The NTU Application Process
This whole student exchange programme used to be called “INSTEP”, meaning “INternational STudent Exchange Programme”. It is now called “GEM Explorer”, where GEM means “Global Education and Mobility”.
Things to note before applying to Maastricht (MUST READ!)
Before you go with the herd and apply to Maastricht just because your friends are applying, or because you think it is a ‘safe’ choice because of the high number of vacancies, please stop and ponder over these questions:
1. Are you aiming to clear as many modules as possible in Maastricht?
The Maastricht school year is divided into 6 periods. Period 1 and 2 will coincide with NTU’s semester 1. It is a very strict rule that no one is allowed to read more than 2 modules every period, and all these modules in each period must come from the same faculty. So at the very most you can only clear 4 modules in your entire exchange.
Also, if you intend to clear NBS cores there, you can’t take 1 module from the SBE and 1 module from, say, University College Maastricht (another faculty there) within the same period.
2. Are you intending to spend most of your time travelling during the semester and not studying?
Well, Maastricht is NOT a place for you to slack throughout the term and still pass the exams with flying colours. The modules can be quite taxing and the exams can be tough. It is not one of the best schools in the Netherlands for no reason. Failure of the exams is a very real possibility, even for their full-time students there! Every module has multiple assessment modes and in order to be awarded an overall pass on the module, you first need to pass ALL individual components.
Furthermore, there is class participation and a minimum required attendance of 80% (or even 100% for some classes!). They will tell you at the beginning of the period how many classes you can miss. You can make full use of the allowance to skip classes when it fits nicely into your travel plans, but if you overstep your boundaries, you will be punished with writing extra reports which will be graded.
There is a great disparity in the number of public holidays in semester 1 and 2. If you go in semester 2 (i.e. 1st half of the calendar year), you will enjoy lots of public holidays that are very conducive for you to travel, e.g. Easter, Ascension, and the 1-week long Carnival where people dress up and have fun in Maastricht. But if you go in semester 1, there are ZERO public holidays, so it is not possible to make longer trips during the term, unless you skip classes (but skip wisely!)
3. Are you a single degree student hoping to go in your 2nd or 3rd year semester 1?
BEWARE OF BACHELOR VS MASTERS COURSES!!!
If you intend to clear cores, please note that bachelor courses for accounting cores are only offered in periods 4-5 (i.e. semester 2). Masters courses for accounting cores are offered throughout the year but bachelor students can’t take those, UNLESS
- at the time of exchange you would have completed 3 years of undergraduate study (i.e. you must be a double degree student). So even if you are technically still an undergraduate at NTU, you are already considered a ‘masters’ student by Maastricht and therefore eligible for taking masters courses
- To get this exception to take masters courses if you fit the requirements, you need to get NBS to write a letter of support for you (email the NBS exchange coordinator to request – they reply quite quickly), then scan and upload it to the Maastricht online application form.
If you fit the description of the question above, you can’t clear any accounting cores during semester 1, unfortunately.
If you find yourself answering “no, not really” to ALL of the above questions, then congrats! You are good to go for Maastricht!
Having been through both rounds of GEM Explorer applications, I have the privilege(?) of writing my experience with the process for both rounds.
Round 1 is an online application where you can fill in your choices, up to 5 universities. You have to fill in your choices carefully as you must be prepared to go to any university on the list, even if it is your fifth choice. Either that, or you reject your placement (if allocated one) and miss out on going on exchange in the coming semester. You have a maximum of five choices but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to fill in all.
On the online application page, there is a link where you can view the popularity of the universities in real time, therefore allowing you to check out the competition. I would advise you to wait a while after the application period opens before submitting your application, so as to be able to find out how many people are applying to the same university. If your cGPA is borderline and the competition is stiff, you might want to reconsider your choices.
Exchange allocation results are released about 1 week after the closing date. If you are ‘kan-chiong’, you can choose to log into Studentlink directly at 2pm (the stated time of results release) to view your allocation, or wait for the Gem office to send you an email notification. If the email congratulated you on being allocated a place, you still need to log into Studentlink to view your allocation as the email will only state that you got into a ‘university of your choice’ – and this does not necessarily mean your 1st choice. If you didn’t manage to get any place at all in Round 1, Gem office will send you an email anyway to invite you to participate in their Round 2.
