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 – How Do U.S. Universities Help International Students on Campus?

This month, we hear from Krista McCallum Beatty, Director of the International Students and Scholars Office, at Michigan State University, on the very timely topic of the ways international offices assist overseas students adjust to life on a college campus

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A Top 100 Global University

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

Michigan State University is known worldwide as a top research university, home to renowned scholars and scientists from around the globe and a vibrant and diverse community of undergraduates and graduate students. MSU has a legacy of collaborating with international partners to create new knowledge and explore innovative and practical solutions to the world’s most pressing problems—particularly in the areas of food and agriculture; education and capacity building; global health and nutrition; and water, energy and the environment.

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

Michigan State University is ranked in the Top 100 universities globally. Individual academic programs ranked number one include:

  • Supply Chain/Logistics
    • Elementary Teacher Education
    • Higher Education Administration
    • Secondary Teacher Education
    • African History
    • Nuclear Physics
    • Industrial and Organization Psychology
    • Rehabilitation Counseling
    • Agricultural and Applied Economics Departments (Global)

In addition, Michigan State University has over 30 individual academic programs ranked in the Top 25, and many more academic programs ranked in the Top 100.

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

The countries with the most students enrolled at Michigan State are China, India, Korea, Taiwan and Canada.

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

Michigan State University uses IELTS scores to determine whether an international student whose first language is not English meets the university’s English proficiency requirements. Assessing English proficiency is essential in helping international students to be successful while studying at Michigan State.

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

At Michigan State University, the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) is a comprehensive office, meaning we provide a wide range of support for international students and scholars. Examples of the support OISS provides include new student orientation, immigration advising, assistance with obtaining a driver’s license, individual support for students experiencing personal difficulties, lots of great social activities including trips around Michigan, leadership development programming, and a weekly Coffee Hour, that is a long-standing tradition.

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

Universities start helping international students feel welcome before they even arrive in the US. For example, at Michigan State new international students complete an online orientation program prior to traveling to the US. Once students are on campus, universities provide an orientation program that includes important information about classes and immigration regulations as well lots of information about student life, other laws and policies, and lots of great opportunities to meet other new students, both international and US. Universities also have many staff committed to helping international students feel welcome and part of the community. Many of these people work in a department commonly known as student affairs or student life. International student offices work very closely with student affairs offices to help international students feel welcome on campus. Examples include opportunities to be involved in student organizations, social events, trips, leadership programs, and campus traditions.

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions value having international students on campus? Give examples.

International students are highly important to colleges and universities. They enrich the campus in so many ways – through their academic work, their leadership, sharing their perspectives which may differ from domestic students, and the many informal and formal ways they contribute to all students learning about the world.

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.?

Do lots of research! The U.S. is a large and diverse country and there are many different colleges and universities to consider. Don’t make your decision based on rankings and cost alone. Those are important factors, but you should also consider the academic programs, size, faculty to student ratio, opportunities to get involved on campus, leadership programs and career development support, living arrangements, and opportunities for research. Whenever possible, try to talk with a current student and a graduate of the university to learn first-hand about their experience.  Alumni are a great resource not only to learn more about the university, but to network after graduation and stay in contact with your alma mater. Michigan State has a large and active alumni association with local chapters all over the world. In addition, the alumni association offers many opportunities for alumni ranging from social activities to career support and networking events to opportunities to mentor current students.

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

International students will face challenges adapting to the US. However, international students face different challenges depending on their backgrounds and experiences. Common challenges include:

  • adjusting to being immersed in an American English language environment 24/7;
    • learning to eat new foods and at the same time find ways to get familiar food from home;
    • making new friends, often from around the world;
    • adjusting to different culture norms.

The best advice I have for meeting these challenges is to be patient. You will be in the US for several years, and with time you will adjust and thrive as a student here. You will be amazed at how much you learn studying in the US not only about your area of study but about the world and about yourself. My absolute favorite part of my job is talking with students about their experiences and listening to them reflect about how they have grown during their time here.

It is the end of the academic year at Michigan State University right now. This is a joyous time on campus when we celebrate our students, especially our international students. The campus is filled with students getting ready to graduate, and the commencement ceremonies are about to begin. Families and friends have travelled from all over the world to celebrate. Students are walking around campus taking photos in their favorite places, while reminiscing about their time here. They will carry their stories of the ups and downs of life as a university student with them the rest of their lives, knowing that they have grown and changed for the better.

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!

The View From Campus – How Public Universities Make Admissions Decisions

This month’s article is featuring Robert Hardin, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for International Recruitment, at the University of Oregon

About the university

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A:
Green, unique, groundbreaking, welcoming, and thoughtful.

