The View From Campus – How Welcome Are International Students on U.S. College Campuses?

This month we hear from Dana Brolley, Director of International Services, at the University of Idaho, on this very important and timely topic that is likely on the minds of international students considering study options in the United States.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Welcoming, safe, research, beautiful campus, land-grant

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: Top 100 public school in the USA, two thirds of undergraduates conduct research, lots of attention from faculty and staff, focus on innovative solutions for global warming and environment challenges,

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

A: Engineering, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Architecture, Music

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?

A: China, Saudi Arabia, India, Nepal

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?

A: We require a 6.0 for undergraduate and a 6.5 for graduate applicants. IELTS is a great tool and we like that we can verify results!

How Welcome Are International Students?

Q: Given the current administration’s America First policies, are international students still welcome in the United States?

A: Absolutely! Moscow, Idaho where the University of Idaho is a welcoming town that values and celebrates diversity. The city earned the coveted #1 spot on Livability’s 2018 list of the Best Places to Raise a Family. This is reflected through our student and scholar population who have approximately 180 dependants living here while they complete their academic programs. The community is very environmentally focused and engaged in solutions to climate change.

Q: What steps do universities take to help international students feel welcome on campus?

A: The International Programs Office provides centralized services to our international population from an intensive English program, tutoring, student events, scholarships, immigration support, advising, study abroad and more. Our largest annual event, Cruise the World, attracts approximately 1500 campus and community members who come together to celebrate cultures from around the world. This year’s event is coming up on Feb 1, 2020.

Q: What is the role of an international student office on campus?

A: We provide full wrap-around support for all students, scholars, staff, and faculty in the US on visas as well as assist with all extracurricular needs of the community to connect them to resources available on campus and in the community. Everything from snow-shoeing to scholarships – we’re here to help!

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions value having international students on campus? Give examples.

A: We provide special international student scholarships, have dedicated staff to assist international students and support many international student clubs and activities as they promote their home cultures.

Q: What advice would you give prospective international students considering U.S. colleges to help them understand what life would be like for them in the U.S.?

A: Beyond rankings, academic programs, and costs – which are all very important! – it is important to consider the community where you will live for years. Moscow is very safe, very accessible (I walk to campus every day!), welcoming, surrounded by beautiful nature where you can experience wildlife, skiing, river rafting, hiking, climbing etc. and access to larger cities is very convenient. Students who came here from large cities have told me how much they love living here. Coming the US to earn a degree opens doors for life changing experiences both in and outside the classroom. Make the most of your adventure to learn!

IELTS Speaking Myths Busted (Part 3)

So far in this series, we have dispelled quite a few myths surrounding IELTS Speaking, facts that actually have little impact on your final score.

Read on to discover what other misconceptions people commonly harbour about the Speaking section.

Myth #7: Examiners aren’t interested in what test takers say

I think my examiner had little interest in what I was saying. He/she kept interrupting me.” It’s a grumble that test takers often have on completing the Speaking interview.

The truth: In IELTS Speaking, the examiner has between 11 and 14 minutes to assess a test taker’s language level. So, f they feel that the test taker has spoken enough in response to a question, they will want to move him or her on so that conceptually harder questions can be asked. Such an approach allows test takers to produce more complex language, opening the door to attaining higher scores.

Myth #8: Always use formal vocabulary

IELTS is a high-stakes test that is internationally recognised, so many wrongly believe that they should use formal language throughout the test.

The truth: Part 1 of the Speaking interview gives test takers the perfect opportunity to settle their nerves, as they are asked questions on familiar topics. While responding to questions on topics such as home, work, friends, or interests, it’s quite natural to use words and phrases that appear in our everyday conversations (e.g. chat with friends, have a blast). In fact, too many formal expressions at the beginning of the speaking interview could be perceived as a sign of rote learning, which doesn’t exactly help.

Myth #9: All prompts in Part 2 must be covered

In Part 2, the test taker will receive a task card with the topic they’ll need to speak on. The card will also have 4 prompts, each beginning with a wh-word (e.g. who, when, why). Many mistakenly believe that including all the prompts in their answer is a must.  

The truth: While the prompts can help test takers speak at length effortlessly, they are under no obligation to use them. What’s important is to produce a well-rounded answer that lasts 2 minutes; using the prompts given on the task card is a matter of choice.

The next time you spot any of these myths anywhere, do bust them. And when you need IELTS Speaking advice, see that you get it from an authentic source.   

IELTS Speaking Myths Busted (Part 2)

In the first part, we busted some myths surrounding the IELTS Speaking section, proving how speaking too fast, faking an accent, or putting on formal clothes don’t really help you get a higher band score.

Here are some more notions about the Speaking interview that you should reject straightaway if you happen to hear them.

Myth #4: Never disagree with the examiner

In the last part of IELTS Speaking, which will be a discussion, the examiner might challenge you on your views. Quite often they play devil’s advocate to have a good discussion about a topic. The end result is that you, as a candidate, receive enough opportunities to speak at length and substantiate your claims. A common misconception is that you need to agree with whatever the examiner says.

The truth: Do not feel obliged to agree with the examiner’s views. It’s worth remembering that the views you hold DO NOT get assessed. It’s the language you use to communicate your views that determines the final outcome.