Anyway, since I wasn’t allocated anything in Round 1, I had no choice but to proceed to round 2.
After a long 2-week wait for successful round 1 applicants to accept or reject their placement, the GEM office finally sent us an email with a list of available vacancies and an application form, which we were supposed to print out, fill in and submit in person to the GEM office. This manual process was rather surprising compared to the online system for round 1. It also meant that we couldn’t check on the popularity of the universities that we were applying to. I was quite pleased to find that there were 3 vacancies for Maastricht which meant that 3 people had rejected their offer.
For round 2 applications, we are allowed only 3 choices and there is no accept/reject phase. If you got allocated a university, be it your 1st or 3rd choice, it is auto-accept. Therefore, should you decide to reject the place, you will have to pay the withdrawal fine. After careful deliberation, I decided that I was not prepared to go to any other university other than Maastricht, so I left the other 2 choices blank.
There was only one day where we had to submit the form to the GEM office, and it must be within 2-5pm. I turned up at 2pm and the GEM office was filled with people submitting their forms. Although the email stated that they only needed to see proof that we ordered a transcript, or the transcript itself, it turned out that they were collecting the proof as part of our submission. As I unknowingly threw away my receipt for the transcript, I had to sadly give up my $2.15 transcript. (This meant that I had to reorder a new transcript as it was needed in the application package. Ironically, the whole purpose of collecting proof of transcript was to ensure that successful applicants could submit their application package in time for certain universities, where the submission date was just round the corner) I also saw the forms of at least 3 other people trying their luck for Masstricht, the same faculty!
After submitting my application, all I could do was to wait.
Good news came on Monday, at around 10am:
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in the GEM Explorer programme at the university of your choice. You may login to Studentlink to view your placement today. As this is Round 2 allocations, there is no Accept/Reject period. Students allocated a placement of their choice in Round 2 will be automatically accepted. Any rejections will be considered as a withdrawal and you will be subjected to the conditions based on that.
YES!! As I had only chosen Maastricht, it was obvious what ‘university of my choice’ I got allocated to. 🙂
Most exchange students will usually stay at the dorms by the university, and this is managed by Maastricht Housing (website: maastrichthousing.com). Hostel booking is done online. Most exchange students will stay at the Guesthouse, in particular, either the P building or C building, both which are just next to each other and pretty close to the SBE. The difference between the two is that the P building has private kitchens in every dorm room while C building has a common kitchen. If you intend to cook a lot there, it is advisable to choose the P building as the common kitchen in C building can get pretty dirty and disgusting, depending on your floor mates. However, rooms in the P building are more expensive. There are also single rooms (more ex) and double rooms (cheaper).
The room I booked was “Brouwersweg 100 P-gebouw type dubbel”. Enter the name into the search terms and you should find it pretty easily. It is a double room in the P building. I booked it together with my friend. If you want to double with a specified person, you should book early to increase your chances. The procedure is after UM Housing has received your deposit which is the first month’s rental, one representative should email firstname.lastname@example.org and state your roommate preference (CC your roommate in the same email, of course). After which they will tell you what room you both have been assigned to.
It is highly advisable to book your rooms early as P and C buildings are the most popular and they run out quickly! Preferably, book as soon as you receive confirmation from Maastricht about your exchange application.
Booking Air Tickets
When booking your departure dates, please be mindful of the time it takes for the visa to be approved. The visa can take ages to be approved and you absolutely must have your visa with you by the time you fly off. I have heard horror stories from seniors whose visas weren’t approved in time and they had to delay their departure date. So if you intend to start travelling around before the term starts, be aware of this risk.
I booked a two-way ticket by Finnair to fly to Amsterdam, with a short stopover (about 1.5 hours) in Finland, at a cost of SGD 1274.10. It is probably one of the cheapest around. If you are keen on extra luggage, search for their student plans which allow for 2x20kg luggages. It is at the same rate except with this luggage exception.
Submission of Application Package
The required date of submission by the GEM office for Maastricht was probably one of the latest dates, just one week before the final exams.
