Before I start with the steps, a word of caution: Students who are in the midst of completing their bachelor's and have yet to receive a diploma are still eligible to apply to EPIK, but they will need a Letter of Intent to Graduate from their university's admissions office.
Like the letters of recommendation, this must be written on official school letterhead and contain either an ink signature or an official stamp. In my own EPIK blog reading/scouring/maniacal-google-searches I found a few applicants who had made it all the way through the application process, but, because of their university's mailing processes for diplomas, could not make it to Korea.
While a Letter of Intent to Graduate and apostilled copies of your diploma are fine for initial screenings, you are required to bring the original diploma with you to Korea. This can cause a little trouble for May graduates whose schools take forever getting diplomas sent out. Because I'd already graduated a while ago and didn't need to go through this process, I unfortunately can't offer much help if you're in this situation. I just wanted you to be aware of this possible hiccup.
M'kay, let's start...
STEP 1: MAKE COPIES OF YOUR DIPLOMA
*****DO NOT APOSTILLE YOUR ACTUAL DIPLOMA. YOU ARE TO APOSTILLE A COPY OF YOUR DIPLOMA. THIS COPY WILL BE SENT, AND THEN, SHOULD YOU MAKE IT TO KOREA, YOU BRING THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS WITH YOU.*****
This should be the easiest step, but in the risk of sounding pedantic...
(In all seriousness, I actually realized that my university's diploma was quite large, and I ended up at a nearby Staples. You want your entire diploma seen, so if yours gets cut off at home, go get it done at a library, office, etc. For the record, paper doesn't need to be anything special. Additionally, if you are using your master's degree as proof of level 2 status then you will need to apostille that diploma as well.)
STEP 2: NOTARIZE COPIES
(warning: sentimental short story up ahead, scroll to the underlined sections for just the information)
Look up the nearest notary services in your area. This is often at a bank, post office, or even some pharmacies. You want to go there with both your original and copied diploma(s). I noticed that several people had difficulties in getting their diploma copies notarized if they went to school out of state, so double check with your state's requirements. In New York, I had no problem with a notary for my Maryland based degree.
I thought all post offices provided notary services, so I didn't even bother looking this information up myself. I just got on a bus to Main Street, walked over to the largest post office in my area, and was promptly told they didn't have a notary on staff.
When I say I was dumbfounded I mean that I was SHOCKED. This post office is massive--one of the oldest in Flushing--and it has almost every service I've needed to complete in my life thus far, including getting me my first ever passport as an infant. But they let me down. I remembered that banks sometimes provide notary services, so I walked ten minutes down the road to my branch.
But it was Saturday.
Five pm. on a Saturday, actually.
(They were closed.)
Finally, I decided to use some common sense and some Google. I ended up at a Chinese pharmacy across the street from the post office I'd originally tried. It was a narrow store within a larger gray-stoned building that looked like it should house a number of Wall Street offices. Shelves lined the walls at a diagonal, forming a triangular room that left little space for the six customers present. Not uncomfortable, just cozy.
Turns out my diploma copies were too large to fit in whatever contraption they use for notarizing. I was about to give up and just go to the bank on Monday, but the owner insisted he give it a second try. This took a while, and in the meantime his wife asked why I needed my diplomas notarized. I explained my goal of teaching abroad, of how I'd just moved back home after graduating, and she told me about her own daughter who just entered college and who wanted to also pursue education. At this point her husband came back out beaming.
"It was a little tricky, but take a look!" My bachelor's copy--as far as I could tell--was exactly right and the relief flooded through me. While he started on the second diploma his wife spoke to him in Chinese, and I looked around the pharmacy.
By the time both my copies were finally notarized I'd filled out a "sworn oath" and signed my name (essentially, this is a sentence that swears the copy is real). If there is no "sworn oath" then your document could be rejected once in EPIK's office.