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A:
The University of Oregon has alumni from around the world that have made an impact, including: Phil Knight (founder and president of Nike), Daniel Wu (actor), Renee James (former president of Intel), Ann Curry (journalist), Ken Kesey (author), and Chuck Palahniuk (author) to name just a few. UO is also known around the world for having successful sports teams and individual athletes.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A: The University of Oregon’s top academic programs are: Accounting, Architecture, Education, Psychology, and our sciences, particularly Biology and Physics.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
China, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan. We are an international university with over 3,200 international students (about 14% of the student body) from 103 different countries.

Q: 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 ways we allow students to prove English proficiency. It is a helpful and valuable tool for us to determine if a student has the level of English needed to be successful at the University of Oregon.

Making admissions decisions

Q: Do most public universities have set deadlines for international admissions?
A:
Yes, most US public universities have deadlines. However, some deadlines are more flexible than others. At the University of Oregon, we accept applications after the deadline if there are spaces available. However, if you want to apply for scholarships, you will need to meet all posted application deadlines.

Q: What are institutions looking for in an application essay/statement of purpose?
A: We want to get to know a little about the applicant. The essay is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself other than your grades and test scores.

Q: What needs to be in a letter of recommendation that my teachers/professors are asked to write?
A:
Teacher letters of recommendation should go beyond what grade you received in a class. We want to know more about how you performed as a student. For example, a letter of recommendation from your maths teacher talking about the hard work and effort it took to earn your grade in the class will help us better understand your true academic potential.

Q: How important are test scores in university admissions decisions?
A:
In the US, there is no standard practice for admission decisions, so each university sets different expectations. However, the vast majority of US universities value your class grades more than your test scores or other factors.

Q: What are the most important factors public universities use to determine admissibility of international students?
A:
Grades are usually the factor that public universities consider the most important.  At the University of Oregon, our research shows that high school grades are the best predictor of success for new college students. Test scores are often the second most important factor. After test scores and grades, it is common for public universities to use other factors such as grade trend, strength of curriculum, extracurricular activities, essay, and teacher recommendations.

The View From Campus – How international students can best prepare themselves for jobs (2)

In a previous post, Christopher Connor, Assistant Dean of Graduate Education in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, shared with some of the resources many U.S. colleges offer their students to prepare them for work. This week we continue our interview, in which he gives us more information on the topic.  

Q: When students finish their studies, what is legally available to students who wish to work?
A: Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than three months are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to work for one year.

Q: What is STEM OPT and how can international students qualify for it?
A: STEM OPT is a 24-month extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization available to F-1 students who graduated with U.S. degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. It is important for students to double check with programs they are applying to whether their program is eligible for STEM OPT as it may not always be clear.

Q: Talk about the importance of a resume and cover letter in the job/internship search for international students?
A: Having a well thought out, clear concise resume and cover letter that appropriately showcases and quantifies their abilities is extremely important. The goal is to be recognized with a combination of translatable skills that will differentiate from other students you are in competition with.

Q: When there are jobs/internship fairs on campus, what tips would you suggest students take on board to improve their chances of finding a position?
A: It is important for students to keep in mind that the job search is many cases a relationship building process. Let the company representative talk (but listen) and pick pieces of “common ground” knowledge out of the conversation.. Use the “common ground” to your advantage. Listening is a key ingredient to these interactions.

Q: In your experience, how can international students make themselves standout most when beginning the job search?
A: International students should leverage any resources or events that are made available to them to help promote professional and personal growth. Students should attend job fairs and networking events well before they are ready to actively begin their job search.

Q: Do you feel that prospective employers value what international students can offer their companies?
A: Employers are looking to hire the best qualified candidates for potions and there is a known skills gap for countless positions in the US. Given the gap, International students help bridge that gap by offering many benefits to companies.

Q: Interviews can make or break an international student’s chances of securing their dream job. What advice would you give them as they prepare for this important step?
A: Practice, practice, practice. Make sure to leverage free services such as mock interviews. The more practice you have, the better you will do when it matters most.

Q: If students who are looking to develop a plan B for work after graduation (if not in the U.S.), what would you suggest would be good first step?
A: Keep your options opened. This includes looking not only in the US but in other countries for opportunities including your home country. Starting your career somewhere can help you obtain valuable experience to increase your future career mobility.

The View From Campus – How international students can best prepare themselves for jobs (1)

For many prospective international students considering the United States for higher education, the opportunities for work experience in their field of study is often an important consideration. This month we take a hard look at how U.S. colleges and universities are preparing their international students for work. Christopher Connor, Assistant Dean of Graduate Education in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, shares what is possible for international students in the United States.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A: Premier global innovative research university

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A: Students and faculty from across the globe come to our school to conduct high-impact original research in science and engineering, to become leaders in engineering disciplines and related fields.
Our School also offers the SEAS 360 Professional Development program, a unique cost free professional development training for our undergraduate and graduate students to better prepare them for the workforce.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A: – Industrial Engineering
– Civil Engineering
– Chemical Engineering
– Aerospace Engineering
– Computer Science/Computer Engineering

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?
A: India, China, Iran, Taiwan, and S. Korea.

