Some Advice on the Exchange Process

Written by The Bug

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In a week or so I’ll be off on a plane to England for a semester abroad. If you’re wondering how I got to this point, I’ll give you a rough guide:

#1 – Application

Firstly, you’ll need to apply online on the UNSW side of things. This means figuring out which universities you want to apply to, what subjects you want to do, that kind of stuff. Keep in mind that you have to have 6 preferences.

Also, plan ahead and try keep general electives and free electives, well, free. The less subjects you need to match, the less hassle you’ll have down the line. If you’re doing a double degree like me, try and figure out if there’s potentially any overlap between course and major requirements, or even multi-school overlaps. I managed to eke out 3 free electives and I’m doing Commerce/Science. I’d also recommend a progression check to clarify anything if you’re not clear.

#2 – Nomination

Let’s say that you’re through. Your WAM was decent, any potential language issues are sorted out, and the university nominates you to the university of your choice. From here, you need to apply on your host university’s side of things, which could be easier or harder than step 1.

For example, from personal experience Birmingham university really only required me to apply online and upload a few photos, while Gakushuin university required biometric data, X-rays, copies of documentation, a Japanese essay, and this all needed to be posted to Japan, and arrive by the deadline. Good luck.

#3 – Acceptance

Congratulations! You’ve been accepted! This means that the host university has consented to hosting you for however long you’re going to be over there. You’ll have to register with them and do a whole host of other things as well to get ready, and you’ll need to finalise your subjects. Which means course matching.

#4 – Course Matching

Course matching is difficult. This is why I mentioned saving free and general electives beforehand. Those get approved pretty easily, as you’d expect. However, if you need to actually match a course? For any course to transfer credits there’s a few requirements that need to be matched: equivalent hours, content matching, and potentially something else. For me, that something else was the number of contact hours.

Each 6-unit course at UNSW is worth 150 hrs of study a semester (yes, that means that you should ideally spend 150 hours on each subject. Yes, I know that will almost never happen). Which means they’ll look for the equivalent of 150 hours of study for how you match your subjects. If you come up short, then your chances of getting the course matched go down fast. If you have a really odd spread of subjects, that gets worse.

I had 2 commerce electives, 1 science elective, and 1 commerce flexi-core. Birmingham university has an average course load of 6 subjects, each worth 100 hrs. I ended up having to do 700 hours which is 7 subjects, not 6.

Content matching is simple: it has to have at least 75% similarity, and if it’s a general or free elective, it cannot have 75% similarity to any course you’ve done before. So I can’t do their equivalent of PSYC1001 as my free elective.

#5 – Financial Stuff

This is a biggie. To be honest you should have been looking at this side of things before you get to this stage, this is the time when you need to get it done asap. If you have the foresight to work a part-time job to save up beforehand, good job! That’s gonna make things easier.

If you get any support from the government, it still applies while you’re overseas. If you use HECS, you can also take out a government loan for exchange that adds on top of HECS and the normal rules apply for that. There’s also lots of scholarships up for grabs that can really make it easier if you think to apply early enough. I would also recommend getting a traveller’s card, to make currency changes easier and to help manage your spending.

#6 – Exchange

Enjoy, and don’t stress too much. You’re off on an adventure so don’t forget to explore!

#7 – What if something goes wrong?

Something will always go wrong at some point (Thanks Murphy! Well, technically, Finagle). That’s almost undeniable. Maybe there’s confusion about a subject and so your courses haven’t been approved when you get there. Maybe your application gets rejected at the acceptance stage. Maybe something happens in your host country and you get in an accident.

There’s always a solution. Course matching is a process that can keep going until after you’ve come back from exchange. If you get rejected by the host university, the International Exchange Office will do its damnedest to get you on exchange to somewhere else (they did with me). International SOS is insurance provided for UNSW exchange students giving you an extra line of safety and also an emergency contact if things go really bad.

And that’s about all I can offer to anyone interested. If you want to go on exchange, apply now. The deadline for Semester 2 2017 is the end of October.

Albert Lin
UNSW Student