To get accepted into a university abroad often requires a year or even a year and a half of preparation. Don't be discouraged by this, but do realize that you need to give yourself adequate time to take all the necessary tests, fill out application forms, and acquire the appropriate visa.
Most universities will require the following:
Note: for students who cannot obtain official transcripts or teachers' recommendations, it may be possible to substitute other proof of educational background and letters of recommendation from people who know you now. However, you must discuss this in advance with the admissions office of the university.
How do I find a university that is right for me?
First, do you have a country preference?
Would you prefer to go to a Western country where you will be immersed in a very different culture or would you prefer to stay in Southeast Asia?
Is cost an important factor?
Tuitions and living costs in Southeast Asia are generally much less expensive than in the West.
Students who want to study in the West may have to work part-time or take out loans. Private universities are generally more expensive than public universities, but private universities may have more generous tuition-waivers and scholarship opportunities.
There are scholarships available for Burmese students in all countries, but most scholarships provide only partial support.
What do you want to study?
Find a university that is well known for the subject you want to study. This is particularly important for students enrolling in graduate degree programs.
Is size a factor?
Would you rather be at a big, research university where there are more specialized opportunities or at a smaller school where there may be less specialization but more personal attention?
Is location a factor?
Would you rather be in a big city where there is a lot going on (and you can find Asian food) or a small town where it is more peaceful and usually cheaper? Also, do you want to be in a warm climate similar to Myanmar/Burma, or are you ready to try a colder climate?
How good is your English?
Different universities require different levels of English ability. Some universities have English as a Second Language classes for foreign students who are still struggling with the language. Be sure to check each university's requirements before applying.
Do you have friends or relatives somewhere abroad?
You may prefer to study at a university with friends or relatives nearby. The challenges of adapting to a new culture and a very different academic system can be difficult. Sometimes it helps to have someone you know nearby who can ease the homesickness and help you adapt.
To help you in your decision-making, visit the websites of the universities you are interested in. The websites show photographs of the school, list academic departments and courses, and give information about other activities on campus. Usually the website address is: www.universityname.edu (outside the US, add the country abbreviation at the end).
Also, look at reference books which give descriptions of universities and their course offerings. Such reference books are available at public libraries, USIS, and British Council libraries.
Advice on the Application Process
Apply to more than one university
In general, you should apply to more than one university. Most universities receive applications from many more students than they can take, so you should apply to a few universities to make sure you are accepted somewhere. Some universities are harder to get into than others. Apply to a couple of schools that you would like to attend but might be challenging for you. Also apply to some schools whose application requirements are a little bit lower, where you are likely to be accepted.
The same is true of scholarships. Don't apply for just one. Apply for several. Scholarships are also competitive and even if you are a good student, you can't assume you will be selected.
You will need at least a year to 18 months to prepare for entering an undergraduate or graduate program. Remember, you will have to take at least one or two standardized tests (ie. TOEFL, SAT, GRE), and these tests must be taken approximately 9 months before the university year will begin. You must register for these tests about 2 months in advance, and you will probably have to study for these tests for two or three months.
You may want to consider a Community College if you are already living in a Western country. Community colleges offer two-year programs with university courses and vocational courses. Community colleges are often easier to get into (they take lower TOEFL scores and academic marks), they usually are much less expensive than a 4-year university, classes are small, and the environment is less competitive. The disadvantages are that there is a high turnover of professors, and the academic standards are usually lower than at universities. Still, it can be useful to attend community college for the first two years and then transfer to a university for your last two years. You can transfer all your credits so you will still get a B.A. or B.Sc. in 4 years. Community colleges often offer night classes for working students.
Community colleges also offer 2 year certificate and degree programs in: Business Administration, Computer Programming, Nursing, Fashion Design, Hotel and Restaurant Management, Secretarial Training, Commercial Photography, Engineering and Advertising Art.
Financing Your Education
How much will it cost?
The price will vary tremendously from country to country and even within countries. The tuition rate at public universities for students who are considered residents is much cheaper than for non-residents. If you are an international student, you will have to pay a much higher rate each year. Private universities generally charge the same rate for everyone, but they are much more expensive than public universities. The total amount you will have to pay can range from several thousand dollars in India to over $ 30,000 in the United States.
What will you have to pay for?
Tuition - generally cheaper at public universities, but it may be easier to get a scholarship at a private university. The tuition for each term or semester must be paid in full before classes begin.