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?
A: Our university accepts IELTS for English Language proficiency and requires a minimum 6.5 with no sub score below 6.0. Students meeting this criteria have been successful in completing their graduate studies.

International student work-related questions

Q: What resources are generally available on-campus for students to help prepare them for work?

Many colleges and universities in the U.S. have Career Services offices that offer assistance with:

Power or Soft Skill Development – Many colleges and universities and in some cases individual academic schools/programs offer their students cost-free workshops to develop soft skills or what employers have not deemed “power skills.” In some cases students may even be able to obtain an additional credential such as a certificate or a micro badge to include on their resume.

Career Decision Making – Self assessment tools to examine your values, personality, interests and abilities and making suggestions on which type of careers you might be best suited for.

Resume and Cover Letter Writing – career services offices help students write their resumes and cover letters. Additionally, they conduct workshops and provide one-on-one sessions during which they critique resumes and cover letters.

Interviewing – Campus career offices usually sponsor workshops to help students learn how to present themselves well in a job interview, from what to wear, to what questions to expect.

Recruiting – Career services offices host job fairs during which employers visit the campus to recruit students who are about to graduate. The offices sometimes maintain student files containing letters of recommendation from faculty, which they can then forward to potential employers and graduate schools upon the student’s request.

Networking – Career services can also  help students find networking events, where they can connect with professionals in their potential career.

Internships – Many academic units may have their own separate office that handles internships but career services offices also often work hand-in-hand with companies seeking college interns and internship advisers.

Q: As it stands now, what do international students in the U.S. have available to them to work in their field during studies?
A: US colleges and universities may have funding research, teaching  or student assistantship positions available. Additionally, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is temporary employment authorization for F-1 visa non-immigrant foreign students in the United States while enrolled in a college-level degree program. CPT permission is granted through a college or universities International Students Office or equivalent upon approval of advisor, based on the regulations established by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.


The View From Campus: Finding Your College Needle In The U.S. Haystack

In this View from Campus blog post, Stefano Papaleo, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, shares his best advice for international students who are beginning their search for the right college or university. When confronted with the enormous range of options for higher education in the U.S., it is easy to become overwhelmed. Finding that right institution where you wish to study, can be compared to the difficulty of finding a needle in a haystack. No easy task. Here are some helpful tips from Mr. Papaleo.

Q. How would you describe your institution in 5 words?                                                                                  
A. International, Individualized, Innovative, Well-Placed, Safe

Q. For what is your institution best known overseas?
A. For being one of the most international universities in the country and for providing excellent services to international students

Q. What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A. Undergrad: International Business Management, Entrepreneurship, Sports Management, Psychology, Biology.

Grad: MBA Marketing, MBA Financial Valuation and Investment, MS Applied Psychology, MBA International Business Management, MA Communication and Media.

Q. What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A. Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and China.

Q. How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process?
A. minimum of 6.0 is required for undergraduate admission, and a minimum of 6.5 is required for graduate admission.

Q. What is the most significant challenge most international students have when first considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?
A. I believe it is a very complicated system with an even more complicated admission process. For someone without the help of a high school counselor or an educational consultant it is very hard to navigate the system.

Q. How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?
A. No later than the equivalent of their junior year in high school.

Q. How should prospective students begin their research when considering higher education in the United States?
A. If they have no help in the process they should look at online resources and guides that can help them narrow their choices.

Q. If a student needs help narrowing down their choices of schools, where can they turn for assistance?
A. If they do not attend an international high school with an experienced high school counselor it is not very easy. EducationUSA can help. There are also several educational consultants around the world that can guide the students for a fee.

Q. There are a lot of possible tests international students might need to take. How can students find out which ones they must / should take for each institution?
A. From the universities’ websites

The View From Campus: Financing a U.S. Degree

 

Authored this month by Marty Bennett, an award-winning international educator with a career spanning 25+ years, in the UK and the United States, where he directed international student admissions efforts at five different institutions.

 

How do students fund their studies in the USA?

When applying to colleges and universities in the United States, one of first experiences most students have is sticker shock.  For example, the annual cost for a bachelor’s degree program at an elite institution, when combining tuition and fees, living expenses, books and supplies, health insurance, etc., can exceed $75,000 US. While there are institutions where the annual expenses may be under $20,000, the majority are in the middle, out of reach for many aspiring students. Yet, for the fourth year in a row, there are more than one million international students studying in the United States. How do they fund their studies? The Institute of International Education’s (IIE) annual Open Doors Report shares that for 65% of students, personal and family sources are the primary source of funding, followed by U.S. colleges or universities at 21%.

