OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

The View From Campus: How best to approach the U.S. college search (undergraduate)

The decision to pursue a post-secondary education outside your home country may be a simple one or may be one that requires a lot of courage. Finding the right U.S. college may well take some time, with most experts suggesting students start the process between 12-18 months in advance of when they might wish to start their studies.

How can you best approach the U.S. college search?

Ask important self-discovery questions

For starters, before you pick colleges, take a few minutes to ask yourself the kinds of questions that will help you find a college or university that will be the best fit for what you want and need. Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s global network of 400+ advising centers in 170 countries, have put together a useful worksheet that is well worth trying called “Define Your Priorities.” By determining your answers to meaningful questions like why do you want to study in the U.S., what are your short- and long-term goals by studying there, as well as preferences for living in a city, suburb, or more rural area, or whether you want to be on a large campus with 20,000+ students, something smaller with under 2,000, or somewhere in between, you can begin to codify what’s important to you in this search.

Learn about different college types

Of course, understanding the kinds of colleges that exist in the United States is equally important. What you’ll find there is likely very different than what you have available in your home country. With over 4,000 accredited U.S. colleges and universities, there are many different types of institutions from which you can select: public v. private, college v. university v. institute, two-year v. four-year colleges, liberal arts colleges v. state universities, speciality institutions v. comprehensive universities. As you do your research on what those differences are keep in mind that there will be terms that might sound familiar to what you know, but may have different meanings. There is a very useful FAQ on the EducationUSA site that helps explain many of these terms.

Use search engines to narrow your choices

Perhaps the most daunting task you will face in your search is narrowing your list of possible college options down to a manageable number. There are several college search engines out there to help you in this process. The two that many students use are College Navigator (owned by the U.S. Department of Education) and Big Future (part of the College Board). Each has a variety of factors you can choose from to select institutions including:

  • Location by state (can select multiple states)
  • Institution type (2-yr./4 yr., public/private, academic program/majors offered)
  • Selectivity of the institution (how hard is it to be admitted)
  • Sports and activities available
  • Types of campus housing
  • Diversity of the student body

By using all of these various criteria (based on answers you may have given to the “Define Your Priorities” questions), you should be able to put together an appropriate list of colleges that match your wants and needs at least on a surface level. From a list of perhaps 10-20 institutions, the next step will be to investigate each of those colleges online to learn more about how close of a fit each may be for you.

Prepare for standardized tests

If there’s one area that has changed considerably in the college search this year it is the role of standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. As we shared in December’s The View From Campus post, over two-thirds of four year (and all of the two-year) colleges either do not require (test-optional) or won’t consider (test-blind) SAT or ACT scores for applicants for admissions intakes in 2021. Be sure, when you start to further narrow your choices down, to check what tests beyond IELTS would be needed to apply to the U.S. colleges on your list.

More on applying to U.S. colleges in the months to come!

A Quick Guide to Superlatives

In a previous blog post, we explored some features of comparative language, which is used to compare one person/thing with another. 

Now, let’s take a look at the concept of superlatives, used to express the most extreme degree of a quality (e.g. best, worst, fastest, slowest, richest, poorest). It helps us to compare somebody or something with the whole group that he, she, or it belongs to. For instance, when we say someone is the tallest in the class, we are comparing that person with all their classmates and saying that they possess the highest degree of a particular quality.

Here are some basic features of superlatives:

1. We generally use the definite article, the, before the superlative form.  

Examples:

They have four children: Christy is the oldest and Tommy is the youngest.

Drake has just been signed by the biggest football club in Europe.   

2. If there is a possessive adjective (e.g. my, our, your, their) before the superlative, then the definite article should be dropped.

Examples:

She is my brightest cousin. (NOT She is my the brightest cousin.)

Ivan is their most expensive player. (NOT Ivan is their the most expensive player.)

Also, on occasions when we compare the same person or thing in different situations, we drop the definite article.

Examples:

Joe is happiest when he is painting.

(Comparing the levels of happiness felt by the same individual in different situations)

This device is most effective in winter.

