Choosing where and what to study as well as how to fund your education can be a daunting task! When deciding on a university, students must consider factors such as quality of education, location, academic requirements, and accessibility. Selecting a program of study can be difficult because students must balance personal interests, skills, passions, and career prospects. Moreover, students could face pressure from their families to select a major that they are not interested in.
Selecting which scholarships to apply to can also be challenging: especially since there are limited opportunities, some students apply for scholarships to study majors that they are not actually interested in, in the hopes of simply securing a scholarship. This could negatively impact the student’s academic, personal, and professional success in the long term, putting them in a program and/or at a university that they are not satisfied with.
Here are some tips and tricks for selecting a university, program of study and scholarship:
Choosing The Right Program of Study For You
Your program of study will not fully determine your future, but it is important to consider what you are passionate about and what will lead you to success. You should consider:
Explore your interests: Carefully consider what you are passionate about. What will you enjoy studying? What will allow you to pursue a meaningful career that will make you proud of and satisfied with your accomplishments while also giving you a financially secure future? What kinds of skills have you curated and want to develop? For applicants to master’s programs, how has your career informed your decision?
Research, Research, Research: Look into different programs and the specific courses that they include. Don’t limit yourself either, you might find that you prefer a field of study that you hadn't considered! The Princeton Review has some great further tips and a guide on the top 10 college majors. When choosing a graduate program especially, there are many things to consider including your career goals, professional background and program format.
Consider your personal strengths: What skills do you have or would you like to develop? Are you a computer wiz? Are you a great public speaker or investigator? Do you like to spend time in a lab? If you are applying to a master’s program, how has your career impacted your decisions so far?
Connect with others: Talk to students who are studying the same subject or to professionals who studied it and are now advanced in their careers. This way, you can learn more about what the possibilities are for you after studying. There are a few ways you can do this:
- You could reach out to the academic advisors and counselors at your universities of interest!
- You could use LinkedIn to search for current students and/or alumni of your universities of interest or take a look at the universities websites for contact information for student and alumni groups.
- Attend virtual fairs or webinars provided by the universities (these are usually linked on their websites).
Choosing The Right University For You
There are several factors to consider when deciding on a university to ensure that you have the most dynamic and impactful experience. Universities are different from each other and each offers a unique experience. You should consider:
Program of Study: First and foremost, does the university offer the program of study that you are interested in? If not, you should choose a different university.
Professors and courses: Assuming that your program of study is offered, what are the courses and professors like? Even top universities differ in how they teach certain subjects (for example, some programs can be more theoretical than practical). It is important for you to look into course offerings as well as who the professors are: for example, what are the professors’ research interests? Most especially for master’s students, are there professors who you can count on to closely guide you?
Academic and Language Requirements: Make sure that you meet all requirements. If, for example, the university requires a C1 English level and you do not meet that, do not be discouraged, rather consider taking some time to work on your English skills before applying. You can read more about resources below.
Academic quality: It is not just Ivy League universities that offer excellent academic experiences, so do not limit yourself! Research the university’s strengths, not just rankings. If you do want to see a university’s ranking and other strongpoints, we suggest you use Times Higher Education (THE). On THE you can even see how universities rank in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals!
Campus environment and resources: Does the university have a strong community? Does it have extracurricular activities that you are interested in? Reach out to current students and student clubs or attend a virtual open house if it is offered!
Location: Do you want to stay in your home or host country or go abroad? If you want to go abroad, you should consider several factors. For instance, if you do not want to learn a language besides English, you might consider only English-speaking countries.
Cultural adaptability: Are you ready to learn about a new culture and share your culture with others? Do some research into the national and local cultures of the university location. Try to talk to other Syrian or other international students at the university for some tips. Culture shock can be; some international students have described stages of culture shock, ranging from the honeymoon phase of being in a new country to distress to independence. Even something as simple as the weather can be a major change and affect your mood.
In Jusoor’s scholarships interviews, we always ask questions to candidates who will go abroad about taking care of their mental health while being away from family, adapting to a new culture and what parts of their own culture are important to take with them. These questions may seem odd at first, but they are meant to really make candidates consider the challenges that come with moving to a new place and what kinds of things might comfort them.
Choosing The Right Scholarship For You
University tuition is often expensive, as are living costs. Everyone is keen to have their studies funded, but selecting a scholarship that fits your interests, goals, and desired community is important. You should consider:
Eligibility Criteria: Take time to read the criteria and understand whether you qualify. For example, Jusoor often gets scholarship applications from students who do not meet the GPA or language requirements of universities, and such applicants are automatically disqualified. Studying in a new language is extremely difficult and you could be less likely to succeed if you do not meet the requirements. Universities impose academic and language requirements for students’ benefits and there is a diverse range of requisites. Another example is the Chevening scholarship, which requires applicants to have at least 2 years (equivalent to 2,800 hours) work experience.
Identify your goals and needs: Is the specific scholarship opportunity relevant to your academic and professional goals? Does it support your intended field of study? It is not advisable to apply for a scholarship for a field of study that you are not interested in, for a university that you do not want to attend, or in a country that you do not think you will be comfortable living in.
Scholarship provisions: Some scholarships fully fund travel, tuition, and living expenses while others do not. Students should think carefully about how to secure funding for any gaps.
Requirements of the scholarship: All scholarships have different expectations and students should be ready to meet them. For example, Jusoor requires its scholars to meet certain academic requirements, remain engaged with Jusoor’s community, and give back to the global Syrian community, among other things.
