Applying Abroad: An opportunity for everyone


Naomi Ichiriu

Studying internationally is an opportunity to a drastically unique cultural and educational experience that far too many students don’t take advantage of. Applying to international schools will have a different application expectation than American schools, but can open you to the chance to delve deep into your passions and be surrounded by people equally as enthusiastic in a new environment.

Imagine yourself in a café in London, preparing for a philosophy seminar at your university, planning to hit the town with your “mates” after class. For someone seeking study abroad opportunities, this sounds great, but the process to get there can be radically different to that of the standard application process in the United States.

You may have already heard that applying to international schools can help you save money, see new areas of the world and experience different styles of education. But the application process isn’t talked about much.

The majority of my family lives in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and because of that, I’ve known for years that I wanted to attend college in Europe. Curious about differences in the application process, I came to realize that the bulk of admissions decisions come down to SAT/ACT scores, Advanced Placement test scores and a personal essay.

For many U.S. students, this is a complete turn off. We work four years to balance classwork and extracurricular activities to have an impeccably well-rounded high school portfolio, because that’s what we think earns you a place in a competitive college.

In the U.K., however, students specialize in two to four classes (math, english, etc.) in Grade 11, depending on their academic performance. They take long AP-style tests on these subjects in Grade 13 and those scores dictate which colleges and which majors they can be accepted into.

I won’t delve into whether test scores as a core admissions criteria is fair, but it is some applicants’ strong suit. If you’re the type of person who’s known your passion from a young age, like I have, or excels in specific subjects, the U.K. admissions process and university experience might be a perfect fit.

For this same reason, particularly in England, it is extremely difficult to change majors midway through. And going into college undeclared is unheard of.

The U.K. admissions portal, UCAS, calls for a 4,000-character “personal statement” asking why you are qualified for the course you’re applying for. As a politics major, I know an internship at a medical lab wouldn’t boost my application much, regardless of the activity’s prestige. I’ve learned that commitment to the individual field is of utmost importance.

And while I’m loving the process thus far, May will be a stressful time of the year. For a U.K. university, a four or a five on an AP test could make or break my application.

Obviously, not everyone will find this admissions process suits them, and if you’re seeking a more holistic overview of your grades, extracurriculars and essays, maybe consider applying in Scotland or Ireland instead. Their school systems don’t call for as much specialization in high school as schools in England do. Europe has so many countries with very different systems, and research can help you to find out which one might be a right fit.

Additionally, as this year many are test optional, admissions could be much more appealing to international students.

It’s daunting to know I might not be living in this country a year from now, and that I could be committing to studying a subject inside and out for the next four, leaving general education behind. But in a way, it’s refreshing. The U.K. admissions process offers you the chance to delve deep into your passions, and be surrounded by people equally as enthusiastic. And if a Scottish experience, for example, is more suitable from the application stand-point, it will still provide a drastically unique cultural and educational experience that I strongly encourage others to consider.

I, personally, cannot wait to study internationally and I think far too many students don’t consider the opportunity, when we all should. The majority of deadlines are in January or February, so there’s still plenty of time. If you know what you want to do, the U.K. may be for you. But the whole world is your oyster.