Study abroad preparation requires hard work, research and organisation. It means narrowing down destinations and courses, finding out different application requirements, juggling lots of deadlines… All things you’re familiar with. And then there’s the wait until universities make their decisions!
Of course, you and your students should heave a big sigh of relief and take a moment to celebrate when the offers come in. But the work isn’t over yet! Preparing to actually go to university requires a huge breadth and depth of work. After all, it’s a complete shift in lifestyle for students. And if they’re studying abroad, the changes are greater still.
So we’re rounding up a handy study abroad preparation checklist. From academic prep to lifestyle considerations, socialising to legal admin, with this study abroad preparation checklist, your students will be primed and ready to step on the plane to their next adventure.
This checklist guides students through six key areas (academic, lifestyle, accommodation, social, financial and legal) to keep them focused over summer and ensure everything is in place for their next great adventure.
Although it might not be at the top of every student’s mind as they look forward to studying abroad, their underlying motivation is to get a degree.
As someone who’s played an integral role in their education, and who’s working within an educational institution, the academic side of preparation is likely an obvious starting point.
That’s not to say that you should become an expert in every subject students might be studying! But there are steps you can guide them towards to help them hit the ground running when the semester starts.
If they're keen to get in some preparation for studying abroad, it’s a good idea for students to research their course over their summer breaks.
They can have a look at the modules on offer, and browse any available reading lists. While they don’t need to spend the holidays in the library, many will find that having a better idea of what to expect really settles their nerves.
For those who are really keen to get a handle on higher education, there are also lots of online courses available.
Some of these are quite general, like English language for academic study at Coventry University or academic skills for success at the University of East Anglia. But students can also look to their universities, departments or subject areas if there are certain topics they’re most eager to learn about.
A final step of study abroad preparation is for students to get their university emails set up as soon as possible, and monitor them over the break.
If their university doesn’t allow them to create university-specific accounts before they arrive, then they should be sure to keep an eye on whichever email address they’ve given to their university.
They might get helpful advice and information about modules they’ll be taking. Aside from academic considerations, they’ll likely also get communications about social events that will be going on - we’ll get to that later...
Lifestyle might not seem like a core aspect of study abroad preparation, but it is!
The lifestyle shifts your students will encounter when they begin university abroad are vast. So many aspects of their day-to-day lives will transform overnight that dedicating some time to preparing for these changes is really valuable.
Here are some key areas to think about.
Students might be travelling to a country whose culture is totally unknown to them. Even if the culture is more familiar - perhaps they’ve visited, have relatives who live there, or simply consume a lot of the country’s cultural products - there are often quirks that take students by surprise.
A good way to get them thinking about their host country’s culture is to set them research projects. If there are several students going to the same destinations, split them into groups and ask them to research together. The practical aspects of the project - researching, presenting, teamwork and so on - will themselves be useful preparation for university!
There are lots of everyday things that they can research. How does public transport work where they’re going? What are grocery shops like? And the groceries themselves? What kind of music is popular? What manners and etiquette do they need to know?
This is a big consideration and will require a lot of thought and time - especially for those studying abroad. Where students live will shape every aspect of their experience.
Be sure they spend some time answering important questions before committing to any accommodation. Some good starting points include:
Note: Students may need to fill out questionnaires or preference surveys from their university, so be sure to remind them to check any requirements and deadlines. Otherwise, they might miss out on their top pick!
This brings us onto another crucial lifestyle change that students should consider as part of their university preparation ahead of going abroad. While students will have experience of living with family, or perhaps even at boarding school, sharing a space with their peers in which they each function as autonomous individuals can be very different.
You might encourage students to discuss their expectations, and think about what their flatmates might expect of them. Washing up their dishes straight away, keeping their belongings in their own bedrooms, taking out the bins regularly… These are all tasks that might not come naturally to new students, but which will make things run much more smoothly as they transition into university life.
