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The basics
Study abroad : Applying to University

Your university application guide

Let us guide you through the university application process with a list of vital steps, important deadlines and term start dates around the world.

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With so many universities around the world, each with its own timeframes, deadlines and requirements, it can be challenging to find out exactly what you need to do when applying to study abroad. If you’re struggling to find the information you need, you can use this guide to help you through the application process. This should give you a better understanding of what you need to have in place in the run-up to starting your degree.


Understanding term start dates

First things first, it’s vital that you’re aware of the specific university start dates as these will differ according to each institution and country. That being said, there are general timeframes for intakes that can be categorised by country as shown below:


  • UK: September-October (standard intake for the UK falls within these months)
  • USA: September
  • Canada: September
  • Australia: January-February
  • New Zealand: February


These dates reflect the most common intakes in these countries. However, there are other start dates throughout the year such as in the UK where students can apply to start in January.

You can apply for this winter intake if you missed the autumn semester. However, it is still advised that you research and prepare a year in advance of the start of term. With the standard start date of September in the UK and Canada, students are expected to submit their applications by January 15th of the year they intend to study.  


Don’t forget that you can also read our guide to the ultimate study abroad checklist which can help your preparation.


Applying for a visa

When studying in another country, you may be required to apply for a student visa. This depends on which country you’re looking to move to and your country of origin. Some destinations will have certain requirements that you need to fulfil such as supporting documents, proof of accommodation, evidence of financial capacity and so on. To find out more about applying for a visa in the UK, Canada, USA, Australia or New Zealand, check out our specific visa guides for each country.


When applying to study abroad you will need to factor in enough time for your visa application to be processed. Timelines for visa applications are not the same for every country as outlined below:


  • UK: You can apply six months before your course start date and will typically receive a decision within three weeks.


  • USA: Most students require an F-1 visa to study in the USA which you can apply for up to four months before your course start date.


  • Canada: It is recommended that you apply for a Canadian study permit four to six months before the start of classes.


  • Australia: You must apply for an Australian student visa at least six weeks before your course start date, yet universities recommend applying for a visa as soon as you receive your Confirmation of Enrolment.


  • New Zealand: You must apply at least eight weeks before going to New Zealand. Visa processing typically takes 20 days for online submissions and 25 for paper forms.

When it comes to actually sending off a visa application, the process varies according to each country. If you want to study in the USA for example, you may need to visit a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country where you could also be asked to attend an interview. In other countries, you will need to create an account on the government website and apply for a visa through this online system.  


Supporting documents

To be accepted to a university, you will need to provide certain documents, but the requirements may vary depending on the institution. While you should definitely check the university website for specific requirements, the below is a general idea of what you might be expected to provide within your application:

  • Personal statement/motivation letter/statement of purpose outlining why you should be accepted on the course and descriptions of relevant experience, reading and interests.
  • Proof of financial capacity
  • Proof of language proficiency through an English language test such as IELTS or TOEFL
  • Academic transcripts
  • References – the type of person to provide your reference will be outlined by the university.
  • Portfolio – required for courses such as fine art and architecture


You will either need to attach these to your online application by scanning or taking pictures of the paperwork or sending them via post.


Need advice on applying for a postgraduate degree?


Meeting entry requirements


It might seem obvious, but you need to make sure that you are applying to universities within your reach. So, you need to check the academic entry requirements of each university you are applying to by checking the course information on their website.


You want to give yourself the best possible chance of being accepted by the university of your choice, so meeting the requirements is an absolute must. While some institutions may choose to be flexible with grades on certain courses, this is not definite and shouldn’t be relied upon. If you’re applying to study in the UK and didn’t make your expected grades, you can also apply through clearing.


Where do I submit a university application?

Depending on the institution and country, there are different ways that you can apply to universities abroad. Some countries will have a central admissions service like UCAS in the UK while others will require you to apply directly to the university or college. These days, universities typically prefer the option of receiving applications through their own online system, but many also offer postal applications.


Receiving an offer letter

In some countries, like Australia, you need your offer letter when applying for a student visa. This is because once you have received this letter you can then ask for a confirmation of enrollment. This is then used as part of your visa application. To check the status of your application you should check the website or online platform that you used to apply.

The university or admissions service might also email you with any updates. The offer letter will explain how to accept or decline the offer. This will also outline your next steps such as securing accommodation or providing any other important documents you may need.


And there you have it! Follow this advice when applying and you’ll be on your way to being accepted at a university of your choice.


Still, need to find the right course and institution? Use our course matcher tool today!


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