Myth #5: Always speak the truth

Sometimes questions in the Speaking section require the test taker to draw on their own personal experiences. For instance, in Part 2, you may be asked to talk about ‘a time when a vehicle you were travelling in broke down’, but what if you’ve never had such an experience? Whilst it is a plus to be able to fall back on past experiences, this may not always be possible.      

The truth: There’s nothing wrong in using your imagination if you don’t have much to say on the topic that you’ve been asked to talk about. The Speaking examiner’s job is to test your level of English, not to check the authenticity of the details you choose to include in your answers.

Myth #6: The test is easier at some centres

Being an internationally acclaimed test, IELTS is available at as many as 1600 locations around the world. However, a considerable amount of effort has gone into ensuring that the test experience remains the same irrespective of where it is taken. 

The truth: IELTS speaking examiners are qualified and experienced English language specialists who work to clearly defined criteria. They undergo extensive training and are subject to ongoing monitoring, quality control procedures and re-certification, all of which make ratings consistent across test centres. 

There’s more to follow in the final part, so do watch this space.

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.

The View From Campus: Research Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S.

This month we hear from Matthew Beatty, Director of International Admissions and Financial Aid, at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, on the important topic of researching college options as an undergraduate student.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Vibrant, friendly, and academically inquisitive.  

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: The College is best known overseas for delivering high-quality academic programs and generous scholarship awards.  The Concordia Language Villages – which are cultural and language immersion programs offered in the north woods of Minnesota – are also popular programs for students both locally and globally.

Q: What are your top academic programs?       

A: The most popular undergraduate programs at Concordia are Biology, Business Management, Computer Science, Music and Psychology

Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admission process?

A: International students whose native language is not English must demonstrate proof of English proficiency for admission to Concordia College. One of the most popular standardized exams for meeting the language proficiency requirement is the IELTS exam. Applicants who successfully earn a 5.5 (or higher) on the IELTS exam, and meet all other admission standards, may be admitted to the College.

Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?

A: Culture shock.  Once the excitement of studying in the U.S. fades, most international students suddenly find themselves struggling with local customs and new ways of living.  They become fatigued with speaking in a different language, eating different food, socializing in a new manner, and adjusting to new classroom expectations. Fortunately, Concordia College offer lots of support to new international students including a Center for Student Success, International Student Advisor and Holistic Health Center.

Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?

A: The process leading up to studying abroad can be lengthy.  Students and families need time to research institutions, gather academic documents, save money and submit application material far in advance.  They’ll also need ample time to apply for a student visa and say good-bye.  Therefore, I recommend prospective students begin the planning process at least 12 months prior to their anticipated departure date.

Q: What factors should students use to narrow their range of choices from over 4000 accredited colleges and universities down to a manageable shortlist of institutions?

A: To narrow their range of choices and help find the “best fit” institution, I suggest the following three strategies:

  1. Academic Program(s): Try to narrow down your list of potential colleges by only looking at those that provide your preferred academic program (or major) – and excels in areas related to that program.  If you haven’t decided on a major yet, then consider 4 or 5 academic programs that sound intriguing to you while leaving yourself some room to explore. 
  2. Size: The size of your college will impact your educational experience.  A large school means lots of people to socialize and interact with and larger class sizes.  Larger institutions also offer an abundance of co-curricular programs. 
    On the other hand, smaller schools often provide a closer relationship with you and your professors because of their smaller class sizes and individual level of academic accountability. 
  3. Cost: The most common perceived barrier for international students is the cost of studying in the United States.  However, if you devote sufficient time to the research process and consider a wide range of U.S. colleges and universities, I’m optimistic you’ll find one that meets your budget. 

Q: If international students come across self-described “liberal arts colleges” in their search what do they need to know about these institutions?             

A: Prospective students should keep the following in mind as they do their college research and consider liberal arts colleges. 

1.  Undergraduate Focus: There are approximately 200 private, liberal arts colleges in the U.S.  The majority of these colleges only offer undergraduate programs. This means faculty, staff and administrators at liberal art colleges focus 100% of their time and energy on the undergraduate student experience – inside and outside of the classroom. 

2.  Holistic Education: Liberal arts colleges allow students to explore a variety of disciplines. Unlike some academic programs at larger universities, their course requirements are not as regimented.  This means liberal arts students have the flexibility to study multiple disciplines simultaneously, or even two majors, while still graduating in 4 years.  At Concordia College, nearly ¼ of our students will double major and 91% graduate in 4 years.

3.  Generous Financial Aid: Because the majority of liberal arts colleges are private institutions, their “sticker” price is often higher than public universities.  Fortunately, many liberal art colleges offer very generous financial aid packages.  Their competitive merit-based and talent-based scholarships will significantly lower the net price.  This means students will pay about the same, or possibly less, out of pocket to attend a private liberal arts college than a public university.   

Q: What kinds of students can be successful or “good fits” for liberal arts colleges in the United States?

The undergraduate experience at Concordia College is distinct.  There is a lot of camaraderie that happens, especially the first year.  For example, all new students are assigned to a “Club” during New Student Orientation.  They will also participate in a campus-wide service project early on in the first semesters.  Programs like these create a very close-knit community for students, staff and faculty.  As such, liberal arts colleges like Concordia can be a great fit for students who will be living abroad for the first time.  The friendly environment and camaraderie allows new students to quickly find their niche on campus. 

Also, students seeking a more personalized educational experience where they can be actively involved in different activities, including music ensembles, research opportunities and study away often thrive at liberal arts colleges because of their stature.   

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