Category Archives: Academic Exploration

Why Compete for National Scholarships?

With each new academic year comes another chance for students to compete for national scholarships like the Rhodes, Marshall and Fulbright. These scholarships offer extraordinary opportunities for travel, for learning, for prestige.

Yet winning seems like a crazy dream. There are only 32 Rhodes and 40 Marshall scholars each year. The Fulbright is much larger–with over 700 grants in the US Student program alone–but the competition for them is fierce, too. What good could come from competing, even if you’re likely to lose? Here are a few thoughts:

1) You might win. If basketball players began the season certain they would lose every game or sure they would never advance in a tournament, they would never step on a court. And yet they know that there can be only one champion. What makes them compete? The knowledge that they could win. And you could, too.

2) You need to be well prepared. Let’s stick with the basketball analogy. Players don’t just wish they can win. They work hard to prepare for winning by practicing, training, pushing their bodies. Someone dreaming of a Rhodes can put in the same level of work and dedication to building a stunning record of achievement worthy of the award.

3) You need a good coach. Players lack the vision and experience to know how to compete, how to be strategic, and how to best use their energy. Scholarship applicants need the same help from faculty, staff, and mentors to know how to build skills, focus research proposals, and prepare winning essays.

4) Start small, end big. No team goes to the NCAA tournament without winning in regional or conference tournaments. You can’t expect an invitation to a Marshall competition without gaining confidence and resources from smaller successes, such as winning a travel grant for research.

5) Consider the wider payoff. Many professors just don’t get the student-athlete. They don’t see the value in the game, the thrill of competition and the confidence that comes of leaving it all on the court. Failed Fulbright and Rhodes applicants know the value of those games. They gather skill from crafting an application, focus by thinking clearly about their future, and desire to remain in the hunt for life’s rewards.

We know the fall will end with a handful of scholarship winners, and a lot of disappointed students, parents, faculty and institutions. But if you approach these competitions with skill, determination and support, you can win. And if you don’t, you will still be a winner.


Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Exploration, Athletics, International Exchange, Scholarships, Student-Faculty Relations, Study Abroad

International Student Success

This week in Washington, an extraordinary group of embassy officials and university representatives gathered at the University of California Center to discuss many issues around international education.  The Washington International Education Conference, sponsored by the Washington International Education Council (headed by Bill Fish), gathers each year to exchange ideas and to expose university officials to the diplomatic community.

I will be writing several blogs about this experience and the issues raised there.  Here, I’d like to touch on some ideas I shared in my own address to the conference.  (Bader Address to WIEC January 2013).  I shared with participants my observation that universities tend to focus on non-academic issues when supporting their international students.  These include securing a visa, getting to campus, and becoming culturally acclimated.  While these services are critical, they do not directly support academic success.  Indeed, internationals face a series of challenges:

They are focused on outcomes, not process.  Many traditional education systems, such as those in China and India, require students to excel at standardized tests.  So international students tend to be focused on final exams, rather than class participation and interim assignments.  This misunderstanding can lead to failure.

They are very dependent on their families.  This is understandable, so far from home, but their families can misunderstand the American college environment.  They may insist a student major in Biology, for example, to prepare for medical school, when other avenues are open.  If their student has little interest in Biology, that can cause problems.

They don’t understand a liberal education.  Internationals often focus on accomplishment and credentialing–which is understandable.  But they fail to realize or even appreciate the many learning opportunities of a liberal, exploratory education.

They think careers and majors are the same thing.  Majors are a teaching tool in American colleges, not a road to expertise.  They poorly predict professional choices.  And yet internationals insist that some majors are more worthwhile, even when lesser known programs (say, History) might be a better fit and result in more success.

They rely on memory.  Many internationals believe that absorbing and the regurgitating information is their primary intellectual goal.  Yet American professors are expecting higher levels of thinking, where problems are solved and connections are made–even in the sciences.

They are vulnerable to failure.  We are so impressed by our international visitors that we often overlook their human frailties.  Determined as they are, they are no immune to personal difficulties and failings.  We must treat them as the sons and daughters of our neighbors, caring for them as we would our own children.