Books - Books can cost several hundred dollars a year. You can keep costs down by buying some books used - at your university bookstore or other bookstores near the university. Most course books will also be on reserve in the library, so in some cases, you may want to just read the book or article in the library.
Room and Board - If you live in a dorm (hostel) it will also come with a meal plan in the dining hall, so you don't have to worry about cooking. However, you can often save money by renting a house or apartment with friends and cooking yourself. Note: housing costs are usually higher in cities than in rural areas.
Medical Insurance - Most universities require you to purchase medical insurance through the university's hospital program. For an individual, the cost for a year will usually be a minimum of $700. For a family, it will be more. Medical insurance covers visits to the doctor, medicine, hospitalization and surgery. However it does not cover dental work, eye examinations, or eye glasses.
Miscellaneous - You may need to buy a computer. Most professors will expect you to write your assignments on a computer. There will be computers you can use on campus, but sometimes it can be very crowded. You can probably buy a discounted computer at your university bookstore, or find a used computer through ads in the student newspaper or on bulletin boards around campus. You will also need money for various personal needs.
How can you pay for your education?
You will probably have to combine money from several different sources including scholarships, part-time work, money from home, and possibly loans. Here is a more detailed list of options to consider:
(This section is adapted from www.nafsa.org)
The Challenges of Studying Abroad
You may find it challenging to keep up with native students for several reasons:
1. English is not your first language. It may take you 2 or 3 times as long to read an assignment as it would take a native speaker. Try to read as much as possible in English (books, magazines, newspapers) before entering the university in order to improve your fluency. Try to improve your speaking and listening abilities as well by talking with native English speakers, watching English-language movies, and listening to English-language tapes. If necessary, attend ESL courses first.
2. Less schooling than others. Most students attending universities outside of Burma will have had 12 years of schooling, but Burmese students have generally only had 10 years of education. You can try to bridge this gap by reading in advance some of the books normally assigned during the first year of university. Many universities list their courses and the books they use on the web. If you are already living in the United States, you could also attend a community (or junior) college for two years and then transfer to a four-year university.
3. Lack of appropriate skills. Most universities outside Burma require that students write analytical essays and research papers, and participate actively in class discussions and debates. You will be expected to be able to think critically and analyze situations that have no clear right or wrong answers. These skills may be new to you. Try to attend an ESL program which includes such training or work with a tutor who can teach these skills. Find and study appropriate reference books.
How will your professors evaluate you?
Your marks, or "grades" will be based on the following:
Tips for Success
Ask advisors and instructors for help if you need it. Asking for help is not seen as failure, but is seen as responsibly taking initiative.
Sit in the front of class - those who do tend to do better.
When possible, schedule classes for high energy times, rather than for low energy times, so that you feel awake and alert in claa.
Go to class, study groups, and meetings precisely at the time specified. Being late is considered disrespectful to your teachers and other students.
Submit all forms by the stated deadlines. Forms submitted after the deadlines are often not accepted, because it would be unfair to students who did follow the specified timelines.
When you meet with advisors and professors, get straight to the point. They usually have many appointments and responsibilities, so they must use their time efficiently.
If you cannot make an appointment or report back to an advisor on a particular date or if you cannot lead a class discussion or make a presentation on a particular day, tell the advisor or professor frankly. Do not agree to a schedule to be polite.
If there is an emergency situation, and you cannot turn in a paper on time or make it to an exam, call your professor and let him or her know in advance. Usually an alternative arrangement can be made.
Recognize that you may need more sleep your few months at the university, as you are adjusting to a new situation.
A Warning on Academic Misconduct
Beware! If you are caught cheating on an exam, using someone else's paper, or copying directly from a book without citing the source, you can be expelled from the university. If you are unclear about these rules, be sure to ask your advisor, your professor, or other students.
Academic misconduct includes the following:
Plagiarism means representing someone else's ideas, words, statements or other works as one's own without proper acknowledgment or citation.
Examples of plagiarism are:
Aiding and Abetting Dishonesty
What is "Culture Shock?"
Culture shock refers to the anxiety a person experiences when he/she moves to a different country or environment. People experience culture shock when they are far away from familiar surroundings, family, and support systems, and they must try to assimilate a new culture and new ways of interacting with others. The shock of adjustment to a new culture is normal.
Common Signs & Symptoms of Culture Shock
Stages of "Culture Shock"
Culture Shock has several identifiable stages that people go through. It's impossible to say how long you will be in each state, but gradually you will be able to accommodate yourself to your new surroundings.
How to Cope with "Culture Shock"
(Adapted from the University of South Florida's webpage on culture shock)