How to apply for international exchange

Next week, I will be flying off to Singapore to study abroad at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).  I will be going for one semester, from January to May 2015.  The steps of getting approved for this exchange program was a tedious one, so I wrote down a list of what I had to do to get this, and some of the caveats I had to face along the way.  In terms of the timeline, the application deadline was December 2013 for exchange in Fall 2014/Winter 2015.  So you definitely have to think in advance if you are considering studying abroad.

These are the steps that a student at the University of Waterloo has to take to study a term abroad.  This is not a comprehensive list, so take this as more of a guideline.  For reference, here is Waterloo’s official page on how to apply for exchange.

Step 1: Do research [Before November of the previous year]

You first want to figure out which universities you want to apply to.  The complete list of available exchange schools is listed here.

Which semester?

Most schools have offer two semesters for exchange, usually fall and winter.  You should decide which one (or both) that you want to do abroad.  The biggest problem is that at many universities, the exact dates for their semester do not line up perfectly with Waterloo’s terms.  For example, some schools have two semesters that go from October-January, and February-May.  If you were to take one of these terms, it would replace two terms at UW.  For exact dates, you want to go to the university’s official site and looking at their term dates. Picking out the universities that line up with Waterloo’s schedule was the biggest constraint for me when narrowing down possible schools.

What country?

You probably want to first figure out which what country you want to go to.  For me, I was initially deciding between Asia and Europe.  I figured that Europe is probably cold during the winter, so I decided on Asia.  After this, I quickly glanced at all the schools that were available in Asia, and I chose Singapore.

Step 2: Fill out the application [October-November]

The application form is linked here.  The actual deadline is usually around December, but you want to get started on this form as soon as possible.  The reason is that you have to get approval for the courses that you want to take for your first choice school, and this process can take up to a couple weeks.

How to get course approval

You must first research which courses you want to take that the exchange school offers, then try to match it to courses at the University of Waterloo. After this, you have to ask the student advisor of that department at UW to approve it. You don’t actually have to get the advisors to print out and sign the form; you can just get their approval through email and attach the email to your application. This is quite the tedious process, especially if the advisors are slow on replying or if they reject your courses.

You also have to make sure that you have the necessary courses you need to graduate in your program.  I did not really have to worry about this since my program (Computer Science) is quite flexible, and I had already taken several extra courses that I did not actually need any credits from exchange.  Of course, this will vary from program to program.

Step 3: Submit your application [December]

Submit your application early! I had to submit my application to the exchange representative in the Mathematics Department, and they got the last couple signatures and submitted it to the Study Abroad Coordinator for me.

I ran into an unfortunate situation where the Mathematics department actually forgot to submit my application to the Study Abroad Coordinator on time, and my application ended up being very late (This ended up costing me not being able to get my first choice school). This mistake probably does not happen often; though if you want to avoid it, I recommend asking your department for confirmation that your application was submitted correctly to the Study Abroad Coordinator.

Step 4: Get the nomination from UW [February]

I got an email telling me that I was nominated for my exchange school on February 3rd.  This does not actually mean you are confirmed to go on exchange; however, pretty much everyone I know who got nominated were able to go.

From this point on, the process will probably be different for which school that you have been nominated to. These were the steps I took for studying abroad at NTU in Singapore.

Step 5: Apply to the Host Institution [September]

Around June, I got instructions on how to apply to NTU. Although I got the email in June, the online application on NTU’s website did not open until September 1st. The deadline to apply was September 5th, so I had only a few days to complete the application. I had to do a couple things in advance, like getting a passport photo and getting an official transcript from UW. Other than that, the online application was pretty standard.  There were several forms I had to print out and mail to UW, and they sent my application to NTU.

Step 6: Receive E-Welcome Package from NTU [November]

On November 5th, I got my official acceptance for exchange at NTU. I had to fill out some additional forms at this point.

Step 7: Apply for a Student Pass [November]

As a foreigner, you have to have a student pass to study in Singapore. Fortunately, this is very easy to get. It costed me $30 and it took maybe a week or two to get approved. (This was very different from my experiences with the J-1 visa that normally takes months and months to get approved >.> )

Step 8: Buy plane tickets! [November]

I ended up buying round trip tickets because it was much cheaper than buying tickets separately. Even if I want to change my return flight and pay the fee, I think it was still cheaper than buying two one-way tickets.  I bought my tickets about a month and a half before my flight.

Step 9: Check approved courses [late November]

In late November, I got a list of 7 courses that were approved by NTU. (I had 10 courses approved by UW when I originally applied) This did not mean I was enrolled in seven courses, I had approval to take them. If you did not get approved for enough courses (they recommended at least 6), then at this point you can try to get more courses for approval from UW. In mid-December, I got my actual enrollment results, and I ended up being enrolled in 4 out of the 7 courses.   The reason I only got 4 was due to scheduling conflicts.

Step 10: Get approved for residence [December]

On December 5th, I was told that I got approved to live in student housing at NTU. Before, I was warned that only 40% of exchange students get on-campus housing; however, everyone from UW ended up being accepted. Not sure if that number was legit, or maybe they favoured UW students.

Step 11: Confirm that you have all necessary documents [December]

Make sure to read all the emails, sign the necessary forms, and pay the various fees that you need to pay. The last thing you want is to be rejected at the border because you forgot to print off one document.

That’s it! I will hopefully be writing more about my study abroad experience in Singapore once it starts!