In less than a month, the 3 of us leave for Warsaw, Poland. Trust me, this whole upcoming exchange still feels really surreal to us and it’s not just because we are heading to Poland but also that…. the three of us are all heading together to the same city in the same country.
We hope this (condensed) post is able to help those attempting to go together as well! Since we really did go through quite a bit in our case of application and think it was appropriate to begin our new blog with how it all started.
Note: This experience is of an SMU student, do research and find out what your university does differently.
- Choose when you wish to embark on exchange
There are pros and cons of going in each semester.
Generally, in SMU, the first semester of the year is always more popular in SMU. Why? Because you have the summer for an internship and to travel thereafter, but you’d also be there in the beginning of winter where your day gets terribly short. (But that would happen later in your travel!)
Applying in the second semester may or may not eat into your internship dates (depending on the country and its exam dates so do find out if you are attempting to go during the second semester AND plan on going on internship), but the weather does get warmer (later in your travel) and you have the entire summer to travel, if you don’t have plans to intern.
Also, decide when in your 4 years/3.5 years you want to embark on exchange. As part of SMU requirements, you can’t go for exchange on your last semester (boohoo to living a high life right till graduation). Furthermore, you don’t want to go on exchange too early and come back and have 2 more long years of school left right? Varying opinions on this but let’s get started.
- Choose whoyou want to travel with
This is a very important step so choose wisely. Personally, the three of us have travelled together before, on more than a few occasions. We liked it. And it worked for us (for now at least).
You have to understand that embarking on a 6 month long exchange will mean you guys will literally be living together all the time (of course depending on how much time you guys spend apart meeting other people from other countries), but this is your family for the duration of your exchange. It is very important to align your priorities and if not, learn to compromise. Learn and know about each other’s travelling style, and think hard if it suits you.
- Roughly map your modules
You should know what you need to clear and what you can clear in each country/city.
This step is incredibly difficult for an Accountancy student planning to clear Accounting Options, like I am. If you are a business or economics student, or an accountancy student not planning to clear AOs, this step is relatively easy.
Here’s how you go about doing it.
In SMU, the first step is to check out the course catalog of what previous students have cleared in each university. Your university may have something similar. The next step is to proceed to the host university’s website and see if those modules you plan to clear are offered in your semester of exchange. This is because the course catalog is merely what every student who went to that university cleared, it may or may not be offered in your semester, or there may be other newer modules you can clear under the various electives offered not documented in the course catalog. So in-depth research has to be done at this stage. It will take a lot of time so be mentally prepared.
- Create a common excel sheet
Now, be realistic. Bear in mind, it may be impossible for all of you to get into the exact same university. You’d be lucky to be in the same country, much less same city. So do your research and see what works for you. At this stage, you’d be eliminating universities/cities/countries/regions that don’t work in terms of module mapping. For example, I really wanted to clear an AO and no university in Asia offered that as far as the course catalog went (except Hong Kong which I put as my absolute last back up), so I eliminated Asia and focused on Europe and Latin America. This brings me to the next stage.
- Discuss the region you’d prefer to be in
Now you’d have to have an open discussion with the region you’re comfortable with travelling, and where you’d prefer to be in.
Economically speaking Eastern Europe is much cheaper than Western Europe, as Latin America is cheaper than North America. Of course the downside is how dangerous it is perceived to be. Its highly likely that you’d have different risk appetites, so already at this stage compromise comes in. Also, Eastern Europe is also considered to be more popular and harder to get in. People told us 3 friends going to Warsaw together is almost impossible (since even one getting in is hard enough), given we aren’t dean-listers or anything in that realm.
Also, if you’d prefer to be in the same region, your first few choices shouldn’t be from different regions. So if you don’t already know, the exchange university you’re allocated to is based on your GPA, then your CCA’s etc. Unless you and your friend(s) have the exact same GPA, one is going to be higher than the rest. We found out the hard way, we put Peru as our second choice and Warsaw as the first. I missed Warsaw and got Peru, and it was in a whole another region such that travelling together would be impossible.
- Choosing the university
Of course, if you wish to apply to the same few universities, you have got to check the intake of each university.
Now here’s the dilemma – universities with large numbers of intake, I’m talking 7 or more (there are universities that take in 10 or 15 even), are very popular, because of course people want to travel with their friends. On the other hand, universities in pretty popular countries like Germany, France that have an intake of 1 or even 2 are much less popular. I think maybe many Singaporeans are afraid to be too far from other Singaporeans. So this is a tricky step.
