In the United States and some schools in the UK, you send in your applications early on during senior year and often know your results (or at least conditional results) by the time you are ready to graduate. This system is concrete and the steps towards it, relatively clear and repetitive. Study, test, apply, graduate, enter uni. Simple enough.
Unfortunately, not every country has such a smooth system for university entrance as the Americas. Anyone who plans to apply in the EU countries or East Asia will have to finish their senior year with full test scores before even beginning the application process. Not only is having to wait and be unsure of your destination at the end of your high school experience excruciating, you often have to do this walk alone. Each country (and sometimes, each school) may have a completely different system altogether required of you. While most of your peers have a guidance counsellour trained in your local system with experience on how to appeal to admissions, you will have to do the brunt of the research on your own. Some countries do not require much at all but usually means they look solely upon your grades giving you no wiggle room to impress-- anxiety building indeed.
To date, I have applied to school in 6 different countries and have been accepted to at least one school in all of the places I applied to (though I did not accept all of these offers, of course). I am actually currently waiting for another result to a bachelors programme in Sweden... and anxiety is eating me up. Still, I'm more prepared for it this time around and am glad to share my tips with you!
1. Find out which schools will make you wait, and which won't.
The biggest thing that caused me grief when I would think about how long a university application may take me, is the huge gap of time that I would not be in school. For some reason, this limbo time scared me to death and made me feel like in the time I waited I was squandering all my chances at going to any university, let alone my top choice. From the get-go, the best thing to do is to make sure we know the facts y'all. Don't cause yourself extra stress. Find out exactly which schools give you deferral options, which schools will require you to accept right away, and which schools care about you taking "gap time" (or waiting time to see your options). Make the process as objective as you can from the start, and decide which schools are worth the wait.
2. Prioritise your options.
As we arrived at in the first tip, we must decide which schools are worth waiting for and which are not. If one of the schools you identified does not wait for acceptance, you will have to decide if and when you get the acceptance letter to take the offer, or decline in hopes of the ones coming much later. This is a very serious decision, but it must be made. And the earlier you make the shorter the amount of time you will have to suffer agonising over the decision. My suggestion is to make the decision long before the acceptance letters even come.
3. Have a good relationship with your admissions advisors (don't annoy them, but don't let them forget you either) Another great way to minimise anxiety is to have constant and clear communication with your admissions counsellours. I acknowledge that this is easier said than done, as you will have just as many as you have applications-- but I believe it to be a crucial part of the process! I often get DMs on Instagram or Facebook or to my email about basic tips and information about university applications-- and it is so unnecessary! Do you know who knows the most about the apps? The people who make the decisions!!! Stay up and call your admissions officers, chat with them- email them, be 100% clear on what's going on and don't let them make any mistakes! In the end, your application is your responsibility. (I've actually gotten into a school because I called several times and even asked for a requirement appeal from the DEAN. So be adamant about what you want!)
4. Don't trust one source. That being said, let's not put our eggs in one basket. Of course, it is good to get some outside opinion or insight from upperclassmen or influencers. I wouldn't weigh their advice too heavily, but any insight you can get from a student who got into a school that you have prioritised can be of great help to you. This can be most helpful for things outside of the basic requirements like winning a scholarship, availability of jobs around campus, the career support available at the school, etc.
5. Have your special dates/deadlines written down (in a LOT of places)
Now, you should have cleared up what you need to get in. You have positioned yourself as best as possible for success. Your next step in the information collection phase is to make sure you don't miss anything! Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines!
6. Understand the university culture in the country you are applying to.
Not every country has the same culture around university. In fact, you can almost guarantee that they don't. When doing the common app for American universities, the personal essay (or your motivation statement) along with your other extracurriculars can often make or break your application. My guidance counsellour in high school used to stress that these apps are our greatest opportunities to boast ourselves, say as much as we wanted about how amazing we were and for once, it was totally called for! (Something you can't even say about cover letters). In other countries, however, talking about yourself and your achievements is rather shameful and that shame transfers into the application process. Other applications don't even allow you to show bravado at all, with no place for letters, recommendations or resumes. Understanding the culture around studies, majors, course of study, undergraduate studies versus masters (if they even have those!) 7. Do stress your position as a person interested in the mother country (it won't be cringey) One thing I have found to be universal with college applications is that everyone loves to hear how involved you are with the country's culture you are seeking to go to. They often want to hear about how you started to like it, how you have pursued your interests on your own and how you plan to pursue them when you get accepted to their institution. You talking about your connection to the country is the same difference as you talking about your connection to them. We often forget that schools also need and love promo. The more enthusiastic you are, the better you will be for their overall school culture and press!
8. Send your documents both through email AND through the mail (Can't stress this one enough).
Once you have collected all the information you possibly can and have noted it all down so you don't have to wonder or worry about it again, it is time to actually apply. Some processes will be relatively easy (like in Sweden), and some will be really tedious (like Japan). Either way, the schools will ask you to send in your supporting documents. I won't go into too much detail about what needs to be sent, because it's different in every country and you hear about it enough at school. What I will remind you is that these documents are the most important things through this entire process, they are your application. So do not take them lightly. Several times along my journey applying to different schools, after the deadlines they would say suddenly that they didn't receive my documents or that something was missing. I was always able to save my ass, however, by referring to the dates that I sent, showing the proof they had arrived and producing confirmations that they had both digital AND print copies. 9. Keep multiple copies of what you might need to apply to universities.
My last suggestion when planning to apply to schools internationally is to keep several copies of your documents on hand in the event of any changes in plan or error. Since the timelines are so spread apart for your different applications, it is best to take matters somewhat in your own hands. Universities and higher education programmes alike will always want sealed, official packages from your school that contain your grades and recommendations. If you are applying to school long after graduating, it may prove difficult to get a hold of these. When I graduated high school, I asked my school's secretary to prepare 8 extra copies of my documents stamped, signed and sealed. They did come in handy later when I eventually changed my mind about what I wanted to do or had to send in extra copies that had miraculously gotten lost in the mail. Whatever happens, it is best to be in control and prepared for whatever life brings you!
10. Relax. Okay. If you have checked off at least half of this list, you have done literally everything you can to ensure smooth sailing to a dream opportunity. Since you have done everything- you can now rest at ease and leave fate to fate. You are not in control of where you get accepted by, but you are in control of your attitude, your happiness and your ultimate career choices. You have so much time, and life is not linear. Relax dear! You've done the hard work, just wait for your adventure to begin (and don't miss any special dates)!