OPPORTUNITIES ABROAD

Finding the Right U.S. College For You

Image courtesy of Wilson Hui via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

With thousands of U.S. colleges and universities to choose from, finding the right one for you can be a difficult task. Firstly, there’s huge choice in terms of type of institution, whether it’s private, liberal arts or big public colleges. But there are other criteria you should consider before applying as an international student.

 

Here are some of the ways you can narrow your search.

 

Find what’s important for you

Like with any major decision, some real thought needs to go in to what you want to get out of your university experience. It’s especially important for international students to think about this as you’re going outside your comfort zone for a few years in a new country.

Knowing what you want should apply to all aspects of your choice of college – not just the prestige of the institutions. Here are a few categories that you can use to make your list.

  • Your budget (for the duration of your studies, including holidays). It’s no use choosing a college that you won’t be able to afford. First, calculate your overall maximum budget and any scholarships/funding you might have.

 

  • College standing. It’s still important to go for the best college that you can, so include choices that you have the qualifications for (including IELTS band score), and will be noticed when you come to look for jobs.

 

  • Job prospects. Apart from the standing of the university helping your job prospects, there may be particular places in the U.S that are better than others for you. If you’re a software developer, you’re more likely to find a job close to you if you choose to study in California, rather than Wyoming.

 

  • Area. Do you want to live on a campus, or in a big city? It can make a huge difference to your life and options during the holidays. You may also want to see more of the rest of the country, so a place that’s too remote might not be for you. Make sure you’re clear about where you won’t go.

 

  • Extra-curricular. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside of the classroom too, so you should keep in mind your hobbies and interests and which colleges offer the most for you.

 

Once you’ve got your list you can get to work on researching colleges and narrowing your list further.

Refer back to our recent View From Campus post for more on researching U.S. colleges.

 

 

 

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Ben Grey via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we discussed two key pronunciation features – individual sounds and word stress. Here are two more aspects that can change the way you sound when you speak English.

 

3. Sentence stress

A sentence in English generally has two kinds of words: content words and function words. The first kind are words that give you the overall meaning of the sentence, so they are normally nouns, main verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.

The second kind are usually small words that glue the sentence together to make grammatical sense. Naturally, function words are not usually stressed, whereas content words are. Here’s an example:

Tom has a brother and a sister
Content words: Tom, brother, sister
Function words: has, a, and, a

 

Learners also need to be aware that the way they say a sentence can affect its meaning. In other words, depending on which word(s) in a sentence they stress, the meaning changes. Here’s an example:

Question What the speaker means
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? What is the reason?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not someone else?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not travel by some other mode of transport?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other place? 
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other day?

 

4. Weak forms

As we already know, some words in a sentence are stressed, while others are not. The words that aren’t are generally function words, and some of them have two pronunciations – a weak form and a strong form.

Generally speaking, we produce a weak form by changing the vowel sound in the word to a schwa /ə/. Here is the same example: Tom has a brother and a sister. 

When saying this sentence, we use the weak form of all the function words so that the content words get highlighted.

Word Strong form Weak form
has /hæz/ /həz/
a /eɪ/ /ə/
and /ænd/ /ən/

Listen out for it when you next hear a native speaker talk or radio. Remember, if you wish to talk like a native speaker, then mastering the use of weak forms is a must.

The View From Campus: The Application Essay

West Virginia University

 

This month, David Smith, Executive Director of Recruitment and Entrepreneurial Programs, at West Virginia University’s Intensive English Program, shares his thoughts about the significance of the essay or statement of purpose for international student applicants to U.S. colleges and universities.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words?

Public university. 150-year history.

 

What is your institution best known for overseas?

Energy-related programs of study, particularly petroleum engineering.

 

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

  • Energy Systems Engineering (G)
  • Environmental and Natural Resources (UG)
  • Finance (UG/G)
  • Forensic and Investigative Sciences (UG/G)
  • Mining Engineering (UG/G)
  • Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering (UG/G)

 

What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

  • Kuwait
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Kingdom
  • Oman
  • Spain

West Virginia University has 2,300 international students, or about 6.5% of total enrolment. West Virginia University has many support programs for its international students, including a full Intensive English Program.