Another valuable activity for study abroad preparation is thinking about what they need to take with them. Students excited about their overseas adventure might not always be thinking as practically as they could.
Before beginning their checklist, it’s a good idea for students to have a look at their accommodation (if they’ve chosen it). Many student accommodations will provide at least some of the basics.
In any case, students should try to limit what they take with them. With luggage restrictions, different electrical outlets and the sheer amount of things they’ll need, it makes sense to buy things when they arrive. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to explore the area and to learn about how shops in their new home work!
Have students create lists of ‘must-haves’, ‘nice-to-haves’ and ‘buy after arriving’. You can go through these together, too. Sometimes, having to justify their decisions can help students realise what they really need. And with the list by them when they’re packing, they’ll avoid forgetting any essentials.
A huge part of going to university is meeting new people! And as exciting as that is, it can also be daunting - especially in a new country, where students might not know anybody at all.
Luckily, there are things they can do to start to feel more comfortable as part of their university preparation.
Encourage students to look into all the different induction programmes and orientation events that will be taking place in the first few weeks of the semester. Most universities will have a wide range of things going on.
Seeing the kinds of activities that will be on offer, and maybe even signing up for some, will give students something to look forward to. If they’re worrying about how they’ll meet people, it can really set their minds at ease.
Many of these events are also specifically for international students, who often arrive on campus earlier. That gives them a chance to get to know each other and share any concerns or questions they might have. Having a solid support system of international students can really shape the whole university experience!
Make sure students don’t plan on skipping these inductions. They might not be academically relevant, or necessarily carry credits, but they’ll be some of the most important moments of their university lives, and could be where they meet friends for life.
Note: Often induction events - especially for international students - begin before the semester’s official commencement. Make sure students check early, and well before making travel arrangements.
Another great thing to look into as part of university preparation is the kinds of societies that exist at their universities. If they see things that take their fancy, they can even reach out and see how they can get involved when they arrive.
This is another good way to settle any nerves about meeting like-minded people. Just knowing that there are groups out there dedicated to hobbies or interests they already have can help reassure students that they’ll find welcoming communities. And if they make contact before arriving, so much the better.
Students can usually find information about a university’s societies and organisations on the university’s website. The student union’s page can be a good place to start! Often, organisations will also have active social media accounts which showcase what they’re up to, and make getting in touch even easier.
That brings us neatly onto our next point. The power of social media when preparing for university abroad shouldn’t be underestimated! There are several ways that students can use social media as part of their preparations.
Seeing what’s going on at the university can fuel excitement, but it will also help students keep on top of what’s expected of them in terms of arrival dates, deadlines and so on.
What can be particularly helpful is keeping up with any international student service that exists within the university. In this case, we mean more of an official department than a student-run organisation. Think of the professionals who handle visas and other official matters.
They’ll usually post important information and dates on social media, so students don’t miss any visa requirements, tax deadlines, international developments or any other critical information. And with travel restrictions still changing all the time, staying in the loop is more important than ever.
As we mentioned in the previous section, connecting with societies of interest is a great idea! It can help students get to know fellow students and have lots to look forward to. What’s more, these will be existing students at the university who can provide plenty of guidance about student life there. After all, that’s what the whole account will be dedicated to!
Another great opportunity that social media offers is finding the people who’ll be living alongside students in their accommodation, or who’ll be on the same course as them.
Often in the run-up to the start of the semester, fellow students will post on social media groups so that they can connect virtually before heading to their new home. Seeing a familiar face and knowing a bit about the people you’ll be living with for the next year can work wonders against pre-enrollment jitters!
One of the most daunting changes most students face as they transition to independent living is managing their own finances to a much larger degree than they might have previously.
Before, they might not have been responsible for things like weekly grocery shopping, essential toiletries or cleaning products. They also might have had sterner voices cautioning them against dining out every night or buying a new pair of trainers for each month.
