The View From Campus: Applying for a student visa during a pandemic

The past eighteen months during the Covid-19 global pandemic have upended many students’ study plans. But for those who have persevered, congratulations, you are almost there! The next step, getting your student visa, is perhaps the most nerve-wracking time for international students headed for the United States. The good news is with the right preparation, honest answers, and appropriate documentation you can give yourself an excellent chance of being granted a student visa.

Here is what you should do as U.S. consulates and embassies reopen after the pandemic:

1. Got your I-20?  

Make sure you have received the I-20 & admission letter from the college/university you plan to attend. You may have been accepted and received I-20s from more than one school. We recommend that you decide which institution you will attend before starting the visa process.

2. Check your passport

Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your initial planned entry into the U.S. Your name on your I-20 must be spelled the same (and in the same order) as is listed on your passport.

3. Pay your SEVIS fee.

Students can pay this $350 fee online. You will need an e-receipt for the next steps in the process.

4. Complete the Visa Application Form.

You will need most of the following items to complete this form (online DS-160 (non-immigrant visa application):

Passport

SEVIS ID (from your I-20 form)

Address of the college you will attend (usually on the I-20)

Travel itinerary to the U.S. if you have made arrangements already

Admission letter from the college you will attend

Proof of funding – bank statements, scholarship award letters, etc.

Dates of your last 5 visits to the United States (if any)

Profile names on your social media accounts over the last 5 years.

After completing the online DS-160 application, print off the DS-160 Bar Code page. You will not need to print the entire application.

Plan ahead!

You can schedule your visa appointment up to 120 days in advance of the start date listed on your I-20 (when your new school requires you to be on campus). Because this summer there is two years’ worth of international students seeking visas to enter the United States, in some countries there may be a substantial wait time to get an appointment, and, more importantly, to process your application. The good news is that student visa applicants are given priority, even in countries where U.S. consulates are open for emergency appointments only.

Schedule your visa appointment at the U.S. embassy/consulate nearest you.

Using this site you’ll learn whether you can make your appointment online or by telephone. You will also need to pay the visa application fee (approximately $160, the price varies slightly per country).

Attend a Visa Session at an EducationUSA Advising Center in your country.

EducationUSA works closely with the U.S. consular officers that conduct the visa interviews. At these sessions (which may still be held virtually this year) they will make it clear what they are expecting from successful student visa applicants, and the kind of questions they will ask.

Enjoy the experience.

A few years ago our friends at the U.S. Embassy in London put together a great video to help ease your fears, Mission: Possible – Get Your U.S. Student Visa.

Talk to your friends

Are any of your former classmates studying in the U.S. now? Ask for their advice about their interview experiences and ask for their recommendations. You can also check out how successful students help demystify the student visa process.

Breathe, relax, and be honest.

You have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources to get to this visa interview. Try not to be too nervous. You are almost there. Answer the visa officer’s questions honestly – Why did you pick the particular college you want to attend? How are you funding your studies? What are your plans after you finish your studies?  You may not know the exact answer to this last question, but be thinking about how you might answer that question.

Good luck to you as you take this important next step!

IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training? (Part 2)

Previously we elaborated on how IELTS can open doors for those wanting to study in a foreign country. IELTS Academic is the popular choice when it comes to higher education, whereas courses below degree level may require you to take IELTS General Training. 

Read on to know which IELTS test can help you land a job in an English-speaking country and which one can help you move abroad permanently.

IELTS for work

Getting a good IELTS band score can, without doubt, greatly enhance your work prospects, as it proves to prospective employers that you have enough language skills to work and live comfortably in an English-speaking environment.

Employers from a wide range of sectors, such as healthcare, finance, government, construction, energy, aviation and tourism, require prospective employees to submit an IELTS result. It is up to individual test users to determine the IELTS band scores and test type (Academic or General Training) that best serve their needs.

You will most likely be asked to sit IELTS Academic if you wish to register with a professional body in industries such as nursing, medicine and pharmacy, where English language competence is of critical importance. IELTS General Training, on the other hand, is usually required for vocational training, for example in the construction, hospitality and leisure, and tourism industries.

IELTS for migration

IELTS is accepted as evidence of English language proficiency for migration by several countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Remember that each country sets its own IELTS requirement – for instance, the minimum IELTS score for migrating to New Zealand is 6.5, whereas Australia has set the minimum score at 6. The score required may also vary depending on the type of visa you apply for.

Individuals intending to apply for permanent residency in a foreign country most commonly take IELTS General Training. It measures English language proficiency in a practical, everyday context, and the tasks and texts reflect both workplace and social situations.

All in all, IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training are two separate tests designed for two different purposes. While we may have answered some of your questions, it is best to check the entry requirements set by your organisation before deciding which IELTS test to take.

IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training? (Part 1)

IELTS is a test designed to help individuals who are keen on studying, working or living in an English-speaking country.  Globally recognised by more than 11,000 employers, universities, schools and immigration bodies, the IELTS brand has gone from strength to strength since its introduction over three decades ago.

The real-world feel that IELTS offers is something that has helped it earn international acclaim. As a lot of the test content reflects everyday situations, it is easier for test takers to relate to the tasks they receive. Besides, great care is taken to ensure that the test is unbiased and fair to test takers from all backgrounds.

If you are new to the test, you may be confused about whether to sit IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training. All IELTS test takers take the same Listening and Speaking tests, but the Reading and Writing sections differ. Here is some information to help you understand how the tests differ.

IELTS for study

On average, about three million students choose to study outside their country of citizenship each year, with many among them preferring English-speaking countries, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and USA. Universities in these countries welcome foreign students with open arms, provided applicants have the academic credentials and language proficiency to be able to successfully complete the course they have chosen. Some universities in non-English speaking countries also ask applicants to submit IELTS scores if the course is taught in English.

IELTS Academic is suitable for those wishing to pursue higher education in an English-speaking environment. The test reflects aspects of academic language and evaluates whether you are ready to begin studying or training. It can be your passport to international success, enabling you to study at an undergraduate or postgraduate level anywhere in the world. However, if you wish to study or train at below degree level, then IELTS General Training would be appropriate. Whichever IELTS test you take with the British Council, you do get the added benefit of having your results sent to a maximum of five organisations for free. In the next part, you will be able to find out more about how IELTS can help with work or migration.

The View From Campus: What to Expect When Applying to U.S. Colleges Post-pandemic

In the course of the last sixteen months, the world has changed. Many students seeking study opportunities in the United States (and other English-speaking countries) have had their plans cancelled, delayed, or dramatically altered due to the pandemic. As we in the United States are coming out of the pandemic with vaccines readily available, mask orders and other social distancing requirements being lifted, a sense of normalcy is beginning to return to everyday life, slowly. While there are many countries still struggling with the effects of Covid, we want to provide some tips for how you can go about applying to U.S. colleges and universities in the coming months.

College social media and website

While never a substitute for physically visiting campus or interacting with an admissions officers, faculty, or alumni from a college or university you are interested in, institutional websites and social media accounts can provide useful information to assist you in making informed decisions. Here are a few examples of what you can access to get what you need.

  • Reviewing Facebook pages and groups for important updates on changes and announcements.
  • Viewing YouTube videos from international student offices explaining how students can travel.
  • Checking out Instagram posts about what’s happening at the college.
  • Watching students talk about their success stories during Covid-19
  • Visiting university Covid-19 web pages, like this one from the University of Washington.

Particularly if you are looking for admissions information, these university sites that have specific details about any changes to the application process in terms of tests required, alternatives available, and changes in deadlines or deposits.

Virtual tours and events online

One unintended consequence of the impact of Covid-19 is how U.S. colleges increasingly connect with their prospective students through digital means.  Here’s a regularly updated list of different virtual events and tours for prospective and admitted students.  These resources will help you in:

  • Seeing campus through online videos and self-guided tours gives you a window into what life would look like for you at colleges you are considering.
  • Hearing student experiences about everything from arrival on campus, attending class, studying, participating in activities and events paints an important picture.
  • Learning process/procedures related to applying for admission, funding your studies, getting your visa and more.
  • Attending student pre-departure events to make sure you are ready for your journey to campus.

These virtual connections will be essential as you ensure you are making the right choice for your higher education options in the United States.

Chats with current international students

In the end, nothing means more for prospective students like yourself to have conversations with currently enrolled students at the colleges and universities you are considering. That insight from a fellow international student, maybe even someone from your country, is invaluable to get the full perspective you need about where you will spend the next two to four years (or more).

  • Asking questions directly
  • Connecting with students from your country
  • Dispelling rumors about what’s happening

As you narrow down your list of colleges you may apply to, be sure to ask the international admissions office about opportunities to chat with their international students. To hear some of the discussion around this topic, check out a recent Facebook Live Chat we did that shares some useful insights. Good luck!

Using Current Affairs to Develop IELTS Vocabulary (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog series, we identified the benefits of building your IELTS vocabulary and why it may be a good idea for test takers to form a keen interest in current affairs.

Remember, though, that keeping abreast of the latest news will not automatically turn you into a wordsmith.  

How to boost your IELTS vocabulary

Here is some advice to help you build sufficient vocabulary for the test.

  • Do not learn words in isolation

There is enough evidence to underline the fact that it is a lot more rewarding to learn words in chunks than in isolation. Collocation is an area that your Examiner will rate you on, which means your grasp of the relationship between words is important. When you spot a new word that you would like to learn, look for other words that collocate with it. That way, you will get more bang for your buck!

