The View From Campus: What’s Life Like On U.S. College Campuses in 2022?

Over the last two years there have been quite a few changes to everyday life on U.S. college campuses. With a global pandemic still impacting our daily lives in almost every country on earth, we’d be forgiven for thinking things may never be the same again. In many ways that may be true, but for many international students seeking to study in the United States there are and will continue to be several important parts of life that will remain the same.

Covid’s Impact in 2022

While the latest Omicron variant came soon after the Delta wave had affected the start of the academic year in August/September, the greater majority of college campuses are back with in-person classes this January. Many campuses had implemented Covid-19 vaccine requirements for students either at the beginning of the academic year or for this new academic term this January. Some U.S. colleges have even begun requiring students get booster shots to continue in-person education. While there may still be courses taught online, those taught in-person having significant physical changes to the classroom space with face masks required, social distancing with seats, the following areas remain consistent.

Implications for International Students

Because of new travel regulations to the United States that went into effect in November 2021, all travelers coming to the U.S. must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (unless you are coming from one of about fifty countries where vaccination rates are below 10%). If you are from one of those countries, most colleges will provide free vaccine shots after arrival, as well as booster shots (six months after you are fully vaccinated). For many international students, wearing a mask to protect yourself and others may be second nature, so that transition may be less of an issue.

The Informality

What surprises most international students when they get into their first classes at U.S. colleges is how professors can be so friendly. You may be used to a very formal relationship between students and faculty members in your educational institutions in your home country. For many professors in the United States, the opportunities to help students become what they hope to be is a calling. Faculty members are routinely required to have a set number of hours each week that they are available outside of class periods for students to schedule appointments about topics in class that need clarification or even drop by to have a conversation. International students often develop close relationships with faculty members in their academic program who serve as mentors for students as they progress through their degree program.

The Syllabus

Typically, the first time each class meets, all students in the room receive what is called a syllabus. This document serves as an informal contract between students & the professor. The syllabus outlines all requirements for the duration the class meets, what textbooks or other resources will be studied, when assignments or papers would be due as well as the dates of quizzes, tests, and/or exams. Oftentimes, the syllabus breaks down all content that will be covered as well as how grades will be determined. Quizzes might be worth 10%, a mid-term test 25%, a paper 20%, final exam 30%, and classroom participation 15%. That’s right, you read that last part of the preceding sentence correctly – how well you participate in class can count as a significant portion of your academic grade for a course!

Asking Questions

While you take a minute to digest that last part, let us explain that whether it’s simply asking questions to demonstrate you are engaged in the conversation or need explanations of certain topics, the expectation is that students participate. Speaking with new international students over the years, I have found that while they can usually adapt to the informality of relationships with professors, the real challenge is in changing the way they approach class. Faculty members, in general (certainly not all), encourage debate and discussions on the issues that the topics of the day’s class cover.

Academic Integrity

The realities of the differences in how classrooms operate here compared to your home country may take you some time to become comfortable with them. But one area of how U.S. classrooms operate on college campuses that must be understood immediately after classes begin is academic integrity. In effect, this means there are university policies that require students to practice academic honesty and not engage in plagiarism or other forms of cheating while enrolled. See what the University of North Carolina’s policy on academic integrity involves. MIT breaks down what that prestigious institution means into simple dos and don’ts for issues that may come up in the classroom.

In the end, you’ll need to prepare for the academic transition to a U.S. college. For additional resources on these topics and more, check out this video playlist from our colleagues at EducationUSA that answers questions on the different facets of campus life in U.S. colleges and universities.

Preparing for IELTS on Computer

IELTS, the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and migration, can now be taken on a computer.

In this blog post, we will talk about our online resources that can help you get acquainted with the IELTS on computer test.

Find out how it works

The British Council’s Take IELTS website has several video tutorials that will help you understand how computer-delivered testing works. As well as an introductory video that focuses on some general features, the website has tutorials on different sections of the test. You can also find videos that give step-by-step guidance on using various features of the test, such as highlighting text and making notes.

Where to go: https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/take-ielts/prepare/ielts-on-computer/how-it-works

Access sample test questions

Finding IELTS materials online these days is as easy as falling off a log – there are scores of websites with information, tips and practice tests. Unfortunately, practice tests found on the internet may not contain task types that are similar to the ones used in the actual test, making them unsuitable for test preparation.