 

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

WVU accepts IELTS as one of two measures of English proficiency. IELTS seems to have been an acceptable measurement tool, and requires a score of 6.5 to be considered for admission.

 

Why do colleges and universities in the United States require essays or a statement of purpose as part of the application process?

Universities often cite “fit” as an important criterion for admissions, and schools that value this concept may rely on the essay to assess it. A more practical use may be that the essay can be a “tie-breaker” to differentiate among many students who might otherwise look virtually identical to each other, with nearly identical test scores and academic records.

 

How important is grammar, punctuation, and word choice in student essays?

The best answer may be “it depends.” Certainly, taking care to be perfect in terms of grammar and punctuation is important, and mistakes are likely to be noticed. That said, international students who are non-native English speakers are likely to get some tolerance for minor errors. Sometimes, an essay from a non-native speaker that is too perfect may raise some suspicion that it’s not the applicant’s own work.

 

Should a student personalize essay answers to the different colleges to which he/she is applying?

Probably, but that’s not always practical. It’s very important to be careful not to mention “how much I want to attend School X,” when writing to School Y. That’s a common mistake in cutting and pasting essays into multiple applications.

 

How creative can students be with their essays?

In most cases, creativity is probably a plus. Admissions staff read hundreds of essays, and they start to all sound very similar. One that’s different will attract attention—the important thing is that it be the right kind of attention. If an essay is remembered because it’s highly controversial, that’s not likely to be as positive as if the same point were made in a creative way without coming across as arrogant, belligerent or one-sided.

 

Is it okay to share a student’s successes and accomplishments in the essay if those are not accounted for elsewhere in the application?

Absolutely! Admission to good schools is competitive, and if students don’t mention things that could give them an advantage, no one will ever know.

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 1)

Image courtesy of Matt Harasymczuk via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

What’s your biggest worry when setting out to learn a new language? Perhaps mastering grammar or widening your vocabulary?

 

For most learners, it never crosses their mind that pronunciation can be a key element in success.

 

No matter how accurate or fluent your English is, bad pronunciation can seriously weaken your ability to communicate successfully. After all, if you mispronounce a word, it can change the meaning of what you were trying to say entirely!

 

In this series, we’ll talk about six key pronunciation features that you can help you improve.

 

  1. Individual sounds

Did you know that the pronunciation of each word in English is a combination of short individual sounds called phonemes? Pronouncing these individual sounds accurately is half the battle. A good place to start would be the phonemic chart, which has all 44 phonemes, neatly grouped into three sections: consonant sounds, single vowel sounds and double vowel sounds.

 

Remember, producing a phoneme accurately requires you to position your mouth and jaw in a specific way. So, you could be in for hours and hours of diligent practice before you are able to make the right sounds.

Here’s the British Council phonemic chart to get you started: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/phonemic-chart

 

 

  1. Word stress

In English, a word is usually made up of one or more syllables, which are basically small sound units with a vowel sound and one or more consonant sounds. Here’s an example:

 

Word English
Phonetic transcription /ˈɪŋɡlɪʃ/

 

The word English has two syllables – ‘En’ and ‘glish’. While pronouncing, the first syllable has to be emphasised more than the second. Similarly, all words in English have a unique stress pattern, so while speaking, some parts of words need to be pronounced more strongly than others. If you don’t, the listener may find it difficult to understand you.

 

Here’s a quick tip: once you begin recognising all the phonemes, use a dictionary to check if you’re producing the right sounds while pronouncing a word.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

set out
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to begin doing a task with a particular aim
Example : Having saved up for years, Matt and Eva set out to build their own house.

 

half the battle
Form : phrase
Meaning : the most challenging part of doing something
Example : As a salesman, winning a potential customer’s trust is half the battle.

 

be in for something
Form : phrase
Meaning : going to experience something,
Example : Your dad is in for a shock when he finds out you’ve had your tongue pierced!

 

Your Guide to U.S. College Scholarships

Image courtesy of rik-shaw (look for the light) via Flickr (CC2.0)

 

The United States is a popular place to study. And it’s no surprise that that popularity makes it expensive. Universities and colleges in the U.S. will ask you to prove you have enough funds before they will accept you.

