The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Undergraduate Colleges and Universities
This month we hear from Sofia de la Garza, Adviser at EducationUSA Mexico City. Sofia has been advising students on U.S. study opportunities for several years through her work in Mexico.
Q: Describe your role at EducationUSA?
A: I’m an adviser at the EducationUSA Mexico City office. My role is to assist students to be successful in their intention to study in the United States. We offer them all the information they need and guide them through the process from teaching them how to search for institutions that are a good fit, preparing a financial plan and finding financial aid, navigating the admission process in general and all of its requirements, to pre-departure orientations where students learn valuable information that will make their transition to study and live in the U.S. a lot easier for them and their families.
Q: What are the most common academic programs that prospective international undergraduate students seek out in the United States?
A: It varies from region to region. In Mexico, it varies from city to city too! Commonly, students are interested in engineering or business because students usually look for what they know or have heard of. Here in Mexico City, you will find that students are interested in a variety of programs related to fine arts, sports, entertainment, international affairs, etc. As advisers, our job is to explain to the students the concept, the value and benefits of education in the U.S., where you can combine programs (majors and minors) to get exactly the program that they want.
Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for undergraduate education?
A: I think the application process time frame is the most challenging element. Studying in the U.S. requires planning, preparation, and research. It takes time to learn about the process you need to go through in order to be accepted at a university or college, and after that you need to develop an action plan to achieve it. This plan includes studying for the tests, writing essays, requesting recommendations, etc.
Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for undergraduate study?
A: Prospective students should consider at least 1.5 years in advance to the time they want to start the program. The earlier they start the better. Ideally, 2 years would be enough if students are really following the action plan.
Q: How can international students seeking undergraduate study in the United States begin their search?
A: We usually recommend to start searching for schools in the College Board search engine, but besides finding the schools in that web page, they need to visit each institution’s website to find requirements, deadlines, financial aid, campus culture, majors, etc. Another key resource is talking directly to the institutions through fairs. Another great opportunity to learn about institutions is attending the events at EducationUSA centers. These events could be either virtual or in-person.
Q: What are the most important factors prospective international undergraduate students look at when reviewing U.S. colleges and universities?
A: Prospective students usually start by looking at the majors offered and financial aid. They also look into extracurricular activities, campus culture, location, weather, etc. After they determine the institutions that would be a good fit for them, they look into the admission requirements and deadlines among other things.
Q:What role do English proficiency tests like IELTS play in the admissions process for international undergraduate applicants?
A: English proficiency is very important not only to thrive at college, but also to make friends and have an easier adjustment to the campus life. When an institution is requesting these tests, they are trying to make sure a student is proficient in English for the student’s own good and success in their program. Some institutions have programs for students that did not make the minimum English requirements, where they can start taking classes on campus during or after an English program. Tests like IELTS provide a working reference of the students skills, competencies and readiness for academic engagement. Additionally, in some cases, language proficiency can be factored in for financial aid and scholarship opportunities.
Q: What does finding a “good fit” mean when it comes to finding the right college or university in the United States?
A: A Good fit is when a prospective student researches beyond rankings and names of institutions to find his/her goals, expectations and needs aligning with a university or college. Each individual should determinate what are the important aspects, characteristics and conditions an institution should offer to put it in the “right fit list”. We can only determine if an institution is a good fit or not if we have done comprehensive research about it.