You needn’t fret about it, though, as you can access official sample test questions to have an authentic experience of three sections of IELTS on computer – Listening, Reading and Writing. And what is more, you will find sample task types for both IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training.

Where to go: https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/take-ielts/prepare/ielts-on-computer/practice-tests

Attempt the familiarisation test

What better way to prepare for IELTS than by taking an official mock examination, that too for free? The IELTS on computer familiarisation test lets you do just that! Lasting 2 hours and 30 minutes, just like the real test, it is a full sample version that has the Listening, Reading and Writing sections. On completion, you get results for the Listening and Reading sections too. And as there is no need to book or register beforehand, you can take the familiarisation test at a moment’s notice. 

Where to go: https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/take-ielts/prepare/ielts-on-computer/familiarisation-test

If you need to take IELTS, opting for computer-delivered testing will certainly be a smart move, as it has increased test availability and faster results turnaround times. Just make sure you find out in advance how your test day will look like.

Making Your IELTS Essay Sound Formal (Part 3)

So far in this blog series, you’ve read about some handy tips that can help improve your use of academic English, such as avoiding statistics that are made up and limiting the use of personal pronouns.  

In this final part, we’ll introduce you to a few more essential features of academic English.

6. Learn to use passive voice

The passive voice is often used to change the focus of a sentence. Unlike a sentence in active voice, here, who or what gets affected by the action gets more importance than the performer of the action. 

People often destroy woodlands to make way for development. (active voice)

Woodlands are often destroyed to make way for development. (passive voice)

It is clear that people in general are the performers of the action in the above sentence, so the passive version does not even mention them. If used appropriately, passive structures can make your writing impersonal.

7. Avoid vague language and short forms  

One noticeable aspect of academic English is clarity. There is no room for ambiguity when you are putting together an IELTS essay, so avoid language that will make your writing sound vague. For example, do not use the phrases ‘et cetera’ or ‘so on’ – it sort of indicates indolence on your part. Stating one or two specific examples in support of your point will work better, making your writing clearer. Similarly, avoid using short forms such as ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ in your essay; write phrases like ‘for example’ and ‘in other words’ instead.

8. Do not use sexist language

In the past, it was okay to use words such as he, him and his to refer to all humankind, but not anymore.

If an employee is running late, he will have to inform his line manager without fail.

Sexist language, such as in the sentence above, is language that excludes one gender, or which suggests that one particular gender is superior to the other. In the present-day world, not every police officer is a he, and not every nurse is a she. Because of diminishing gender differences, people are increasingly finding sexist language offensive, so you would do well to avoid it. You could use alternatives such as ‘he/she’ or ‘they’ in place of ‘he’.  

Finally, remember that what you have read here are some basic rules of academic English; getting the tone of your essay right each time will take some practice.

To get more Writing tips and practice, visit the British Council’s LearnEnglish website by clicking here.

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Undergraduate Programs

Are you a student thinking about studying abroad for your first university experience? If so, you are to be commended. If you are considering the United States, you will be welcomed by the college you choose. Finding the right U.S. college, however, 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 need. Our friends at EducationUSA have put together a useful worksheet that is well worth trying called “Define Your Priorities.”

By determining your answers to questions like why do you want to study in the U.S., as well as preferences for living in a city, suburb, or more rural area, or whether you want to be on a large campus or a small one, 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. 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, etc. 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, and Big Future. Each has a variety of factors you can choose from to select institutions including:

  • Location by state
  • Institution type
  • Selectivity of the institution
  • Sports and activities available
  • Types of campus housing
  • Diversity of the student body

By using all of these various criteria, you should be able to put together an appropriate list of colleges that match your wants and needs. 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 you may have realized, due to the pandemic, college admissions has changed in recent years. At present, over seventy-five percent of four year (and all of the two-year) colleges either do not require or won’t consider SAT or ACT scores for applicants for admissions intakes in 2022. Be sure, when you start to further narrow your choices down, to check what tests beyond an 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!

Making Your IELTS Essay Sound Formal (Part 2)

In the first part, we looked at some features of formal language and ways to ensure that your IELTS essay has an academic tone throughout.

