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6 Common Mistakes International Students Make While Applying to Study Abroad

6 Common Mistakes International Students Make While Applying to Study Abroad

With each passing year, the number of students who desire to study abroad and apply to colleges and universities outside their home countries keeps increasing exponentially. In 2009, UNESCO made a prediction which estimated that the number of students applying to study abroad may hit 7 million by 2020. In 2022, we are already two years gone past the target year in UNESCO’s prediction and the number keeps skyrocketing.


study abroadOut of the total number of students applying to study abroad all over the world, over one million apply to colleges and universities in the USA. Colleges and universities in the United Kingdom get to accept over fifty thousand foreign students every year while their Australian counterparts enroll more than five hundred thousand foreign students every year.

From the figures quoted above, it is not difficult to notice that there is a stiff competition awaiting any foreign student who nurses the dream of leaving their home country to study abroad. The purpose of this article is to hand over to you some of the information you need in order to have an edge over your competitors. Among other things, you will discover the common mistakes that many international students make when applying to study abroad and how to avoid them.

Let’s go.

Read Also: How to Apply for a Canadian Study Permit and Visa

1. Depending Solely on Good Grades and Extracurricular Activities

As the competitiveness of getting admission into colleges and universities overseas continues to increase with every passing year, it is no longer enough to just have awesome grades and loads of extracurricular activities on your “all-rounder” Curriculum Vitae (Resume). You must realize that most of (if not all) your competitors have good grades and a lot of extracurricular. The implication is simple — you need much more to beat your competitors. You need much more to be distinguished from others in the applicants’ line. You just have to stand out from the crowd of applicants if you are ever going to stand a chance to be selected for admission.

Although having a wide range of interests and accomplishments are an added advantage, there is something that’s even more important. You must have a special area of interest or a strong passion for something which you are persuaded that you can excel in, and which you can convince the management of the college or university of interest to see in you.

If you don’t have a special area of interest or a strong passion for something, your application will go in the same category of other generic applications without any ingenuity or something special or out of the box. Now, If you are still in high school, it might be wisdom to seek help from your teachers and counselors to identify your special areas of interest and passion. If you can identify them now, you can begin to invest your time and energy in them and begin to bag achievements much earlier than your competitors.

2. Your “story” is not Strong Enough

Many foreign students applying for admission into colleges and universities abroad do not realize that their application is a story. Yes, it is a story that will end up making an impression — good, bad, wrong, awesome, great, strong — on the admission board. It is how you present your essay and your history that will determine the kind of impression it will make on the members of the admission board as they review your application.

Here’s the reality. At the end of the whole review process, the admission board and the authorities of the college or university will not remember details. All they will remember are the very strong impressions of you that your essay created on them. If this is true, it’s up to you to come up with an essay that tells your story in the most impressive way. To do this right, you must identify and focus your story on one or two areas you are most passionate about and present your best achievements in an impactful way.

Like I said in the first point above, starting early goes a long way in preparing a student for successful application to study abroad. Many of the successful applicants to colleges and universities say that they began to put their “story” together right from the time they entered high school. That way, they had ample time to prepare to write their best application.

3. Applying only to High-ranking Institutions Without a Plan B

This is one of the biggest mistakes that many international students make. From all we have discussed so far, you can already see that top-ranked colleges and universities are very competitive. Think about colleges like LSE, UCL and the Ivy League colleges in the US, Stanford University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University and many others in the UK and Australia.

It is not wisdom to apply to such colleges and universities without having a plan B because there are chances that your application may be rejected. If your application gets rejected by any of these top-ranking institutions and you did not make provision for plan B, you’re very likely to give up and that’s the last thing you should ever do. You should have a backup plan, you should have plan be, such that if your first choice university did not accept you, the second may.

High ranking universities gives no guarantees…

Another important point to consider about high-ranking colleges and universities is that their rank may not guarantee that they would meet your individual needs. So, instead of going by the rankings done by education counselors and third party experts on various websites, you may choose to go by criteria like: what’s the campus culture like, to what extent does the college fit my needs, how well does the program fit my career choice and so on.
You may also need to consider the nature of the city hosting the college or university. Some are in bigger, busier and more noisy cities while others are domiciled in less densely populated cities. If, for instance, you want to study a civil engineering program in a college with little or no distractions of large city life, you may prefer The University of Georgia, Athens.

Don’t forget that you stand a better chance of being considered for admission by lesser-known colleges that have equally strong undergraduate degree programs than second tier or first tier universities. This is true not because these lesser-known colleges would just accept any tom, dick and harry seeking admission but simply because such colleges receive fewer applications for admission and are therefore less competitive. Most international students seeking to study abroad usually go for high-ranking colleges and universities with well-known brands.

4. Starting Preparations Late

For any worthwhile venture that would pull through, early preparation is very essential. Start studying and preparing for your SAT test as early as when you are still in high school. It is highly recommended that you take the SAT II subject tests at a time when the concepts treated in the subjects are still fresh in your memory, possibly right after your class 10.

5. Paying no Attention to Scholarships Offers

One of the major challenges that international students interested in studying abroad face is finance. There is so much cost to bear. Thankfully, there are a lot of scholarship offers and options available to mitigate these costs. Sadly, most students are either completely unaware of these opportunities or they avoid them believing that they will not qualify if they apply.

Don’t write yourself off. Various scholarships are offered based on a wide variety of criteria such as financial background, gender, country of origin, sports activities, academic excellence and so on. As long as you can prove that you are a good investment, there are companies, organizations and governments that are willing to support you. Click here to find available scholarships for international students.

6. Budgeting only for Tuition Fees

This is another area where international students intending to study abroad make mistakes. They make mistakes in the area of budgeting for their college and university courses. Because they are not adequately informed, they sometimes tend to think that their tuition fees are less than they actually are. For example, some countries like Finland and the Netherlands operate two different kinds of tuition fees. More so, non-EU-students who wish to study in any country under the European Union may have to pay more in tuition fees. For institutions in countries under the EU, the tuition fees listed on their websites are normally for EU students.

But apart from tuition fees, you will need to budget for other expenses like traveling, accommodation, books and other materials, daily transportation, etc. So you need to take your time and do a good home work in this area. Beyond tuition fee, look at the entire picture. Consider other bills and the overall cost of living in the town or country where the college is domiciled. If you duly consider this, you may realize that universities with the lowest tuition fees may not always be the best for you. Take for example, Denmark offers tuition-free education to EU students but the costs of living in the country is incredibly high.


If you are interested in applying to study abroad, ensure that that is truly what you want for yourself and that you are fully committed to your goals. Be sure that you are fully mature and can afford to live and survive alone in a foreign country without the care and support of your parents. Ensure that you do your research and fact-finding diligently to avoid making mistakes. Send the right application documents, look for quick and inexpensive money transfer options like Western Union or MoneyGram so that your money for college can be processed on time and don’t give up if you get a rejection. Be willing to try again.

Read more about Overseas travel and study abroad at

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About Henry Divine

Henry Divine is a passionate educator and seasoned blogger with a strong commitment to providing valuable insights and resources to the education community. With over 6 years of experience in the field, Henry's articles are well-researched, authoritative, and tailored to meet the needs of teachers, students, and parents alike. Through his blog, Henry aims to empower readers with practical tips, innovative strategies, and evidence-based practices to foster lifelong learning and academic success. Follow Henry for the latest updates and expert advice on all things education.

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