Scholarships provided by universities: Remember that you don’t always need to apply to external scholarships. Many universities offer merit and need-based scholarships that you can pursue.
Explore your options: Don’t limit yourself! There are many databases and websites that offer comprehensive information and lists of scholarships. For example, you could consider Al-Fanar Media, College Board, and UNHCR’s Opportunities Website,
Language And Other Testing Requirements
In all cases, it is imperative that applicants check the English Language requirements of their universities of interest and specifically for their program of study, since required scores may differ per program, even at the same university.
While there are many accepted tests, we will focus on specific ones:
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language): TOEFL is the most widely accepted English test. Scores range between 0-120 and universities might require a score of anywhere from 70-110, depending on both the university and program of study.
IELTS (International English Language Testing System): IELTS is also widely accepted and has a 9-band scoring system. Universities often require a score between 6.0-7.5.
Duolingo: While IELTS and TOEFL are the most widely accepted English language exams, Duolingo is becoming increasingly more accepted. Currently, there are over 4,000 institutions that accept Duolingo and the exam is significantly cheaper than IELTS or TOEFL.
SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test): The SAT includes 4 sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math and an optional Essay section Students should start preparing for the SAT earlier rather than later and it is important to learn not just skills and knowledge, but test-taking strategies such as pacing and how to approach different question types. How can you prepare for free or low cost?
- College Board: This is the official SAT website that offers free practice tests, sample questions, and answer explanations.
- Khan Academy: The College Board partnered with Khan Academy to provide free SAT preparation materials that are also high-quality. Resources include practice questions, practice tests, video lessons, and personalized study plans.
- The Princeton Review: They offer free SAT practice tests online
GRE (Graduate Record Examination): The GRE includes 4 sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and the Research/Experimentation section. It is commonly required for admission to graduate and business school programs in the United States and some other countries. There are some free preparation resources such as:
- The Official GRE Website: This includes sample questions, practice tests, and test-taking tips.
- Khan Academy: Offers free GRE prep materials including video lessons for the Quantitative Reasoning Section.
Tips on How to Get The Best Reference Letters
The key factor to requesting reference letters is to try your best to get them from people who know you well and can attest to your specific skills, personality traits, and goals. Recommendation letters are best when they are personalized.
Academic references: Request these from teachers or professors who can genuinely provide insight into your academic prowess as well as your motivation and goals. Instructors can attest to your research skills, level of participation in class, as well as knowledge and interest in your program of study.
In all cases, we absolutely recommend that you check the specific requirements of the universities and/or scholarships that you are applying to (sometimes they will provide you with essential advice and templates). However, below are some examples to help you:
- How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation (College Board)
- Letter of recommendation template for college admission application (Arizona State University)
Here are some examples of what popular scholarships ask for in an academic reference letter:
Extracurricular club references: These letters provide insight into who you are outside of the classroom. While your academic performance is obviously important, institutions also want to see how dynamic you are outside of academics. For example, were you active in the Science Olympiad or Model United Nations? Did you commit to attending meetings, training, and competitions? Did you help to train your peers or raise money for these initiatives? This referee can attest to your leadership, organizational, and social skills.
Volunteer references: These letters also give institutions insight into who you are beyond the classroom and what kind of causes you are dedicated to. Did you tutor children or organize beach cleanups? Did you take on leadership roles? These references can attest to your sense of social responsibility and your commitment to doing things to benefit others.
Professional references: These are especially important for students applying to master’s programs. When your work relates to what you will study, these references provide insight as to what kinds of skills and knowledge you have that will enhance your master’s study experiences, ability to do research, and ability to excel professionally after you finish your program. These references also demonstrate what you have to contribute to your peers and professors. Graduate programs in particular often value when you have had practical experience.
Motivation Letters and Personal Statements
This is a critical part of your application and gives you the opportunity to showcase your personality, achievements, and the reasons why you selected your field of study and the specific universities to which you are applying. Here are some motivational letter-writing tips:
What are universities looking for?: Achievement, Intellectual Curiosity, Time Management, Resiliency, Impact, Creativity, Community
Capture the reader's attention: Tell a story! Start your letter with a hook that reels your reader in and gets them interested quickly. You could start with an anecdote, a relevant quote, or a passionate note about your background and interests. You should always check the requirements of your university of interest or scholarship of interest, but here are some great tips on writing the perfect college essay and some more advice for graduate application.
Understand your objectives and purpose of the letter: Remember how above I mentioned that you need to research? That comes in handy here too! Learn about the university's values and mission and why you are the perfect fit for them. Think about how you can contribute to the university’s community as well as why you want to study there by showcasing your goals. Another tip is to demonstrate your excitement for the university and program of study!
Be specific: Tell them why you want to study your selected program. Are there personal reasons? Why are you passionate about this field? What do you want to achieve and how can this university help you to get there? As I mentioned earlier, mention specific professors, courses, and extracurricular activities. Also, tailor each letter to the individual university and program of study; don’t use the same letter for each application.
Be your biggest advocate!: Move past any hesitation to undersell your achievements. Illustrate your academic, personal, and professional achievements. Mention any honors or awards you have received as well as your leadership roles.
Reflect: Maybe you didn’t do as well in your grade 11 year as you did in grade 12 or maybe you don’t have a great SAT score. Briefly mention this and explain what you learned from the experience.
Be concise and proofread: Follow the word or page limit and always proofread your work!
Be honest: Don’t provide any false information; do be authentic.
I hope this guide will help you to choose the right programs of study, universities, and scholarships!