I've decided to post a brief summary on how to apply for exchange since its the application season again! Its pretty confusing and too much information overload if you actually DO read through the stuff on Oasis.. but I'm thankful to have seniors giving me advice on where to go and how to apply!
I applied to universities in South Korea, so hope this post will be handy for those who are eyeing South Korea as well ;)
1. Where to go?
So, before you even start working on your exchange worksheet and mapping courses, you need to decide which country or universities you want to go. You will probably have to do research on each area that you are applying to, so if you are thinking of say, Canada, Italy, Seoul, Hong Kong, Russia, well thats already FIVE countries you have to research on (and it is a hell lot of research!) so its best to first narrow down to 1 or 2 countries or similar areas like Eastern Europe, then choose your universities.
So, you want to go to Korea,
Korean universities are highly popular among SMU students. Maybe it's just the Kpop, or the pretty girls, or the food, or the shopping, Korean partners are always oversubscribed.
During my time, the more popular choices for Seoul were Yonsei, Ewha, Sogang and SNU. Yonsei Ewha and Sogang are all located in the same area, near the city areas, so its really really convenient! SNU is more like a NUS/NTU style of university located in the mountains hahaha. but this of course translates to a large difference in expenditures. I was really torn between the universities as all seemed so awesome!! and I had no idea which would be more convenient for travelling to and fro shopping areas/dance studios. Also, at that time I was also contemplating applying to Pusan, which is in another city, but ultimately decided against it after hearing from seniors that it is slightly too laidback! Furthermore, as it is an early deadline partner, it is either a 'yes I must get PNU!!' or I don't apply to it at all.
So in the end, I decided on SNU. Partly because of the much lowered cost (hostel is only S$600-700 per SEMESTER, inclusive of deposit!! whereas the others were around S$1500?), and also because my NUS friend had already secured a spot in SNU. I think that having some friends around is really important for you to fully enjoy your exchange :) Definitely, it's less convenient to certain shopping areas but not entirely inaccessible, so I guess I can leave with the slightly longer travelling times :) In general, I think the subway system in Seoul is really comprehensive, so its a breeze to travel anywhere!
It is also important to strategise. If you are interested in an early deadline partner but wants to put a non-early deadline partner as your top choices, don't bother considering the early deadline one. This is because OGL allocates to the early deadline ones, and if it is not your top choice, it is highly unlikely that there will be leftover slots by the time the normal deadline closes. You will just be wasting away that one partner choice!
2. Online Exchange Worksheet
Your choices will definitely change throughout, so DON'T start on your online exchange worksheet until you have finalised your choices! This is especially important as you are only allowed to submit 2 worksheets for course mapping. (It used to be 3 during my time)
This involves mapping the partner university's available modules to SMU modules, and this is a check mechanism for you to be sure that you have at least 3 credits to clear at the partner university. This is the most tedious step imo as I had to reading scan through all the course descriptions and it didn't help that the universities' websites were not very intuitive. (Imagine scanning through ALL of our course outlines!!)
Key takeaways that I had from this application step:
1. Check for Language of Instruction
Don't be too happy when you find that someone has mapped the course before you from the dropdown menu in the worksheet. While it has been approved, this does not mean that you can actually take the module as I often realised that the module in question was taught in their native language, and it might not even be offered in the term that you are going. So do check the original course description and the list of modules offered in previous years. I.e. if going in Spring 2014, check the Spring 2013 list instead of Fall 2013.
2. Don't create worksheets before finalizing, or even if you THOUGHT you had finalised your choices. I had 3 worksheets, and at the start I was so sure that I was going to Pusan, that I created a worksheet for it super early and even tried to map modules.
Guess what, in the end I decided to go ahead with other choices, and since they don't allow worksheets to be deleted, I was left with 2. You can only see what courses can be mapped under which major only if you create the worksheet, so don't be tempted to do so! ask seniors, read past exchange feedback to have a sense of what others have cleared.
One trick that I found out when I was desperate to check if one of my top choices had sufficient courses was to create a worksheet for previous semesters. So instead of choosing Term: 2013-2014 Term 2, choose Term 1 or any of the past years instead. Of course, use it for checking only, not submitting! Alternatively, you can just borrow one of your friend's account, provided that they aren't applying this semester!
3. Online Application
This is the last step of SMU's application process. After you have more than 3 mapped courses approved in your exchange worksheet, you will be allowed to start your application. To me, this was the simplest yet most tricky part. The filling in of personal details, travel experience, study plan etc is pretty simple, they just want to make sure that you're going on exchange for the right reasons. However, choosing the order of the 5 universities is rather strategic. In fact, I only filled up 3 choices. OGL will try to allocate you a partner that is within your choices, so if you know that you're not really set on university A but you still want to put it as backup, I'd say don't. I've heard of people unhappy about getting allocated their last choice, but really, if you don't want to go there, don't give them the chance to allocate you there. If you think you stand a pretty good chance at a popular university, you could take a risk and put it as the only choice.
My very complicated thought process when arranging my choices: I only placed the 3 universities that I would be willing to go to: Yonsei, Ewha and SNU, which were all terribly popular choices and very little slots. I knew that Yonsei was sure to be filled by the time they reached by application, as I heard of 2 other people with higher GPA who were applying to Yonsei as 1st choice, so I placed it as 3rd choice. Ewha was hell popular, so they would have no other choice but to either reject me or place me in my first choice. Thankfully I got allocated my top choice SNU in the end :) Sometimes I do think I'm crazy because I DO NOT eat korean food! or rather, all the spicy stuffs, which constitutes 90% of korean cuisine =.= but hey, let's just hope I don't starve there alright.