STUDENTS HOPING to continue their studies abroad should plan ahead to ensure a smooth, hassle-free transition. The process involves a lot of effort in collecting information to identify the school where you would like to pursue your further education. Also, it can take months to complete the paperwork and take the language tests necessary to apply for a degree with an overseas institution. And admission requirements can vary from country to country. Set out your objectives Studying abroad is usually much more expensive than studying locally, and yet many families favour an overseas education for their children. Angela Ng, chief executive of Bell & Associates Counselling Centre, which specialises in career and education counselling, said young people heading overseas benefited from the experience of different cultures. They discovered a new country, made friends of different nationalities and developed an independent way of thinking while learning to live independently. The overseas experience also helped to strengthen a student's decision-making ability. All this, and a broader perspective, gave the student a strong foundation for his or her future career. Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States are among the most popular destinations for overseas studies. Students like to apply to universities and tertiary institutions in these countries because of their reputation for quality education. In the meantime, Hong Kong students are also looking north - to the mainland - as a destination for higher studies. China's fast-growing economy and progress in various types of reforms have boosted the confidence of those considering the mainland's educational opportunities. Those who study on the mainland gain an understanding of the culture and build personal connections that could prove valuable later in their careers. The Hok Yau Club has issued a handy guidebook on studying in the mainland. It can be downloaded from website www.hyc.org.hk . Action plan Once you have made your decision to study abroad, you have a lot of work ahead leading up to your admission to an overseas school or university. Students should select five to seven institutions, study their programmes and make a shortlist for action. Applications should be made directly to the schools or universities. For an education in western countries, students should have the required level of English to meet admission requirements. Check with the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority well in advance. Language proficiency tests include the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Note that if you do not achieve the required grades in these tests the first time, you will have to take the exam again. Application forms and required documents must be sent to the overseas institutions nine months to one year before term begins. Keep in touch with the schools. Hong Kong students studying abroad may have to apply for student visa from the Immigration Department. Accommodation should be arranged ahead of arrival, whether it is university housing or renting your own private space. Note that renting an apartment can be a lot of trouble if it is not well planned. If possible, visit your destination ahead of your first term at university. Some familiarity with the local culture and living environment is always a help. Backup strategy If you are unable to gain acceptance at your university of choice, you will require a backup plan. Perhaps you have good HKALE grades but failed the IELTS test, in which case you may have to consider a local university. Or, if your exam results were poor, it may be advisable to spend another year on repeat study before pursuing higher education. Other options include taking pre-university foundation courses or applying for an associate degree in Hong Kong. Local education institutions provide a large number of short courses on different subjects, such as languages, business, design, digital entertainment and tourism. Students may take these opportunities to discover what truly interests them before they enter universities.