Creating country-specific admissions requirements

Creating country-specific admissions requirements

Planning and executing admissions processes for international applicants, with the aim of attracting the best possible students, is an ongoing process. One important part of this work is making sure that the documentation you receive for evaluation is trustworthy and comparable with your own academic system. Experience has shown many evaluators that this is not always possible when using uniform rules with international applicants.

One way that some institutions and admissions services such as University Admissions Finland (UAF) tackle this is by introducing country-specific document requirements for prospective international students.

Country-specific requirements may involve different aspects of the applicant’s documents. They may concern the delivery of documents (directly from the awarding institution), stricter specification of which documents are valid for evaluation (for example not accepting temporary diplomas) or the use of specific national authorisation bodies. For evaluators, these requirements form a more solid base to work from. For those who do not work so closely with international academic documentation however, these requirements might seem an unnecessary burden. There is a fine balance between having the security of strict documentation guidelines and having the freedom to recruit the most talented students.

The following statements and answers are a reflection on both the internal discussions between evaluators at UAF and the external debate of recruiters, academics and national stakeholders. UAF works with Master’s applicants only, but the logic can be applied to all university levels.

1. We will lose the applicants from a particular country because the requirements are too difficult for the applicant

Applying for graduate study should always require effort from the applicant. Naturally the effort should not exceed the academic expectations but the applicant should be able to provide proof of excellent academic credentials, sufficient English language skills and in many cases, proof of financial means. However, the content of the requirements must be planned carefully so that the applicants do not face unnecessary obstacles. When you are planning the requirements for your admissions processes, it is advisable to research the country’s policies and find out what is actually possible for potential applicants. The feedback from present international students and discussions with in-country representatives will tell you what is possible and what is not.

2. The applicant is really gifted; he/she should not have to go through difficult procedures

UAF has learned that motivated, talented applicants will often provide the necessary documents as required. Good communication with applicants is essential, so be ready to explain the document requirements clearly and without the unnecessary official jargon. Treating all applicants equally (ie no exceptions within the country-specific requirements) will make your application handling processes much more efficient. In addition, the feedback from applicants indicates that they will appreciate requirements that ensure that other applicants also have the necessary documents.

3. It is going to be expensive for the applicant

In many cases, this is true. Considering that the applicant usually has to provide a standardised language test result, translations of documents, and they must often use a courier service for submitting these documents, it will always be more expensive to apply for international study. Most European countries and institutions also have application fees. One argument is that the living and study costs for international students are also higher than for local students and therefore the students should be prepared to pay for the higher admissions costs. The fact still stands that there are no scholarships for application.

4. Handling several enclosures will use too many resources

Receiving documents separately (from awarding institutions and/or authorisation bodies) will take up more resources in managing the documents. However, the requirements will make the credential evaluation itself more efficient and less time consuming because the documents are more reliable and you need less time in researching the document backgrounds.

Understanding the impact of country-specific requirements on both the applicants and the admissions processes is an important factor in the planning of the protocol. UAF has sometimes had to tweak or amend the requirements due to, for example, conflict or crisis situations in a particular country. Constant evaluation of the quality of applicants, and the feedback from both universities and applicants is crucial: UAF has reported a substantial growth in eligible applicants in the last three years after the systematic introduction of country-specific requirements.

By Suvi Maria Tulonen & Joanna Kumpula, University Admissions Finland