OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

The View From Campus – How International Students Can Finance Their U.S. Studies

This month’s post is featuring Aimee Thostenson, Director of International Student Recruitment, at University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Ms. Thostenson explains one of the most critical elements to successfully studying in the United States: funding your years of education.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Large, research, public, comprehensive, urban

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: High-quality and top-ranked academic programs, great metropolitan location, affordable tuition and many opportunities for students to get involved outside the classroom

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?

A: At the undergraduate level, the most international students are enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Science & Engineering, the Carlson School of Management and the College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resource Sciences. 
At the graduate level, the most internationals students are enrolled in the College of Science & Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts, the Carlson School of Management and the College of Education & Human Development. 

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

A: China, Republic of Korea, India, Malaysia & Vietnam

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process?

A: Students can submit IELTS results as part of their application for admission.  At the undergraduate level, our minimum for admission consideration is 6.5 overall with a 6.5 section score in Writing.  Graduate programs require 6.5 overall with 6.5 section scores for both Writing and Reading.

Q: What are the best sources of funding for international students coming to the U.S.? 

A: Students should ask the admissions or recruitment representative at each university they are considering for funding options available. Some universities will offer merit-based scholarships, which means that they award the scholarships based primarily on a student’s academic record or grades. 

Universities may also offer need-based awards, based on the student’s family financial situation.   This type of award might require a separate application or might be included in the merit-based scholarship consideration. 

Sometimes, universities may offer special scholarships because of a personal attribute or talent, like a scholarship specifically for students who play a particular instrument or intend to go into a particular program/major.  Sports or athletic scholarships are also an option, but they are often extremely competitive. 

Graduate students, in addition to merit and need-based scholarships, may be eligible for assistantships (teaching or research under the direction of a faculty member).  Usually, assistantships mean that the full or partial cost of tuition is waived and the assistant may receive other benefits like a salary and health insurance. 

Q: How should prospective international undergraduate students look at the price of a U.S. higher education? 

A: Usually, admission and recruitment staff at US universities will be very forthcoming with costs and scholarship options and they know that it is a primary concern for most families.  Education is an investment in a student’s future, so it is good to focus on finding the best fit for a student’s educational goals – affordability is an important factor in the equation.  

Q:For graduate degree seeking students, what is the best advice for finding institutional aid?  

A: Graduate students should be in contact with the academic department directly about funding opportunities.  Graduate admission officers also can assist prospective students to find the right person.

Q: Talk about the role of work in funding an international students’ education in the U.S.?

A: All students, regardless of level, can consider on-campus jobs to supplement their funding.  While an on campus job cannot usually cover the full cost of tuition, it can help with personal expenses or books.  International students who come to the USA with an F-1 student visa can work up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session and up to 40 hours per week during vacations and breaks. 

Q: Are there funding sources available for students after their first year of studies, in case they don’t receive any support initially?

A: Some universities will allow international students to be Resident Advisors for a residential hall floor in exchange for housing and food.  Usually this is offered to students who have already been studying at the university for one semester or a year.  Academic departments may offer special scholarships to students enrolled in specific programs. 

IELTS Speaking Myths Busted (Part 1)

Since its introduction almost three decades ago, IELTS has emerged as the world’s most popular English language test for higher education and global migration.  

Over this time, some myths about the test have also been established. In this series, we’ll attempt to dispel some of the myths about the IELTS Speaking test.      

Myth #1: Speak as fast as you can

In the Speaking section, test takers are marked on four criteria, one being fluency and coherence. A common misconception among test takers is that it’s good to speak as fast as you possibly can in order to show the examiner that you are a fluent speaker. Unfortunately, this isn’t always helpful – if you focus on speed and say whatever comes to mind, you may soon start sounding incoherent. Besides, speaking fast can also make you breathless, affecting your delivery and resulting in a lower band on pronunciation. 

The truth: While it’s important to speak at a reasonable pace and without hesitation, what you say should be well organised and logical. A higher rate of speech DOES NOT automatically mean a higher band score on fluency. What you should aim for is producing answers that are sufficiently developed.

Myth #2: Put on an accent

The IELTS test accepts all standard varieties of native-speaker English, including North American, British, Australian, and New Zealand English. However, this doesn’t mean that non-native speakers are expected to sound like native speakers of the language. Trying to fake an accent could have a boomerang effect – some of the sounds you produce might become unintelligible.

The truth: Pronunciation is assessed in IELTS, accent ISN’T. As a test taker, you need to ensure that you’re intelligible to the examiner throughout, and that’s all that is required!

Myth #3: Dress formally

It’s surprising how many test takers feel pressured to dress up and look their best in the hope that it might fetch them a higher speaking band score. Nothing could be further from the truth: the examiner closely monitors what you say during the test, not what you’re wearing.

The truth: Your choice of clothing has absolutely NO bearing on your final scores, so DO NOT agonise over what to wear to the speaking test. Choose something that makes you feel confident and comfortable. We’ll be back soon to bust some more speaking myths.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 3)

So far in this series, we’ve focused on some dos and don’ts that can help you ace the IELTS Listening section.

