The right university and subject
This brings me to the first step of searching for the right university and subject. This should be the longest and most important part of your application process. The first and foremost thing regarding a higher education abroad is to decide what you want out of it. Everyone has their own motivation and it is imperative to be clear about it with yourself. This motivation will drive your choice of university and the subject you are going to study there. For example, subjects with focusing on research and universities famous for their research activities should be on top of the list of those who want to become an academician. Whereas, people looking to build a corporate career later on must choose subjects and universities that are more closely related to the industry in order to get a more hands-on knowledge and experience.
There are many rankings out there to look at. I personally like the Eduniversal ranking, which divides universities into Palmes leagues that indicate the level of an academic institution's international reputation. However, note that ranking is not the only deciding factor. Look into the curriculum of the subject that you want study and see if it satisfies your internal need to learn on that topic.
Next, look at the list of faculties and their qualifications. Spare a thought on the city the university is situated in and if you think you can spend one year of your life there or not. Based on all these criteria, finally decide on at least three university-subject combinations to apply to, just to be on the safe side.
The application process
Once you have finalised where you are going to apply, it's time to start the application process. This is a tiresome and arduous process so allocate yourself enough time for this: one month in my opinion.
First check if you need to give any standardised tests or not. IELTS is a must for the UK and some business schools also prefer a GRE/GMAT score. So if you need to sit for any of these exams, do it as soon as possible since you will not be eligible to apply without these scores.
Next comes writing your Statement of Purpose (SOP). This is usually the biggest determinant of your application's fate. Spend ample time and thought in writing it and review it at least a few times in between. Consult with friends and seniors regarding how to express certain ideas. Show them your writing and get feedback from time to time. Remember, it's always difficult to critique your own writing so there is no shame in getting external help.
Also keep in touch with your teachers/colleagues who are writing recommendations for you. A well-written recommendation will go a long way in helping you get into your desired school. So it is important that the SOP and recommendations tell a harmonious story about you, not a confusing or contradictory one.
Scholarships and funding
After completing the application process, check for scholarships and funding opportunities. For the UK, Chevening and Commonwealth are two of the biggest sources of graduate study funding. However, these are highly competitive and the application process for these start very early. Other than these, all universities have a number of bursaries and grants awarded on different criteria. Sometimes you are automatically considered for the department bursaries based on your application, but in some universities you have to apply separately. This mostly requires you to write another essay explaining why you believe you are eligible for this scholarship and requires you to provide proof of your own and your family's earnings.
Next, you need to look for options of your accommodation. Many think that they will manage something once they arrive here and that is the biggest mistake you can make. If you are planning to live in the university-provided accommodation, apply as soon as you get an offer to study there because these options run out first. If you are looking for outside accommodation, be careful in choosing the neighbourhood and check the travel routes to your university from your to-be residence. You wouldn't want to spend hours on the road everyday just to get to class. Needless to say, the farther away from the city centre you live, the cheaper the costs, but the more complicated it becomes to travel.
Getting your visa
Assuming you are successful in getting an offer letter from your desired university, it is time to apply for a UK visa. First, you will need a CAS (confirmation of acceptance) document from your university. Next, you need to have the entire tuition fee sum (minus any scholarships that you have received) and sufficient money to live in UK for the duration of your study shown in a bank account for at least a 30-day period before applying for the visa. On the day of the visa application, there is a Skype interview with UK Visas and Immigration where you are asked about your motivations for higher study. This interview is very critical and a lot of rejections are happening these days as a result of it. It is important to be honest here and confident about your plans and objectives. If you seem nervous and unsure about your plans, it might impact the outcome negatively.
If you are looking to study in the UK for the 2018-19 session, now is the time to start planning. Most universities have a rolling admissions process, which means the earlier you apply, the better your chances are. All the best in your endeavour for knowledge and wisdom!
Saajid is getting an MSc in Strategic Marketing at Cranfield School of Management, UK with a 50 percent scholarship. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for further queries.