  • Be on the lookout for useful language

News stories are normally full of catchy vocabulary. You may be tempted to learn a new word or phrase that appears fancy, but always ask yourself this first – will it help you in the IELTS test? If the answer is a no, move on without hesitation. 

  • Organise the vocabulary you wish to learn

Motivate the learner in you; record new vocabulary in a way that makes learning easy and structured. If you are new to this, a quick Google search should fetch you more ideas than you would possibly need.

  • Discover activities that can help you use new language

While it is important that you record new vocabulary diligently, you IELTS band scores will depend mostly on your active vocabulary, i.e. words you can use when you speak or write. Search online for activities that might help you retain new vocabulary better.

  • Find news stories that interest you

Do not feel pressured to follow trending news stories. Instead, choose topics that are appealing so that you do not lose interest midway. That said, always have one eye on news items related to common IELTS topics so that you get rewarded for your efforts with a high IELTS band score on vocabulary. 

Lastly, remember to learn a little every day and have fun doing it. You are more likely to retain language that way.

Using Current Affairs to Develop IELTS Vocabulary (Part 1)

Improving your English does not always have to involve attending classes or completing language exercises. One of the positives to come out of the Covid-19 outbreak is the realisation that there are opportunities aplenty around to improve your language skills; you just need to look hard enough. In this blog series, we will look at an unconventional way to improve your IELTS vocabulary – taking an interest in current affairs.

Why build your IELTS vocabulary

The answer is fairly simple! In two sections of IELTS, Writing and Speaking, vocabulary (Lexical Resource) accounts for 25 percent of the final band score. Now, a widely held belief is that it is easier to get a band 7 on vocabulary than on grammar. Anyone who has tried to fix bad grammar will vouch for the fact that it is an arduous task that could take forever. Naturally, forming the ability to use a reasonably broad range of words, phrases, and collocations related to specific topics may seem to be a comparatively easier route to improving your band scores. Additionally, a wider vocabulary will most certainly help your comprehension along in the Listening and Reading sections too.

Why use current affairs

Current affairs stories typically feature common IELTS topics, such as the environment, consumer behaviour, health, culture, education and social issues. Such reports tend to be rich in topical vocabulary; all you need to do is put enough work into learning some of them. You can then reap the rewards on test day. This is because topical vocabulary generally helps you steam ahead in Writing Task 2 or Speaking Part 3.

News reports are also a great source of functional language – for instance, language used to agree or disagree, to state your opinion, to speculate about the future, to sequence your ideas, or to describe problems and their solutions. The more you see or hear such kind of language, the easier it will get for you to reproduce it.

Finally, news reports come in different formats – print, audio, video – which means that you get to choose whatever appeals to you best. You can alternate between formats too, making sure that monotony never sets in.

In the next part, we will see how current affairs can be used to boost your IELTS vocabulary.

How IELTS Prepares You For U.S. Study

You may think that the IELTS test might not have anything to do with preparing you for study in the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. The time, effort, and preparation you are taking now to take IELTS is an excellent preview of what your studies in the U.S. would involve.

Research Resources

Over 3400 institutions in the United States already accept IELTS. Most importantly, all the top 50 colleges and universities ranked by US News and World Report readily say that IELTS is acceptable for international students needing to document their English language proficiency.

As you may have already found, the prepare section of the British Council IELTS website provides excellent online tools to help you get ready for the test, including several free practice tests as well as resources to improve your reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. All four of those skills are absolutely essential for your studies at a U.S. college or university.

Practice the Skills You Will Use

Ideally, as you search for universities in the United States that have the academic subject you wish to study and meet other requirements you have (size, location, climate, costs, etc.), you should research what IELTS score you will need to meet the English language proficiency standards each institution sets for non-native speakers. Most colleges will have at least an overall score minimum to begin a full academic load of courses in your first term. Some will also set minimum band scores across the four sections of the IELTS test.

As always, you can prepare for IELTS with practice tests that will share your anticipated individual band scores as well as your overall result. Be sure to check those results to see what areas you may need to focus on before taking the actual test. While you are getting set to test, be sure to keep in mind how IELTS can truly help you for both study and work in the USA.

Fulfil the Requirements

In terms of tips you can use to use IELTS as the key to unlock your door to a U.S. higher education, there are three pieces of advice we can offer:

  1. Apply with confidence – have faith in your abilities to succeed.
  2. Meet your deadlines – yes, the dates set for application deadlines matter.
  3. Achieve your dreams – use your IELTS preparation and testing experiences to realise your goals.

For more insight on this topic, check out our Facebook Live chat from April 2021. Good luck!

IELTS Listening: Common Problems and Solutions (Part 2)

Previously, we discussed two problems – inability to understand accents and failing to keep pace with recordings – that test takers typically face during the IELTS Listening test and how best to deal with them.