(Comparing the efficiency of the same thing in different seasons)

3. As with comparatives, there are two common ways to form superlatives:

adding ‘-est’ to the end of the adjective or adverb, or using the word ‘most’ in front of the adjective or adverb. Generally speaking, the suffix ‘-est’ is added to short adjectives (e.g. talltallest, richrichest), whereas long adjectives (e.g. expensivemost expensive, intelligent most intelligent) have the word ‘most’ before them.

Examples:

She was the prettiest girl he had ever met.

It’s certainly the most interesting film I’ve seen.

4. Like comparatives, superlatives can also be made to sound stronger with the help of degree modifiers, such as almost, easily, definitely, and by far.

Examples:

Yesterday was easily the best day of my life.

She is by far the most efficient manager I’ve worked with.

Now that you know some of the basic rules, it’s time to go online, find some exercises, and put your knowledge to the test.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Writing (Part 3)

So far in our blog series on IELTS Writing test day advice, we’ve explored eight different ideas that can help you up your game when it matters most.

In this final part, we’ve got more practical guidance for you to ensure things go smoothly on the day.

9. Don’t copy from the question

In school exams, students don’t think twice about beginning their writing response by copying the question. Do that in IELTS, and the chances are that it may disadvantage you. If entire sentences, or even fragments, are copied from the question paper, they won’t get assessed. It may also send out the wrong signal that perhaps your language level isn’t up to scratch, forcing you to copy the question instead of paraphrasing it.

10. Avoid rambling answers

Like in other language tests, test takers need to work against the clock to complete the two tasks in IELTS Writing. Naturally, long rambling answers should be avoided at any cost. For one thing, it would mean spending more time than you should. Such a response may also turn out to be incoherent due to the inclusion of too many ideas.   

11. Write answers in full sentences

As you may already know, textspeak (use of initials, symbols, and short forms of words that are common in text messages) is something to avoid in IELTS Writing. What is equally unacceptable is writing your answers in bullet points or short notes. It’s important that test takers write their answers in full sentences. If not, they’ll be penalised for inappropriate format.

12. Don’t remove test materials from venue

Although it might be tempting to pass on some questions from your test to a friend or teacher, do not attempt to remove any test materials from the venue. On rare occasions, test takers have been found attempting to jot down the writing questions on pieces of paper. Trust us when we say, it’s simply not worth the trouble! If you get caught, you’ll have to kiss your test results goodbye. You may also have to face disciplinary action.

On test day, remember to do the little things right, and everything will be just fine!

The View From Campus: How testing requirements at U.S. universities are changing

While many will look back on 2020 as a tumultuous year where a global pandemic wreaked havoc on the world, it has also been a year of significant change in U.S. higher education. Since March and April many students have been unable to take the standardized tests that most colleges and universities require for admissions. As a result, U.S. institutions of higher education have begun to change the testing policies for students.

Let’s take a quick look at what’s happened. For most international students considering the United States as a destination for studies, there are two types of tests normally required:

  • English proficiency tests
  • Academic ability or aptitude tests

English proficiency tests

As you well know, studying in an English language education system requires a certain level of familiarity with the language. That’s why you’ve either already taken IELTS or will soon be. By far, IELTS is nearly universally accepted by US colleges. IELTS is, in fact, accepted by more than 3400 U.S. institutions.

Academic ability tests

If you are seeking an undergraduate (bachelor’s degree), in past years most U.S. colleges required international students to take either an SAT or an ACT test. Designed initially to test U.S. students’ academic skills in verbal and quantitative reasoning, mathematics, writing, and, in the case of the ACT, science, these two exams have been seen as a reliable standard of measuring those abilities for years.

If you are considering a master’s or doctoral program, the two tests most commonly required are the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or GMAT (General Management Admissions Test). Graduate/post-graduate business schools in the U.S. have in the past relied on the GMAT to assess applicant’s general preparedness for programs like the MBA. Some have also begun to accept the GRE as well.

If you are thinking about professional programs in the U.S., like medical, dental, or pharmacy school (as well as other doctoral level studies) that require a professional license to practice in the United States, there are a different set of exams required: MCAT (medical doctor), DAT (dentist), PCAT (pharmacist), etc.

