastern region, tend to get fewer applicants from international students. Therefore, it would be in the best interest of the international student to apply to these, not necessarily smaller, but lesser-known schools. For a student who wants to get professional experience during their time at university, Drexel University has something called a “Co-operative education” program where, rather than spending a term in the classroom, you can get real-world experience with a full-time job in your field. The great news is that this opportunity is afforded to international students, granted they obtain proper work authorization. If you’re looking to get a degree from a top New York university, but don’t want the permanent hustle bustle of the city, SUNY at Stony Brook (located in Long Island), is rated one of the U.S.’ top 40 universities and is located only a short train ride away from the big city! The majority of U.S. higher education institutions have internationalization on their radar and many are still at low numbers of international student enrollment. There are also advantages of going to smaller schools especially when it comes to smaller class sizes, and a more personalized experience. You can find a list of 50 underrated, but great schools in up and coming cities around the U.S. that will most definitely fit the description of what you’re looking for in a university, on and off campus.
2. Get over the financial barrier
First of all, if you are an international student who doesn’t need financial aid, this is something that needs to be expressed in your application because it is much more difficult getting admitted as a student who requires financial assistance. It is suggested that international students who require financial aid should begin by researching universities who offer financial aid to international students before applying to universities that do not. On the other hand, some U.S. universities have what is called “need-blind” admission policies. This means that they do not consider applicants’ financial situation when deciding whether or not to accept them. In some cases, schools will only offer need-blind admission with no promise of financial aid, but there are also schools with “full-need pledges” attached to their admission policies. The most recent to be added to the list of need-blind schools, is Massachusetts-based college, Amherst. It is even possible to study in the US for free if you research your options.
3. Familiarize yourself with standardized tests

   Photo by Gnarlycraig [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Standardized tests are structured very differently from tests in other countries, therefore, it’s important to familiarize oneself with the test before taking it. Taking practice tests can really increase your performance and speed on the day of the actual exam. Make sure to take the exam within enough time to receive the results before the application deadline. Give yourself at least 3 months for paper-based exams and 2 months for computer-based exams. If you’re dissatisfied with your results, you can retake the test so make sure to take this into account and register very early. Become familiar with the GRE before you begin studying.
4. Overcompensate for standardized exams and TOEFL scores
First of all, do your research and decide which exams are right for you. If you are planning to attend a university in the U.S., you will definitely want to opt for the TOEFL exam, whereas if you plan to study in the U.K. or Australia, the IELTS will be a better option for you. Check out a detailed description of both here: TOEFL vs. IELTS: The Big Decision. If you didn’t do so great on either of these exams, don’t worry, you still have your chance to make a great impression through your personal statement and/or letter of interest. It is so important to set yourself apart from others on personal statements so the school can get a better idea of what type of student you will be and how you will fir in and adjust to the classroom. Use some of our tips on how to set yourself apart when applying to schools abroad.
The most important thing is to not get discouraged or give up on your dream of studying abroad just because you didn’t get accepted to a top U.S. university or college. You can get a superior education at many U.S. schools and should never limit yourself to only the most well-known. It would be helpful if you took some time to think about what is important to you in the city where you will be living and studying and spend some time researching the environment and lifestyle of a variety of U.S cities. You may find that a less traditional city has more to offer and is more appealing for the lifestyle you are used to back home. For example, if you have your heart set on studying at an Ivy League school in New York City, but are someone who is happiest living close to nature, you may want to consider other great schools (check out northern New York state) that fit your personality so that you will be able to get the most out of your new city. It’s worth exploring your options. Studying abroad will not only impact your career, it will change your life and the way you view the world, so make sure you choose a program and city that that is right for you.


Cheap activities in and around US university campuses

Though the main point of attending a university abroad is to study, receive a diploma in your respective field and enhance your career, it is important to realize that planned-relaxed free time is also vital to keep you focused and enjoy the experience of being in a different country. In and around most universities there are plenty of cheap activities that are sure to relieve one from the constant daunting workload of university.