Here’s some more advice on what to do and what not to do during the test.      

9. Be mindful of grammar rules and spelling  

It isn’t entirely uncommon for test takers to do all the hard work to find the right answers, only to lose marks in careless fashion soon after. For example, they may forget to add an article (a, an, the) in front of a singular countable noun, misspell a word, or simply fail to pluralise a word. Remember, carelessness can hurt your chances of getting a high Listening score. 

10. Do not leave blanks

While it is important not to get stuck with a question, it doesn’t in any way mean that you leave blanks. There is no deduction of marks for entering wrong answers in the IELTS Listening and Reading sections. For this reason, it makes total sense to have a go even if you aren’t sure of the answer. Who knows, if it’s your day, you might earn yourself a valuable mark. And that one extra mark could sometimes change your band score.  

11. Do not go wrong with sequencing

At the end of the recordings, test takers get 10 minutes to transfer their answers on to the answer sheet. Be very careful while transferring answers so that you do not go wrong with sequencing. If answers go in the wrong boxes, they’ll be marked incorrect. One effective strategy to overcome this problem is to deal with answers in blocks of 10 – after writing answers to the first 10 questions, do a quick check against the question paper to ensure that you’ve written the answers in the appropriate boxes. Once you’re satisfied, proceed to write the next block of answers.  

12. Do use upper case if needed

Although grammar is important, capitalisation is not assessed in IELTS Listening. If you’re one of those people with illegible handwriting, use UPPER CASE throughout. It’s safer that way, as it’ll be easier for the clerical marker checking your answer sheet to identify letters.  

Follow these tips, and you’ll give yourself every chance to get a high Listening score. Good luck!

The View From Campus: Pre-Arrival Checklist for New International Students to the U.S.

Congratulations! As an international student, getting your U.S. visa is a huge step toward your goal of traveling to the U.S. for university study. You’re nearly there, but there are three key items recommended as a pre-arrival checklist to keep you on track at this critical stage of the U.S. college admissions process. From your destination college or university, to an in-country pre-departure orientation, to the required immigration documents recommended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the resources exist to help you travel to the U.S. like a pro.

Connect with college international office staff

No one can provide you, as a new incoming international student, all the details you will need to know about getting ready for life at your college as well as the international student office can. It is vital that you maintain close contact with your university in the weeks leading up to arrival and orientation. Over the past few years, many U.S. colleges and universities have improved their pre-departure information for students through a combination of emails, pre-recorded webinars, and live chats. Of course, you will need to pay attention to your email as there likely will be many documents and forms you will need to review to prepare for your arrival.

Depending on where you are in the world, and the institution you plan to attend, some U.S. colleges hold in-country pre-departure orientations if they have a large enough group of students from one country or region.  For example, the Ohio State University recently held four sessions across China for incoming students. Meanwhile, Northwestern University held three sessions in China, two in India, and one in Korea this June. Alternately, other U.S. colleges and universities have their alumni from your country host receptions for incoming international students. Both these opportunities, if offered, should be taken immediately! Not only will you get the pre-arrival information you need, but you will meet other students like you going to the same university.

Consult local pre-departure experts

While your U.S. college knows everything you need to know about what to bring for your studies, how to get to campus, and what to do once you arrive, others closer to you can assist you in getting ready mentally for your journey. The U.S. Department of State’s EducationUSA network of over 400 advising centers in 170+ countries provides pre-departure workshops for international students preparing for their arrival. These meetings may attract between 20 and 300 people like you getting ready to travel. What a great way to build a network or new friends and contacts at colleges across the United States!

Other local educational advisers may also be hosting sessions for their students who are about to travel. But perhaps the most significant local resource you should speak with before you leave are the people you know best – your friends and family. Before you leave for the U.S., connecting with relatives who have traveled to the U.S. recently or older classmates from your school who may be studying at U.S. colleges and universities are two great sources of information about the arrival process at the airport, what documents to bring, and how to prepare for going through passport/immigration control as a student. 

Comprehend required immigration documents

Before you arrive, make sure to review the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s useful Study in the States site, in particular the Preparing For Your Trip to the United States page. On this site, the team at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol outline all the relevant documents (and where to keep them) as you travel to the United States. The best advice recommends that you carry with you on the plane the most essential documents you will need: academic transcripts, passport, I-20, admission letter, financial documents, contact information for the international student office at your college, and any medicines you need.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we gave you some advice on what to do during the Listening test – ensuring audio clarity, using time prudently, following instructions, and learning to anticipate what will be spoken in a recording.  

Read on for some more tips on IELTS Listening.     

5. Answer in the question booklet

Over half an hour, test takers need to answer 40 questions based on four different recordings. As you get to hear each recording only once, it’s important that you listen with rapt attention. Write your answers in the question booklet as you listen. That way, you can scribble down words without having to worry about your handwriting. Also, if you need to change an answer you’ve already written in the booklet, just cross it through before jotting down new information. Remember, your question booklet doesn’t get looked at, so feel free to write what you like.

