Thursday, August 8, 2013

Applying to and Attending an Ivy League College

In March, we invited James Zhou, our Student Ambassador from Canada and China, to answer a few questions about why studying abroad in the U.S. was important for him and what his experience was like. 

WES Student Advisor: Why did you decide to study in the U.S. for your undergraduate degree?

I wanted to go to a new country and experience a different culture. Many U.S. colleges are known for their exceptionally strong undergraduate programs and many of which are stronger than the undergraduate offerings at Canadian universities.

As well, most colleges in the United States follow a liberal arts curriculum. So rather than being pre-professionally focused where you are just taking courses in your major or taking courses to prepare you for medical or graduate school, you have the freedom to take a much more diverse variety of classes. At Cornell, I’ve taken classes such as Architecture or Wines.

If you want to attend a U.S. medical or law school after college and later work in the United States, going to a U.S. undergraduate institution may help facilitate this process because some medical or law programs will require you to have graduated from a U.S. college, or attended a U.S. college for at least one year.

WES Student Advisor: How was your experience applying to an Ivy League school?

Applying to universities in a different country meant that I had to take the initiative to familiarize myself with the timeline and application process because the guidance staff at my high school was unacquainted with the process.

I personally began researching around September of my last year of high school. This is usually a lot later than when most people would start; I would definitely recommend that you begin searching and narrowing down your list of schools much earlier, at least the summer before your last year. You should also aim to take at least either the SAT Reasoning Test once or some of the SAT Subject Tests before the start of your last year. This way, it’ll give you time to see your score and determine if you need to re-take it again.

WES Student Advisor: What were some the challenges and benefits to attending an Ivy League school?

Like mentioned, the application process can be fairly long relative to the post-secondary application process in other countries.

As well, the cost of tuition and living expenses are often an obstacle for many. Fortunately, many private institutions in the United States offer need-based financial aid scholarships, many of which are very generous.

On the other hand, by coming to the United States, you will not only receive an excellent education, but often times you will be able to make a group of friends and be able to engage in networking opportunities that will come handy later on when you are looking for jobs.

Finally, many schools are also extremely diverse, so you’ll be able to meet and make friends from all over the world.

WES Student Advisor: Attending an Ivy League school can be pretty expensive. How did you fund your studies at Cornell? Were you able to work while studying?

Fortunately, I was able to qualify for a need-based financial aid scholarship from Cornell. Although these exact numbers may vary, many private institutions in the United States have fairly generous maximum income caps when dictating how much aid to award to students.

However, most financial aid packages also include a student contribution component that is usually in the range of a few thousand USD per semester/year. International students can qualify for most on-campus employment opportunities with the exception of positions that are looking specifically for those who qualify for the U.S. Federal Work-Study (FWS) program. International students are excluded from these positions because they cannot qualify for FWS.

Off-campus employment can be a little more difficult. During the year of undergraduate studies, the best option is to take the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) route where you register the desired job/co-op/internship as a course and relate it to your undergraduate field of study. The international students office at your college can assist you with this application.

WES Student Advisor: What was your experience like adjusting to a U.S. classroom and life? How were you able to make friends at school?

Coming from Canada, the sociocultural environment between the two countries was almost identical. Hence, there was not a huge adjustment process for me. With minor differences such as currency, units of measurement, and political ideologies, living in the U.S. felt very similar to living in Canada.

However, for those that are arriving from countries with a more divergent cultural atmosphere relative to the U.S., they will often be joined with other students also arriving from the same countries or regions. Many schools do an excellent job helping international students integrate into the U.S. college experience by hosting different events where international students can meet each other and navigate through the U.S. sociocultural peculiarities together as a group.

Classes, clubs, and extracurricular involvements are excellent venues for meeting and making friends and often international students bring a unique perspective to these areas. I have rarely encountered any reaction other than curiosity or fascination when a student from a different culture makes a contribution in these settings.

WES Student Advisor: What is your most memorable experience from studying in the U.S.? Would you recommend other students to study in the U.S.? If so, why?

If given the opportunity, I would definitely urge international students to come study in the United States. In addition to the excellent and well-rounded education, the undergraduate years in the U.S. are a very social experience as well and allow students to establish long-lasting friendship ties. There will also be many networking opportunities that can help start and improve careers after graduation.

For those that want to work in the U.S., attending a U.S. institution can sometimes be advantageous as employers may be more familiar with the diploma credentials. Firms in certain fields such as management consulting recruit exclusively from a select range of schools, so attending one of these target schools gives you the opportunity to apply to these positions that otherwise would be unavailable to you. Lastly, you will be able to find answers to your various post-graduate questions much more easily when you are studying in the country where you want to work.

My most memorable experiences include traveling to various major U.S. cities such as New York City, taking unique classes such as marksmanship and architecture, and making friends from all over the United States and the world.


Hello everyone, my name is James Zhou, and I am currently a senior Biology and Society major at Cornell University. I was originally born in China and moved to Canada at the age of eight and grew up there until I came to the United States for college. 

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