With the study abroad application deadline looming (sorry that sounded more ominous than it needed to) I thought I’d lay out my top tips:
- Don’t procrastinate: I know this piece of advice sounds incredibly generic but seriously: don’t leave it till the last minute. Which is definitely not what I did, because that would be wildly irresponsible… Ok, so I admit it, but that’s how I know just how not fun procrastination will become. You’re going to feel like you have plenty of time, but the process, especially the research, will take longer than you expect. Plus there are those pesky exams to worry about, so start doing your research as soon as you can.
- Be open-minded: The country or university that you have your heart set on might not actually be the right place for you. I had pretty much decided I wanted to go to Australia, but when I started doing research I realized that Australian universities just didn’t offer enough courses in my subjects. I had to adapt, and look at some different options, and when I expanded my research to include the US, I found the perfect fit. I’m really happy with my choice, and don’t regret it. So, if you find that your ideal university isn’t as ideal as you thought, don’t be too down, there are plenty of other great schools to choose from.
- Research: It can be tempting to just look at pretty pictures of university campuses on instagram and decide based on that, but a more holistic approach is probably better. It can be helpful to look at stats like the university’s ranking, student satisfaction, and reputation for your subject. Minimal research informed me that UNC Chapel Hill is the fifth best public school in the US and that Michael Jordan is an alum (fun fact). Plus, of course get in touch with anyone who has attended/ is attending a university you’re interested in (e.g. me). Talking to someone with first-hand experience is the best way to get a feel for the vibes of a place (that sounds very new age-y but you get what I mean). The returned student reports are also a good starting point for background info.
- Budgeting: Budgeting was the thing I found the most intimidating about the application because let’s just say, economics is not my forte. Luckily, a lot of university websites will have a page detailing estimates of living costs, accommodation, books and food etc. which I found extremely helpful. I’m including the link for the UNC budget page here: http://studentaid.unc.edu/cost-of-attendance/undergraduate/ UNC, and the majority of US universities also have a student health insurance plan which you will be automatically enrolled in unless you submit an insurance waiver proving that you have full coverage. Even if you decide not to use the student insurance, it could be handy to have a look at the plan for an estimate on the average costs of health insurance. Try not to obsess too much over getting exact figures. These are only estimates after all and will most likely change as you start planning in greater detail. The point of the budget is really to show that you’ve put in the time and effort to do thorough research and plan ahead.
- Finding classes: The American system is vastly different from the Scottish one so it can be pretty confusing initially, finding the right classes for your subject. The way it works at UNC is the classes are numbered from about 100-700. Anything below 200 is an introductory level course (AKA not honours equivalent), so you can already rule those out. 600-700 classes are combined undergrad/ postgrad, so generally more difficult though the professor will usually assign different things to undergrads. Everything between 200 and 600 is also fair game, but don’t make the mistake of thinking a higher number means higher difficulty because that’s not always the case. Your best bet for getting a sense of the level of these classes is to read reviews on websites like these: https://www.koofers.com/university-of-north-carolina-chapel-hill-unc/browse, http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/campusRatings.jsp?sid=1232 I wouldn’t worry overly much about classes at this stage of the application though, because the courses outlined in the course catalogue aren’t always on offer, and you may not get to take the classes you select. The purpose of choosing classes is really to establish that the university offers a broad enough range of courses in your subject, as well as any courses required by UofG. Which brings me to my next point: be sure to make the required appointments with your subject coordinator(s) as soon as possible. Find out if there are any required courses for your subject, and get approval from your coordinators for the courses you’ve selected. I was lucky, in that as a comparative lit./ history student I pretty much had free reign in choosing courses, but I predictably (you’re probably detecting a pattern by now) left actually meeting with my coordinators until the last minute, and 0/10 would not recommend. The added stress of being uncertain about getting approval during exam period was definitely not fun, and could easily have been avoided.
- Don’t stress: This is probably akin to telling you not to breathe, and you’re no doubt thinking: “don’t tell me what to do!” right now. In all seriousness though, the more stressed out and overwhelmed I felt by the application, the more I put it off, which of course led to more stress if not outright panic. The best way to combat it is probably to take it step by step and focus on one section of the application at a time, rather than feeling paralyzed by all the things you still have to do. Just to address one of the creeping doubts I had, which you might share: you don’t need to be a straight-A student to study abroad. Getting a couple of Cs in first year won’t have any effect on your overall application, in fact, personal attributes and activities are probably more important.
I hope this has been helpful, but if you have any more questions about the application or anything relating to UNC or the US in general, feel free to contact me at 2087247L@student.gla.ac.uk. Good luck!