6. Focus on finding answers

Seldom do test takers realise that they don’t have to understand every single word that is being said in the recordings. Don’t push the panic button if some parts of recordings go right over your head. Instead, stay calm and see if you can find any information that’ll help you answer the question(s) in hand.

7. Don’t get stuck

It’s quite possible that you might struggle to find the answer to a question despite your best efforts. Whatever you do, do not get stuck on a question and spend too much time; the recordings can’t be heard a second time. If a question seems too hard, quickly move on to the next one so that you are able to find the remaining answers.

8. Pick up signpost expressions  

Signpost expressions are words or phrases that help guide the listener through the various stages of a talk. Here are some examples: firstly, moving on, in fact, for instance, lastly, however, whereas. As they establish relationships between points, signpost expressions can help you understand how information is being organised in a talk. In other words, they help you tell whether the speaker is making comparisons, contrasting two things, adding information, or just sequencing ideas. This approach is particularly useful in the last part of IELTS Listening, when you’ll hear a university-style lecture on an academic topic.

We’ll be back soon with some more advice on how to improve your IELTS Listening scores.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Listening (Part 1)

Listening comprehension tests can be challenging for some, especially if they happen to be non-native English speakers. This may be down to various reasons, such as failing to understand speech sounds, having limited vocabulary, or experiencing too much anxiety.

In this series, we’ll give you handy bits of advice to do well in the IELTS Listening section.    

1. Ensure audio clarity

When your scores depend on how well you hear and understand recordings, nothing can be more important than audio clarity. At many British Council IELTS test centres, test takers get headphones so that they have the best possible audio experience. Before the test begins, use the volume wheel/button on your headphone to set the volume to what is the right level for you. If your headphone develops a problem at any point during the test, raise your hand right away. An invigilator would then come to your aid.

2. Use time wisely  

Before the recording in each section begins, test takers will receive some time (about half a minute) to read questions. How accurately you find answers will depend mostly on how well you understand questions. Use the time given to read questions carefully, taking in as much information as you possibly can. What you should also be doing is underlining important parts of the text – such as instructions and key words – so that you remember to focus on them while you listen.

3. Follow instructions

In IELTS Listening, the test taker’s ability to follow instructions is almost as important as their skill to find answers. For instance, if you have been asked to write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer, then writing ‘works of art’ as the answer, instead of ‘art works’, will fetch you no marks. So, be alert all through the test!

4. Learn to anticipate

More often than not, it is possible to anticipate what the speakers might say and what vocabulary they are likely to use. This can be done in two ways: identifying the context and skimming through the questions. You’ll be able to guess who the speaker(s) will be and what they may talk about. Questions can also tell you what types of words may fit as answers – nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.

Remember, as far as exam success goes, strategies count as much as language skills.

Using Capital Letters (Part 3)

In this final part in our series on capitalisation, we’ll look at some more important rules that’ll help you punctuate with confidence.

Rule 8: Capitalise titles of people

Just like how we capitalise the first, middle, and last names of people, we also capitalise suffixes (e.g. William Frank Jnr, Alexander the Great) and titles (e.g. President, Governor, Senator). If the title appears just before the individual’s name, especially when it replaces the individual’s first name, it should be capitalised. However, if the title appears after the individual’s name, or if it is followed by a comma, then we do not capitalise it. 

Let’s compare:

  • Carol is a huge admirer of President Obama. (Appears before last name)
  • George W Bush served as president of the USA from 2001 to 2009. (Appears after the name)
  • The president of the club, Frank Moorcroft, has resigned. (Title separated by comma)

Formal titles that are used to address individuals should also be capitalised.

Examples

  1. Why do you think I’m losing so much weight, Doctor? (Used as a direct address)

2. I’m afraid we can’t continue funding your project, Professor. (Used as a direct address)

Rule 9: Capitalise names of family members

When we use the names of family members – such as dad, mum, and grandpa – to address them, such words should be capitalised. Also, if such a word appears just before a personal name, it gets capitalised. However, if the same words are used to denote relationships, they need to be in lower case.

Let’s compare:

  • Why are you being so difficult, Dad? (Used as a form of address)
  • My dad has been in a bad mood this entire week. (Refers to relationship) 
  • I have always been incredibly close to Aunt Cathy and Uncle Will. (Appears before personal name)
  • I have an aunt and uncle living in Canada. (Refer to relationships)

Rule 10: Capitalise letter salutations and closings

In letters, the first word in salutations (Dear Sir, Dear Cathy) is always capitalised. Similarly, when ending a letter with a closing (Yours sincerely, Lots of love, Warm regards), the first word should be capitalised.  

Capitalisation is an area of punctuation that is tricky, so the more you read and write, the more likely that the rules stick in your mind.

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