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Exploration, Academic Success, Cause of Academic Failure, Choosing a Major, International Exchange

A Second Look at International Students in the US

“Internationalization” has become the buzzword on campuses across America.  Universities and colleges in the US have become major destinations for a world thirsting for quality higher education.  American professors want to upgrade their curricula to reflect a commitment to global understanding.  US colleges seem to launch a new campus or program somewhere in the world every day.

I traveled to India and to Qatar in January, with my colleagues from Marks Education, offering workshops at high schools on the US college admission process.  We met hundreds of students eager to study in America.  It is an exciting time for international education, and a great time to be an adventurous student.

But this excitement should not conceal many complexities.  For example, the most recent “Open Doors” study by the Institute of International Education shows that in 2010/11, the number of international students in the US had grown 32% since 2000/01 to nearly 800,000.  32% is enough to grab headlines, but domestic enrollments have grown, too.  Internationals were 3.6% of enrollments in 2000/01, and 3.5% in 2010/11.  Where is the growth?

Another surprise can be found in figures for undergraduate education.  American colleges may offer the best undergraduate experience in the world, featuring a unique commitment to the liberal arts.  The US has hundreds of independent, small colleges—a tradition found nowhere else.  Yet the percentage of internationals that are undergraduates actually has declined from 46% to 40% from 2000/01 to 2010/11.

Finally, it is well known that China has become the number one “supplier” of students to the US, with a 23.5% increase just in the last year.  But the most stunning figure in the Open Doors report is the growth of students from Saudi Arabia during the same year.  The number of Saudi students jumped 43.6%!  Saudi Arabia is now the number six “supplier,” ahead of Japan.  So interest in the Arab world may be the most important trend ahead.

We live in an exciting era of international exchange, reflecting the realization that we share deep and lasting traditions of higher education that cross boundaries.  But we should hesitate before we over-generalize.  Our excitement should not dim our ability to see the landscape clearly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Exploration, College Admissions, International Exchange, Study Abroad

Dean’s List Podcast #12: Coping with Failure in College

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Advising, Academic Exploration, Academic Success, Cause of Academic Failure, GPA

Getting your Money’s Worth in College

I wrote “Dean’s List” partly because I worry that families are investing staggering resources into a college experience that is not all it should be.  But let me be more explicit here.

As the costs of tuition rise through the roof, we have begun an important debate on whether America’s higher education is worth the investment.  Politicians wonder whether their state university’s faculty focus enough on teaching, for example.  Since debate may never be resolved, consider a couple of ideas to get your money’s worth now:

  • Open Up.  The key to college success is finding a course of study that deeply interests you, tapping into your talent and natural curiosity.  That might mean exploring new areas, even those that seem “impractical,” so that you get the good grades that come of wanting to learn.  Do not let someone else tell you what you like.  But do more than that.  Go find what you love.
  • Expect the New.  The academic experience in college is profoundly different than in high school, even at a small college.  Your professors are not teachers; they are more than that.  No one is going to spoon feed you.  So you need to take ownership of your studies.  If you expect a new environment, you are more likely to celebrate the opportunities and thrive.
  • Get Help.  Since you now know that learning is your job, you will also need to take charge of finding the help you need.  That begins with good academic advising, as advisors can make sure you’re ready for what you’re studying, and continues with tutoring and, when needed, counseling.  Getting help is a sign of strength.  Be strong and get help.
  • Buy Smart.  Federal law now requires that universities post information about books you’ll need to purchase, so that you don’t have to buy them at the university bookstore.  Armed with an ISBN number, or just the title and author, you can find bargains online or buy it used.  You can also “buy” cheaper summer courses outside your college, then transfer them back.  But do not cheat yourself of a full experience by graduating early.  If you have no choice, shave off just one semester.
  • Stick to It.  Most American colleges and universities have serious problems with retention.  Many places lose nearly half of their freshmen as they transfer or drop out.  No matter how little or much you are paying in tuition, it is all wasted if you don’t complete your degree.  That’s why getting good help and advising is so crucial.

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Advising, Academic Exploration, Academic Success

Dean’s List Podcast #10: Getting a Liberal Education

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Advising, Academic Exploration, Academic Success, Choosing a Major, Curriculum