Many international students will think that it’s too much for them to afford. But there are ways to get there that won’t break the bank.

Top of that list are scholarships.

Scholarships come in all shapes and sizes. The money and eligibility will be different for each one, so don’t expect they’ll all fit you and your needs.

They are competitive too, so it’s worth applying to all the ones you can to increase your chances.

 

Your College

In 2012-2013 more than $8.8 billion in financial support was given to international students studying in the U.S.

Most of this aid comes directly from the colleges and universities.

Once you know which college you want to go to (and have been accepted at), first look for scholarships that institution offers international students. They may have some that apply to particular countries, or fields of study – so enquire with them before you go looking elsewhere. The admissions teams will be able to point you to any scholarships they might have.

 

Your Home Country

The U.S. may offer scholarships to students from your own country (or region).  Or your country might run aid programs itself. For example, the East-West Center Scholarships and Fellowships are aimed at international students from the Asia-Pacific region studying in the U.S. Contact your own government’s education body to find out what’s on offer.

 

U.S. Government-funded programmes

Open to international students in all fields (excluding medicine), the Fulbright Foreign Student Program is the most well-known of government-funded scholarships for international students. It offers scholarships for graduate students to study in the US for one year or more.

Find and contact your nearest U.S. Embassy to find out what’s else you could be eligible for.

Lastly, the Institute of International Education publishes an annual guide called Funding For United States Study. It lists over 800 grants and awards that are offered to international students coming to the U.S.

 

Good luck!

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 3)

 

Image courtesy of Fe Ilya via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

So far in this series, we’ve looked at some ways in which test takers make mistakes in IELTS listening: losing concentration when distractors are used, spelling words wrongly, looking for instances of word match, and not understanding different ways of referring to time.

Here are two more ways in which you could lose marks:

 

Word limit

All questions in the listening part come with clear instructions. While some questions require the test takers to choose answers from a list of options, others contain blanks that need to be filled in. When filling in blanks, you need to be cautious not to exceed the word limit. If not, your answer will be marked incorrect.

 

In IELTS, even small words such as articles (a, an, the) and pronouns (I, we, you, he, she, it) are counted as individual lexical items. So, if you don’t keep track of the number of words you enter as answer, you’ll certainly lose marks in perhaps the silliest of ways.

 

Example

Question

Complete the sentences below.

Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer.

 

35. During such rituals, the tribal chief used to wear a __________

 

36. _________ offerings were often made to the gods.

 

 

In this example, the task clearly instructs test takers to complete each sentence using no more than two words. Let’s assume the answer to question 35 is silk jacket. If you happen to rephrase this as jacket made of silk, your answer will obviously be marked wrong, as it has four words.

 

Transferring answers

Listening is the only part of IELTS where test takers receive extra time to transfer answers. This is because they are asked to jot down answers to all 40 questions on the question booklet itself as they listen.

 

The extra 10 minutes is for candidates to write answers legibly and sequentially (entered in boxes 1 to 40). Of course, answers that are out of sequence will be marked wrong.

 

Remember, while these tips may sound simple enough, it takes a bit of practice to get them right.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

blank
Form : noun
Meaning : an empty space
Example : Please fill in the blanks using words from the reading passage.

 

jot down
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to write something
Example : Give me a second, Sam. Let me find a notepad to jot down the address.

 

legibly
Form : adverb
Meaning : (written or printed) in a way that can be understood easily
Example : Please fill in the application form legibly

 

US Study: Get There with IELTS

Hear what IELTS means for international students in the U.S

 

The U.S. is a popular place for students from across the world.

Each year, thousands of U.S. colleges and universities accept hundreds of thousands of students from other countries.

If you’re thinking of joining them, then you’ll need IELTS.

IELTS is the most popular English test for people who want to live, study or work in another country. IELTS is also accepted by more than 3,300 institutions in the U.S, including all Ivy League colleges, so you have a huge choice of where to go.

An IELTS test score is proof of your English language proficiency and can help you achieve your goal of getting a place at a U.S. college or university.

Click on the video above to hear what some of the U.S. international students are saying about IELTS.

And to hear more from IELTS students who are already living their dream by studying in the U.S., be sure to check out our monthly View From Campus blog posts.

Get there with IELTS!

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