Being a student gives you an advantage when wanting to pursue various activities, because many places provide student discounts that one can take advantage of. As discussed in previous blog posts about specific places like Boston, New York, and Zurich there are many options for activities one can find in and around the university. Our suggestion is to first look for engaging activities on campus and then turn to off campus options. The on campus activities tend to be cheaper than off campus.

On-campus activities

There is almost always something going on somewhere on campus, you just need to know where to look. Universities usually have either an online or physical event board on campus where groups post flyers about their events that are taking place. On the university's website there is almost always directly on the home page a tab that also lists the various events that are going on that week. Another good way to keep up to date with all the events and information about school activities, is to follow/like some of the university organizations on Facebook or Twitter, making sure you get notifications about events. Additionally, departments on campus usually like to host speakers and other discussion forums for individuals interested in topics related to the department’s field of research (or who want to learn something new). These events are usually free and open, though you may need to confirm your participation in advance (RSVP).

"Actress Rosie Fellner and director Nicolas Roeg at Crunch 2011" by Wiki 4321 - 
Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

American universities take lots of pride in their school colors, mascots, and especially their sports teams (if they have them). If you have an option to attend your school's sports game, it is a definite must. Being a student at that University usually either allows you to go to the game for a discounted price or completely for free. Even if you are not a huge fan of sports, it is a good way to get out of the schoolwork routine for a few hours and enjoy a fun experience cheering on your school’s team.

"College soccer fans indiana 2004" by Rick Dikeman, aka Rdikeman at en.wikipedia - 
Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Another option is to look at your school’s theatre department (if applicable). Many students - just like you - dedicate time and effort in planning and performing for adoring crowds, and are usually very good. Where it can easily cost upwards of $45 to see a show at a local theatre house, because these are on campus they are usually much cheaper, costing between $5-$15 (and sometimes free). The theatre is awaiting you.

"McCarter Theater auditorium from balcony Princeton" by Photo: Andreas Praefcke - 
Own work (own photograph). Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

No matter what time of year, you will see the gyms or physical education facilities packed with people looking to stay in shape or get out some stored energy from the day. Open almost all day, these facilities are usually free for students (who pay through student dues) and usually have up to date training equipment. If you are ever bored on campus go and find a gym or court to play on and kill some time for little to no cost.

"Personal Training at a Gym - Cable Crossover" by - 
Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Off-campus activities

Though they are probably a bit more pricey than on-campus activities, there are plenty of off campus activities one should take advantage of as well to break away from the regular school rhythm.

Sports: Just like your university, many cities have local teams be it high school, minor league or even some professional level that can be just as exciting and affordable as going to collegiate level games. This is your opportunity to see in real life the stars of the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL that you were watching from your home country. Other sports based options where you can practice sports are baseball batting cages, bowling alleys, ice-skating and roller-skating rinks, trampoline parks, and go-karting. All of these options tend to be on the inexpensive side and are a great way to hang out with friends away from the school work environment.

"Bowlerbowling" by Xiaphias. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Movies and Games: There are new movies created and screened constantly. Many times local movie theatres provide student discounts with the hope of bringing in more business for their theatre. Sometimes the theatres also have specials where double-features are shown or it is a specific time of year and certain themed movies are being shown (e.g. Halloween, Christmas). Also, in many movie theatres there are video game arcades where you can go, play games and possibly win prizes.

"San Francisco Rush 2049-Ms Pacman-Ambush Gun-Dragonball" by ilovemypit - Flickr. 
Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Museums and Parks: For those who are more into culture/aesthetics/history, finding local museums and parks can be an affordable option for any student. Local parks are usually free to walk through and if it has a national certification, may also have an environmental center attached to it where you can learn about the local environment. Museums come in all shapes and sizes catering to various different interests from the ancient to modern, and in many cases have student discounts or free admission days.

"Washington in Albany". Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

These are a few ideas to get you started. Before making that final decision of where you want to go for school, make sure that you also check out online the activities both on and off campus in the cities you are considering. This will help you beat the daily grind of school and get the most out of your study abroad experience. There are plenty of affordable, enjoyable opportunities out there, all you need to do is search for them and get out of the library from time to time.