Step 1: Get your shit together.
There’s no joke intended here. I thought I was an organized person before I started the process for an exchange, but I found out the hard way that I wasn’t that prepared. You need to have all your ducks in a row; that means your paperwork, your official transcript, your letter or statement of intent, the courses you intend to take at the institutions you are applying to, etc. etc. etc.
If you think you might need a piece of information or paperwork for your application, have it ready. Even if you end up not needing it, it is so much better to be over prepared than scrambling to find what you need at the last moment.
Step 2: Be a decent student
Most universities have a minimum GPA that you have to meet to be eligble to apply for an exchange. Plan ahead during the years and semesters before you apply for an exchange. Make sure you’re focused enough in your courses that you’re able to meet that minimum when the time comes.
Step 3: Do some research on the schools
When you have to write your statement of intent, you will appreciate having done some research on your schools. Your home university doesn’t want to hear that you want to go to Germany because you think it’s cool and want to meet hot German people. They want to hear that you have academic, cultural, and professional reasons for attending this university and how it will benefit you and your degree.
It doesn’t take a lot to impress people. I’m sure we would all be surprised at the amount of people who write less than lackluster statements of intent. Put some effort into this and it’ll payoff.
Step 4: Meet with your department advisor
I’m a Linguistics major. The school I go to has a course equivalency database which shows us what courses at other exchange schools are equivalent. It lets you know what courses you can take while on exchange and get credit for when you come back. This is very important if you want to graduate on time.
The best way to know if certain courses meet your department, faculty, or universities requirements is to meet with your department advisors. They can help you look at how you want your degree to be completed, in what time frame, and how to make that possible while still going on an exchange.
They can even help you apply for equivalency if you don’t find a certain course in your school’s database. Your department advisor is invaluable. Utilize their expertise and experience as much as possible.
Step 5: Write, write, write. Plan, plan, plan.
You’re going to need to prepare a lot of documents. Transcript, passport, degree planning sheet, statement of intent, courses you want to take, etc.
When I originally started planning for my exchange I thought “Paperwork, I do this everyday, no big deal.” Well, I was wrong, again. It’s a lot more than paperwork, it’s math, bureaucrats, persuasive writing, research, meetings, emails, and phone calls. It’s a hell of a lot of work. Please start before the application month comes, unlike I did.
Step 6: Be gracious towards those who help you.
My advisors, the faculty counselors, and the professors at both my home university and my exchange school have all been incredible. They’ve given me their time, their advice, their syllabi, and their support. So many of them have gone to bat and advocated for me. For all the shitty teachers I have had in my life, the Linguistics professors at McGill University have shown me the power and kindness that educators who care can give.
Be grateful and recognize their hard work as much as yours. Sending a kid off to a different country takes a village. Don’t forget to remember those that helped you along the way.
Good luck on your exchange.