Tuesday, April 1, 2014

[ADMISSIONS EXPERT] Ms. Marjorie Smith - Start Early & Do-It-Yourself!

1. Deciding on where to study abroad is a big decision for many international students. How does studying in the U.S. differ when compared to studying elsewhere?

There are a couple of factors that each student should consider while making a decision like this. A few of them are:

     A. Consider your learning style
     B. Consider your academic and career interests 
     C. Consider your outcomes

Learning Style: When compared to more traditional systems based on reading, memorization and regenerating what you memorize through a written and/or oral exam, higher education in the U.S. teaches students to synthesize, criticize, compare and create knowledge. Students in the U.S. are also encouraged to interrupt their teachers with questions or criticisms. Additionally, team-based research and projects are typical assignments. Experiential learning is also very valued, whether it be through service, internships and/ or employment.

Academic and Career Interests: For high school students who are unsure about their intended major, the U.S. system of education is ideal. Here, we encourage our students to study a broad range of subjects in the first two years and investigate career options they may not have considered before. For graduate students looking for specific programs, the U.S. also offers the most advanced, well-funded and well-established research facilities in the world. Innovation and risk-taking are hallmarks of research and education in the U.S.

Outcomes: The whole point of higher education is to prepare you for the working world, whether it is work in commerce, science, service or academia. International students are permitted to work part-time during their degree programs and after graduation, on a full-time basis through a practical training option for 18 to 29 months. Right now, there is pending legislation that could completely uncap the limits on practical training, which would create a pathway for students leading from graduation to legal residence via career advancement.

2. So once a student has made his or her decision to study abroad in the U.S., how should they go about shortlisting from over 4,000+ institutions?

Start early & DIY: Don’t pay others to do what you can easily do yourself. Some students are more comfortable working with an educational advisor or agent to help them locate a degree program. While this approach may be a time-saver, it is almost never a cost-saver and can even be dangerous at times. 

Rankings and diversity of institutions: Rankings are a great place to start, but a terrible place to finish your college search. While rankings may measure a school’s academic reputation among college administrators, they may not measure all the things that are important to you. What’s the best way to move forward then? I’d recommend forming a broad spectrum of institutions to apply to. When doing so, be sure to challenge yourself and send your application(s) to a variety of colleges or universities, including two or three you hadn’t even heard of before.

3. Studying abroad in the U.S. can be costly. How can students increase their chances of receiving financial assistance?

Know your budget. Have a very serious and open discussion with your family about how much you can spend each year.

  • Knowing the answer to this question will help you filter schools to consider. 
  • If you need financial assistance, don’t waste your time applying to schools that don’t provide scholarships to international students. 

Check if the school provides merit-based or need-based aid for international students.
  • Merit-based aid means that financial assistance is awarded based on your academic achievements, special talents, and/or unique traits.
  • Need-based aid is simply awarded based on your family’s financial need. 

Check for scholarships and/or fellowships.
  • Scholarships usually provide support for undergraduate and graduate education based on merit.
  • Fellowships often support projects which may be pursued outside the normal curriculum. Keep in mind, this term is also more commonly used for graduate studies. 

4. What are some tips international students should keep in mind as they prepare their application packages?

Academic Record is the most important part of your application: Standard 10 results will be very important because Standard 12 will not be available when schools make admissions decisions. Standard 11 will also be considered but we understand that it is graded more severely.

Start and maintain the conversation: As soon as you apply, your schools should send you a confirmation communicating that your application was received. Within a short time, you should be informed what (if anything) is missing from your application file. Write to your contact at least once a month throughout the application and admission process to be sure your file is complete and that you’ve met deadlines.

Check your email/spam folder: Read your email every single day. This is your lifeline to the application process. Sometimes, schools will send important messages to large numbers of applicants at the same time. Often, these kinds of messages can get caught in “spam filters” – check your “Junk” or “Spam” folders regularly to be sure you aren’t missing critical information.

Ms. Marjorie Smith is Associate Dean of the Office of International Student Admission at the University of Denver in Colorado (DU). In addition to managing the evaluation and admission of all international students for the University, Smith travels extensively throughout the year to help recruit international students to DU. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and also holds a teaching certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Michigan. 

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