Category Archives: College Admissions

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.


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

Dig Deeper into your Options

In the coming weeks, high school seniors like you will be getting acceptance letters from colleges.  This is a really stressful time, filled with hope and anxiety.  Where am I going?  What will I be doing?  Will I be OK?  What will it be like?  You have lots of questions, but you feel helpless right now, waiting for others to decide your fate. 

This is just the time to fight those feelings with a more proactive approach to what happens next.

How do you do that?

  • Take stock of your likely options.  This is a good time to start a spreadsheet listing all of the colleges you have applied for.  Start a column with a rating, say 1 to 5, which captures your estimate of your chances of admission.  Don’t sell yourself short, but be realistic.  This will help you balance your feelings and calibrate them to reality.  You can add other variables as you go.
  • Talk to your parent/s about traveling to colleges that have admitted you.  You have probably done this already, but working on the details, from directions to accommodations, can help you feel more in charge.
  • Map out what you will do this summer.  Your life might seem on hold right now, suspended in time.  If you can see to the other side, and imagine or plan what a great summer might look like, that can help the clock restart.  Plan to do something really provocative and interesting, something that might ignite a new interest or course of study.  This doesn’t have to be expensive, like a trip to Italy, but could mean a volunteer position or a road trip with a favorite aunt.
  • Most important: dig deeper into the colleges you’ll be deciding among.

This last one needs a lot of thought.  Let’s say that you get into four colleges, and that’s terrific.  But how do you choose among them?  You’ll get a lot of advice on this, but the best I can give is to dig deeper into the experience that awaits you there.  Do not stay focused on variables that may have powered your initial list, from the size to the location to the reputation.  These are important, of course, but they have little effect on your day-to-day academic experience.  So answer these questions, simply by going online or giving a call to each academic advising office:

  • How is the curriculum structured?  You’re going to college primarily to take classes, so how are they organized?  Are there courses you have to take?  How much freedom will you have?
  • Who are the faculty?  Let’s say you’re interested in Political Science.  Not every department is the same, of course, because they have different people in them.  Who are they?  What do they specialize in?  Are they studying things that look interesting to you?
  • What are the academic programs?  Colleges try to offer an interesting mix of programs outside of courses, but what are they?  Some offer a January term, so what does that look like?  Others have evening seminars, “brown bag” lunch discussions, teas at the dean’s house.
  • What are the support services?  Academic advising is a critical service, but colleges devote different resources to this and structure it differently.  Would you rather get advice as a freshman from a faculty member or a professional advisor?  The former knows her department, and that’s either limiting or exciting, the latter offers a wider perspective.

You put a lot of effort into taking tests, getting good grades, and completing applications.  Rather than waiting around right now, use that same work ethic to dig deeper into what lies ahead.  And your ultimate choice will be a better fit.  Good luck!

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Filed under Academic Programs, College Admissions, Curriculum

American Universities outside America?

Today, I am going to the Italian capital to visit the American University of Rome, a small college in the charming neighborhood of Trastevere.  AUR is one of a handful of American-styled institutions overseas that include the American Universities of Paris, Cairo and Beirut, along with others like Richmond University outside of London.  They offer coursework and degrees just like the kinds you would get in the US, accredited by the same agencies to ensure quality.

Why would you go to these colleges?  It might seem strange to go overseas to get what is offered here.  You might be skeptical about a liberal education, so why double that problem with going international?  Who does that?

The last question offers one of the best reasons to consider this option.  The students who choose to get a college degree overseas are a fascinating, adventurous group you would love to know.  They are truly international, coming from dozens of countries, with American often representing less than half the student body.  Compare that to any of the most internationally minded colleges in the US, where well below 10%, often less than 5%, of the student are from overseas.  You can really learn from your classmates if you go to college overseas.

There are other good reasons.  Most of these institutions are small, with faculty who have led interesting and unconventional careers.  They offer a very different perspective on life and education than you might see in the US, and they are keenly focused on the student.  That might contrast with large research universities in the States.  You are likely to find mentors that will shape your life forever, rather admire your professors from afar.

Naturally, this choice turns study abroad on its head, putting you overseas for most or all of your four years.  If you are hungering for something different, you will be able to really learn a foreign language, letting it infuse you to a point of unconscious comfort.  I bet you’re uncomfortable right now with you fluency in French, worried someone will discover you are not prepared for conversation.  Now think what happens after years in Paris!

 Life in college should change your world view.  It’s something I argue in Dean’s List, and the students at the American University of Rome and Richmond University live that idea every day.  Take a look, take a risk, and change your life.

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Filed under Academic Programs, College Admissions, Study Abroad

Are Elite Colleges Worth It?

Jacques Steinberg asks this question in his New York Times article (December 19, 2010), but he makes no conclusions because the data are too mixed and confusing.  I sympathize.  It’s hard to separate the student from the decision, so you can’t know if a talented student would have thrived and gone on to a life of success by going to a college they did not attend.

I have a different take on this.  Elite colleges are only worth it if they are a good fit.  If a student cannot have an intellectual home that is both challenging and supportive at an elite college, then there are many alternatives.  Finding that fit is more difficult that most students and parents think, as I find most decisions are made on the size or location of the school, rather than a deeper sense of its community and curriculum.

Complicating this is that “elite” colleges, already a slippery idea (i.e., what is “elite”?), vary incredibly from each other.  The most obvious difference is that every group of faculty is different, showing different strengths, personalities and priorities.  So it’s hard to know if you’d have a better fit in one elite college or another.  And it is worth the extra time to dig deeper to ask questions like:

  • What does the curriculum look like?  What do they require?  How much freedom will you have?
  • What is the sense of belonging and community?  Does it encourage you to be different?
  • What are the specialties and favorite courses of the faculty?
  • How connected is the college to the community and the world around it?

A final thought.  The best feature of a competitive school is not that it is competitive, fancy or “elite.”  It’s that the students there are really smart, highly motivated, and likely to graduate with you.  Over 90 percent of incoming freshmen graduate from these colleges, so you’ll have a solid class to enjoy your college lives together.

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Filed under College Admissions