Applying for exchange with C’s? Turn that into your advantage

Recently,  a lot of people have been asking me if they should still apply for international exchange if they don’t have “only A’s and B’s” from their first year at uni. Let me make this clear: I did not have only A’s and B’s, neither did my friends who are currently enjoying their year abroad. So whatever you have heard about grades so far – scratch that! Here is how you are going to get a place in the International Exchange program:

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1. How badly do you want it? 
– Show them that you can improve and turn that into your advantage.
I was on a 14.5 GPA when I was applying (bad first year). I had two C’s and one of them was from my major. But I wanted to go on exchange very badly, and I refused to accept the thought that my first year would haunt me and take away my opportunity. So when 2nd year started, I was studying very hard! I put up inspirational photos of places I wanted to go to on my wall and would look at them when times got tough (motivation at its fines haha). I wanted to show them how badly I wanted this exchange opportunity!

After hard work I ended up with a B2 in Psychology and an A4 in German in my first semester. My third grade wasn’t going to be available until the end of the academic year, because it was an 80 credits course, but I managed to get A’s and B’s on the coursework and I attached those grades. Let me tell you – a lot of other students had better grades and that’s always is so intimidating that it makes you want to dig a whole in the ground and bury yourself. Don’t let other people’s grades cloud your mind – it is always good to know your competitors but don’t let them put you down. Try to see what they consider as “their strengths” and try to mention something different in your personal statement that shows how YOU will benefit from the exchange opportunity. Be innovative and honest about your reasons. Remember: grades are only ONE part of a VERY long application

Try as hard as you can in the first semester of the 2nd year – you can do this! It is all about improvement – none will expect you to be perfect. As I said, turn your improvement into your advantage!

2. Be smart about your choices
Everyone wants to of to California…yes we know that. There will be ALOT of people applying for a very few exchange places. Almost everyone who will apply, will chose: United States – UC, Canada – UBC, Australia – UoS/UoM.

Chose something different. You don’t have to go to the most competitive places. University of New South Wales is very nice, Singapore is wonderful, Hong Kong is amazing, Otago is beautiful! All of the places that are available for International Exchange are amazing! Get outside your comfort zone and go to a less typical place – that will certainly increase your chances.

3. Back up everything you say with facts
Facts are your best friends, not only when it comes to academics, but also when it comes to covering letters and personal statements. When you’re working on your personal statement, show them that you are “a multitasker” through experiences, show them that you are “hard-working” through your accomplishments. You need to back up everything you say with things you have done – that will make your personal statement very impressive!

3. Provide good and extensive research about your country of choice
Research is so important. Make sure you know prices for everything – from bus trips to a coffee in Starbucks. Show them that you have done outstanding research (I mean, OUTSTANDING) that you know the prices for accommodation, food, books, flights, visas and how to get them, vaccines, travels – everything you can think of! The list is never too long! Provide links, contact the SASA’s (name drop in your application!!!). My research was 1 page long for every country and looked like this: screen-shot-2015-10-25-at-14-51-31

4. Work together with a friend
Find someone who is also applying for International Exchange, but a different country. People tend to get very competitive and won’t even talk to you about their personal statements. But I had a friend who was applying for California and I was applying for Hong Kong so we were a perfect team – she could help me with my application without loosing anything and I could help her with her application! Guess what? Both of us got a place!

Here are some examples taken from my personal statement for International Exchange that may give you an idea of how to represent yourself (not at all the best example, and remember that there are many ways of writing your personal statement!!)

“What qualities should an exchange student have and how can you demonstrate these?”
“…I think that the most important quality of an exchange student is to be able to assess and exhibit appropriate behaviour in different situations. Such flexibility is crucial when facing various challenges of living in a different country, and in particular, it helps to adapt to different academic standards. Having studied in China, worked in Canada and Italy has helped me to acquire skills to independently navigate life in a foreign culture”

“Have you acquired the identity of a GU student, and how can you use these to represent GU abroad?” 
“Alongside my studies, I have been actively involved with the Confucius Institute and the Chinese community at the university. Being an intermediate speaker in Mandarin, has allowed me to be the first to represent Glasgow University in numerous Chinese speech competitions. During the “Jiangsu Cup” in Sheffield, I was awarded the 2nd place and one-year scholarship to Nanjing University, which I had to decline due to my major clash. In March 2014, I represented GU in London at one of the biggest Chinese speech competitions in the world – Chinese Bridge – where I successfully made it to the finals. This year, I also volunteer for language exchange at SRC, where I get to practice my Chinese, as well as help foreign students to better understand the Scottish culture and the system. Through these experiences, I believe to have acquired the identity of a GU student, and I would be proud to represent my university on an international level”

“How can your previous experience help you during your year abroad?”
“My strong interest in cross-cultural exchange brought me to China in 2012, where I spent one year studying at Peking University on a scholarship from Confucius Institute. (….) Dealing with a heavy workload made me more consistent, and most importantly, self-reliant. (….) Getting firsthand experience with Psychology related work this summer at my internship in Stockholm at the eating disorder clinic “Mandometer”, has helped me to be more relaxed and flexible in dealing with new and challenging situations”

“Why Hong Kong University?”
“….the exchange with HKU would provide the opportunity experience different research areas that university is renown for, namely Clinical and Educational Psychology. At HKU, I am looking forward to study under Dr. Harry Hui, who has done outstanding research within Humanitarian Work Psychology and developed an exciting personality measurement technique “Chinese Personalities at Work” that is widely used in China.”

Hope this helps! Let me know if you want to know more!
/Veronica

(Email: veronica.stonko@hotmail.com)

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