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Study abroad : Applying to University

5 common application mistakes to avoid

A university application doesn’t have to be a stress-inducing experience. By following some simple guidelines and step you can avoid common mistakes that could affect your chances of success.

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When you’re applying to study abroad, you want to have the best chance of success. While applications can take time, effort, and attention to detail, getting it right is critical. Submitting an incomplete or sub-standard application can influence how you are perceived by an institution and harm your chance of acceptance. The good news is that it’s quite simple to avoid common mistakes that find their way into university applications. We tell you how.


Missing documents 


Not including all the documents you need for an application is a red flag for any admissions officer. To process an application, a university must be able to verify the information, and they use various documents to do so. Always check with a university if they accept non-certified copies of important documents or if they will require originals.


On average, 65 per cent of applications rejected by universities come down to missing documents. A useful tip is to make a checklist of all the documents you need to include. A university will usually provide a detailed list of these in their university prospectus and on their website. If you aren’t sure, speak to someone at the international office or with an education counsellor, both can help.


The most common documents and information you will need to include are:


  • Copy of your passport or another identity document
  • Academic transcripts
  • Certificates of qualifications
  • Test results (IELTS/TOEFL etc…)
  • Letter of reference


You may also be asked to provide financial statements and proof of medical insurance. This will depend on the destination you’re studying in.


Get more information from our university application guide.


Not following procedure 


To keep the process efficient, manageable, and streamlined all universities have clear application procedures. While they sometimes allow for unique circumstances to affect procedure, this is generally not the case. When applying, ensure that you understand the steps and requirements before applying.


For example, you may need to show evidence of payment for your application fee and include this with the application. Further, you need to understand what formats your documents need to be in and where they need to be uploaded or delivered. Understand if you will need to sit for an admissions test, undertake an admissions interview, or even give a performance as part of the application.


The most important rule for applications is the date. Never be late. Start preparing well within time to get everything you need in place. Once you have applied, be prepared to wait. It can take a while to process your application. 


A university may not correspond with you over the status of your application while it is in processing. While you can contact them once the stated time for processing has elapsed, it’s not a good idea to constantly email and phone about your application.


If you’re struggling to evaluate your options, we’ve got a great guide on dealing with study abroad option overload.


Getting your personal statement right


Writing a great personal statement is a skill. It’s how a university gets a better sense of who you are, why you want to study for a particular degree and your future plans. Personal statements are an opportunity to sell yourself, but you should be honest, sincere, and accurate.


It’s a good idea to work on your statement over time and have a few drafts before settling on a final version. The tone of your statement is very important. A personal statement is not the same as writing to a friend, nor is it an academic essay. Formal yet friendly is the way to go. Let your personality come through a bit.


Some good tips and tricks for a successful personal statement are:


  • Use language that you are familiar with. You don’t have to impress with complex words and sentences.
  • Keep it brief. Most personal statements should not be longer than 800 to 1,000 words.
  • Concentrate on your interests and passions and how these relate to your study path and choice of institution.
  • Talk about other things you do or have done outside of your academic interests. This shows you have a well-rounded approach to life.
  • Proofread your personal statement and get someone else to do the same. You don’t want spelling and grammar to be your downfall.


Find out more about writing the perfect personal statement.


Understanding entry requirements 


While this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised by the number of students who apply for courses that they do not qualify for. Make sure that you know the entry requirements for a degree or course. Understand if your current grades, results, or qualifications are suitable. 


There’s also the importance of knowing the English language test scores you’ll need. All universities are very open about the minimum academic standard they require. Don’t forget that some courses are much more competitive than others. Even if you meet the minimum requirements, it helps if you exceed these. This can be the case for both professional and academic degrees.


Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the results that you expect. You still have several other options available to you. You can study for a pathway programme to transfer to full degree study, after earning an associate degree. At the postgraduate level this could be a pre-masters course that would serve the same purpose. If you want to improve your English language test score, then a pre-sessional English course may be suitable.


You can easily check your eligibility for a course using our course matcher tool.




We know that the cost of studying abroad is expensive. It’s a significant investment in your future and you want to make the right decision. For most university applications you will need to have your finances in place before the application as a university will ask for evidence that you can support yourself and cover your tuition fees and costs.


An academic application is not the appropriate place to discuss financial aid or try and secure funding. Universities often have separate procedures and applications for scholarships which you will need to follow.


Sometimes a small amount of financial aid or scholarship is awarded based on academic excellence awarded automatically on application, but this will generally not cover all your costs. If you are taking out a student loan or applying for a scholarship, make sure this has been done before or at the same time as lodging your academic application.


There you have it. Now you’re in a good position to submit a successful application and stand the best chance of acceptance. If you’re looking for more useful advice, you can read our guide to the top subjects for an MA and the top five graduate degrees for employment.

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