Applying to U.S. Colleges in Uncertain Times

Over the last five months the world has come to grips with a global pandemic that has fundamentally changed the way we live. From the simple act of washing our hands or getting food to complex tasks of travel and work, how we interact with others outside our immediate families is dramatically different than in was in 2019.

For students seeking study opportunities in the United States for the next academic year, you likely have many questions. While we don’t have all the answers, we do hope to at least point you in the right directions for the information you seek.

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.
  • Watching YouTube videos of current students explaining how they are experiencing life on campus during the pandemic.
  • Checking out Instagram posts about what’s happening at the college.
  • Visiting Covid-19 web pages, like this one from the University of Oregon.

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 like offering virtual tours to their campuses and events.  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!

Worried about the U.S. student visa process? 10 tips to help you prepare

Everyone has heard a story of a friend, or friend of a friend, who has been denied a student visa to study in the U.S., right? Well, the truth is, yes, prospective students can be turned down at this next to last hurdle to realizing their dream of attending a university in the United States. While this can be a cruel end, it doesn’t have to be. The reality is that over the last 5 years, the global average of students being APPROVED for a U.S. student visa has been over 80%. 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 are the steps you will need to take as U.S. consulates and embassies reopen after the pandemic.

1. Got your I-20?

Make sure you have received the I-20 and 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 make a decision as to which institution you will attend before starting the visa process.

2.  Check your passport

  • Make sure your passport will be valid for at least six months after your initial planned entry into the U.S.
  • Is your name spelled the same (and in the same order) as is listed on your passport? It has to be!

3.  Pay your SEVIS fee

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

4.  Complete the Visa Application Form

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

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

5.  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). 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.

6.  Schedule your visa appointment

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.

7.  Attend a Visa Session

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 they will make it clear what they are expecting from successful student visa applicants, and the kind of questions they will ask.

8.  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.

9.  Talk to your friends 

Are any of your former classmates studying in the U.S. now? Ask 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.

10.  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!

The View From Campus – “I’ve Been Admitted, Now What Do I Do?”

This month’s article is featuring Brooke O’Donnell Mitchell, Director of International Student Services at Pepperdine University. Ms. Mitchell explains what steps international students should take after they are admitted to U.S. colleges.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A: Breathtaking. Caring. Impactful. Spiritual. Prestigious. 

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas? 
A: Ranked within the top #50 national universities and #39 Best Value, we are known for having 7 other global campuses and 80%+ of our students study and intern abroad. We are also known for our incredible coastal location near Los Angeles, which has been ranked the “most beautiful” campus in the nation several times. 

Q: What are your top academic programs
A: Business Administration, Biology, Psychology, Economics, Sports Medicine,#3 Dispute Resolution, #47 Best Law Schools, #83 Best Business Schools, Combined Master of Dispute Resolution/Master of Business Administration (MDR/MBA), #65 Public Policy.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A: China, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Brazil

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?
A: An IELTS exam with a score of 6.5 or higher can waive our English proficiency requirement. Because Pepperdine is a top university and does not have an English Language Center on campus, it’s essential that students can demonstrate proficiency in the admissions process. 

Q: If international students are admitted to more than one institution, what are the most important next steps they should take?
A: Students are choosing their home for the next few years, which warrants candid questions to enrolled students about life, rumors about the school, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask the tender questions…we expect them and students will be honest in their response. Additionally, have honest conversations about financing your education with family and the institutions.  

Q: What advice would you give to students making their final decision where to attend?
A: Trust your intuition. Listen to counselors, parents, friends, etc. but, honor yourself. This is an important life lesson that is most freeing and impactful when heeded early. 

Q: Can international students receive financial aid from U.S. universities?
A: Financial aid and scholarships are different. Both are available by many institutions, but scholarships are offered more frequently than financial aid. Aid requires that students demonstrate their financial capacity for review. Most scholarships are independent of such evaluations and are related to academic merit or special talents.  

Q: Is a deposit needed to secure a place at the college or university students choose?
A: In most cases a deposit or tuition prepayment (deposit is used towards the first tuition payment) is required. May 1 is the national deadline in the U.S., however due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, some institutions may consider an extension. It is important to clarify well in advance as wire transfers can take a few days to post. 

Q: What is an I-20, and how can international students get theirs?
A: The I-20 is essentially a permission slip to study in the United States. The University will initiate next steps with students usually once a deposit is received. At Pepperdine, our office renders the admission as well as assists students with the I-20, orientation, making connections on campus, and managing their F-1 student visa throughout their time as a student! 

The View From Campus: Explaining the U.S. Admissions Process

This month, Rosalie Saladzis, Assistant Director of International Admission at Santa Clara University in California, shares a brief overview of her institution, her views on the value of IELTS in evaluating students’ English readiness for university study, as well as an overview of the U.S. college application process.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words or less.
A: Innovative, Collaborative, Compassionate, Beautiful!