Picking up where we left off, here are three things to avoid if your IELTS essay needs to be appropriately formal.

3. Avoid slang words

Choice of vocabulary is arguably the key to controlling the level of formality of your written work. Naturally, it goes without saying that informal words or expressions that are commonly found in spoken language have no place in your IELTS essay. For instance, do not replace the word ‘children’ with an informal expression such as ‘kids’, as this would be inappropriate.

4. Do not use contracted forms

Contracted forms, also referred to as short forms, are words or phrases that have been shortened by dropping one or more letters. Here are some examples:

  • I’m (short form of I am)
  • they’re (short form of they are)
  • I’ve (short form of I have)
  • she’d (short form of she would and she had)
  • we’ll (short form of we will)

When forming a contraction, an apostrophe is used in place of a missing letter, or missing letters. Although contracted forms are very common in English, especially in everyday speech, they are considered inappropriate in formal writing. In IELTS Writing, the only time you can confidently use contractions is when you have been asked to write an informal letter in the IELTS General Training test.

5. Avoid clichés

A cliché is a stale phrase or proverb that has been overused and has, therefore, lost its charm. When you use a cliché like ‘all that glitters is not gold’ in your essay, you end up making your writing dull and unimaginative. A far better approach is to convey this idea in your own words – for example, something that is superficially attractive may not always be valuable or true.

Remember, clichés tend to be inherent in our everyday communication, so they may creep into your writing unnoticed. For this reason, do keep an eye out for clichéd expressions when your proofread your essay. And should you find any, paraphrase without any hesitation.

You can find more information on academic English in the final part in this series.

Making Your IELTS Essay Sound Formal (Part 1)

The choice between formal and informal language boils down to one key consideration: context. While informal English is casual and spontaneous, which is ideal for communicating with friends or family, formal English tends to be less personal, making it suitable for work or academic purposes.

Whether our style of communication sounds formal or informal depends on the tone, type of vocabulary and complexity of grammar used when we write or speak. Generally speaking, though, formal language is more common in written than in spoken English.

In IELTS, it is important that Writing tasks have a formal tone throughout. Of course, there is the possible exception of an informal or semi-formal letter being set as Task 1 in the General Training test, but otherwise you will be expected to use an academic style of writing. In this blog series, we will consider some ways in which you can make your IELTS essay sound sufficiently formal.

1. Limit the use of pronouns

Although the tone of an IELTS essay does not have to be as serious or impersonal as that of a research paper, it is always a good idea to limit the use of the first person pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’. Of course, if the essay asks for your opinion, it would be quite natural for you to state it by using a phrase such as ‘I tend to believe’ or ‘I am of the opinion’, so go right ahead. Just don’t overuse pronouns, that’s all!

2. Do not invent statistics

While putting together an essay, it is commonplace for test takers to use statistics in support of their arguments or ideas. However, on test day, you are not expected to come armed with precise data obtained from research papers or articles that will fit your essay topic. So, do not make up facts or data in an attempt to make information in your essay appear authentic. A general phrase like ‘There is enough evidence to suggest that…’ will suffice to get your point across. Besides, you could use expressions such as ‘majority’ or ‘vast majority’ instead of inventing numbers or percentages.

Do read the remaining parts in this series if you would like to get pointers on how to improve your academic English.

The View From Campus: What are current testing requirements at U.S. universities

Over the last two years our world has changed dramatically. In higher education terms, some countries have had to completely close their borders to international students, others tried. Since March of 2020 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 changed 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 the IELTS or will soon be. In addition to the IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic, iTEP, and Duolingo are accepted (at varying levels) by U.S. colleges and universities requiring an English language test for admissions. By far, IELTS and TOEFL are 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 75% 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.

U.S. graduate schools have also been drawn to the test-optional movement, including the University of Miami which dropped the GRE and GMAT for most of its programs. Many top graduate/post-graduate business programs in the United States have gone test-optional for this year. Even at the University of California, Berkeley many of the graduate programs have gone GRE/GMAT optional for 2022.

Final thoughts

In the end, while these academic ability tests have become increasingly optional the last two years and may even become permanently optional, 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 IETLS are the primary way, at present, for U.S. colleges to assess English ability.

