Menu Close
university building

Preparing for University

By World Family Education

Supporting your son or daughter throughout the transition from high school to university is critical for their success. For a student that’s living internationally, this is a huge milestone. They will face multiple transitions at once as they leave home, enter a new living and learning environment, and adjust to another culture. 

Major life transitions involve several phases of adjustment. Read more about Transitions and how to handle them successfully from World Family Education. 

As a student prepares for university, they will need to plan for many factors including:

  1. Selecting Universities
  2. The Application Process
  3. University Entrance Exams
  4. Possible Outcomes
  5. Financial Considerations
  6. Applying for a Visa (if attending university in a country other than the student’s passport country)

The planning process should begin a couple of years before the student intends to go to university. It’s helpful to mark a calendar with important dates, such as university entrance exam registration and application submission deadlines. The College Board offers a great online planning tool to help families make a step-by-step road map to university based on the student’s current year in school. 

Before choosing potential universities, you should familiarize yourself with the educational options available. Depending on the country, these may include:

  • technical/vocational school — Students study for a specific professional license, such as a nursing, electrician, engineering, or computer programming license.
  • two-year college — Students study for a profession requiring a two-year associate degree.
  • traditional college/university — Students study for a profession requiring a four-year bachelor’s degree or to pursue a graduate program such as medical school, law school, or business school.

In the United States, the terms “college” and “university” are often interchangeable, and either word may be used to describe most higher-education institutions. In most other parts of the word, “university” is the term used for higher-education institutions.

Once your family has a good understanding of the choices available, the student can begin to identify the best options for them. 

Selecting Universities

As you begin to review higher education options with your son or daughter, it’s helpful to consider your family’s expectations for the potential university. Some aspects to consider are:

  • geographic location
    Does the student prefer to be close to friends or family members? Do they desire a primarily warm or cold environment?
  • setting
    Would the student prefer an urban or rural setting? Do they need transportation or can they walk to class? Is a beautiful campus important?
  • size
    Does the student prefer a large university with many academic and extracurricular options or a smaller, more personal campus? Does the student hope to work closely with their professors?
  • reputation
    Is academic or institutional reputation important?
  • academic programs
    Probably the most important question: Does the university offer the program(s) the student wants?
  • activities
    Does the university offer extracurricular activities that interest the student, such as sports, drama, music, or fraternities/sororities?
  • cost
    Can your family afford the university fees? Is financial aid available? Is the student willing to find a job to help pay for their expenses?
  • admissions requirements
    Does the student have the same profile as others the university has accepted? Are the student’s transcripts and entrance exam scores up to the university’s standard?
  • housing
    Would the student prefer to live in a dorm or with family? Would they prefer to live independently off campus? What is the food service like at the university?
  • religious affiliation
    Does the student want to attend a university affiliated with a particular faith?
  • support for students who have lived internationally
    Does the university offer support services for international students or third culture kids (TCKs)? How does the university help students adjust? Does the university welcome students of different nationalities? Read more about Cross-Cultural Kids, Third Culture Kids, Global Nomads…What Are They? at World Family Education.

These questions will help the student create a list of potential universities that meet their needs. Their list should include a variety of universities, including those very likely to offer admission along with those that are more selective. 

Many school counselors recommend that students apply to six to eight universities to have the best chance of getting into a school they desire. Read more about this at PrepScholar.

Find resources to research higher education options at University Information Portals at World Family Education.

More helpful information is found at:

The Application Process

Beginning the application process early will help students meet the requirements and deadlines each university sets. It will also provide the time necessary for applying for financial aid or a visa, if the student wants to attend a university outside their passport country.

Components of the application may include the following:

  • Application form
    An overview of the student’s personal and academic background, including extracurricular activities. This information is especially important in Western universities, and an article at U.S. News & World Report describes the significance of non-academic experiences for international applicants. 
  • Application fee
    A processing fee for applying. This is normally paid when the application is submitted.
  • Personal essay
    An essay that’s intended to reveal more about the student’s personality and motivation for attending the university. It also provides competitive universities with a means to judge the maturity, uniqueness, and academic nature of the applicant. The PrepScholar offers helpful advice to students seeking to write an effective essay.
  • Letters of reference
    Letters from teachers, counselors, or supervisors that attest to the student’s character.
  • School records/transcripts
    Records from the high school/secondary school that show a student’s grades or marks. Students applying to a university outside of their passport country may need to authenticate their school transcripts. Professional authenticators are responsible for translating the transcript, authenticating them, and finding out the closest local equivalent to degrees earned abroad.

