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: How to Research U.S. College Options

This month, Marci Fradkin,, Director of International Outreach and Admission, at Valparaiso University in Indiana, discusses how international students can best approach finding the college or university in the United States that is right for them.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A: Experiential learning, Connections, Result Driven, Friendly, and Beautiful.

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A: Being a STEM paradise and being a top 20 undergrad engineering program.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A: Undergrad-Engineering, Computer Science, Biochemistry, Psychology, and International Relation.  Grad-MS Information Technology, MBA,  MS Analytics and Modeling, Public Health, and MS Economics and Finance.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Nigeria, and China

Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the Admission Process?
A: We use it for undergrad and graduate admission and it is taken into consideration in awarding scholarships for both.

Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?
A: What is the best fit university for me, because we have over 4,000 universities in the US.

Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?
A: I recommend students start their planning for studies overseas in their sophomore year so they have time to research university options and to prepare to have the proper courses.  Also that will give students time to prepare for taking test and to save money.

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: I always encourage students to look at the success of the graduates, for instance Valparaiso University 97% job or graduate school placement.  I also encourage student to look at class size, Valparaiso average class size is 19, student to faculty ration, we are 11:1, and to look for research and internship opportunities are available.

Q: If international students come across self-described “liberal arts colleges” in their search what do they need to know about these institutions?
A: Liberal Arts Colleges can have strong STEM programs, they teach students to make connection in their education, and they teach their students to be leaders in their fields.

Q: What kinds of students can be successful or “good fits” for liberal arts colleges in the United States?
A: The student who is a best fit for liberal art college are inquisitive, like to make connections, and to be part of a community.

The View From Campus – Academic Differences in U.S. Colleges

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

 

This month we hear from Santosh Gupta, Managing Director at Vasyaa Certified Consultants in India, on the important issue of understanding the academic differences between U.S. colleges and universities and many other education systems around the world.

Q: Please explain your company’s role with prospective international students considering U.S. colleges and universities?

A: Vasyaa Consultants provides guidance regarding higher education in various countries such as USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Europe etc. Vasyaa is a one-stop solution since inception, for all international Higher education needs. We help our students to take the right choice with respect to the higher international education. We assist them individually in designing their career paths to suit individual profile within the available options.

 

Q: When explaining the U.S.-style of higher education in terms of academic environment compared to their home countries, how do you begin the conversation?

A: We basically do a SWOT analysis of the student and then we help them understand what the U.S. education system is like. To be more precise, the U.S. academic curriculum emphasizes practical applications and hands-on experiences more than any other education system.

 

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

A: For international students, I would say the most challenging things students face is the open-book concept and out-of-the-box thinking, as opposed to most other national styles of education, one is used to textbook and professor notes. Whereas in US, student success is more dependent on the individual to do his homework and research about the subject.

 

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

A: It really varies from individual to individual. If the student is able to concentrate on the professor lecture, then after the class if s/he revises once, then s/he doesn’t need much time to study. Basically, American colleges say that undergraduates should study two hours for every hour the class meets each week. So, if a class meets three days a week for roughly three hours, a student should plan to study six hours for that class each week.

 

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

A: In the United States, the professors’ way of teaching is something very versatile, compared to domestic way of teaching. U.S. professors’ style of teaching mainly emphasizes on the practical applications of theory.

 

Q: What role does classroom participation and discussion play in a student’s potential grade or performance in U.S. universities?

A: The discussions and active participation play a major role. The qualities which students develop during this participation will definitely help them in designing their careers, and also one can be able to work in a team or individually when they get into the corporate world.

 

Q: What kind of relationship should students expect with professors in an American college or university?

A: Based on my experience, relationships with professors are friendlier and more helpful than students might be used to back home.

 

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

A: Of course, this is something followed very strictly. As we all are aware, most of the schools or colleges in US follow open book concept of exams, so there are chances of getting caught very easily if a student is doing such activities.

 

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

A: Students must be able to do their homework on what will be expected prior to coming to the USA. At the same time, new international students should talk to their DSO (Designated School Official in the international students’ office) prior to arrival. Students also should read the orientation guide thoroughly. Most definitely, new students should not miss the orientation sessions, which usually start before the academic classes.

 

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.

 

 

 

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