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Reading the fine print of thick college guides and filling out dozens of application forms are passť. Students wishing to go abroad for studies now have an electronic helping hand -- the Internet.
They are increasingly using it to research colleges and universities abroad, apply to them and even receive guidance on tests and visa procedures.
The first step, of course, is shortlisting colleges. You can go through the rankings at USNews for American universities and at Times Online for British ones. Besides, sites like Petersons, Study Abroad and Hobsons have searchable databases that list universities matching your specifications of size, fees, proportion of international students, etc.
Next, analyse each shortlisted college. Most have sites that can be easily found through a search engine like Rediff. Many of these sites have sections for international students, and details like minimum test scores and syllabus. You can email the concerned department or professor to clear further doubts. Also fill the pre-application form (or pre-app) online.
Standardised tests are a must for prospective students. You can register for them at their Web sites: SAT, TOEFL, GMAT and GRE. Before that, gather helpful hints and information about them at sites like All the Tests and The Princeton Review.
The application process is usually tedious, requiring you to send the university a number of documents like recommendation letters, essays and statements of purpose (SOP) in addition to the application form for each college. But you can fill in the forms online. What's more, sites like Common Application require you to fill only one form, which they then send to a large number of universities, free!
Another alternative: Print out the forms and courier them with the required documents. Even if you send it online, you'll have to post certain documents, along with the non-refundable application fee.
The Web also provides assistance with the other requirements: Visit Essay Edge and Planet Papers for help with admission essays, and Statement of Purpose for SOP assistance.
After securing admission, apply for the student visa. If you're nervous about facing the officials or are uncertain about the procedure, World Visas or The International Education Site can help.
What's the advantage of researching and applying through the Internet? "Speed of processing. When you're too close to a deadline, your credit card details over the Internet reach faster than your paper demand draft," says Sudhir Hinduja, a Masters student at George Washington University. Bhavik Vyas, who used the Internet to apply to Australian institutes, says, "One can get more information than asked for, sitting at home." Sameer Parker of George Washington University adds, "You save a lot on courier charges, time and effort on tracking the application packets."
Is there a flipside? Many don't think so. Gauresh Rajadhyaksha of the University of Texas at Austin, says, "I don't see any -- except that you need a good Internet connection and an international credit card to make payments for the app fee." Sameer states the obvious, "The e-form may not get submitted properly into the University database. Also, there might be an 'interceptor' who can see your transaction when you pay the application fee if the site is not secure." Sudhir says, "You have to send some material like recommendation letters and transcripts by courier. So sometimes your application gets mixed up." Amli David, counsellor at Youngbuzz, a career guidance company, feels that narrowing down to a few select colleges cannot be done solely through the Internet. A counsellor's guidance is also required.
Some tips while researching and applying to colleges online:
- Join 'study abroad groups' at Yahoo for helpful pointers.
- Even if you submit an online application early, you'll still need to send the application fee on time as the processing begins only after the fee is received.
- Online application forms may allow you to write as much as you like in answer to a question. However, try to keep your answers brief and precise.
- Check spellings and grammar before clicking submit.
- While filling out online forms, save the information in a Word file. This way you won't need to type in the same details in subsequent forms.
- Some college rankings available on the Internet can be misleading. Check the method and factors taken into account.
- If you are uncomfortable revealing credit card details online, check the security of the site from your browser or email the university.
- Deadlines for submitting online applications and postal ones could differ. Ensure that you carefully read the deadlines and stick to them. Apply as early as you can.
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