It’s okay to be in a different university. So since there were 2 universities (that partnered with SMU) in Warsaw – Warsaw School of Economics (WSE) and Kozminski (KOZ), the former with an intake of 10 and the latter an intake of 2, we maximized our options. Since 2 of us could not map enough modules in KOZ, Felicia put that as her top choice, WSE as her 2nd. This at least helped us get some leeway, and the 2 of us would be competing with one less person in WSE. This worked, she got KOZ and Melrose got WSE.
- Have back-ups
You’d be lucky to be in the same city as the friend you hope to embark on exchange with. So have back ups. Don’t just drop out of the race just because you guys have no other universities that work for all of you. Use all the 7 choices you got. This was the way for us, we only synchronised the first 3 or 4 choices, the rest were our back ups that we’d be happy to go, just that we wouldn’t be together.
We knew we definitely wanted to go on exchange, even if we weren’t travelling together. Travelling together was just a nice bonus.
- Apply for exchange and pray
Cross your fingers and pray people somehow didn’t like the country/university/culture you are dying to go for.
It doesn’t take more than 3 weeks for the exchange results to come out and in that time, consider step 9.
- Consider applying directly to universities
I guess this is the golden step. After applying, you’d get some idea of what were the popular destinations, and if your friends were applying as well, who you roughly knew where their GPA stood against yours, you might have to consider applying directly. This is what I did.
After Melrose and Felicia secured a spot in Warsaw, I began another round of in-depth research and wrote to schools in Warsaw to find out if they would accept guest students for one semester. A key thing to note at this stage – the university cannot be already partnered with SMU and be offered as an exchange university.
(skip step 10 if you’re like 11/10 sure that you will get the university you applied for)
- Applying directly to universities
I feel people haven’t considered this step because they do not really know much (what’s the procedure like, what are the risks,etc) about it.
You and all your friends can consider doing this together because the host university doesn’t always have a quota like partner universities with SMU, as long as your fill in their application form.
They’d be happy to have you provided you meet their conditions. The great thing about it is, you’d have to take an LOA, meaning you don’t pay school fees. Saving over $5,000++. Now depending on where you’re applying to, you’d pay the university directly. A friend of mine applied to Finland and school fees were waived for guest students. For me, I pay 40+ EUR per ECT per module, which cumulatively is still way cheaper than the $5,000. Depending on your region, your school fees may be cheaper or more expensive than you pay at SMU, and either ways you’d have to bear the entire cost. Of course, the drawback is you can’t really apply for any exchange scholarships as to do so you need to be going to a university partner. So I hope that breaks it down for you
- The first step is getting accepted into the university
So at this stage, apply to as many as you can. SMU can only approve one self-arranged exchange application, and if accepted by SMU but rejected by that university, I don’t think you can do the same process with another university in the same semester. So make sure you are accepted first, by the host university. Don’t worry here usually the timeframe of application is longer than SMU’s and you will have enough time to apply and get accepted if you start doing so immediately after the results of your exchange universities are out. In your application, you may need several documents or signatures from SMU. Your liaison will be your school, so SOB SOA etc. Go to the undergraduate office and they’d help you out.
- The second step is SMU’s approval of adding this university in as a self-arranged international exchange
(assuming you are successful in getting accepted into the university of the city of your choice)
You’d have to provide accreditations and rankings of the university to get it accepted, it’d be best if it has the accreditations SMU has. You can find this through basic research on the host university’s website.
Two universities that I know have been accepted by SMU include:
University of Warsaw, Poland
University of Oulu, Finland
- The third step is module mapping
(If you’re lucky and you’re accepted by both SMU and the host university)
You’d have an online worksheet and you’d have to supply SMU with the module syllabus. Unlike a normal international exchange, the number of credit hours in your host university per module is used to translate back to your CUs.
In SMU, 19 hours or more = 0.5CU. 39 hours or more = 1 Cu.
In the online worksheet you only get 10 options, but do not fret, you can speak to your undergraduate officer to remove the rejected ones and apply again.
- The fourth step is to secure these modules that you can map back to your home university
This shouldn’t be a problem, depending on how flexible your university is.
- The last step is of course surviving the semester and get your preparations down to head over there for exchange!
Now, of course travelling with friends has its pros and cons, some hate it because you cling with Singaporeans instead of going out there and meeting others local to the countries, other travelers, other exchange students. The great thing about this plan and how it worked us for us though, is that we 3 are in the same city, with each university not being more than an hour away from the other, but yet being in different universities, it gives us space to interact with other locals and exchange students!
We hope this little guide helps!
All the best and godspeed xx