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.   

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