Challenges of applying as an International Student

By Ayesha Kazi


Being an international student and choosing to go away from home for the first time can be overwhelming. I had no clue where to begin when it came to choosing the best universities for me. The only thing that I was sure of was that I wanted to do medicine. I remember spending hours going over university rankings from 20 websites looking at everything from student satisfaction to job prospects. Something that terrified me was looking at the ratio of international applicants that actually got in. Please make sure you do not let the figures demotivate you. They are important but they are not the be-all and end-all. By the end of the summer before year 13, I had a shortlist of four unis for medicine and one backup. Then began the chore of writing a personal statement.


I had no clue what made a good personal statement. I had seen samples, but had a website like Scrubbed Up existed when I was writing my personal statement, I would have no issue. Every other website I saw gave the same generic advice to avoid clichés and be original. But I knew all that. I needed more to differentiate me from the thousands of other equally talented, if not better, international applicants. That came from reflecting on my work experience, talking about my main motivations for studying medicine and just really trying to showcase as much of my charming personality as I could. And then, I finally had it. A 4000-character personal statement that would be a major factor in the making or breaking of my dream to be a doctor. No pressure.


Then came the stress of doing the UKCAT and BMAT exams. Most people choose to do one or the other and usually do it the summer before their last year at school. By the time I realised that would have been the best option for me, all the slots for summer were full. I ended up having to do both exams. I was terrified before my UKCAT exam and remember genuinely crying because I was not sure whether I could do it. A literal mess. I somehow got through it and ended up getting a decent score. I was more relaxed for my BMAT exam, having already experienced the pressures of a timed exam and having had more practice. Funnily enough I did not end up applying to any BMAT universities.


International students really lack the required support for applying to unis abroad. I was lucky enough to have an amazing head of sixth form who was experienced with the application process and gave me a wealth of advice. A lot of my other international friends applying from different places did not get the same level of backing. They relied on the internet and other applicant. While there is a lot of information on the internet, it is not the same as receiving personalised feedback from someone experienced. The software and people that are available online require a fee and this discourages students from using them.


Once I had submitted everything, all I could do was wait. It was the longest wait of my life but I eventually got interviews from 3 of the 4 universities I had applied to for medicine. I spent hours poring over model interview questions, setting up mock interviews with my other friends applying, and having mental breakdowns.


When the days of the interviews finally arrived, I remember the apprehension. Travelling to a completely new country by myself to go for these interviews was daunting, and added to my already present nerves. Funnily enough, the interviews I was most nervous for, ended up being the ones I received offers from.


I still remember the day I got an offer from Birmingham. I was stressed about the fact that all my other friends seemed to be hearing back from their unis and I was yet to hear back from one. My heart literally stopped when I got the notification saying I had an update on UCAS. I opened it and could not believe I finally had a conditional offer. It felt like all my work over the past 2 years was finally paying off.

The next 2 months through A levels, my graduation and prom whizzed by and before I knew it, it was results day. I refreshed my UCAS page multiple times to see if there was an update. I had to wait 10 days before my UCAS was updated due to some issues with some documentation I had sent in. It was frustrating as I was still not sure whether I would be going to university even though I had the grades.


I finally received my UCAS update a month before term started and was off to uni. We do not talk about the fact that I had to wait 3 weeks for my visa, almost certain that after coming so close to doing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was going to miss out. But here we are. 8 months on, in the middle of a pandemic having just finished first year medicine at a Russel Group uni.


Applying as an international student comes with its own set of additional hurdles but once you make it, I promise you everything will make it worth it. Do I complain about the work load? Of course I do. But is there anything else I would rather be doing? Absolutely not.

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