Increasingly, Filipino high school students are becoming more and more convinced to study abroad. Most of the people I knew who applied & got in abroad, myself included, had wanted to apply abroad their whole lives. From a young age we already knew we wanted to go to schools outside of the Philippines, so when application season came around in senior year we had a good idea of what we would be in for.
However, many Filipino students are unsure about applying abroad, in large part due to the fact that they do not know how to get started. While it definitely would have helped to have started preparing for the application process at a young age, it is by no means impossible to explore the option of applying abroad even if you’re only getting started in your second or third year of high school.
(Me visiting my brother at Stanford, my dream school for 14 years, when I was 6 years old. )
The first step to getting started applying abroad is figuring out which schools interest you. Take time to research about schools all over the world. Look at the strengths of their programs, the scholarships they offer, the types of cultures in their campuses, their locations and figure out which schools might be a good fit for you. When choosing schools to apply to, I would often ask myself “If I got in this school, and only this school, would I definitely go there?”
It is also important to be realistic with the schools you chose to apply to. Many schools are quite selective, so you should also take their selectivity into consideration when making your list. But you should also have a list of safety and reach schools or schools that you are also very enthusiastic about and have a good chance of getting admitted to.
(Some of the most selective schools in the US)*
Secondly, once you figure out which schools you want to apply to, don’t waste any time. Take steps to improve your chances of admission. If your school offers alternative or internationally accredited programs, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma or the Advanced Placement program, take the most challenging courses. If your school does not offer these programs (or the period to join these programs has passed), then do your best to increase your GPA and batch rank within your own academic track.
(Me and my IB Math classmates after we finished our IB diploma program)
Most schools require you to submit standardized test scores such as the SAT or the ACT. One of my biggest regrets was cramming my preparations for taking the SATs, so I recommend you start preparing for the SATs (or whatever standardized test you chose to take) as soon as you can. You can never go wrong with preparing early. I knew some people who started preparing for the SATs as early as the start of third-year high school. Conversely, I knew some people who started preparing literally the night before the test. The former did well, the latter ended up taking the SATs 3 more times.
Getting a tutor will definitely help, but you don’t need a tutor to do well. The best advice I can give is to keep practicing. The aim in SAT prep is to get as efficient as you possibly can at taking the test, so take as many practice tests as possible. Get SAT prep books (Barron’s, Kaplan and The Princeton Review are the big names, I suggest you get as many books as you can) and look up practice tests online(you’d be surprised at how many you can find).
Thirdly, find activities that you are passionate about. Many of the students who apply abroad have strong academic credentials, so one of the most important ways to stand out to admissions officers is to have extensive involvement in extra-curricular activities. For example, I was a member of my school’s debate team for four years. You might be wondering which extra-curricular activities are the “strongest” or look the best on an application. The truth is that you can stand out by showing very deep involvement in relatively mundane activities. Do what you enjoy and do it to the best of your ability.
(The awarding of this year’s national top 10 speakers at the Philippine Schools Debate Championship; I’m the fourth from the right)
Lastly, Getting in touch with your peers who are also applying abroad is also a great step. One of the things that definitely helped me in my applications was talking to people who were going through the same thing. Some of the best help I received was from my schoolmates who were also applying abroad. Not only did they give me tips for applying, they also helped keep me sane during this very stressful process.
(Me a bunch of the people who applied abroad from my school letting lose)
Ultimately, the most important thing about applying abroad is having initiative. It’s really on you to take the steps needed to improve your chances of admission to the schools of your choice. This is especially true if you’re starting late in your high school career because you have less time to prepare. While working hard does not guarantee success (several of those I knew who applied abroad, along with myself, got rejected from several of their dream schools), not working hard guarantees failure. The most important step in applying abroad, therefore, is to develop the right work ethic.
Applying abroad requires a lot of hard work. But with drive and dedication, anyone can do it. Applying abroad makes you learn a lot about the world, but more importantly, it forces you to learn about yourself. Every school you apply to, every essay you write, every test you take and every activity you participate in will make you realize a bit more about yourself and who you want to be. And that’s the best perk of it.
*Photo taken here