Application checklist: Essential documents to have close to you
You’ll learn as an international student/applicant, that nothing can be done unless you can successfully prove you are who you say you are. In countries where immigration policy and security is of utmost importance, this can be easier said than done, with long procedures involving lots of paperwork and waiting.
However, you can make things a lot easier for yourself if you keep to hand a file containing the following important documentation. This will benefit you from your application stage, all the way through to graduation (and possible application for further study). While exact copies and transcripts are often best, you may not feel comfortable carrying this with you in another country, as well as when you move from one accommodation to another; so have a copy of these on you at the very least, and keep the real copies at home safe, requesting they be sent if and when you need them (of course this doesn’t include your passport or student visa which you will need).
Keep this file/folder organised so you can find what you need, when you need it – rummaging through papers in an emergency can be incredibly frustrating when you can't find something you're looking for. Update it with recent documents, getting rid of old versions to save space (get rid of them in an efficient manner, like shredding them, so your personal details can’t be found).
Keep all important documents you leave at home in a place which your parents can easily access. If you need them to send these on to you, it will be a lot easier if they don’t have to take wild guesses as to where they are in your messy bedroom.
Where possible, keep electronic versions of documents in a folder on your computer, backed up and even on some cloud sharing space (like Dropbox which is free). This way, you can email and print out more copies. Don’t keep this folder on your desktop, with an obvious name (like ‘confidential information’) in case your laptop falls into the wrong hands. You may also want to get into the habit of emailing documents to another email address, so you can access them wherever you have internet access (keep the password to this email address safe).
Below is a checklist of important documentation, where you can access them from and what you’ll need them for:
Travel document (usually your passport)
You’ll need this to travel to your study destination, as well as when applying for a student visa – so don’t think you can use a copy to travel! It’s usually considered the best form of identification as a passport looks pretty much the same anywhere in the world (compared to a driving licence which can vary considerably from one country to another, and where fakes are often in circulation). Some choose to use this as I.D. for getting into bars, but this can be risky if you lose it (a possible scenario if you drink a little too much). Take a copy of it and lock the original way in a safe in your accommodation (or somewhere safe). Take note of your passport number and perhaps even keep a photo of all the key pages of your passport on your phone (you won’t be able to use this to travel but at least it’s something if you need to back up your claim). Usually if you lose your passport, you’ll have to speak to your embassy in your study destination (this can take some time to sort out and you’ll be without a passport in the meantime though, so try not to lose it). Your university website should also offer some advice for such circumstances.
Another key document for verifying who you are, a birth certificate can be difficult to track down unless you have very organised parents who store these carefully at home. A copy of your birth certificate can usually be retrieved or ordered through a government website like in the UK (there will usually be a fee to pay).
Some countries will require that you pass particular medical tests before you can be allowed into the country. One example is tuberculosis screening when applying for a student visa in New Zealand. Usually these are to prevent health epidemics which have posed a problem there in the past. It’s always worth having a full health check-up prior to leaving as it will be a lot simpler to take care of any medical issues in your own home country. Remember to take copies of your medical certificate and any test results, as well as a full list of any medication you take/have taken and any allergies from your family doctor – if old conditions flare up, you’ll be prepared to receive treatment as soon as possible.
Student visa (also referred to as a 'permit' or 'label)
You’ll need this to enter the country where you are studying (and NOT a copy). The application process for this can vary according to study location, but we usually recommend starting this as soon as you receive an offer from your university. Again, photocopy this so you can refer to it and prove your claims if it is lost or stolen. Like your passport, the first stop if you need another visa should be your embassy (and your university’s website too).
A small but necessary need for photo documents which you apply for. It’s always useful to have a few spares and to keep them in a safe place – using public photobooths can be expensive. To ensure you can use these photos for many different applications, follow the standard rules for passport photos as these are very thorough (e.g. remove glasses and any headwear, look straight at the camera head-on, comb back hair from your face or forehead, don’t smile etc.).
Confirmation of offer
The original letter from your university which confirms your place will be required when applying for your student visa, and any scholarships. This will probably be the pride and joy of your parents’ fridge but make sure you have a copy yourself! It is an essential document to prove that you have been offered a place. When you accept this offer, keep a copy of any receipt of enrolment or similar acknowledgement that you have accepted their offer.
Throughout your schooling, you should keep safe all academic scripts and results with grades, in chronological order. If these are not in English, they should be translated alongside the translator’s accreditation – this way admissions staff can judge whether you have the necessary grades to study there, and compare these to their own grading system. It is also worth keeping certificates for extra-curricular achievements as well.
Many international students will have to take additional tests as part of their application. If English is not your first language, you will have to meet the set language requirements for that university, course or department and take either an IELTS or TOEFL test. Similarly, for certain fields, you will have to pass particular admissions tests to test your aptitude or knowledge. When you receive your results, get a copy and have them translated if requested. There is normally a system in place if you have to request further copies of these from the relevant authority.
When applying for your student visa or further financial assistance, you’ll likely have to prove your current financial circumstances (i.e. you’ll have to prove that you have the funds to finance part or all of your study). The same may be asked of your parents if they will be supporting you. Usually, you can request these statements from your bank, or you can just print them yourself from home through online banking.
Also, if you pay a fee of any kind, like when applying for your student visa, you’ll likely be sent a receipt or confirmation. Ensure you have a copy of this as it proves you have done this, as well as the date this was processed. At the very least, use your own records of this financial transaction from your bank, building society or PayPal account which shows this transfer. This way, if you don’t receive what you are meant to, you have evidence.
Confirmation of financial awards
If you are fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship or bursary, keep hold of your confirmation of award letter which confirms this; it will have key details including how much you will be awarded, how this will be paid to you and more. This will help you plan your finances and budget for the following months/years.
Any written references for employment or applications for further study should be kept neatly, in case you must present them in person in interviews (especially if they have been printed on high quality paper). Usually it will be satisfactory to provide photocopies, especially if you are applying to many jobs; however ask your referee to provide an electronic version in a PDF format too, for when you submit electronic applications (a common occurrence nowadays). Every 10 months, confirm with your referee that you can still use them for a reference, and that their contact details are the same.
Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.