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Timeline for International Students: What You Need to Do and When

The idea of studying abroad is exciting, but can also feel overwhelming. From choosing a school to gathering their documents, international students have a lot to juggle. Knowing what you need to do for your school applications, and when, can put your mind at ease.

Actual deadlines can vary quite a bit depending on the institution, specific program, or level of study. You can generally find particular application deadlines on school websites (and on our platform). Still, there’s a lot more that goes into an international student’s study abroad journey than just that final application. To get you started, our Pre-Submission Team has put together a timeline you can use to guide your journey.

Consideration

Choice

Shortlist Schools: 1 to 2 Years Before Start Date

The first step in every student’s decision to study abroad is to consider which schools they’ll be applying to. This is a crucial process, and the choice can be time-consuming, so the sooner you can start, the better.

Start by considering what region you might want to study in – factors to consider might include language, cost of living, reputation, or the availability of specific programs. If you can, you should start researching and shortlisting schools about 1 to 2 years in advance of your intended start date.

Once you know which schools you expect to apply to, make a checklist of any required documents, and start gathering ones that will take the most time.

Gathering Documents

Some documents take longer to collect than others – you may need to take a test or submit a request to receive them. Here’s how far in advance, students can start getting these documents ready:

Final Degrees and Diplomas: 1 to 2 Years Before Applying

Most schools like to see a student’s last degree or diploma with an application, but we see students trying to submit theirs with just provisional certificates. Unfortunately, many schools won’t accept these, so students should collect final degrees and diplomas from previous schools as soon as they’re available.

Most colleges and universities issue final degrees and diplomas within one year of graduating. Despite this, we’ve seen many cases where a student didn’t go and get theirs on time, meaning they didn’t have their final degree or diploma when applying to a new school.

To avoid this, get yours as soon as possible from any schools you’ve previously attended. In most cases, this will be within the first year of graduation.

Official Transcripts: 1 to 2 Years Before Applying

The same guidelines apply for transcripts. The ideal time to request your final transcripts is right after you receive your final results. Depending on the school, this can take a long time, which is why requesting transcripts far in advance is highly recommended.

Most schools require official transcripts to be mailed to them. Waiting until the last minute to send official transcripts overseas increases the risk of missing any submission deadlines. Starting this process at least one year in advance will give both you and your previous school enough time to get things ready.

Entrance Tests (e.g. GRE, GMAT): 6 Months to 1 Year Before Applying

Booking a GRE or GMAT test can take months, depending on the availability of seats. Because of this, booking these exams months in advance is essential. Preparing for your GRE or GMAT can take a year or more, so plan to write your exam at least six months before applying to a school.

Letters of Recommendation: 6 Months to 1 Year Before Applying

Most higher education institutions will request letters of recommendation from international applicants. You can get these from teachers and if you have work experience, employers. These letters should speak to your strengths and weaknesses, which is why they must be written by someone you have worked closely with, for an appropriate amount of time.

Applicants should start building relationships with the people they want to get a recommendation letter from at least a year prior. It’s essential to network with professors or supervisors as much as possible in advance. After some time, share that you are planning on studying abroad and that you will likely need recommendation letters from them.

Once you have shortlisted the schools you’d like to apply to, you should start getting letters of recommendation from any references you’ve networked with. Ask for the notes at least six months in advance – it can take a long time for references to get those letters ready to go.

Financial Documents: 3 to 6 Months Before Applying

Financial documents like bank statements need to be up-to-date, usually from within the last three to six months. You can plan when you’ll need to request these from the bank based on the school’s requirements for how recent they want your bank statements to be.

Getting these documents from banks is generally straightforward, and you should be able to get them the same day you submit your request, although this might vary with different banks and countries. It will help to understand the process and timelines your bank follows before requesting any documents.

Credential Evaluation: 3 to 6 Months Before Applying

Credential evaluations are required by many schools to establish the equivalency of a student’s previous coursework obtained in a country outside Canada or the US. This can be done through any AICE and NACES member organizations like WES or ECE.

A document-by-document or course-by-course evaluation typically takes about a week to process after you submit all of your documents. Still, the timeline can vary based on what company you are using. When shortlisting schools, it’s best to confirm if they will require a credential evaluation so you can start your credential evaluation application three to six months in advance.

English Proficiency Tests (e.g. IELTS, TOEFL, PTE): 2 to 4 Months Before Start Date

IELTS scores stay valid for two years after the date of your exam, but you should ideally complete yours about two to four months before your intended start date. You can expect to receive your results two to three weeks after taking your test. Getting an exam date can take longer than you might expect due to limited availability, so booking your exam a few months in advance is recommended.

Notarizations and Translations of Documents: 2 to 3 Months Before Applying

Schools will sometimes ask for certain documents to be notarized by a sworn lawyer to ensure their legitimacy. You may also need to have original documents translated into English by a declared lawyer if they are written in another language.

These translations and notarizations can be done two to three months in advance, so have enough time to ensure their accuracy and completion.

Statement of Purpose: 1 to 2 Months Before Applying

International students can start working on their statement of purpose (SOP) right after they’ve shortlisted a few universities or colleges. The content and length of this SOP will vary based on school requirements.

Starting your SOP after shortlisting schools will help guide your writing. You can use this information to dig into each program’s unique requirements and customize your messaging. This also gives you plenty of time to brainstorm ideas, write, and then review and revise as much as you’d like.

Submission

Prepare Your Application Package: 3 to 4 Months Before Start Date

This timeline should be based on the intake schedules of your shortlisted schools. These intakes can vary greatly – for some schools, you may prepare your application well in advance but not be able to submit until a month before the start date. Determining the deadline for each school will help you plan your timeline accordingly.

Once you’ve gathered all of your documents, you can start completing application forms and getting your package ready three to four months in advance. As soon as the school begins accepting the applications, you’ll be prepared to send yours in.

Ready to start your own study abroad journey? Explore 1,200+ reputable schools on ApplyBoard.