The rise of test-optional policies

One of the few bright spots that has emerged out of the pandemic regarding U.S. university admissions is the increased popularity of test-optional policies. Because many testing centers overseas (and in the United States) have not been able to offer academic ability tests where all who want to take the exams can, many colleges and universities have decided, in the interests of equity and access, to not penalize students who could not take these exams, and have become test-optional.

For this current 2021 admissions year, over two-thirds of all U.S. four-year (bachelor’s degree) universities are test-optional or test-blind. Most major state university systems have made the shift in the past few months mostly in response to the lack of availability of the SAT and ACT for prospective students due to the pandemic. Here’s a list of 915+ “top tier” U.S. colleges that are not requiring the SAT or ACT for the coming admissions intakes.

Final thoughts

In the end, while these academic ability tests have become increasingly optional this year, English proficiency tests are still needed. The most significant reason for this is that U.S. immigration regulations require that to start a degree program (associates, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral) international students must have the required English language proficiency. Tests like IELTS are the primary way, at present, for U.S. colleges to assess English ability.

If your scores aren’t at the minimum levels for degree studies from the outset, that doesn’t mean your dream is over! Many U.S. colleges offer conditional admissions and/or full-time intensive English or pathway programs that give you the opportunity to settle in to the country while improving your English ability before you start your degree program.

Good luck to you!

IELTS Test Day Advice: Writing (Part 2)

In Part 1, we had some IELTS Writing advice for you about choice of stationery, model answers, task weighting, and understanding questions.

In this part, we’ll take a look at four more handy tips.

5. Always have a plan

Previously, we said how important it was to take a close look at the question before you begin writing. Once that’s done, it is wise to spend some time planning. Like in most high-stakes situations, failing to plan could mean planning to fail in IELTS too. Making notes almost always helps to write a coherent answer, so feel free to use the blank space on the question paper to jot down a plan.  

6. Learn to meet the word count within an hour

Managing time efficiently is something that demands considerable practice before you can be ready to sit the real test. IELTS recommends that you spend about 20 minutes on Task 1 and the remaining 40 odd on Task 2. What’s equally important is to successfully meet the recommended word count, failing which you’ll lose marks. Keep in mind that you need to write at least 150 and 250 words respectively. 

7. Include all key features / bullet points (Task 1)

In IELTS Academic Task 1, the pictorial data on your question paper will have key features – the most important and the most relevant points in the diagram. Similarly, in the letter-writing task in IELTS General Training, test takers are told what information to include, in the form of three bullet points. Failing to include all key features or bullet points in your response will definitely mean getting a lower band on Task Achievement.

8. Answer all parts of the task (Task 2)

IELTS essay questions can have up to 4 sentences, with more than one part that’ll need to be answered at times. Since test takers need to provide a full and relevant response, leaving a part out unwittingly will lower their chances of securing a good band score. Solution? In order to be doubly sure how many parts the question has, reread the question several times, carefully considering the meaning of the text in front. If it helps, translate the question into your mother tongue. That way, you’re less likely to miss anything important.

There’s more IELTS Writing advice coming your way – watch this space.

IELTS Test Day Advice: Writing (Part 1)

There are 2 tasks to complete in the Writing section of IELTS. Task 1 can be report writing (Academic) or letter writing (General Training), whereas Task 2 is an essay writing exercise.

Here are some handy tips to help you get a good Writing band score.

1. Choose your stationery wisely

Answers in IELTS Writing can be written in pen or pencil, so doing some writing practice under timed conditions before test day is highly recommended. Among other things, it can also help you decide what you’d be more comfortable using on test day – pen or pencil. Should you discover that a pencil slows you down, practise with pen.  

2. Avoid memorised answers

Writing answers are assessed by qualified individuals with relevant teaching experience. All of them have to undergo intensive training before they can get certified as IELTS examiners. One of the things they learn during the time is to spot memorised or plagiarised responses. Of course, such ‘model answers’ invite a severe penalty, lowering the overall writing score of the test taker. So, don’t bother mugging up answers to popular topics!

