1. WHAT IS THE UNIVERSITY APPLICATION PROCESS AND WHAT STEPS DO I NEED TO TAKE?
Most universities adopt early admission policies that allow qualified senior high-school students to start their application procedure while they are still in the final year of schooling.
Universities usually issue provisional offers that would be finalised only when certain conditions are met by the applicant.
The process starts when a prospective student completes an application form supported by relevant documents that include transcripts of the two years prior to their school year, standardised test results such as the SAT I or ACT, and personal identification documents.
However, basic application documents, education systems and institutions vary. Most universities accept copies of an applicant’s credentials for evaluation purposes, but original documents must be presented as part of finalising the admission procedure.
The time the process takes depends on three factors: number of qualified applications the institution receives, availability of seats in majors selected by applicants, and the institution’s capabilities in factors such as housing, financial aid and visa issuance for international applicants.
Senior high-school students are encouraged to start their application procedure as early as October or December if they seek admission in the autumn semester which, in the UAE, usually starts in late August or early September.
2. HOW DO I SHORTLIST AND FINALISE THE UNIVERSITY I WANT TO ATTEND?
For some, the priority is finding a course that closely matches their academic and/or professional interests. For others, it’s more about the right location and study environment,or overall ranking and the reputation of the institution.
When researching universities, it could be useful to follow some form of ranking — international, national or subject-specific — to identify a shortlist of institutions in your desired location and subject. You’ll then need to look into the courses offered, the costs, local area and student life, and consider the location (and perhaps distance from home).
You may also consider attending university open days and fairs to get a better sense of whether the university environment feels right for you and to gain more personal answers to any questions you have.
Another important criterion when selecting a university is the accreditation status of the institution and its programmes.
American University of Dubai (AUD), for example, is licensed and accredited by the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the US Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
3. WHAT PREPARATION TESTS DO I NEED TO TAKE FOR AN UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE?
Each university has its own admission requirements that stipulate tests for graduates of each secondary education system.
The most common are the standardised English proficiency tests, TOEFL and IELTS.
The required score would reflect — along with other admission requirements — how competitive the institution is and how selective its admissions policies are.
For example, American University of Sharjah (AUS) asks for an IELTS score of 6.5 and 80 for TOEFL. These are similar to the English proficiency requirements set by some of the most reputable universities in the US.
4. WHAT ARE ADMISSIONS OFFICERS LOOKING FOR WHEN THEY REVIEW MY ESSAYS?
Admissions officers are looking to see if you’re a good fit for the course you’ve applied to study.
They’ll be looking for evidence of aptitude and passion for the subject you’ve chosen — which you could show, for instance, by mentioning relevant reading and activities you’ve undertaken, as well as your specific areas of interest and future goals.
They’ll also be looking for signs that you have the attributes required for academic success, including good communication and organisational skills, which you can demonstrate by ensuring your essay is well written and structured.
The admission essays provide evidence of written English skills and the ability to think logically, construct a reasoned argument and display some creative flair.
5. CAN I TRANSFER CREDITS TO AN OVERSEAS UNIVERSITY FROM A UAE-BASED INSTITUTION?
If you’re studying at an overseas branch campus in the UAE, there are often opportunities to spend a semester or year in the parent campus.
And of course one of the major appeals of studying at a branch campus — such as the branches of New York University and Paris-Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi — is that your degree is accredited by the parent university.
Students who study at University of Wollongong Dubai (UOWD), for example, are offered the opportunity to transfer to UOW’s campuses in Wollongong or Sydney, Australia and upon graduation students can choose either a degree from UOWD or UOW Australia.
6. WHAT ARE THE AVERAGE FEES FOR UNDERGRADUATE DEGREES IN THE UAE AND ABROAD NOWADAYS?
Annual tuition fees vary drastically by country. There are also other factors that affect the tuition structure, especially the financial orientation of the university, meaning whether it is a not-for-profit or a profit-oriented institution.
In the UAE, annual tuition ranges from Dh45,000 to Dh90,000.
However, not-for-profit institutions such as AUS allocate significant chunks of their annual budgets for financial grants and partial scholarship programmes.
At AUS, financial grants, partial scholarships and the family tuition remission programme cover 45 per cent of the total number of enrolled students.
The fees for undergraduate programmes at AUD are Dh78,600 per year, which includes two semesters. The total cost of an undergraduate degree programme at UOWD ranges from Dh217,600 to Dh257,000.
