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Study abroad : Applying to University

10 key questions to ask a university during coronavirus

Making a decision about where you'll study is tough even at the best of times. However, it's made more challenging with the current situation and so we're here to help with some guidance on how to get the information you'll need.

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In the current climate, there is bound to be some uncertainty and trepidation around the pursuit of your academic aspirations. This can be everything from whether the course you want to study will be available or if you'll be able to study at the university of your choice. It's important to have all of the critical information available when making key decisions and this means asking the right questions. We've taken a look at key student concerns and have some tips on what questions you should be asking a university so that you're in the know. 


1. Is the university accepting applications for the 2021 intake?


This is the first and most important question that you will need to get an answer to. Universities across the globe are currently taking their cue from governments and health authorities. This may mean there have been new emergency laws implemented that affect the movement of people and the opening of institutions. You'll no doubt want to find out more about this


While the majority of institutions remain committed to running their full programmes and are accepting students in 2020, this may be subject to change depending on the circumstances. In addition, some courses may be more affected than others, with some moving online. it’s a point to clarify with a university whether the course you would ideally like to take is accepting applications, is temporarily suspended or has deferred entry for 2021.


2. Have university entry requirements changed because of coronavirus?


Knowing the criteria for being accepted onto a certain programme or course remains central to your academic ambitions. In the context of the current pandemic, a significant number of universities have re-evaluated or adjusted the entry requirements for some programmes. This is particularly the case for English language test results, entry examinations and evidence of prior results.


All of the aforementioned have traditionally taken place in the context of in-person testing or evaluation and were a prerequisite for acceptance. Remember you're not alone and many students are going through similar experiences


Given the restrictions currently in place is not feasible for students to complete IELTS examinations at testing centres or attend pre-sessional English courses. This has meant a move online, with IELTS offering the new IELTS Indicator and universities allowing students to access resources for pre-sessional English courses through online learning platforms.


Universities have also expanded their entry criteria as to the types of English language test results they accept, including Duolingo and TOEFL online. The same has been applied to entry tests, with new evaluation tools being developed to assess your suitability for a certain academic course, like previous examination results, portfolios and academic references.


For example, some universities in the U.S. and Canada are accepting applications without the requirement of SAT or ACT scores. Make sure that you ask for the exact details and specifications you will need to apply.

Applying to a university

3. Will university campuses be open for the start of the 2021 academic year?


Universities are required to take every precaution to ensure the health and safety of both students and staff. These are informed by both internal protocols and government-sanctioned advice. Some countries, and by association universities, have targeted tentative re-opening dates and the easing of certain restrictions, however, this is by no means guaranteed.


Universities may make access to campus conditional subject to meeting certain criteria, such as health checks or they may only open certain areas. Asking a university about their contingency planning and what the probability of the campus being open is may affect your choices. Helpfully, many institutions have set up dedicated services to assist students in addressing such concerns.


4. Will the institution be offering courses online?


This is a crucial question to ask. Even if the online offering is only temporary until face-to-face classroom instruction can resume, knowing if the course you wish to pursue is going to be offered for the start of the 2020 year is essential.


Remember that not all courses are going to be offered online and some aspects of a curriculum cannot be replicated in the online environment.  Try to get a sense from the university of what the course will look like online and what you’ll need to participate in, such as the technical requirements and what system the university may be using.


Online course offerings may also become particularly crucial if you are unable to travel due to restrictions and can’t make the start of the academic year. That way you would be able to be all caught up when you do make your way to campus.


Although studying online may seem to be a big adjustment, remember that there are experts who have taken the time to design the curriculum and curate resources so that you will receive a high standard of educational instruction. Online learning can be an enriching experience. 


5. What will the situation be with on-campus living?


Knowing whether you’ll be able to live at a university isn’t clear at the moment. There are many factors to consider including respective country lockdowns, government laws, travel delays and health advice.


Universities have indicated that they hope to open their campuses to students for the 2020 academic year, but this cannot be guaranteed and will depend on whether it is safe to do so. Stay in touch with your potential institution/s to get the latest updates and advice on this, particularly as it related to applications and possible fee implications and adjustments.


6. Will the university still offer financial aid and scholarships?


Many institutions are still offering scholarships and financial aid. In some cases, the terms and conditions and application requirements may have altered slightly to accommodate for certain changes, such as online learning or qualification criteria.


Unfortunately, you may find that some funding schemes or scholarships have been deferred or suspended until they can be awarded or the financial situation stabilises. This is particularly the case for financial aid offered by companies, organisations, private donors and governments allied to the university. Your best plan is to do as much homework as you can to see what’s available and contact an institution to get further details on specific awards. 


7. What about tests and assessment dates?


There has been quite a shift in the timing of assessments and examinations at universities, including entrance exams and tests. Universities have made significant adjustments to their schedules, including cancellations and a shift to an online setting. Some institutions have cancelled the end of semester/term examinations and used work and assessments already completed to inform student evaluation.


You may find that there are waivers offered for some pre-requisite tests, like university English tests and entrance exams, with other results or evidence being accepted. Universities are constantly updating their websites and social media channels with the latest developments and information, so it’s a good idea to keep yourself in the loop by doing some online research as well as contacting them directly.


8. Is it possible to speak to the university online?


The short answer is the definitely should be. It is a question that you need to ask as it’s more critical than ever for institutions to facilitate online interaction with students. This can range from consultations and Q&A sessions to webinars and online applications.


You may be able to speak to a university representative face-to-face over a video call or through a chat channel. Some universities have designed systems for you to be able to book interview slots and sessions to have your questions answered and receive assistance.  We've also got some great tips on how to ace an online interview. Making sure that there is a way you can get the information you need and that you feel able to communicate effectively with a university is key.


9. Does the university host virtual open days and tours?


Being able to feel part of a potential university community, participate in discussions and take a virtual tour to explore what’s on offer makes a real difference. Having the chance to be able to speak to subject experts, admissions officers, alumni and current students can be critical in informing your choice of institution and so double-checking that your prospective university offers the service is important.


10. What about assistance and sponsorship for visa applications?


With much of the world operating on travel advisory’s and restrictions, it can be difficult to apply for and receive a visa. For example, the Home Office in the United Kingdom has cut back significantly on the processing of visas with the closure of visa application centres across the world and the reduced operation of third-party providers.


This is a similar situation to the United States. Some universities are still actively assisting with visa applications and providing the necessary supporting documentation, where and if it is possible. You will need to verify with a university if this is being done in their case.  You can also keep up to date with the latest developments by monitoring government websites, communicating with your embassy and checking with service providers.

Researching a university

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