3. Remember the weighting of tasks

Although each task is assessed independently, it is worth remembering that Task 2 contributes twice as much as Task 1 to your overall Writing band score. Put simply, it means that if you write a decent Task 1 answer and a very good Task 2 response, you should still get a good Writing band score. Sometimes test takers spend so much time on Task 1 that they aren’t left with enough time to do a good job of Task 2. And as you might imagine, the result is usually disappointing.

4. Analyse questions thoroughly

Answering without trying to fully understand the question should be a definite no-no in any exam. However, when panic sets in, common sense flies out the window. Off-topic answers are all too common in IELTS Writing, and they get penalised for irrelevance. Whether it is Task 1 or 2, never be in a mad rush to begin your response. First, read the question over and again, underline key words, and then identify what the question requires you to do.

We’ll be back soon with more IELTS Writing test advice. Meanwhile you can check other test tips we shared before.

How researching U.S. graduate programs is changing during the pandemic

This year, 2020, will be one most people would rather soon forget, right? Over the last few months, students who might have been thinking about studying abroad have been forced to reconsider their options due to travel restrictions, changes to admission requirements, and the economic impact of the global pandemic on personal finances. When it comes to researching master’s and doctoral degree programs in the United States, while the process is largely the same, there are some important changes to keep in mind.

Be flexible, things may change

When should you begin your search? Most U.S. experts now say you should start at least 12-24 months ahead of when you wish to start studies. With the quickly moving landscape on which countries are even open to accept international students, it can be hard to plan effectively for what your future might look like, let alone where you may be studying. However, in the United States there are over 1000 colleges and universities that offer master’s and doctoral programs.

What are your priorities?

As part of your search, before you go looking for academic programs that meet your needs, a necessary first step should be to ask yourself defining questions as to what’s most important to you. Our friends at EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s global network of advising centers in 170+ countries, have prepared a great resource on researching graduate study options to assist students. One of those tools to consider using is the Define Your Priorities worksheet. Some of those self-discovery questions to ask include:

  • Why do you want to study in the United States?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • How will you pay for your graduate program in the United States?
  • What are your academic grades?
  • What are your English test scores?
  • What size institution do you like?
  • Would you like to attend a private or public institution?
  • Do you prefer living in an urban, suburban, or rural setting?
  • Would you like to live on campus or off campus?

Once you have identified those answers, you will have the most valuable criteria you need to begin you search in a more circumspect manner.

How can you narrow your options?

EducationUSA lists four search engines you can use to begin to find a possible list of the academic programs, locations, institutions that meet your needs. Those search sites will only give you so much information about the colleges and universities that match some of the broad strokes of what you need. Once you have identified those programs, to get much closer to what you need to know about each institution, you will need to review each school’s website where the real details are you need to know on costs, deadlines, tests, and admissions process.  

Especially this year when there really are no in-person college fairs and events happening, it is more important than ever to connect virtually with the U.S. colleges that you’re considering. Whether that be in a virtual university fair, a live chat with representatives from your top choices, a webinar with other international students who may already be attending those institutions, and/or a visit to a local EducationUSA advising center for more specific resources, you have several ways to narrow your options.

What’s a good fit?

In the end, there may be several schools/programs that you research that you can see yourself attending. At this stage it’s time to do deep look at the institutions involved, the strength of the program, and the quality and areas of research conducted by the faculty. Only after getting this next level details will you be able to make the decisions on where you wish to apply.

How to prepare for tests?

And, finally, before physically applying to these programs, it is essential to know which tests might be required. Certainly, rest assured that for most all quality master’s and doctoral program in the U.S. will accept an IELTS score toward meeting the English proficiency standards set by each program. The question will be whether any other academic standardized tests like the GRE or GMAT are required. Because of the pandemic, there is an increasingly large number of programs that are test-optional this year when it comes to GRE or GMAT requirements. Even top business schools in the United States are, for this current 2021 recruitment cycle, not requiring GRE or GMAT scores.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This