How-To: Find a Good College Abroad

Getting an overseas college admission maybe the first step towards achieving your dream. A good college should be one that offers your program at a cost that you can afford. The application process could be time consuming, expensive and full of disappointments. Knowing what to look for could save your time and money. Through proper research before applying, you could also avoid the pain of being rejected.  Here are a few pointers in your search for that college admission.

Begin early
Most American college require that international applicants submit their applications around 9 months before their target academic year. If you are eyeing fall (September) intake you would want to apply before January. Most university application portals open in August and close in January. Therefore, the latest you should submit your application is December.

The application process can be quite tedious. On average, you will need to submit a statement of purpose and 3 letters from your referees. The referees can be your college professors and employers or supervisors. In the statement of purpose (admission essay) you explain how you settled for the program and university, what motivates you and what you expect to gain from the program. The first statement of purpose will take a long time to complete; better start early!

The first step here will be shortlisting the programs you want to pursue and the colleges that offer them. By the beginning of November, you should be sure of the college(s) to which you want to apply. Luckily, you can complete the online application in multiple sittings before submitting.

Be sure before you commit
To avoid wasting time and money you will want to get accurate information about the college and the program before you apply for it. You can supplement your information by emailing department staff or the admissions office. In many colleges, the program coordinator is the go-to person but anyone in the program will point you in the right direction. Some departments publish information about their current students on their websites. You might want to talk to a student to get a student’s perspective about the college or the program. You will be surprised to know that in other parts of the world, people read and respond promptly to emails! Unlike Kenya where canvassing is frowned upon, American colleges value applicants’ familiarity with their staff or college.

Surprisingly, it is not that difficult to get admitted to colleges abroad. A second-class upper will get you into most colleges in the USA. However, education is unreasonably expensive in America. As a rule, private colleges will be more expensive than public institutions. Be sure to ascertain whether that college is private or public. An interesting fact is that most American universities known to Kenyans are private. Think of Harvard, Yale, Stanford. You will need to get your money right before applying to private colleges. Furthermore, private universities provide masters degree funding in very few programs but they have lucrative deals for their PhD students. For this reason, some international students go to public universities for masters degree and to private ones for PhDs. Other things to consider include waivers and assistantship opportunities that will reduce your financial burden.

Acceptance rates
This is the percentage of a university’s successful applicants out of all applicants in a given year. The lower this percentage, the harder it is to get into the college. In 2017, the acceptance rate was 4.65% in Stanford and 5.8% in Harvard compared to 66% in the University of Illinois system and 61% in the University of California system. The obvious implication is that it is easier to get into public colleges.

Masters or PhD
Another critical decision for graduate students is whether to pursue a masters degree or a PhD. While most Universities have stand-alone masters programs, some have a combined program in which students earn a masters degree after 2 years and after 3 more years they get the PhD. For some reason, it is easier to get funding for PhDs than for masters. Therefore, it is financially smart to go for a PhD program instead of a masters -if you meet the program’s requirements.

Standardized tests
Colleges often require at least one standardized test from applicants. For students whose native language is not English, American colleges will want you to sit for TOEFL. My previous article takes an in-depth look at TOEFL. The TOEFL pass-mark will vary with the college and program. Some programs may require GRE (God help you). Consider all these requirements while calculating costs of applying to colleges since these tests are costly. Also, understand how urgent the results are needed because, apart from the time you will need to prepare for the tests, it also takes about 3 weeks before the results are out.

Be organized
Chances are that you will send dozens of emails before you settle on a college. To avoid getting things mixed up, you should set up a new, decent email address for this purpose.  Marking important dates on your calendar will also help track your applications.


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