If you’re scores are not 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 gives you the opportunity to settle in to the country while improving your English ability before you start your degree program.

We wish you all the best on your study journey!

3 Ways to Record New Vocabulary

How quickly you learn to use new words and phrases accurately depends on how often you go over them. The more frequently you review new vocabulary, the easier it gets to recall them when you write or speak.

In this blog post, we will tell you about three different ways in which you can keep a record of new vocabulary.

Word cards

Using a set of small cards is one of the best ways to help you recall new vocabulary. All you need is a set of paper cards – write the word or phrase on one side of the card and a simple definition on the other side. It might help if you add an example sentence too along with the definition so that it is easier to fully understand the meaning.

When you are in the mood for some vocab practice, all you have got to do is spread the cards out with the word or phrase facing up. Looking at just the vocabulary item will force you to retrieve its meaning from memory. To make this activity more productive, you could also add other details – for example, word class (e.g. noun, verb, adjective), translation or pronunciation.

Post-it notes

Are you a real busy bee with no time to set aside for improving your English? Do not fret, for we have just the method for you that’ll let you expand your vocabulary while you’re doing other work. Get yourself some of those coloured, sticky paper used for writing notes on and write new vocabulary on them. Then, stick them in places where you spend time doing routine tasks like ironing, washing up or cooking. 

Photos

If you are a shutterbug by any chance, then this method should be right up your street. Put the camera on your mobile phone to good use by clicking the photos of objects you don’t know the names of. You could also photograph literally anything that helps you remember a new piece of vocabulary you’re trying to learn. All you then do is organise the photos in a folder so that you can view them regularly.

Remember, spending a few minutes every day reviewing new vocabulary will be a lot more rewarding than spending hours on the activity once in a while.

Learn more about vocabulary on our website here.

The Day before your IELTS Test (Part 2)

A previous blog post on the topic focussed on three things you ought to do on the eve of your IELTS test: ensuring your physical well-being, reducing anxiety levels and eating well.

We have some more advice on how to spend the twenty-four hours leading up to your test.

Revise

Whilst it is natural for you to want to continue preparing for D-Day till the last moment, it is important to keep studies light. It is best not to attempt to study anything entirely new on the eve of your IELTS test. Instead, focus your energies on revising whatever you’ve managed to learn up until that point. Besides, do not be tempted to chop and change the strategies that have worked for you thus far. In short, last-minute changes are undesirable.  

Know when to stop

Let’s face it – there is only so much study you can do before a test. Too much cramming for an exam at the eleventh hour isn’t going to help one bit; all it would do is send you into a tizzy. If you’ve put enough hours into improving your language skills, it should give you the confidence to ease up on the day before.

Put together a to-do list

To avoid moments of panic on test day, it might be a good idea to draw up a list of things you have got to do before you set off for the test venue. This should help you remember to pick up essential things, such as your ID document and stationery. Doing a quick double-check of the location of your test venue online is also advisable if you’ve never been there before. 

Get some shut-eye

Months of hard work can quickly go down the drain if you aren’t sufficiently rested and sharp. Remember, getting a good night’s sleep is as important as anything else you could possibly do in preparation for the test. Whatever you do, do not pull an all-nighter, which is bound to leave you groggy and disoriented.

Finally, once you begin the test, you might come across topics that are unfamiliar or questions that look tricky. Just keep calm, take time to slow your breathing, and deal with things as best as you can. Good luck!

The View From Campus: Researching U.S. master’s and doctoral programs

Over the past twenty months, many international students seeking to study in the United States have had their dreams put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The uncertainty surrounding whether universities would be open has caused many students to either defer enrollment for a year or begin their studies online from their home countries. But as travel restrictions loosen, changes to admission requirements happen, and the guarantee of vaccinations being available to new international students on arrival, the United States is seeing a significant spike in student interest this year. 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.

Start early

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 1100 colleges and universities that offer master’s and doctoral programs.

Define 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.

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.  

Because this year, like the last one, there really are no in-person college fairs and events where direct representatives have not been able to connect with you in your home country, 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.

Find your right 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.

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 are 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. More recently, over 85% of the graduate degree programs at the University of California, Berkeley (one of the top 25 U.S. national universities) decided to make the GRE optional for all applicants.

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