Study Abroad Application Advice/Help/Guide

I think it is safe to say this year has been ✨interesting✨ in terms of applying for a year abroad and also going on one. This post is an application advice one, so if you’re looking for an ASU specific post, then see my next blog.

I noticed that there was remarkably little guidance provided (without asking) about how to pick what university you want to apply to and especially what is expected in your IPO personal statement/top three university choices.

Picking your University(ies)

I wish life was like Disney, going where your heart desires for your dreams to come true… however it isn’t! Whilst academic performances aren’t overly mentioned by the IPO, it is pretty apparent that your academic performances at Manchester form a LARGE part of the decision-making process, so if you’re a first year reading this: work hard and get good grades. If you’re a second/third year student reading this: I hope you worked hard and have good grades if you’re looking at the TOP TOP choices. Canadian universities are particularly over-applied for, as is the University of California so make sure your academic scores are high enough to make it worth applying. I’d also arrange a meeting with your Academic Exchange Advisor to specifically talk through where to study based on your grades – they do matter.

Personal Statement

Now, probably like me, the last personal statement you wrote got you into the University of Manchester – so it must be useful for getting you into your dream foreign uni, right? Well I’m not so sure here… I certainly clipped and used some parts of my UCAS statement but unfortunately this was no shortcut, I personally had to write another statement for this process. Firstly, looking at the marking criteria is key in formulating your personal statement and I really used both of these tables as the underlying basis for mine.

I started with a brainstorming process, looking at each of these categories and just formulating a massive list of whatever came to my mind that could be relevant here – some ideas I included were: sports, societies at Manchester, previous work (and work experience), previous responsibilities (e.g in my case being part of a JCR), academic and career plans and how these directly/indirectly relate to your year abroad and hobbies!

From this list, I then ciphered most of my brainstorming into and under five headings: academic, personal, cultural, employability/future plans and ambassadorial qualities. Obviously, some of my examples were able to fit under multiple headings, but this part of the process makes sure you are addressing all the required categories to maximise your marks! I also kept the rest of my list to hand (not all ideas fit) as you can still link them in later on.

With this categorised list I wrote my statement using my UCAS personal statement as a rough reminder of how to write in this style but mainly just letting the pen flow (or fingers type!). As a rough structure I followed this:

Personal/future plans/cultural/country specific (or continent if relevant, I only applied for US universities) mixed together over three paragraphs
Ambassadorial qualities
Concluding sentence

This is a very brief explanation of what I did but it might help out those who are struggling to find a starting point in their application.

Top Three Universities

This was tricker to write for me because I really felt the need to make myself seem as though I was essentially designed for each of these universities.
Here’s some tips for what I researched and wrote about:

The area itself, like the town/city a uni is based in and what there is to see/do
The sporting prowess and options at the uni
Links between courses offered and you
Things offered to you that are not available in Manchester
Clubs and societies you might join

NB. It is okay (I think, I got into my first choice so we can assume so) to mention the same thing in each separate university box, for example skiing, rugby and politics were all consistent themes in each of my pieces.

Financial Plan

Kind of self-explanatory, all I will say is that ASU is objectively probably the most expensive option in the USA, so you don’t need to look too far if ASU is your choice.

Finally, as I’m studying at ASU, I probably ought to include something ASU-y so have the iconic photo of a palm walk.

If you have any questions about applying or ASU specifically I’ll try my best to answer, find me on instagram @benjaminhspencer or contact my Manchester email which has the prefix of benjamin.spencer 🙂

So, you didn’t get in to your first choice…

It’s the day the results come through. You’re sat, refreshing your email to see if MyPlacement has been updated and you can finally find out where you’re going to study abroad. Which university will I be allocated to? Which city will I next call home? Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong?? The anticipation is palpable. 

For me, I had my heart set on Paris. I know you’re supposed to be prepared to go to any of 8 top choices, but naïvely, I’d already fallen in love with the idea of strolling down the Seine during lunch breaks, taking in the cityscape with my morning baguette and visiting galleries on the weekend. In my head, my top choice of partner university, was the only choice I was going to be happy with. 

Then look, it’s an email from the IPO, new activity on MyPlacement. Here we go, Seine, galleries, baguettes…. Oh. Jean Jaures in Toulouse… Well, it’s still France, I told myself. I can still take a train up to the capital, I tried to reassure myself.

I won’t deny the initial disappointment. I was so set on my first choice that I hadn’t properly considered my other chosen destinations. After a couple of hours of moping around because of the allocation and a few encouraging words from my family, I decided to let go of my initial envision of my study abroad and start focusing on my new reality. Once I detached myself from being solely invested in one destination, it all changed.  

My eyes were opened to this new city, this new university, this new adventure. I started exploring Toulouse on Google Street View, investigating the best bars and clubs, looking into the different societies at my partner university and started falling  for the little quirks of my new city. I was excited in a whole new way. Unlike when I was considering going abroad or filling out my application, now, I had a confirmed place. These Google Street tours and university Facebook pages would soon be a reality. I was reassured with the knowledge that every partner university was Manchester approved. Even if it was not where I thought I would end up, I was guaranteed a high standard of teaching and a location, full of opportunities for international students. Realising that adventure lay in all potential destinations, taught me a whole new approach to study abroad. There will always be unpredictability when going away, but this doesn’t need to sour your experience. What actually affects your enjoyment of your time abroad, is how you respond to that change in circumstance. I learnt to make the most of whatever situation I landed in whilst I was away and most of the time, situations that may have seemed initially disappointing, normally worked out for the better.   

