When to Begin Your Study Abroad Application

There is just always so much work to do isn’t there? You think that you have finally cleared everything from the in-tray, you turn around and there’s a whole lot more just sitting there waiting. In that sense, education is a good preparation for the work life, with so much to do and so many plates to spin at once.

This is especially the case when applying for university. There is so much paperwork to do and so much to get right, it can all feel just too much. ‘What’s the harm in leaving it another day?’ you may think to yourself. But, of course, those days turn to weeks and before you know it, there’s barely any time to do anything. Or for those a little unluckier, the deadline has already passed.

This is increasingly the case when applying for an education overseas, as of course each country has its own academic calendar which accounts for the season, public holidays and work culture.

Therefore, the time to start your application abroad depends on the country to which you are applying.

What you should remember if you are thinking about applying for a course overseas is that there is no deadline to how early you can apply. As soon as possible really, as you can always ask to defer your entry a term or a year. Once you have been accepted, institutions will generally hold your entry for as long as you need (within reason). Do make sure to ask their personal rules for deferment though.

Unfortunately, since filling out application forms and collecting personal evidence aren’t the most fun of activities, there is a tendency to leave things until they are necessary, which isn’t wrong of course, but it does make things a little more complex.

Make sure to keep a calendar or diary of all the most important dates and schedule when you need to have things ready. If you would prefer, use an application on your phone or computer instead.

Of course, since each country is different and has a different schedule, you need to check the rules with the university you are applying to and the country in which you will be staying. Make sure this is the first thing you do; certain requirements can take a long time to process.

That being said, applications for international university courses generally follow a broad schedule, but do remember to check if there’s anything more you have to do with the university you are applying to (or if there’s something you don’t have to do).

  • Organise your finances, as most applications require evidence of savings
  • Apply and take appropriate language test
  • Choose the subject you want to study
  • Choose the university to study at
  • Collect the information and documents that will be required for application
  • Apply for university, either at centralised source or with university directly
  • Once accepted, organise your visa
  • Organise your travel and insurance
  • Organise your accommodation

Here are some of the more popular destinations and how far in advance you have to apply for each, just to give you an idea of the timescale.

United States

Most universities in the US require international applicants to take a language test, such as TOEFL or IELTS. These should be completed a year before you want to start university, typically August time.

Your top-choice university application deadline is generally 10 months before the course starts, usually mid-October to early November.

For other universities, the application deadline is often in January, though some extend as far as March, with courses typically starting the following September.

The centralised process for US university application is called the Common Application and it opens on August 1st. You should have narrowed down your university choices by this date, so the process will take around 18 months.

Once you have been accepted to a university, it is time to begin your visa application, which will also require evidence of sufficient funds to support you during your stay.


Firstly, decide which universities you want to apply for, then see what the requirements for that university are. They vary between institutions, but you will generally need to match the entrance requirements, have the appropriate documentation and meet the language requirements.

The application should generally be made eight to twelve months in advance. Students can join during either the September or January semesters.

Once accepted, you will need to apply for a study permit and get it before you leave for Canada. It requires evidence of funds, a police certificate and evidence that your intention is to get an education in Canada.

United Kingdom

Applications to UK universities must be made through UCAS, simply fill out an application form on the UCAS website.

For non-European Union international students, applications can be made at any time between September 1st and June 30th in the year preceding the academic year (which begins in September) that studies commence.

However, the longer you wait, the fewer places will be available and some universities will close applications earlier than June, so as soon as possible from September 1st on.

Applicants must also make immigration, travel and accommodation arrangements prior to leaving, so once accepted, apply for these as soon as possible- particularly immigration which can sometimes take months.

What If I Miss the Deadline?

If all else fails, contact the university for advice. They want to help you study there just as much as you want to go and while it may feel like you’re talking to the ‘university’, you will more than likely be talking to a kind person working for the university, whose job it is to help people.

As you can see, the application process can take months, or even years, so it is important to retain some perspective when applying. If you have to wait a little longer than you expected, remember the value in an international education and that it will be worth the wait.