Q: For what is your institution known abroad?
A: Santa Clara University is known as a mid-sized private liberal arts institution located in the heart of Silicon Valley that blends high-tech innovation with social consciousness grounded in a Jesuit education tradition.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad)?
A: Our Leavey School of Business majors such as Finance or Accounting are popular amongst undergraduate students.  Minors like Entrepreneurship and International Business are popular across the entire student body.   
Within our School of Engineering some of our more popular programs are Computer Science and Engineering or Bio-engineering. 

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college? 
A: India, China, Japan, Singapore, and Philippines.

Q: How international is your institution? 
A: 4% of our student population is international coming from 44 different countries.

Q: Do you accept IELTS scores for admissions and do you trust this as a good indicator of a student’s English ability? 
A: Santa Clara University requires proof of English proficiency.  To be considered for admission, we accept IELTS as a strong indicator of English ability. SCU minimum accepted IELTS score is 6.5.

Q: Can you explain the difference between rolling admissions, early decision, early action, and regular decision at U.S. colleges?  

Rolling admissions:

Rolling admissions permits students to submit their applications to the University anytime within a designated window.  The average duration of time students are eligible to submit their rolling application is 6 months, while other Universities may indicate their intent to accept applications until the class is filled. Students can expect to receive a decision within a few weeks of applying under rolling admissions. 

Early decision

Early decision (ED) programs are usually binding.  ‘Binding’ means that the applicant is committing to enrolling at the University if they are offered admission.  The ED option is for students who have decided that a specific University is their first choice.  You may not submit Early Decision applications to more than one institution. Students may apply to other Early Action programs, but must agree to promptly withdraw their applications from all other institutions if admitted into their Early Decision school.

Early Action

Early Action is a non-binding admission program that allows you to get an admission decision sooner. Admission decisions may include: admit, deferred to regular decision or denied.  Early action applicants are not limited to applying to just one University. 

Q: What are institutions looking for in an application essay/statement of purpose? 
A: Institutions are looking for students who are capable of writing at a University level. It’s important that an applicant’s writing sample is grammatically correct and persuasive.  I encourage students to utilise the personal essay as an opportunity to share more about what’s important to them and how they may be a good fit for our campus community.  

Q: How important are deadlines in the admission process to U.S. institutions?   
A: Meeting application deadlines for U.S. institutions is very important.  By meeting the assigned deadline, students demonstrate that they are organised and serious about the possibility of attending their institution. 

Q: What needs to be in a letter of recommendation that my teachers/professors are asked to write?  
A: Strong letters of recommendation include details regarding academic achievement, how the student engages in a classroom environment, work ethic and character.

Q: Once a student sends in all the required documents to complete their application, how soon after that point will he/she receive an answer?  
A: Students can expect to receive an admissions decision approximately 1.5 – 2 months after the application deadline.

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!

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. 

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.

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.   

The View From Campus – Making The Academic Adjustment To Life at a U.S. University

This month we hear from Kevin Beisser, Senior Immigration Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, on the important topic of how international students can best make the transition, academically, to life on a U.S. college campus.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Vibrant, welcoming, multicultural, convenient, quality

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: Academic Excellence and our graduate’s success.

Alumnus Satya Nadella the current CEO of Microsoft, who at the time was an international student from India, received his master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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

A: UWM is home to Wisconsin’s largest online education program, with more than 850 classes and 40 fully online certificate and degree programs. The university is also home to the state’s largest collaboration of health sciences, nursing and public health programs through its Partners for Health initiative. It also boasts one of the world’s top film programs. Other major programs include business, engineering, education and information studies.

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

A: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, & Iran. 

Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the Admission Process? 

A: The IELTS test is used as evidence of English Proficiency.  At the undergraduate level a student would need a score of 5.0 or better for full admission and at the graduate level a score of 6.5 or higher is required. 

Q: What is the most common challenge new international students face when adapting to the academic environment at U.S. colleges? 

A: One common challenge is fatigue.  If you are a non-native English speaker, even if you are proficient in English, spending 24 hours using that language can be tiring as your brain is constantly working.  Combine that with the normal stresses of moving to a new environment and studying and you will be exhausted at the end of the day.  Hence, focusing on your health is crucial in your success at the beginning and throughout your collegiate career. Sufficient sleep, healthy eating and exercise are essential.

Q: How much time should students be studying for each class they have?

A: Generally, students should expect 2-3 hours of studying for each credit hour they are enrolled in. 

Q: How is the classroom style of professors so different in the U.S. from what most students have experienced back home? 

A: U.S. academic culture requires class participation which can be a challenge to many students who are not used to this style of education.  Classroom styles can also be more informal than what students are used to in their home countries.   

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions take cases of academic integrity violations (plagiarism, cheating, etc.) on campus?