To anyone else who may be disappointed or worried about not being allocated their first choice, I would like you to know, what truly makes study abroad great, is universal across all of Manchester’s partner universities. For me, at the heart of study abroad is meeting students from across the world, living in a foreign culture and environment, learning your degree from an international perspective and challenging yourself. Whether you’re going to be studying in one of the campuses across the USA, or you’ll be moving into a high-rise flat in Singapore or your weekends will be spent in the mountains of Norway, you will all experience the fundamental qualities that make study abroad great. So, just know, regardless of if you are allocated your 1st, 3rd or even your 8th choice, there is an incredible adventure waiting for you. 

I ended up having the most amazing time in Toulouse and I’m planning on returning after I’ve graduated. I strolled down the Garonne on my lunch breaks, took in the medieval architecture and always had my morning baguette. I even got in my weekend trip up to Paris, the city I was initially so disappointed to miss out on. However, now, when I look back on my allocation, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Tips on Researching Partners

So, you’ve done it, you’ve made the most important decision of your life to date, you’re going to apply to study abroad. You’ve gone on to MyPlacement, done the advanced search for your course and found out exactly where it is you are allowed to go! Now, for some of you, the options may be more limited, which makes your life much easier when it comes to researching which partners you are going to apply for – remember, you’re only allowed to apply to 8 partners maximum! But for others, the list might be pretty long. This is a good thing, lots of options means you have more opportunity to find somewhere that really suits you and what you’re hoping to get out of your time abroad. 

First and foremost, you need to sit down and have a think about your preferences, your desires, and your needs when it comes to a big experience like this. Are you the kind of person who wants to be somewhere where they speak English? Are you more into city or country living? Are you bothered about the length of the flights there? These kinds of preliminary questions will help you narrow down the geographical aspect of where you want to go, and are generally useful for helping you to get to know yourself and your boundaries better. For example, I am a bit of a homebody and wanted to be able to visit my mum, I wanted to be in a city, and wanted to be somewhere where English was widely understood, so I settled on prioritising European destinations. 

Now that you know your options, you need to do some research on which would be the best fit for you, and I’ve got the tips for how to help you do exactly that. There are several facets of your future life that you might want to take into consideration: Academia, University Life, Social Life, and Culture… 


As you’re going to be studying while you’re abroad, the kinds of modules offered and the academic life at the partner university will be a big consideration to take into account. For a Semester abroad, your grades count towards your degree programme, so this is even more important. Most university websites will have course catalogues where you can see the kinds of modules that will be offered. It might also be worth finding out how grades and marking works, and the academic standards. Another good idea is to have a look at the teaching format of the partner uni, do they have lectures, seminars, classes etc, and what style would you prefer? I enjoyed the longer, more discussion-based seminars that I experienced at the University of Amsterdam, because I find that I can get distracted during lectures, and this teaching style suited me perfectly. 

University Life

Although going abroad is very exciting and you’re going to have lots of fun, it’s important to take into account the practical matters. Do they have counsellors, on-site doctors, or academic support? Do they have dedicated international student advisors? Things might get challenging while you’re out there, and it’s important to know what support the university has arranged for you. A good place to see what university life is like is through our On The Road Blogs, where students have written about their experiences. A big part of uni life will revolve around where you live, which means that accommodation is going to be a big factor! Check out the Accommodation Guide that you can find in MyPlacement under Learning Resources – it has individual country advice, as well as which partners guarantee accommodation. 

Social Life

Apart from academia… this is probably the other biggest part of your exchange. Although no matter where you go you are bound to have incredible social opportunities, if you’re a social butterfly, this is a good thing to research in advance. Most universities will have societies, clubs, and sports teams that you can join. They may also have an arrival/orientation programme either for all new students (Freshers round 2 anyone?) or a dedicated programme for international students. 


The kind of environment you’ll be living in is also a very important consideration. This can range from things like how a culture views LGBTQ+/BAME people (unfortunately, some places aren’t as accepting as others), to a city’s cost of living. All of these more practical matters are very personal, so you’ll need to think about yourself and your circumstances to know what kind of place you need to be. The Foreign Commonwealth Office has lots of advice on local laws and customs, as well as information about security, health, money, and entry requirements . For cost of living, Numbeo has a database for nearly every country or city, which can help to govern your decision. 

Where to look

A good place to start researching is the My Placement brochure for each university that you’re considering, where there is lots of this kind of information available. There are tabs covering all the things I’ve just mentioned (Academic information, Support and Orientation, Links and Resources etc.), which has been specially put together by the IPO based on what we know students want to see. 

Each university will also have their own website, and many have dedicated pages for international students, so make sure you have a look at what they have to offer. As simple as it sounds, putting the partner university name and “international students” into Google actually works! Finding local student societies is also easily done… do the same thing, university name plus “student societies” into Google search. Each partner’s social media is also a great place to find information and get a feel for university life, as well as seeing pictures of the university and surrounding areas. 

We also have plenty of Feedback from previous students available for you, to get a real sense of what each partner has been like for UoM students specifically. When deciding on your preferences, this insight could prove invaluable, as students may have mentioned something that you wouldn’t know unless you were there!

While you’re researching, it’s important to remember to stay open-minded and flexible, as there may be some hidden gems that you would never have previously considered!