Here are the items in my application package as required by the GEM office:
1. Maastricht Exchange Application Form (this is the online PDF that you fill in during the online application. Please remember to save a copy before you click ‘submit’, then print it out. Once you submit it, you can’t retrieve it!)
2. List of courses that I wished to take in Maastricht and courses that I was currently taking in NTU
3. Photocopy of passport
4. Latest NTU transcript
5. GCE O and A Level certificates (this is to prove English proficiency. Since they weren’t very specific in whether both or either one were required, I submitted both to be safe)
6. 3 copies of passport photo (you need to write your name and exchange uni on the back of all photos. Just before you submit your package, glue one copy to the top right hand corner and put the other 2 in a little zip-lock bag provided by the office)
7. Letter of Support by NBS (because I wanted to take masters courses at Maastricht, I had to have a letter of support to prove that I met the requirements for taking masters courses there, i.e. 3 years of undergraduate study)
Note: If you read some exchange reports, they mentioned that they had to submit a bank letter. This is usually not the case as the bank letter is only needed in visa application (and this will come much later). However, some NBS staff might be kiasu and ask students to include it ‘just in case’. I prepared a photocopy of the bank letter as part of my application package, but the girl who looked through it at the point of submission at the GEM lounge said that it was unnecessary. So I kept the bank letter.
The Dutch visa application is probably one of the most painful and annoying thing about going on exchange to the Netherlands. So, here goes!
The Visa Office at Maastricht University will contact you about 5 months before your semester starts. Please check your SPAM folder regularly, at least around that period, as sometimes your email provider will automatically sort emails and send suspicious emails straight to the junk folder. I experienced it in my case as the email contained links to online PDFs that had a different ‘link name’ from its link address.
What the email basically says is that you submit to the university’s visa office electronic copies of your visa documents for them to scan through and see if they meet the requirements. If all is good, they will give you the green light to send your hardcopy original documents by airmail to them, which they will forward to the Dutch visa office. This is to save time and money in case your application doesn’t meet the requirements at first.
The email will direct you to the relevant PDFs that will describe what you need in your visa application, as well as a file with all the Dutch photo requirements. The instructions are quite clear and I will attach the links here so that you can get some heads up on what exactly you need, if you haven’t received the email. The documents are actually on my public dropbox folder because I am not sure if the document will be removed from their server after this season.
Visa application form and procedure
Visa photo requirements (please be very careful to fulfil the requirements, for the Dutch are very strict about this. My first photo was rejected on the basis of a little ‘shadow under the chin’)
By the way, for the proof of sufficient financial resources, I strongly suggest that you choose Option A – transfer 4150 euros to their bank account, instead of getting a bank letter. The money transfer is a more straightforward way and anyway, you will still need to do a payment of the legal fee which costs 300 euros. If you choose Option A, you don’t have to make a separate payment for the legal fees. 3850 euros will be refunded to you upon arrival in Maastricht while 300 euros will be deducted for the legal fee. And of course, don’t forget the bank charges for the money transfer.
If you want to prove using a bank letter, it is essential to have this phrase ‘balance is at free disposal’ inside the letter. Now this is not a standard statement and usually the bank won’t customise their bank statement for you. I tried to ask the bank to add in this phrase and the counter staff was a total bitch, saying that it was impossible. If you are curious on what bank that was, it was DBS. On top of all that stress, the bank will charge you a freaking $20-$30 for that one page template statement and you can only collect it a few days after you request for it. My parents also felt uncomfortable revealing so many intimate details about their finances on the statement, for it is a requirement that the Visa office wants to see your account number and the balance on the statement.
You can collect your visa once it is approved at the Dutch Embassy in Orchard. However, even when the Visa Office emails to inform you that your visa application is successful, collection of visa is hardly instant. You will need to make 2 visits to the embassy. The first visit is to submit a form that you have to download and print out, and your passport. You have to leave your passport at the embassy for about 2 weeks before they will finally return it to you with the visa sticker pasted in it. So do take note of the time frame and if you need to leave Singapore during that period for some reason, it is best to postpone the visa collection process, otherwise you won’t be able to travel obviously.