A: Very seriously!  Taking credit for someone else’s work or cheating at all U.S colleges and universities will result in discipline ranging from failure of the course to permanent expulsion from the institution or system.  There are two common American adages that are the best advice I can give to students when it comes to academic integrity the first is: “Honesty is the best policy” and the second is: “When in Doubt ask questions”. 

Q: How can international students best prepare to avoid potential problems with adapting to their new academic environment on campus? 

A: My best recommendation is to be healthy as mentioned above and try to be involved as possible.  The more people you meet the more resources you will have to ask questions.  In addition, staying busy also helps you avoid the pitfalls of culture shock.  Make sure you ask a lot of questions, Americans are very eager to help others, but they typically wait to be asked rather than assume someone needs help.  The same goes for your instructors, they will all have office hours to help with any issues you may be facing in their course.  Make sure you utilize that opportunity to clarify anything that you do not understand. 

The View From Campus: Understanding the U.S. Application Process

Marie Whalen, Associate Director of International Admissions and Recruitment at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, shares a brief overview of her institution, her views on the value of IELTS in evaluating students’ English readiness for university study, as well as an overview of the U.S. college admissions process.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words or less.

A: Rigorous, inclusive, supportive, faith-filled

Q: For what is your institution known abroad?

A: Whitworth is best known for its academic excellence and a welcoming, supportive environment for international students.

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

Health Sciences

Business/Economics

Biology

Psychology

English

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

Nigeria

South Korea

Mongolia

Nepal

Zimbabwe

Q: Do you accept IELTS scores for admissions and do you trust this as a good indicator of a student’s English ability?

A: IELTS enables us to assess the applicant’s skill overall as well as in the individual areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening. As a well-recognized and reliable assessment tool, our international admissions committee can look at an IELTS band score and know instantly what the English level at which the applicant is able to function.

Additionally, we can see if there is one specific area where the student can be successful but may need some additional support, such as writing, for example. We also appreciate that the verbal section is done with a live interview vs. with a computer.  IELTS is a critical part of determining admissibility in our international admission process.

Q: Can you explain the difference between rolling admissions, early decision, early action, and regular decision at U.S. colleges?

A: Rolling admission is a process that allows students to apply within a wide time range of time rather than submitting to specific tight deadline, like January 1st, for example. However, rolling admission also means that students are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, so places can fill up. Once places for a class are full, applications won’t be accepted. If applying to a school with rolling admission, it can be better to apply earlier than later.

Some U.S. institutions, usually highly selective, offer Early Decision (ED). Students submit their applications early and receive a decision early. If a student applies to a university ED, then they are promising to attend that institution, if admitted. Students should only apply ED if they are certain they want to attend the ED institution and they have assessed both their financial situation and type and level of aid offered by the ED school.

Early Action (EA), like ED, gives students the opportunity to apply early to institutions and receive a decision early. However, unlike ED, Early Action is not a contract, and not binding. Students can apply to multiple institutions that offer EA. If a student is admitted EA to 5 U.S. colleges, for example, they can choose which one to attend.  There are a very limited number of colleges that offer Restrictive or Single Early Action, requiring students to apply EA to only one institution.

Many institutions offer some combination of ED, EA and Regular Decision. Whitworth, for example, offers Early Action I and Early Action II, as well as Regular Decision. A regular decision deadline is the deadline after any ED or EA deadlines and is usually considered the final deadline for applying.

Q: What are institutions looking for in an application essay/statement of purpose?

A: Institutions look to the essay to gain additional insight into an applicant, beyond their grades, test scores and any extra-curricular activities.  The essay is an excellent opportunity for an applicant to share something about themselves that we otherwise would not know. Some students have compelling life stories, or a hobby or passion, or some unique perspective.

Q: How important are deadlines in the admission process to U.S. institutions?

A: Very important! Many U.S. institutions have strict admission, scholarship and financial aid deadlines. If you miss a deadline, even by an hour, your application may not be considered, or you may not receive any financial aid. I always tell students to begin their applications early because they often take more time than students expect. Don’t miss those deadlines!

Q: What needs to be in a letter of recommendation that my teachers/professors are asked to write?

A: Colleges look to teacher/professor letters of recommendation to find out what type of student an applicant is. Of course we know that a student with a 3.74/4.00 GPA is competent academically, but we want to know more: how does the student learn? How does he or she contribute to the classroom and interact with the teacher and classmates?  Does the student do the minimum work required or go beyond that to learn about a topic in-depth? Is a student who struggled academically in year 11 now making good progress?

Q: Once a student sends in all the required documents to complete their application, how soon after that point will he/she receive an answer?

A: Some institutions will give admissions decisions within 2-3 weeks; others can take months to respond. Some institutions have pre-set dates for releasing their decisions. Every institution has its own policy and this policy should be written on their website.

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