At the start of this academic year, I did an interesting interview with the dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business, Han van Dissel. Among other things, we talked about the future prospects of our faculty’s students, and in which way we can best differentiate ourselves on the job market. One of his answers was to go and study abroad, without a doubt. With the prospect of going on an exchange in the second semester, I felt self-confident and powerful.
I know that a lot of students struggle with long-term planning. It’s scary and complicated to already decide where and what you are going to study one whole year in advance. But is it really that complicated? What are the steps you have to undertake for an exchange? How much time will each step take? Which important documents are needed? All in all, how can you best prepare yourself for a ‘study abroad’ application?

When I started the first year of the bachelor Economics and Business, a fellow student told me that her boyfriend, who had already started the second year of the bachelor, would have liked to study abroad but missed the deadline for the application. At first I was quite surprised to find out the deadline was that early! At the same time, it also made me think about the opportunity of studying abroad, and I definitely learned the lesson that if I wanted to do this, I had to keep note of the application deadlines.

Tip 1: What are the deadlines of studying abroad? (For a global exchange: 15 January 2016; for an Erasmus exchange (within Europe): 1 March 2016.)

 So my first brainstorm process already begun in the first academic year. I imagined myself in every part of the world, both inside and outside of Europe. The Global Exchange sounded way more adventurous; another currency, a totally different culture, huge universities, and the high probability you wouldn’t see any of your friends and family for a whole semester. This last point, considering I had a boyfriend at the time of this brainstorm process, was an important reason for me to focus on countries within Europe.

Tip 2: Start off by thinking whether you want to study inside or outside Europe (and don’t take things into account that might be temporary, like a boyfriend). Search, for example, how much additional costs are linked to studying outside Europe, whether the courses are taught in English, and, of course, whether there are any countries outside Europe that attract you.

 If you bring up the subject ‘studying abroad’, most people think of tropical beaches and nice weather, assuming everyone wants to escape the terrible weather in the Netherlands. But my first idea of studying abroad was to go and study in Germany; partly because of my German teacher in high school, who had big expectations of me becoming an actress in Germany, but mostly because I found it very interesting to study in such an economically stable country. A country that reconstructed and developed its economy in no time after World War II, also known as the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle), must surely have some secrets about how to run the economy of a country. Self-confident about my well-considered choice, I told everyone I was planning to study in Berlin or maybe in Hamburg — that is, until I first looked at the list of possible cities where I could study via our faculty, because I soon found out that Frankfurt was the only possibility in Germany…

Tip 3: Before dreaming about places where you want to study, look at the study abroad site to check what your options are. Do you just want to study in a certain country or is the city itself more important? Do you have specific preferences of studying in the capital of the country, would you just like to study in a student village, or do you not even mind?

 So when I saw Frankfurt was the only option in Germany, I decided to look at the other options on the list. Growing up in the capital of Holland — Amsterdam — I really wanted to study in another capital of the world, or at least in quite a large artistic and cultural city. When I inspected the list of available cities, Copenhagen drew my attention. Around Christmas time, I went to Copenhagen on my own for a couple of days. I loved it; the stylish but down-to-earth people, the canals, the bikes, and especially the nice coffee bars. Perfect, I finally knew which city I wanted to go to! But when I wanted to fill in the application form, it turned out I had to fill in a first and a second choice.

Tip 4: You will have to fill in a first and a second place on your application form, so don’t focus on just one city; broaden your options.

 When I found out I also could apply for another university, I decided to deepen myself into the provided courses at different universities. The reason I procrastinated from that part was merely because I found it difficult to find the provided courses for exchange students on the websites of the host universities. So after a long search that finally led me to these courses, I found out how extremely interesting the courses in Oslo were.

Tip 5: Make a top 3 of places where you want to go, and find out for each place which courses they offer. After a while I found out that most of the time the key word you have to fill in in the search option on the website of the host university is ‘incoming (Erasmus) exchange student’. Most of the time they provide two separate lists with courses, one for the autumn semester, and one for the spring semester. Find out which semester you can/want to go and compare the courses of the different universities. Also think about whether you want to follow courses that are totally different than those of your current studies, or whether you want to do courses that are in line with Economics and Business.

 Finally, I went for the university that had the most interesting courses in line with my specialisation Finance and Organisation, and — also important — the university that offered totally different courses than the University of Amsterdam. It was the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo that I put on the first place of my application. They provided courses about the psychology behind finance, as well as in-depth finance courses about for example options and futures. After comparing different universities in different countries, I decided to put Copenhagen on the second place, since I really wanted to go to a Scandinavian country.

Tip 6: Compare the courses of the host universities with the courses of the University of Amsterdam. Will these courses enrich your study programme? Besides, if there is any overlap with the courses you are following during your exchange and the courses you have already followed at the UvA, the Board of Examiners can’t approve these courses.

 When I was finally sure where I wanted to go, I started writing my motivation for both countries. These consisted of six parts:

  1. Please introduce yourself.
  2. What do you expect to be the influence (academically) of a study abroad experience on you as a university student?
  3. Please explain the relationship between the (content of the) chosen exchange programme and your current study programme at the UvA.
  4. What will be the value for you personally if you compare studying abroad with staying at home?
  5. How will you prepare yourself for cultural differences?
  6. Which benefits do you expect from this study abroad experience in relation to your future study and/or career?

Besides answering these questions for both universities, I had to upload three documents, namely: a passport photo, a UvA-transcript (for this you have to go to the Student Service Desk in the E-building on the ground floor or to the Student Administration in the E-building 1.63, they will send it to you right away) and a Curriculum Vitae (in English, with a special layout that you can find on the study abroad site).

Tip 7: Start on time with writing the motivational letter (around one month in advance). This way, there is enough time to let a friend or family member check this motivational letter, since you have to write it in English.

 The moment was finally there: after three double-checks of my motivational letters, in possession of the three needed documents, sufficient study points obtained (120 EC for the Global Exchange and 90 EC for the Erasmus Exchange at the moment of departure, including all points of the first year), and a list of the courses I wanted to follow, I could finally send my application form — or that’s what I thought. When I tried to send it, an error occurred. I tried again, and again, and again… At that time it was around 11 p.m. on the last day I could send in my application. After all the effort I put into this application, I totally freaked out! While being busy with writing an email to the Exchange Office, my father advised me to first check all the information on the study abroad website, regarding problems with uploading the application form. And there it was: ‘If there seems to be a problem with the form, you could try another browser, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.’ Result: problem solved!

Tip 8: Try to fill in the application form a couple of days before the deadline. This prevents unnecessary stress and panic attacks when, for instance, your computer is letting you down (or in case you just didn’t read all the information on the study abroad website very carefully).

For more information and handy action plans, please visit the study abroad site. If you still have any questions, you could make an appointment with the Exchange Office via the consultation hours, or via email: studyabroad-feb@uva.nl.