Global Undergraduate Applications • Guide to US Applications

Study Abroad at an Undergraduate University: A 3-Part Guide

POSTED ON 03/14/2023 BY The Red Pen

As leading undergraduate consultants who work with hundreds of applicants that eventually study abroad, we know that transitioning from high school to an international university is both daunting and exciting. Not only must you get used to your new-found independence and live without family, but you must also acclimatise to a culturally different environment and make new friends.

Part 1: Before you start your undergraduate degree at a foreign university

Here’s some of the spadework you can do before you begin your classes:

1) Make the most of orientation week at international universities:

Before classes commence, most undergraduate universities in the UK and the US organise a week’s worth of events, seminars, and activities for incoming students. Apart from meeting people at the orientation, you will discover various essential facilities that the college provides.

Some international universities, such as New York University, offer online pre-orientations for international students. In addition to immigration-focused webinars, they include information, such as off-campus housing options, student safety, campus navigation and more.

Attending orientation week, where the university will familiarise you with the campus, smoothens your transition. While on campus, use the interactive maps available on the college website to explore the university’s facilities. It helps to know where medical care is provided or how to access elevators, especially if you aren’t fond of staircases.

2) Research extracurricular activities and on-campus jobs:

A healthy balance of academics and extracurricular activities is key to a successful experience at an international university. Knowing what activities the college offers in advance can help you effectively manage your time right from the beginning. Also, don’t forget to take stock of on-campus jobs. Apart from helping you build professional skills, these jobs are an excellent way to earn a little spending money. They are also an excellent way to make friends and interact with other students.

3) Familiarise yourself with the undergraduate course material:

Getting acquainted with the course material required for your undergraduate degree abroad will prepare you for what lies ahead. For example, some international universities give students deadline-driven work for the summer. Knowing this in advance lets you plan and weigh your options better. If you have specific questions, reach out to the concerned department of your college.

4) Connect with current students and alumni:

Speaking to students who have been in your shoes at a specific international university makes all the difference. 57 percent of students said online conversations with student ambassadors were their most helpful resource. You will discover real experiences, unspoken campus rules and several things about a foreign university which its website may not cover. Apart from social media, you can chat with students in real-time via platforms like Unibuddy or ask the admissions office to connect you with a current student.

Part 2: Managing academics of your undergraduate degree abroad

As a student pursuing an undergraduate degree in a foreign university, you will be stepping into an all-new educational ecosystem where learning and teaching methods differ from high school. Here’s what you can do to adapt as soon as possible:

1) Cultivate independent study skills:

High school teachers provide study material and send reminders to students about assignment deadlines. But the teaching methodology at international universities is completely different. Some professors may choose just to lecture or discuss their research. Others may include break-out activities and in-class assignments. As a student, you must keep track of all the information that comes your way. So, develop your note-taking skills, learn to prioritise study time and practice updating your calendar to track deadlines.

2) Develop your analytical skills:

At an international university, the emphasis is on learning how to develop an argument. Professors don’t want you to memorise texts or regurgitate what they say in a lecture. They want to see how you can apply what they’ve taught you. So, the sooner you learn how to do this, the better!

3) Practice writing skills:

Coherent communication is essential to making convincing arguments. Some international students struggle with lucid writing, especially if their high school curriculum doesn’t require essays. Therefore, as leading undergraduate consultants, we highly recommend enroling in an introductory academic writing class in your first semester (a requirement at many US universities). Alternatively, you can take an online writing course in the summer before you arrive for your undergraduate degree at an international university.

4) Learn to prioritise:

Essential study time can slip away while making new friends and participating in college activities. While your parents may have managed your time in high school, you’re on your own in college. Therefore, learning to step back or say “no” can be necessary.

Part 3: Alleviating stress while pursuing an undergraduate degree abroad

As leading undergraduate consultants, we know stress is a natural outcome of change. However, there are several things you can do to feel at ease.

1) Ask for help:

Feeling overwhelmed by academic changes (new subjects, teaching methods and learning styles) is expected. Some students shy away from seeking help because they don’t want to appear as though they are struggling. But the truth is that most first-year students struggle to find their feet. Starting study groups, connecting with teaching assistants, a mentor, a tutor, or meeting professors during their office hours can help immensely. Some universities have heads at their residences who students turn to for advice and guidance. For instance, each of the 14 residential colleges at Yale University has a Head of House and a Dean.

2) Don’t fear failure

If you notice your grades slipping during the first few terms of your undergraduate degree, please don’t worry. While it may seem scary, remember that you’re adjusting to a new educational environment.

3) Don’t compare yourself to other students

While a little competition is always healthy, constantly comparing yourself to other students is detrimental and a source of stress you don’t need. Remember that, like you, every student is trying to cope with a new environment when they come to an international university. Instead, focus on yourself and pave your way.

4) Stay safe

Knowing your safety guidelines and provisions while you study abroad can make you feel less insecure. For instance, if you’re a student at The University of San Francisco, it’s good to know about their free shuttle service. Or, as a student at almost any US college, understanding the blue light alert system can help you feel safer.

You may also read up on a few factors to consider if you’re still contemplating studying abroad.  If you still have questions about studying abroad or require assistance with your application, please contact us. Our experienced undergraduate consultants are happy to help.