Tuesday, May 27, 2014

5 Common U.S. Admissions Questions Answered

By Jessica Sandberg
Director of International Admissions, Temple University

WES Student Advisor: Do all U.S. universities require standardized exams for admissions into a degree program?

There is a growing trend in the United States for going test-free in the Freshman application process. This trend applies only to the SAT and ACT that are traditionally required by most US colleges and universities. However, the English proficiency exam requirements are likely to remain in place for international students who are non-native speakers and/or who have studied in schools with another language of instruction. 

My advice to students is to take one entrance exam (SAT or ACT) and one English language exam (TOEFL or IELTS). International students often perform better on TOEFL/IELTS then they do on the verbal and writing sections of the SAT/ACT exams so it’s to their advantage to have that additional score. Meanwhile, the Math section of the SAT/ACT can be a great way to showcase a student’s skills. The combination of the two can sometimes give the student a boost in scholarship potential.

WES Student Advisor: For the admissions process, is it more likely that an international student who doesn’t need financial aid will be accepted rather than a student who does need financial aid?

No. Most US colleges and universities use a selection process that is “need-blind.” To be “need-blind” means that the school does not look at a student’s financial resources when making a decision about their admissibility. As a matter of ethics, admissions decisions are always based on the academic strength and personal qualities of the applicant.

WES Student Advisor: Is work experience required to be admitted? If they have work experience, where can students highlight it in the application?

For graduate admissions, work experience is valuable and sometimes critical to the application process because graduate schools are looking for dedicated professionals who have something valuable to contribute to the field. For undergraduate admissions, work experience is not necessary but it can be a great way to showcase a student’s academic interests (for example, a prospective business student working part-time in a bank) and their ability to balance multiple priorities. It can add to the sense of a student’s strength of character. Many applications have a place to include this under the category “extra curricular activities.” It would also be appropriate to include this information in the application essay or an attached resume.

WES Student Advisor: If an international student wants to study abroad in the U.S. but is not confident about their English language abilities, what are some options for them?

There are many fantastic opportunities now for students that want a university degree but need to work on the English skills first. Many universities now have bridge programs or conditional admissions programs. Such programs allow you to live on campus, immerse yourself in English, adapt to university life, and transition into full-time studies. These programs offer a great way to fast-track your learning and adaptation process. I encourage students to look closely at such offers and ask good questions because not all programs are the same. I recommend programs that are based on or adjacent to the university campus, offer finite timelines, the ability to take a few credits of university coursework, and have guaranteed full-time admission at the end of the program.

WES Student Advisor: Thank you so much for your advice. Do you have any last words of advice for our students?

Be persistent and ask lots of questions. Although US colleges and universities are selective, they are also very interested in having you join their school! Don’t be afraid to email, call, or set up a meeting with an admissions officer. We are generally friendly people who are very interested to hear from you. Don’t be discouraged if you reach an obstacle or something is unclear. Navigating the admissions process is the first step in making the giant leap into a new country. Have faith that you will be warmly welcomed when you arrive and you will find your place sooner than you think. Congratulations on beginning this exciting journey!


Jessica Black Sandberg is the Director of International Admissions at Temple University. She has worked in the field of international education for over 10 years and has traveled to more than 35 countries. Jessica received her BA in Political Science at Moravian College in 1998 and her MA in International Relations from Kent University (UK) in 2004.

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