If English is not your first language, it’s only natural to feel a bit uneasy about your upcoming undergraduate studies abroad. After all, what if you encounter difficult academic words you have never heard before? What if your professors have accents that you cannot comprehend? How about your academic writing skills – are they where they should be or could they hold you back from reaching success?

Either way, if you are starting your English-language undergraduate program this September, now is the time to brush up on your English skills. While you can try to do this by yourself, the most efficient approach is to apply for a pre-sessional English course at the university of your choosing. Here are some facts you should know if you want to go down this route.

What is a pre-sessional English course?

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The phrase “pre-sessional English course” refers to an academic English language study program that prepares international students for their undergraduate classes. The course offers you a chance to become immersed in written and spoken academic English before you actually start your Bachelor’s Degree studies. The teaching will be done through various methods. During the course, you may learn seminar skills, essay writing and oral presentation skills. You will also brush up on your note taking, research strategies and computer skills. Depending on the course, there may also be a section offering an introduction into local university life.

How will the course benefit me?

Learning the ins and outs of academic life and immersing yourself in university-level English language before actually starting school abroad will be hugely beneficial. Thanks to the course, you will have a much easier time kicking off your studies in September because you will already be familiar with academic language, the teaching methods, and the school setting itself. This will undoubtedly pave the way to greater success during your university studies.

Where can I take a pre-sessional English course?

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These courses are offered at several universities, particularly in the UK and the USA. They are often designed for students who have already been admitted to these institutions for the next semester. Thus your first step should be to check if your future university offers a pre-sessional English course for its new students, as does DePaul University in the USA. Some of the universities offering pre-sessional English courses in the UK include York St John University, London South Bank University and the Stirling University. If you are looking for an English prep course that is not affiliated with any particular university, you could look into the CATS Academy that has campuses in London, Cambridge and Canterbury in the UK and Boston in the USA. Success at CATS can help you gain access to top British universities like Cambridge and Oxford.

How long are the courses?

The length of the courses generally varies from just a few weeks to up to three months. The longer courses are usually designed for students who have received a conditional offer from a university – this means that attending a pre-sessional English course is mandatory for them to be granted entry to the bachelor’s program. The shorter courses are ideal for students who have already been admitted unconditionally, but who would like to get a head start on studying in English. One week of a pre-sessional English course usually consists of 18 hours of study.

When are the application deadlines?

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Most universities offer rolling pre-sessional English courses throughout the year. However, if you are starting your undergraduate studies in September, it’s best to take part in one of the summer courses. The deadlines for these vary from May 1 (DePaul University) to July 8 (University of Stirling) depending on if you are looking to start in June, July or August. International applicants generally have to apply to the course at least seven weeks before the start date, so that they can allow time for visa processing.

How do I apply?

You can usually submit an application via the university’s website as long as you pay the application fee (up to $80). Depending on the institution, you may need an offer of complete or conditional acceptance into the same university’s bachelor’s program for the following semester. Transcripts, a personal essay and your previous TOEFL or IELTS scores might also be requested. If you get accepted to the pre-sessional English program, you can generally just apply for one student visa that covers your English course as well as your future studies abroad.

If you have further questions about the pre-sessional English courses, feel free to get in touch with SchoolApply.com. The site’s advisors can walk you through the application process and offer additional insight regarding the programs.

About the Writer: Mirva Lempiäinen is a US-educated freelance journalist from Finland. After calling New York City home for about a decade, she now resides on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.