A third problem that test takers grapple with is dealing with unfamiliar vocabulary. Even if you pick up every word on the recording, not knowing the meaning of key vocabulary can stop you from finding the correct answers. For instance, in Part 4 of the Listening test, if you didn’t know what the word ‘intact’ means, you might not be able to tell with complete confidence whether an artefact recovered from an excavation site is damaged or not.

Whilst it won’t be possible, or necessary, for you to know all the words you hear, expanding your vocabulary would certainly help improve your performance. You’re likely to come across particular types of vocabulary groups in each part of IELTS Listening – use this to your advantage. Words describing shapes and colours, for example, are likely to be used in Part 1, whereas common academic terms, such as syllabus and dissertation, frequently pop up in Part 3. Additionally, invest time in brushing up on your spelling because bad spelling will be penalised.

Finally, even if your listening comprehension is exceptional, a lapse in concentration can cost you dearly. In fact, it is not entirely uncommon for test takers to be distracted when they’re in the middle of the test, letting their attention wander as a result. When you’re loaded with so much information over half an hour, being able to keep your concentration is also something that demands practice.

If you have a poor concentration span, then it’s something you’ll need to work on before sitting IELTS. For starters, form a habit of listening to recordings in English that are reasonably long. Note-taking might help initially to stop your attention from wavering. Besides, learn strategies to tackle various question types so that you have a clear purpose while listening. Most importantly, enjoy developing your listening skills; if you treat it like a chore, you’re bound to lose interest sooner or later. And here’s a final tip – simulate exam conditions while practising listening so that you’ll feel less stress on test day. Good luck!

IELTS Listening: Common Problems and Solutions (Part 1)

The Listening section in IELTS may appear to be a breeze compared to the Writing or Reading sections, but it would still make sense to do some practice tests before you take the real thing.

Over two parts, we’ll talk about some common problems that test takers face and ways to get round them.

To begin with, failing to understand a speaker’s accent often proves to be an obstacle to doing well in the test. IELTS is internationally focused in its content. Naturally, the Listening section makes use of a variety of voices and a range of native-speaker accents, including North American, British, Australian and New Zealand. If you haven’t had much exposure to the speech rhythms and accents characteristic of the English-speaking world, it could be hard going.

Although there is an entire universe of native English accents out there, the good news is that IELTS has been known to use only neutral accents. One way to get better at comprehending standard native-speaker accents is by regularly listening to content produced in countries like the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. YouTube would be a good place to start, as it has tons of TV programmes filmed in the English-speaking world. The added bonus is that much of the content there comes with subtitles.

Another problem is test takers being unable to keep up with recordings. This is most common in the latter part of the Listening section, when speech gets faster. Sometimes, people are caught off guard – they lose their way and miss out on answering an entire set of questions.

To give yourself the best possible chance to keep pace with the speaker(s), see to it that you read all 10 questions in a part before the recording begins. That way, you can listen actively instead of having to do two things at the same time – i.e. reading questions and listening to the recording. Another strategy is to underline anchor words (e.g. names, numbers, technical words) while reading questions, as you’re likely to hear them in the same form later. This should help you navigate through a recording without getting lost.

Do read the next part to know about some more challenges that the Listening section can throw at you.

What to focus on in a statement of purpose

For most international students hoping to come to the United States for a master’s or doctoral degree, one of the most significant challenges they face is writing the statement of purpose (or SOP). If that’s you, let us spend some time covering what you need to know.

Graduate statement of purpose

What is important to remember in applying to U.S. graduate programs is that each department within a university may have different things it looks for in what prospective students write in their application statement of purpose. As a result, we strongly encourage applicants to focus on the department they are applying to more than the university when composing their thoughts. Oftentimes the graduate departments that require statements of purpose have the final say as to which applicants are admitted to their programs.

Tips for graduate applicants

There are many suggestions out there for writing an acceptable statement of purpose. Four tips have consistently shown to be reliable as international students approach this important writing assignment.

  • Find the right academic program
  • Investigate the specifics of each program
  • Get to know the faculty and their research
  • Be careful – one SOP does not fit all

There are many experts out there who offer advice on this writing process. The Princeton Review has put together a useful article with suggestions on how to proceed. If you are searching for what examples of good SOP look like, this site provides good samples of successful statements.

Final advice…

As you begin this process, we have some final words of advice. Remember this:

  • Nothing is perfect the first time.
  • Don’t be afraid to start over.
  • Be honest, specific, and concrete.
  • Proofread.
  • Have others read your drafts.

In the end, your SOP should reflect who you are, why you are applying, and what this degree will help you achieve in life.

For more insight on this topic, check out our Facebook Live chat from March 2021. Good luck!

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