Students applying for a visa to study outside their passport country may need to complete additional requirements.

University Entrance Exams

Universities require a range of exams for admission, and you’ll need to check their policies closely. In many countries, university entrance exams are formatted to that location’s language and academic standards. 

In English-speaking countries, university candidates must take at least one of the following major exams:

  • SAT — A globally recognized college admissions test that consists of reading, writing, and math sections. Developed in the United States by the College Board.
  • ACT — A U.S. national college exam that consists of English, reading, math, and science sections. Administered by ACT Inc. in the U.S.
  • Advanced Level (A level) or International Advanced Level (AI level) exams — Subject-based courses (with examinations) that can lead to university, further study, training, or work. Usually conferred by the General Certificate of Education in the United Kingdom.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) exams — Subject-based courses with exams conferred by the International Baccalaureate Organization. The composite score from IB exam results is widely accepted for admission at universities around the world.

If the student plans to apply to an English-speaking university and English is not their first language, the university will likely require an English language assessment as well. 

Read more at World Family Education about Major Exams for University Entrance and English Language Assessments.

Possible Outcomes

Universities will typically respond to a student’s application and accompanying documentation with one of the following responses:

Acceptance. Student is invited to attend the university the following year, and they may accept or reject the invitation. 

Rejection. Student is not invited to attend the university the following year, but may reapply or transfer at a later date.

Waitlisted. There is currently no room at the university for the following year, but space may become available depending on whether other accepted applicants choose to attend.

Usually, a student must respond quickly to a university’s acceptance offer, so they should be prepared to make a decision right away.

After the student receives an acceptance notice, the next step is to secure financial aid.

Financial Considerations

Going to university requires a significant financial commitment from the student and their family. Along with tuition fees, a student may need to consider expenses for:  

  • Study materials and other course-related fees
  • Living arrangements (rent, utilities)
  • Food, toiletries, daily living
  • Travel
  • Daily transportation
  • Health insurance

Depending on the location, a student could receive financial aid in the form of scholarships, loans, grants, or work-study contracts. Sources for financial aid can include the university itself, private organizations, and the government. 

U.S. citizens should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if they hope to attend university in the U.S. Students need to submit the FAFSA about 10 months before they plan to attend university. The FAFSA helps the government determine a student’s financial need by taking the cost of attendance (including tuition, room and board, books) and subtracting the amount the student’s family can contribute.

International students are not eligible for financial aid from the United States government. They should check with their own government for available funding and research international organizations that often grant students money. 

It’s important to note that some universities require international students to provide evidence of their ability to pay for university fees and transportation. Be sure to check the policies at the university.

Helpful financial aid sites include:

International Student — Provides a scholarship search for students studying in many locations.

International Financial Aid and College Scholarship — Search engine for loans and scholarships available internationally.

ScholarshipPortal — Search engine for international scholarships.

International Scholarships — A search engine for scholarships and financial aid for students studying in many locations.

Global Student Loans — For international students studying in the United States.

#YouAreWelcomeHere — Scholarship for international students studying in the United States.

Scholars4Dev — Scholarships for Development lists financial aid opportunities for students in many locations.

FastWeb — A scholarship search engine for students who are U.S. citizens.

Study in Australia — The Australian government details several scholarship options for students wishing to study in Australia.

British Council — Several options for local and international students needing financial aid for UK universities. 

Christian Missionary Scholarship Foundation — Scholarships for children of missionaries.

MKainos — Scholarships for children of Korean missionaries living in the United States. — Scholarships for children of Filipino missionaries attending university in the Philippines.

Applying for a Visa

Students planning to attend a university that’s not in their passport country should begin the visa application process as soon as they receive a university acceptance letter. This process usually begins at the country’s embassy/consulate in the student’s current country of residence. 

Most visa applications require several components, such as:

  • Application form
  • Visa fee
  • Admittance letter from university
  • Interview with consulate staff
  • Financial documentation to demonstrate ability to pay university fees
  • Police background check
  • Medical examination
  • Evidence of health insurance

Be sure to check the country’s visa regulations using a legitimate source. Many countries provide official web pages with online application forms. A few examples are:


Sahmel, Heidi E. (2015). Apply Yourself! Retrieved from

Dalat International School. (2019). Roadmap to University Handbook. Penang, Malaysia: Author.