The View From Campus: Why life on a U.S. college campus matters

This month we hear from Marty Bennett, award-winning international educator who has directed international student admissions and student services operations at several U.S. colleges and universities, worked with the U.S. Department of State’s EducationUSA network or advising centers around the world, and now consults with the British Council on U.S. higher education opportunities for IELTS test takers.

For many years I have asked new international students what has surprised them most about their time in the U.S. so far. One answer repeated more often than any other: “it’s not like what I’ve seen in the movies and on TV!” While there may be some appeal to living the life of a TV celebrity or movie star, this is not how the greater majority of people live.

When it comes to understanding what life will be like on a U.S. college or university campus, most international students have only what they’ve read or seen online. Very few have actually visited U.S. colleges before they enrol. As a result, many international students may rely on what the normal university experience is like in their home countries. To help give perspective on what it’s really like, I’ve been asked to respond to these five questions:

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

Adjusting to the lack of formality in relationships is perhaps the most difficult challenge to overcome. Not only do U.S. students have very informal connections with each other, but the student – professor relationship can have a really friendly and casual feel. This can be very hard to understand. There are many ways that international students experience a very different classroom environment that they may be used back home. From how well they participate in classroom discussions being a percentage of their grade, to how terms like plagiarism and academic dishonesty are defined will leave new internationals struggling to adapt.

How would you describe the life of an international student on a college campus?

Get used to most people you pass on campus saying “Hello!” “Hi, how are you doing?” and “Whassup?” and then keep on walking without stopping to have a conversation. This behavior is normal. Don’t be offended. In reality, international students at many colleges in the United States have access on campus to services, social events, advising, clubs, and activities that simply do not exist in most other countries.

How seriously do U.S institutions take the responsibility of providing for a great variety of students’ needs and interests while they live in and around campus?

For many colleges, they are the home away from home for their students, especially international students. As a result, U.S. institutions tend to provide a full range of facilities, activities, event, organizations, and services to their students. Unusual offices that help students with everything from resume crafting and interview training, counseling services for mental health concerns, to special interest clubs, to intramural sports, and dozens if not hundreds of service opportunities for students wishing to do volunteer work, U.S. colleges cater to the full range of students’ needs.

What do most international students find most surprising about what happens on campus outside of the classroom?

Other than the friendly “hi’s” and hello’s” they will get from most students on campus, the sheer scope of different events, activities, and clubs available to join is what is most surprising for international students.

What advice would you give international students to best prepare them for life on campus?

Perhaps the best advice I would give to students about coming to the United States for a college or university degree, is twofold: 1) keep an open mind – expect to be surprised by what you encounter, and 2) if at all possible, talk to current international students from your country or region of the world before you go, so you can get the perspective of someone who has been through what you are about to experience. Good luck!

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.

 

 

 

View From Campus: Adjusting to Life at a U.S. University

Susquehanna University, USA

 

This month, James Goonan, Director of International Admissions at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, USA shares his thoughts on the often overlooked topic of academic adjustment to life on a U.S. college campus for international students.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words?

  • selective
  • residential
  • national
  • liberal arts

 

For what is your institution best known overseas?

Susquehanna University ranks No. 15 among the top 30 most affordable colleges with the best study abroad programs in the nation, according to Great Value Colleges (GVC).  And, we are ranked #1 in PA and #9 nationally for getting a job after graduation.

 

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

We are undergraduate only. Our top majors are Business (AACSB Accredited), Susquehanna has one of only two undergraduate liberal arts colleges in North America that have been accepted into the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Recognition program. The Publishing & Editing Major is one of the best in the US and ranks #9.

 

What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?

Saudi Arabia, China, Macao, Japan, Brazil.

 

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

IELTS is used to evaluate English language proficiency for applicants from countries where English is not the native language.  The normal entry requirement is 6.0 for degree programs.  IELTS is also used for placement in our English Language Learners program.

 

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

Cultural differences.  Our customs are different; school system is different, language is different, and students are expected to be more independent than they might be at home.

 

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

We recommend that students plan to study 2 to 3 hours for every hour in the classroom.

 

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

Students on our campus are expected to be engaged and independent learners.  In addition, they are expected to participate in class, question their professors, and take responsibility for their own academic progress.  This atmosphere can be much different than their home countries, where instruction can be more lecture based there and students usually do not question their professors.

 

 

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

We recommend that entering international students participate in a pre-departure orientation in their home country.  These are provided by their local EducationUSA offices.  And, once on campus, the university offers a mandatory Orientation for new International Students.  The most important topics of concern and covered during the orientation.

 

 

The View From Campus: An American Welcome for International Students

Ohio University

 

This month, we hear from Vicki Seefeldt-West, Senior Assistant Director for International Recruitment, Undergraduate Admissions at Ohio University, how welcoming are U.S. college campuses to international students.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words?

  • Historic
  • Comprehensive
  • Research-oriented
  • Picturesque
  • Welcoming

What is your institution best known for overseas?

Ohio University has a global reputation for our wide variety of academic programs, excellence in teaching and research, emphasis on hands-on, practical experiences, and high-ranking programs such as journalism and business.

 

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

Undergraduate: Biological Sciences, Journalism, Psychology, Media Arts & Studies, Nursing

Graduate: Health Administration, Recreation & Sports Pedagogy, Sports Administration, Industrial & Systems Engineering, Curriculum & Instruction

 

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

  1. China
  2. Saudi Arabia
  3. India
  4. Iran
  5. Ghana

Ohio University admitted its first international student in 1895. Currently, over 1500 international students from more than 100 different countries call Ohio their second home.

 

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

IELTS is one of the few methods Ohio uses to evaluate students’ English proficiency, which is critical to their success in an undergraduate or graduate degree program.

 

How Welcome Are International Students? 

International students are most definitely welcome in the U.S. In fact, a group of U.S. congressional members recently issued a statement into congressional record supporting international students and scholars. As an international student, you will find that college campuses, in particular, are not only welcoming, but proud to be home to students from around the globe.

 

What steps do universities take to help international students feel welcome on campus?

Most universities make special efforts to welcome international students to their campuses. For example, schools such as Ohio University have groups of current international students available to answer questions before new students arrive, as well as act as mentors once the students are on campus. Admissions offices take extra steps to make certain international students are equipped with the specialized information they require. Many institutions like OHIO offer an international student orientation to make incoming international students comfortable in their new surroundings and to acquaint them with academics, student services, etc.

 

How seriously do U.S institutions value having international students on campus? 

Most institutions in the U.S. are very committed to having diverse student bodies which represent as much of the world as possible. One great example of this is the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign, featuring videos produced by a growing number of U.S. universities, which is “…a message of welcome from U.S. higher education to international students around the world.”

Universities also demonstrate their dedication through the amount of resources they invest in bringing more international students to their campuses. At Ohio University, for example, representatives travel world-wide to inform students about the university and all it has to offer them. We have specialists in our admissions office who can work with international transcripts, and a dedicated office to provide support services to international students.

 

 

What is the role of an international student office on campus?

International student offices play a primary role in supporting international students at their universities. Generally speaking, it is the office that provides information and assistance on immigration matters. They may act as a liaison to other support offices on campus, and as a connection with the greater campus community. Additionally, they can serve as a link to public services outside the university. Basically, they are there to help support you in your transition to life at a U.S. university!

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