Preparing students for all the different expenses and temptations they might encounter when they study abroad lays a vital foundation which will allow them to have a pleasant and productive time, without being distracted by rapidly dwindling savings or overwhelming bills. Having discounts and money-saving tips front of mind can help set the tone for thoughtful spending at university.
One activity that can be really beneficial is having students plan out weekly and monthly budgets. How realistic are their expectations of how much things will cost? Are there expenses they might not have thought of before?
While they might not stick faithfully to every detail of the budget, it’s a really useful exercise. It can help students be aware of the different costs and responsibilities they’ll be facing. That should help avoid the big blowout that the arrival of student loans can bring - making things tricky towards the end of term.
Another thing students might need help planning for is banking abroad. You could use some of your time with them to research student bank accounts in their host countries. Often, these come with benefits and incentives (like gift cards and higher allowances for unplanned overdrafts), so students can compare different options and choose what’s best for them.
They’ll also need to think about letting their current banks know they’ll be moving abroad. This is easily forgotten, but can save headaches down the line if the bank freezes their account, suspecting fraudulent activity if they detect it’s being unexpectedly used overseas.
Most countries will offer students discounts and benefits. It’s a good idea to plan ahead, and apply for things like travel cards which can get students cheaper train and bus fares. They could also get discounts at restaurants, shops, entertainment venues like cinemas and of course cultural institutions and museums.
Another important financial consideration is whether students might get a part-time job while they’re studying.
For the most part, if students can avoid working during their first semester, they should. Committing to a job in unfamiliar territory and with as yet unknown university workloads can cause a lot of stress and detract from their educational and social experiences.
But it’s still a good idea for them to understand their options. Ask them to research the student visa conditions in their destinations. Some require students to have been studying at the university for a minimum amount of time before they start. Sometimes, students can work on-campus before they can take an off-campus job. There will also be different allowances in terms of how many hours they can work.
Aside from understanding the rules, you might also dedicate some time to thinking about the norms of part-time jobs in different countries. What kinds of jobs do students typically take on? What’s the job application process like? How are CVs or resumes usually presented, and what should be included? What’s the best etiquette when it comes to meeting a potential employer?
These details might seem small, but they can actually vary a lot between countries, and can make or break a job application!
Studying overseas has a huge amount of positives, but it definitely requires a bit more paperwork and forethought than domestic study. It can be a good idea to help students create preparation checklists of the different documents they’ll need, and when they’ll need them.
Many student visas require documents to be presented at the airport upon arrival, so students should create a specific checklist of what they’ll need with them on the plane.
It’s not all over once they’ve cleared airport security, though! Student visas have requirements for their entire duration, and students should be familiar with these. Is there a minimum number of credits they need to be taking each semester for their visa to be valid? A number of hours they need to be on-campus? How does remote learning impact these requirements?
Students should also think about any legal infractions that could invalidate their visa.
It’s really important to look into these things, because laws vary massively between different countries. For example, there are countries where paying for train travel once you’re already on board is perfectly normal. In others, it’s not an option, meaning that failing to pay before boarding can amount to a crime.
Of course, you don’t want to scare students unnecessarily! But the best way to banish apprehension or worry is with certainty. If they feel sure they know the conditions of their visa, they can be confident they know how to maintain them.
Perhaps the most important thing for students preparing to study abroad is remembering that they are about to have a truly life-changing experience. They’ll likely meet lifelong friends and discover professional pathways.
This study abroad preparation checklist is a great tool to cast away any nerves or uncertainty and allow them to focus on being excited for what’s to come! They should approach their next adventure with an open mind, ready to meet all kinds of new people and challenges.
And as they spread their wings and fly to far-flung lands, you’re probably turning your attention to younger students. To make sure they, too, find their next great adventure, we’ve put together a ready-made pack of university research worksheets. They’ll help them define their top priorities in university destinations and courses and create their perfect shortlist.
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