Study Abroad application process causing headaches for students

One student described the application process for going on exchange as 'the worst application process I've ever been through'.

Applying for exchange has a long reputation for being nightmarish, with complaints over bureaucracy and administrative mistakes common in the Study Abroad programme.

When applying to any of the University of Sydney’s more than 270 international partner universities, students must follow four main steps as listed on the Study Abroad website: researching universities, working out what point in your degree is ideal for exchange, getting nominated by USyd for application, and living overseas as an exchange student.

The actual process is more complicated than this.

First, students must complete an online expression of interest form, which then allows them to access an application portal via Sydney Student. The application asks for your top five university preferences, unit of study selections at each of these universities, a financial situation assessment, a letter outlining why you should be selected, and academic references.

Should a student be nominated, they are then required to apply to the overseas university themselves.

Following this, students have to liaise with their supervisors to ensure their overseas unit of study selections will be credited at USyd upon return. Accommodation and visas are also the student’s responsibility.

Recent Bachelor of Health Sciences (Psychology) graduate Katie Dominis went on exchange to the University of Cincinnati in 2014. She described her application as “the worst application process [she’d] ever been through”.

Katie’s biggest complaints involved credit approvals and long wait times between hearing back from the university.

“We were told we would find out the outcome of our exchange applications in late December 2013, but they delayed telling us until mid-March [of 2014],” she said.

“The delay made getting my visa much more stressful, and organising my accommodation and flights ended up being extremely chaotic and expensive.”

“The tension and anxiety about my outcome was astronomical and I felt sickened by the fear and the amount of pressure I was under for months.”

Katie’s units were preapproved before she left, however, the University then told her that her subject selections were not appropriate.

“My psychology advisor approved my units and then when I was officially enrolled she said I couldn’t take one of the subjects. This was outrageous, because in the US classes have a max size and once the class is full you can’t enrol anymore,” said Katie

“Furthermore, a full time study load at UC consists of four subjects, but USyd insisted I take five. They didn’t believe me when I told them four subjects was full time.”

Although Katie’s exchange took place two years ago, similar problems have been experienced by current students.

Third year Arts/Law student Lamya Rahman is currently organising her exchange to the University of Edinburgh.

“The exchange office sent me a warning that certain areas of study at Edinburgh were high pressure and it was unlikely I would be able to study subjects in such areas. On the list of subjects was my major, history. As a transfer student, I virtually have no electives. My entire plan was to complete my remaining history subjects overseas,” she said.

“I had specified my major in my application. Why did we even submit our study plans if they didn’t look at it, or ensure they could guarantee it?”

The reputation of Sydney Abroad’s student services has left Lamya doubtful that her concerns will be addressed in a satisfactory manner.

“I’m trying to correspond with the exchange office about this but haven’t been able to so far. I worry I’ll still be able to go, but not have a few subjects counted — which is not only a waste of money, but also my time.”

Alisha Brown, a third year Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) student, is currently in the final stage of applying to the King’s College in London. Although she agrees the exchange application process is overly complicated, she doesn’t fault the Sydney Abroad staff.

“The longest I’ve had to wait for a reply from my supervisor is two days,” she said.

“I feel like all of the communication that I’ve had with Study Abroad has been really positive. The staff have been helpful and approachable.”

“That being said, I feel like the internal exchange application is unnecessarily tedious. Why do we have to choose the specific subjects that we would have to study for the third preferred campus on our fifth preference?”

Many of the people who spoke to Honi suggested their issues have been due to confusing online applications, miscommunication while mediating between multiple staff at different tertiary institutions and administrative ICT mistakes relating to enrolment.

When approached for comment, the University responded by linking us to their website outlining the exchange process and added that they have special staff on hand to act as advisors to outbound students.

“The Sydney Abroad office works closely with all partner universities and each outbound exchange student has a dedicated Exchange Advisor to assist them throughout the entire process.”

“All students are invited to attend a Meet and Greet event once they know where they have been nominated to, during which they can meet their exchange advisor and other students who are going to the same destination.”

One attendee of these events, however, doubts their usefulness.

“I went to an exchange meet and greet the other day hoping to learn more about exchange, and to meet others going to my uni, but it just turned out to be a two hour long trivia event,” she said.