Then came the payment. I don't remember exactly how much each document had cost me, but it was a pretty cheap total. The teenager behind the cash register actually told me there was a twenty dollar minimum for cards, so I started to grab something from off the shelves I'd been looking over.
But then the man shook his head. "No need to worry." He rang it up as is and congratulated me on my graduation. He also wished me good luck on the application and in my travels. It's such a silly little story, a mom-and-pop shop where the owner went out of his way to get things exactly right for me, and I'm sure you can find similar happenings in all those small towns across America. Most people don't think of it happening in New York, though, and I love whenever my home proves the tourists wrong.
Step 3: County Clerk Certification
In New York City, your notarized diplomas must then be certified by your borough's county clerk. This is not a necessary step for all applicants, so please double check your state and city's process for apostillary services.
I wasn't aware of this step, and it caused a little bump in the whole process. Wasting a wonderful afternoon, I went to the Secretary of State's office in Manhattan, then waited an hour on line only to be told they couldn't provide the apostille because I skipped the county clerk's signature. Considering that day's rain, the wasted 2.75 on my metro-card, and how much I had rather been in bed with a Disney movie, I was quite upset. As I said, you'll want to be positive about your state and city's specific apostillary requirements.
Step 4: Apostillary Services
Technically speaking, applying for an apostille can be done by mail, but I'm neurotic and like knowing that I have things DONE. Luckily, I live in New York City and could go directly to my Secretary of State offices. It doesn't take more than an hour, maybe thirty minutes or so depending on how long of a line you've got to sit through. The fee in New York is about ten dollars per document, and the form specifies acceptable payment methods. The most expensive I've seen for other states ran up to $25 per document. Finally, make sure you are apostilling the copy in the same state you notarized it.
Step 1: Fingerprints--FBI vs. Channeler
I'll make this easy for you: Are you prioritizing time or money here?
If you're prioritizing time, go through a channeler. I recommend Accurate Biometrics as the process had been absolutely painless (so long as I ignored the big bucks charged on my debit card). I could get the fingerprinting done directly with Accurate Biometrics in their offices, fill out their application, choose my preferred copies, and know I'd have the CRC ready to go about a week later.
If you're prioritizing money, then by all means go through the FBI directly. But be warned: The time you're sacrificing can amount to over twelve weeks until you get your background check in your hands--let alone following through on the apositllary! On the plus side, you'll have saved a huge chunk of money. Going directly through the FBI costs around $20. The catch is, really, that time game. You can't get your CRC done too early, or it won't be valid for your VISA application. You can't wait to get it done, or you risk not having time to get your VISA. Just keep this in mind when deciding between a channeler or going direct, although I personally recommend a channeler.
If you choose to go through the FBI directly (or mail paperwork to your channeler rather than visit their offices), just take a trip to your local police precinct for the fingerprints!
Step 2: The Apostille
This apostille is a bit different in that it needs to be done at the federal--rather than state--level. So unless you live in DC you'll likely be mailing your CRC, necessary paperwork, and fee. Here is a link to the Department of State's Office of Authentication's Apostillary Services.
You'll need to fill out form DS-4194, attach an $8 application fee, and include your CRC, as well as a self-addressed return envelope. I suggest getting tracking numbers for everything--including the return envelope. Meanwhile, you can expect the turnaround time for this part of the process to be about two weeks. You can go through a channeler for this as well, but I opted not to since I'd saved time with the CRC channeler and didn't need to rush things. (In this case, I opted for money over time). Here's the address you'll send the authentication request:
Office of Authentications
U.S. Department of State
44132 Mercure Circle PO BOX 1206 Sterling, VA 20166-1206
By the way--they state on their website that they don't accept FedEx as a return carrier.
Since this post lacks my usual information overload, I'll be nice and make a list linking to apostillary services by state. All in all I hope this has helped some of you, or one of you (or even just a lone New Yorker who also didn't realize they needed the county clerk's signature). If you enjoyed this post, feel free to continue exploring and following my own EPIK and TEFL journey!
Pedagogy and Reflection
We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience