5 Ways to Leverage Your Study Abroad Experience for Graduate School

graduation caps

A whopping 47 percent of our students surveyed from SAF China said their primary reason for attending summer sessions is as preparation for graduate study abroad. We don't have to tell you that as a visiting student gaining admission to Western graduate schools, especially programs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), is growing increasingly competitive. Here are our tips for gaining an edge.

1. Strategically advance your academic experiences

Pursue specific academic enrichment opportunities that support your future goals. Participate in lab classes, group work and volunteer for extracurricular projects related to your desired field of study.

2. Improve your language skills

Participate in class discussions, seize opportunities to lead presentations, join a student club related to public speaking, leadership or debating, and improve your writing skills through peer or professional tutoring at the university's writing center.

3. Make new friends

A university campus is a wellspring of informal mentors. Reach out to fellows in your classes, talk with professors during their office hours and do your best to make lasting friendships with students from around the world. There's no telling how these relationships may help you.

4. Dive into local culture

While it's comfortable to talk with the friends you have and eat the food you know, these habits will not expand your understanding of the local (and campus) culture. If you plan to further your education in the West, make an effort to experience life as a local through food, activities and new friendships. This will help you explain why a university's community is perfect for you in graduate school applications.

5. Be recommendation worthy

Professors have less time to get to know visiting students than full-time students and thus may be reluctant to write recommendation letters over summer sessions and short-term study. Don't take it personally, and don't push it. Throughout your education abroad (especially when you think no one's watching) demonstrate an interest in your courses by:

  • Thinking critically about course readings and expressing your ideas in class
  • Having exemplary class and lecture hall attendance
  • Routinely visiting your professors during office hours to discuss coursework, questions from the reading, your related research interest, or news about experts in the field

If these efforts don't help you secure a recommendation letter, at the very least they will help you expand your knowledge and experience for graduate school applications.