So you have decided to pursue your studies abroad. Studying abroad is a dream that requires extensive planning, various steps of application and a long list of documents to be furnished for each institution where you wish to apply for admissions.

The document assimilation process includes collecting the transcripts & the score cards, writing and submitting the Statement of Purpose & Letter of Recommendation, filling the long application forms and then post the provisional admissions begin a completely different set of paperwork for student visas. The need is to be proactive and make sure you have the right set of documents ready well before time. 

To help you get started, this blog post will cover details of the general set of documents that you will need during the application process for overseas admissions. Of course, this is an indicative list considering that not all universities around the globe require the same set of credentials. So you will need to know exactly what your chosen university requires from you. So, here goes…..

Statement of Purpose (SoP)

The Statement of Purpose (SoP) is a key element for bagging a place at your dream university. This written document will signify who you are, what made you choose your career path, why you opted for that particular university, what are you planning to do after the course, interests and other personal details. Often, SoP is used as a yardstick to assess the capabilities of a prospective student in terms of critical thinking, analytical abilities, interests, aims and aspirations. It is a good way for an applicant to communicate with the admissions committee.

The SoP is also known as a Graduate School Essay. Other universities sometimes call it a “Letter of Intent”, “Letter of Intention”, “Statement of Intent”, “Statement of Intention”, “Statement of Interest”, “Goals Statement”, “Personal Statement”, “Personal Narrative” or “Application Essay”. The name can be just a name but often it influences content and length of the essay. Every university has its own regulations, but most admissions committees look for a short, crisp and ideologically clear SoP of ideally 1-2 pages.

Many students are confused about the requirement of including a statement of purpose, or motivation letter in their application. While a statement of purpose and a motivation letter are similar there’s a subtle difference between them. However, both documents should be focused on your background and reasons for applying for a particular degree.

With a motivation letter, universities expect you to focus more on how their program relates to your background and your professional plans. They might also want you to state which is the course or specialization you want to focus on during your program.

With a statement of purpose, universities expect you to talk about who you are, what has influenced and inspired your academic and professional journey so far, your interests and your professional goals. In other words, it is a much more personal document and your chance to shine in your application.

Considering the importance of a well- written SoP, take a good amount of time working through the content before submission.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

A Curriculum Vitae (CV) OR Resume is a document used by individuals to present their background and skillsets. CVs can be used for a variety of reasons, to secure admission or new employment. A typical CV contains a summary of relevant job experience and education. The CV is typically one of the first items which is used to screen applicants, sometimes followed by an interview, when seeking admission.

The CV is your business card. Universities are not interested in a detailed description of all your jobs and extracurricular activities, although you should definitely include them. They want to see how your experience matches or shows your interest in the program you want to study.

For this reason, you should focus on including in your CV published academic papers, and work (paid or unpaid) in academic groups, relevant think-tanks, etc.

For example, if you are applying to a Psychology degree, you will impress the commission if you have taken internships at hospitals, or if you have published any study in a peer-reviewed magazine.

At the same time, if you are applying for a more professional or a STEM Master’s, you should include relevant work experience in your industry. For example, if you are applying for a Finance Master’s, it would be awesome if you have worked in a bank or any other financial institution.

Letters of Recommendation (LoR)

Universities want to know what others think of you where most of the universities ask for recommendation letters from three different people of different families. LoR states your reputation in the society and what other people think about you. A good LoR puts a positive effect on the admission officer.

The LoR is a letter in which the writer assesses the qualities, characteristics, and capabilities of the person being recommended in terms of that individual’s ability to perform a particular task or function. Recommendation letters are almost always specifically requested to be written about someone, and are therefore addressed to a particular requestor. Letters of recommendation are typically related to employment, admissions to institutions of higher education or scholarship eligibility.

Recommendation vs reference

The term “recommendation letter” and reference is often same and used interchangeably with the term “reference letter”; however, there is a difference between the two types. Letters of recommendation are very specific in nature and normally requested/required and are always addressed to an individual, whereas letters of reference are more general in nature and are usually addressed “To Whom It May Concern”.

Reference letters let others speak for you. Typically, they are considered additional evidence of your ability that you’ll successfully complete the course of study you are applying to.

If you are only required to submit letters from professors, then these letters will focus on your academic skills and achievements. If you are required or allowed to submit a reference letter from an employer, universities expect that letter to reflect the skills related to your Master’s.

For example, if you are applying for a Computer Science degree, it is more valuable to have a reference letter from your supervisor in a tech company rather than a reference letter from an employer where you worked in customer service, for instance.

Make sure you ask for the reference letters well in advance so that they reach the university on time.

“Standardized” Test Score Reports

IELTS/TOEFL Score Sheets

When applying to a degree abroad, chances are that you will study in English or another popular foreign language (German, French, etc.). For this reason, universities need to know that language will not be a barrier in your studies; that you are able to understand and use that language at an academic level.

English-taught universities will typically require official language certificates such as TOEFL, IELTS, etc. When they demand a specific score, it means they really expect you to have that score. The higher the score, the more they will be convinced that you master English skills.

There is also the case when universities will not demand a language certificate as long as your education was English-taught. In this case, they will pay attention to any English-language courses found in your transcript of records, such as “Academic English”.

GMAT/GRE Score Reports

If you’re applying for a graduate-level degree, especially a master’s program, you may be required to submit scores from one or more standardized graduate admissions tests, i.e. GMAT or GRE. These are internationally delivered tests which aim to ensure applicants are prepared for the rigors of advanced study, in their own country or abroad.

GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) is targeted at business school applicants and is required by business schools. The purpose of this test is to assess a candidate’s suitability for business school, by assessing verbal, mathematical and analytical skills.

GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is targeted at prospective graduate students across all disciplines and is required by graduate schools and departments. The GRE scores are used to assess the suitability of applicants for graduate-level study across many different subject areas. Some departments may ask applicants to take one of the GRE Subject Tests, while others require the General Test. The Subject Tests assess knowledge in a particular field, while the General Test assesses verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing.

All the test certificates mentioned above are extremely important and each of these have a validity date. So make sure the certificate is valid while submitting to the university.

Academic Transcripts

Academic transcripts give the university full details about the courses and modules you studied and the grades you received. Universities expect these transcripts to be official copies and not screenshots or printed pages.

Academic transcripts are important because seeing what courses you took can help universities decide if you have the necessary background and skills for the course of study you are applying to.

At the same time, they can see at which subjects you performed better and which subjects are “weak spots” you need to improve on. That is why it is important that you have bigger grades at the undergraduate courses that are most relevant for the Master’s program you chose.

Let’s take an example. Say you graduated from a Political Science Bachelor’s and you want to study a Master’s in International Relations. The application commission will be more interested if you followed any International Relations courses such as International Law or European Studies rather than on courses like Domestic Politics.  So, if you have lower course grades at the latter, it will probably not impact your application as much as lower grades in International policy-related courses.

If you’ve just completed your high school, you will need your senior secondary certificates (SSC) and higher secondary certificates (HSC) and their mark sheets. If you have already finished your bachelors’ degree or postgraduate degree, you will have to produce your degree certificate and the mark sheets.

  1. 10th Grade Transcripts & Certificate
  2. 12th Grade Transcripts & Certificate
  3. Bachelor’s Transcripts & Degree (for Masters/PG Programs Only)
  4. Diploma Transcripts & Certificate (if available)
  5. Master’s Transcripts & Degree (if available)
  6. Other Diplomas/Certificates (if available)

The university admission board will take into account the reputation of the university where you graduated from, as well as what your GPA and final exam marks say about you.

If you have good final exam/thesis grades, they will know you have taken your studies seriously and you are capable of academic excellence. But don’t worry, if you do not have high grades, you will not be disqualified. There are many other ways in which you can win over the commission: volunteering activities, a strong motivation, and good references also count a lot.

Few of the students who apply abroad often carry a diploma certificate, if they have any. Thus, if you have a diploma certificate do not forget to attach it with other documents.

Project Description or Portfolio

A project description or a portfolio is only required for very specialized programs, like a Master of Research or a Master of Science type of degree.

The project description is required when you are applying to a program that will end with a research thesis.

Project description should ideally include the following;

  1. What are you going to research and why;
  2. What is the current state of research on that topic;
  3. How you are going to conduct your research;
  4. What findings you expect and how your research adds to the existent body of knowledge.

Portfolios are required in applications for Masters in the Arts, Design and Architecture subject areas. Universities expect this portfolio to reflect your experience, and, yes, your talent in your field of study. They will also look at your clients and the type of projects you carried through.

Work Experience Documents

If you are applying for grad school, make sure you have relevant experience documents. Apart from standard procedures, it will surely help the admissions board to analyze your area of expertise. Include the latest joining letter, latest salary slip and employment certificates from all previous employers. Make sure you include the company profile as well. Also mention part time work, if applicable.

You might not have experience certificates if you’ve just finished high school. So skip this step.

Relevant Extracurricular activities

Many a times the smallest award that you have received will push your application a little harder. Produce proof of achievements and other certificates that will explain your talents and extracurricular activities you’ve undertaken. Colleges and universities highly prefer seeing written documents related to any extracurricular activities. Thus, always attach written proofs related to your extracurricular activities. If you’ve always been a book worm, never mind!

Financial Statement/ Solvency Certificate

Most of the foreign universities want to assure themselves that the person who is financing the studies of their prospective is financially stable. Solvency Certificate acts as a proof that you/ your financer (generally parents/ guardian) have sufficient funds to pay fees and other expenses. Solvency Certificate can be obtained from your bank where you have a Savings Accounts or from a financial liquidator. If you have applied for education loan, then you can submit the loan documents as a proof for the same.

The financial documents:

  1. Bank Statement
  2. Sanction Letter of Education Loan
  3. Proof of Investments
  4. Property Documents
  5. Income Tax Documents of the Self/Sponsors
  6. Chartered Accountant Reports

Additional documents

Passport size photographs

Sounds like a cakewalk right? Aditya, a student almost lost his chance of getting out of India just because he attach a wrong- sized photo! Honestly. Always double check the dimensions of the passport size photo, be it admissions or visas.


For you to travel abroad passport is mandatory. Thus, do submit a photocopy of your passport along with other documents. This will surely be a proof to your authenticity.

Birth Certificate

As a supplementary documents that provide evidence of your name, date of birth, any name changes, citizenship or residency

Scholarship letter (if applicable)

If you are going to study abroad based on scholarship, then do present your scholarship letters in order to avail the facilities.

Sponsor Letter (if applicable)

For those who are being sponsored, do display the sponsor letter to avoid future confusions.


Once you have all the right documents, re-check it as many times as you want to. This will take you one step closer to your dream university. Have attested copies of all the documents in a folder and arrange it according to the check list. This will help you organize your application better.

It might seem like you have all the documents necessary, but never be too confident. Plan ahead of time and prepare all the documents a couple of months before the application process starts. This will ease your blood pressure and that of your parents! Wish you the best with your exciting journey ahead!

Don’t Miss Out On Your Study Abroad Documentation Readiness

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