Wednesday, August 28, 2013

[ADMISSIONS EXPERT] Ms. Evelyn Levinson - Applying to Schools the Right Way

WES Student Advisor: To begin our interview, I would like to first start with a question on what are some of the advantages to studying in the U.S.?

From my perspective there are many advantages but those that I would like to highlight are the quality and excellence of programs. Also, there are over 4,356 undergraduate institutions to choose from, which is not comparable to many other countries. Next is the flexibility of programs that allow students to take a broad variety of courses.

There is of course the value of education and impact of a U.S. degree with employers around the world. Something special about the U.S. is that education often goes beyond the classroom through experiential learning, internships, and study abroad. It’s a very holistic approach to learning. Another thing that I learned from my students is that they are amazed on the ease of access to faculty and administrators. They appreciate the dialogue that they can have.


WES Student Advisor: Those are some pretty significant advantages. However, one of the most difficult aspects of studying in another country is knowing where to find information. How do you recommend students start their school search?

One resource that I would recommend is to contact the nearest EducationUSA advising center in your home country. You can find the complete listing on www.educationusa.state.gov for a list of 450 worldwide centers. These offices are supported by the U.S. Department of State to provide international students with objective information on all 4,000+ institutions.

Next, students need to ask themselves some good questions about what it is that may be a good fit for their interests. My recommendation would be to come up with a short list of 10-12 schools that sound like good matches for your interests.

One thing to keep in mind when shortlisting is to make academic considerations such as, the accreditation of the university, majors, selectivity, structure of program, student-faculty ratio, and class size. A second broad consideration is the quality of life you can expect such as, costs, housing, size, and location. Another criteria that is important for to discuss is the student retention and graduation outcomes. Are students staying until graduation? Are students able to get internships and jobs after graduation?

WES Student Advisor: It is a bit of a difficult process, and I would reiterate the point that you should look beyond just rankings. Rankings generalize schools, but don’t necessarily give good insight into the programs you might be interested in. So once you have some background knowledge and a list of schools to apply, you’re well on your way to beginning the application process. Now I know that the application process can be rather time consuming, how much time should you give yourself for each step?

Start research and planning 12-18 months before the semester you wish to enroll and check individual institutional deadlines to make sure you’ll be on track. Use that shortlist you’ve created to check deadlines. You’ll also want to start getting your finances in order at this time and start researching the availability of scholarships. 

About 12 months ahead of time, make sure you have taken all the exams you need to by researching which U.S. standardized entrance exams are needed (i.e. TOEFL/IELTS, SAT/ACT). Around this time you also want to start identifying the teachers or counselors you would like to ask for recommendation letters.

Now about 9 months ahead of the deadline, it’s time to start filling out those application forms and completing them on time. After that, you’re going to want to get your transcripts assessed and your letters of recommendation completed. Make sure to give yourself enough time to review and edit the application, your resume, and essays. 

Some school will also require an interview. This usually occurs about six months before the start of classes. Finally, if you receive a letter of acceptance, be sure to attend a pre-departure orientation with EducationUSA to learn about the visa process and anything else you need to know before coming.


WES Student Advisor: What should you do if you need application help or are confused about a requirement? 

We’re here to help you understand the application process. So, contact the U.S. institution's international admissions office if you are unclear about a requirement. If you need application help, contact the EducationUSA advising center in your country or your school's college or career counselor, if available. 


WES Student Advisor: Thanks for covering so much information Evelyn. Before we move on, I want go over a very important aspect of studying abroad, and that’s financing you studies. Evelyn, could you give some advice on financing college education and any scholarships available for international students?

First tip is to research and understand the financial obligations of a U.S. university degree and discuss realistic options with your family. Another tip that I give to families is to develop a 4-year financial plan. Remember that cost is not indicative of quality of teaching in the U.S.!

Another thing for students who may be studying at high schools, which offer the British A Levels, German Abitur, French Bac, IB, AP, and CAPE exams is that some universities may offer you credit for advanced standing which could save you time and money. Make sure to check the university’s exam policies.

At some point in the application and admittance process, schools will require proof of finances to move forward with the student visa process. However, there are some universities in the U.S. that may offer competitive partial merit scholarships. Only about 100 colleges offer full scholarships to international non-U.S. citizens and these are MOST competitive. Other types of scholarships include sports or performing arts scholarships for gifted students.

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Ms. Evelyn Levinson is the Director of International Admissions at American University. She has worked to promote international education opportunities for over 30 years. She has authored over 100 articles and publications on international education issues, and conducts workshops around the world on international enrollment management.

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