by Jon Sender | Back to Guide
You’ve got four major initial applications to fill out, unless you already have a passport. In that case, there are only three. If you do no other work on your application for a long time, let these be the few things you do ASAP because together, they’re essentially the green light to move forward.
1. Study Abroad in General
Before you can study abroad, your home university will have to accept you, which means you have to apply. Your advisor should have explained to you how to do this, but if not, email them and ask. My university had a study abroad online portal which kept everything in one place, including this application.
You should know whether or not you have one already. You definitely do if you’ve been to Canada lately. Check with your mom if it’s hidden in a sock drawer or something, etc. Also check that the expiration date is at least six months after you expect to be back home after your trip. Don’t ask me why this rule applies, because I have no idea. But this won’t be the last time you hear it. If you need to renew your passport, keep reading. The process is similar to applying for one initially, only shorter.
If you don’t have a passport, you’re going to want to get on that. Obviously, you can’t leave the country without it. The two best places to take care of this are either the post office or the local public library, the latter of which usually has limited hours such as Saturday afternoons only. Google “passport applications” for a list of obnoxious things you’ll need to bring with you, because there are a lot. One such example is your original birth certificate. If you’re renewing, there should be fewer things you need to bring, but you’ll absolutely need to bring in your old passport because it will be sent in with the application. All applications, whether for new passports or renewals, can theoretically take a month or so to be processed, though oftentimes the turnaround is shorter. My renewal came back in a few weeks.
3. Overseas Institution
This comes after the passport application because you can expect this application to ask you for your passport number. Before starting your application to the university abroad, wait until you have a sufficiently valid passport in your hands. This is when you actually apply to study at your institution of choice, almost as if you’re applying to college all over again. Only this time, your chances for getting accepted are likely very good because foreign universities want to develop strong international programs—just as many American ones do—and you should feel confident of that going in.
The app might have a few short essays or even a personal statement, as mine did. For an idea of what to write, read my own personal statement here.
See if you need a student visa for your main country. If you know that you’ll be traveling to other specific countries, you can also check if they require visas for short-term stays. However, it’s possible that’s too far ahead for you to know. Know that as long as a particular country has an embassy or consulate in your host country, you can always apply for additional visas once you’re settled in abroad.
If you don’t need a student visa, you’re golden. But if so, you’re about to have some fun, and by fun I mean frustration. Search online for the embassy or consulate that services your area, then call or email them to find out exactly what they need in order to issue you a visa. You can also check if this is posted on their website. Again, this is going to be a lot of stuff, including acceptance letters, bank statements, visa and return shipping fees, etc. Depending on whether they need things like tuition balances or confirmations of purchased flights, you might need to wait on this and come back to it later. Also, for payment, definitely use a cashier’s check from your bank rather than cash or a personal check. Otherwise, your order may not be processed and you’ll have to try again.
Just a warning: embassies really are hard to reach, and I couldn’t tell you why for the life of me. It just always seems like they never answer their phones, and don’t respond to emails, and are only open for 3 hours a day, and are closed on both American holidays and their own. But keep trying to get through. It took me forever, but I managed. Hopefully they let you mail your documents in as I did, because if not, you’ll unfortunately have to present yourself in person.
If you can use a processing service to package up your documents nicely, go ahead. I wasn’t able to, however, as Israel boycotted them all. So I organized everything myself and sent them this cover letter, and in return I only received maybe two angry phone calls about missing documents I swear they never mentioned. It sucks, but the point is: you can do it.
To keep track of your applications, use the “Application” tab on my Study Abroad Master Plan Template.