 

Financial support sources

According to data from a 2018 NAFSA report international students received over $10 billion in financial support from U.S. sources in the form of scholarships, grants, tuition waivers, assistantships, etc. Which schools gave that aid? There are over 4500 accredited U.S. colleges and universities, but, unfortunately, there is not a master list of which institutions offer financial support.

In general, more aid is available to students seeking graduate (master’s or doctoral degrees) in the United States, in the form of graduate teaching or research assistantships that provide tuition waivers, and stipends for work done for specific departments on campus. For prospective undergraduate students, EducationUSA advisers, part of the U.S. Department of State’s network of advising centers in over 170 countries, have access to an annually updated list of scholarships/aid, including 100+ colleges that offer full financial aid to qualified international students. Students should contact their local EducationUSA office for information on what is currently available.

The best resources available to find current scholarships for international students are IIE’s Funding U.S. Study and EducationUSA.  EducationUSA’s Your 5 Steps to U.S. Study is considered the best one-stop resource for students hoping to study in the United States, and provides many tips to find financial support, including a searchable database of financial aid.

Keep an open mind and be sure to ask university representatives what financial support is available to international students. Good luck!

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.

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. Graduate Programs

  Image courtesy of EducationUSA Belarus, with permission

 

This month we hear from Dr. Viktar Khotsim, Educational Advising Center Director, EducationUSA Belarus. Dr. Khotsim has been advising prospective students from Belarus about student opportunities in the United States for over twenty years. He brings unique insight to this topic of researching U.S. graduate programs.

 

1. How does EducationUSA assist international students hoping to study in the United States?

By offering accurate, comprehensive, and current information about opportunities to study at accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States through a network of EducationUSA centers located at U.S. embassies, consulates, Fulbright commissions, bi-national centers, universities, and non-profit organizations in almost 180 countries in the world.

 

2. Describe your role at EducationUSA Belarus?

 I provide regular advising on U.S. study for all interested students, as well as cohort advising for graduate’s students (Graduate Study Cohort) and administer Opportunity program, i.e. program for talented individuals with low income. I also assist U.S. institutions in verifying educational documents from Belarus, arrange joint webinars and provide virtual and physical outreach trips to Belarus. Finally, I work with alumni of our programs and support our social networks related to advising on U.S. study.

 

3. What are the top academic graduate programs that international students seek out in the United States?

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs

 

4. What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for graduate/post-graduate education?

Of course, it is the total cost of studies.

5. How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?

The majority of students start the application process one year in advance. But we observe a tendency (also due to our efforts) that students begin to start their research much earlier, i.e. typically between 2-3 and even 4 years in advance.

 

6.How can international students seeking graduate study (for master’s or doctoral programs) in the United States begin their search?

Of course, the internet is where most students will start their research. In Belarus we run a Graduate Study cohort advising program. This systematic approach has three main features:

  • The distance and off-site outreach training programs complement each other
  • The program is synchronized with the opportunity program and the U.S. admission cycles
  • The model’s operation is based on active involvement of the Opportunity alumni and representatives of the U.S. educational institutions.

7. What are the most important factors prospective international graduate students look at when reviewing U.S. graduate programs?

First, program attractiveness and relevance to a student’s career goals. Second, overall interest in selected institutions’ environment and campus. Third, options for financial aid. Finally, admission/financial aid requirements, acceptance rate and deadlines.

 

8. What role do English proficiency tests like IELTS play in the admissions process for international graduate applicants?

IELTS is very popular in Europe and in our country as well. Student like this test because it is applicable for educational institutions in both regions, i.e. Europe and America. Also, some students can demonstrate better results in IELTS, so they prefer to pass this exam.

 

9. When it comes to paying for graduate programs in the United States, what should international students know that can help off-set the significant costs of studying there?

First, financial aid is typically limited and is very competitive. To improve their chances of qualifying for merit aid, normally in the form of graduate assistantships, students should have a strong mix of academic and extracurricular activities. Second, that financial aid for international graduate students in the United States is not based on students’ financial need. It is an “exchange” of current and future student achievements for better financial conditions of getting high quality education.

 

10. What is “finding a good fit” when it comes to finding the right graduate program in the United States?

“Finding a good fit” for our students is when they consider a program of study in the U.S. as an “instrument” which will bring them new knowledge and skills. And they know what they would like to learn and how to use it in the future in their career. “Good fit” appears when they hunt for the “instrument” and take into consideration its quality (programs content) instead of seeking a famous named institution.

 

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