7. HOW DO I APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS, STUDENT LOANS AND OTHER TYPES OF FINANCIAL AID?
When you fill in a university application form, there will be a section relating to scholarships and financial aid.
There is fierce competition among universities to attract the best.
Universities typically offer various levels of scholarship based on an applicant’s profile — their academic achievements, entrance test scores, diversity of the student profile, interview performance and even time of application (applying earlier would increase the chance of a scholarship).
But all students receiving scholarships will need to maintain high GPAs or risk having their scholarship downgraded or even removed.
Here are some indicators of the sort of performances SP Jain Global might look for in order to consider a generous student scholarship: a SAT score above 2,200; outstanding achievements in the areas of academics, sports, social service or extracurricular activities; and successful completion of the IB diploma with no fewer than 38 points.
To help make tuition fees less of a burden, AUS and Sharjah Islamic Bank (SIB) reached an agreement in 2013, according to which SIB offers competitive Islamic finance solutions to cover all or part of AUS tuition, provided the student meets certain conditions.
8. I WANT TO ENSURE THAT MY APPLICATION STANDS OU. HOW DO I DO THIS?
A stellar academic record is a big plus.
Work harder than ever to attain the best possible grades and submit your application as early as you possibly can. Nothing makes an application stand out better than high grades.
But these days many university recruiters are also looking at extracurricular achievements.
Have you been involved in NGO, charity or community activities? Performed in sports or the creative and performing arts at a high level?
Universities are looking not only at individual talents and personality but in particular your leadership skills.
Have you just participated in these activities or taken on a leadership role of a team or activity and developed teamwork and emotional intelligence attributes?
Also show you’ve done your research on the options available, your passion for your chosen subject and that you’re a good fit for the programme. Explain why the course appeals to you and how it will help you achieve your future goals.
It’s important to ask friends or teachers to read through your application before submission.
Ask them to check for typos, make sure everything is clear, while checking to see if anything is missing.
It’s not always easy talking about yourself, so another person can help you identify your own strengths and successes.
9. I PLAN TO LIVE NEAR MY COLLEGE CAMPUS. WHAT ARE MY HOUSING OPTIONS AND COSTS?
This varies depending on the location. Some universities are campus-based, with students living on or close to campus in accommodation provided by the university.
This can be arranged in advance, and new students are often given a priority on spaces in university-managed halls. If this option is not available, ask the university or Student Union to point you in the direction of reliable local providers of student housing.
You’ll also need to consider travel costs, food, course materials, health insurance and social activities.
Many universities provide a rough breakdown of average costs on their website, or as part of a guide provided by the Student Union or another student group.
If you plan to study in the UAE, living at home will save money.
However, for those students who are going to overseas universities, it’s best to spend at least your first two semesters in your university’s residential halls, especially if they are located on campus or within its vicinity.
Living on campus certainly makes students closer to academic resources and sports and recreational facilities, which enables them to manage their time more effectively.
In addition to saving the expense and hassle of driving on congested roads during peak hours, students can also save on their utility bills by living in residential halls.
Universities around the world usually offer a number of accommodation options, from sharing a room with a roommate to having a private room, with the shared room being the more economical option.
At UOWD, students can either choose to live in university residences or private accommodation. Electricity, water and internet bills are included in the rent, which costs between Dh2,700 and Dh4,500 a month.
10. I WANT A LUCRATIVE CAREER AFTERWARDS. HOW CAN I CHECK JOBS AND SALARIES?
The best thing you can do is speak to someone who is currently in the role that you are interested in. School counsellors can also be helpful in this respect.
For UOWD students and alumni, the university’s careers centre gives students access to a range of careers resources and counselling, alongside job and internship postings.
The careers centre maintains links with a broad range of organisations.
Getting work experience in a relevant sector will help you get a better idea of what’s involved in different roles, what jobs are available or growing in demand, and how much you could expect to earn.
Our UAE faculty consultants
● Laura Bridgestock, Editor, TopUniversities.com
● Mohammad Sami Al Shahed, Director of Student Recruitment, Office of Enrolment Management, American University of Sharjah
● Carol Maalouf, Director of Admissions, American University in Dubai
● Dr John Lodewijks, Dean — Undergraduate Programme, SP Jain Global
● Toufik Belmamoun, Associate Manager, Student Recruitment, University of Wollongong in Dubai