Canada Seeks to Attract International Students; Agencies Combine Recruitment Efforts

Five major university associations in Canada have agreed to form an international student marketing campaign to help attract more international students to Canada.  The Canadians are responding aggressively to increased competition from the U.S., U.K. and Australia, countries which are hoping to attract international students to their own universities.  Canada has the smallest international student population at this point but that might change if Canada is successful in reaching international students.  Heretofore, Canada has been the best-kept secret among international students and many are not fully aware of Canada’s advantages:

  • Lower Tuition – Average international student tuition in Canada is $13,985, which is significantly less than international student tuition at any 4-year U.S. university, e.g. $24,367 at the University of Washington (public),  $40,169 at the University of Southern California (private).
  • Lower Living Costs – The average living costs for students at a Canadian university is $9,569 USD whereas the average living costs for a student at an American university is $18,060.
  • Internationally Respected Institutions – Canadian universities are respected internationally, with Canada placing 23 universities in the ARWU Top 500 World University Rankings, with only four countries placing more: Japan (36), the U.K. (42), Germany (43), and the U.S. (170).  This showing is even more impressive considering Canada has only 34 million people compared to 61 million for the U.K., 82 million for Germany, and 127 million for Japan.   Australia, with a population of 21 million, placed 14 universities in the ARWU top 500.
  • Open Immigration Policy – Unlike the United States, which limits HB-1 worker visas for skilled immigrants at 65,000 per year, Canada has made it easier for skilled immigrants to obtain worker visas.  The process for getting a worker visa is even easier for students with a degree from a Canadian university.  This allows international students to stay in Canada after college to get work experience and polish their English skills.
  • Better Quality Control – Universities in Canada have to meet a higher minimum standard of quality than U.S. universities because universities in Canada are regulated by provincial governments.  In some provinces such as Ontario, universities can only be established through an act of the provincial legislature. Conversely, U.S. universities can form independently and are not regulated by government bodies.  The only form of quality control in the U.S. is accreditation, where a university is given formal approval by a private accrediting body.  These private accrediting bodies are independent of the government and can use any standards they wish in accrediting institutions.  As a result, there are many universities accredited in the U.S. that would not the meet standards of minimum quality enforced by governments in Canada, the U.K., or Australia.
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Finding Financial Aid for International Students

Many international students incorrectly believe that there is no financial aid available to them.  In fact, there are two major sources of financial aid for international students, both of which take a bit of effort to find and win.

1. Institutional Aid

Both public and private universities offer financial incentives for students to attend their institution.  Private universities are typically in a better position to offer financial aid because they do not have a duty to taxpayers.

Most of the institutional aid available to international students is reserved for graduate study in the form of assistantships and fellowships, but there is definitely institutional aid available for undergraduates, although they are quite competitive.

One form of instituitional aid are merit-based scholarships granted on the basis of special skills, talents, or abilities. Your university may have scholarships based on TOEFL scores, academic record, artistic ability, musical ability, or athletic ability.  Merit-based scholarships are usually very competitive. To be considered, you will need to demonstrate exceptional ability in the area required.  The trick is to find the scholarship most targeted to your situation and focus on selling yourself to the scholarship committee.

Need-based scholarships are awarded based on financial need. Those students who can demonstrate need at a predetermined level are eligible for this type of aid.

Academic departments within the university may have funds allocated to assist international students with exceptional need and/or talent. Consult with your university and/or your major department to take advantage of any special funding opportunities they offer.

2. Private Scholarships

It is true that many non-institutional, independently administered scholarships for undergraduate study are available only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.  However, there are free scholarship databases as well as private, corporate, nonprofit, and government scholarship funds that serve undergraduate international students.

It is very important to do a through search for financial aid, as many grants and scholarships go unawarded for years because no students bother to apply!

The Guide to Student Visas and the U.S. Immigration System

Many students attend college in the United States precisely because they want to live in the United States.  Some want to live there for only as long as they are students, while others want to live in there beyond their college years. Some want to live only for a time, while others hope to live permanently.  No matter what the nature of the stay, all guests will have to deal with a dysfunctional immigration system.  Compared to that of similar countries like the U.K., Canada, and Australia, the United States’ immigration system is relatively restrictive towards skilled immigrants.  As of this writing, the annual limit on HB-1 worker visas, for skilled foreign workers, is 65,000 people.

Although international students are in the U.S. to acquire skills, the U.S. considers international students to be non-immigrant, temporary visitors instead of immigrants.  This distinction expresses their expectation that the students will return to their home countries after their period of study.  For this reason, the U.S. allows a significant amount of students into the United States for study, issuing 331,208 F-1 visas and 313,957 J-1 visas in 2009.

Transferring Schools

The United States’ education system is unusual in that allows students to transfer from one school to another.   Deciding to transfer is a very important decision to make during your college career.  For some students, it was always part of the plan.  This is especially so for students who attend community colleges the first couple of years of their college careers to keep costs down and others who were not happy with the standing of the colleges they had been admitted to at high school.  The most common reasons for transferring are:

    Moving from a two-year community college to a four-year college/university

      Many students, domestic and international, who want to purse a degree in the United States assume that they have to be admitted to a top university right out of high school.  Some students do not realize that they can attend a community college the first two years and then transfer to a university to finish off the remaining couple of years.  Others are aware but still do not believe that community colleges are real colleges.  However, attending a community college might be the most practical choice for some students.  The main advantages of community colleges are:

      (i)                 Reduced Cost

      Community colleges have far lower tuition costs than 4-year universities.  By attending a community college for the first two years of tertiary education, the student can save a significant amount of money.  So if the student is short on funding and does not have the test scores or grades to have been awarded a merit scholarship, community colleges might be a viable option.

      (ii)               Transferring to your dream school

      If a student does not have the GPA or standardized test scores to get into the desired four-year college, the student can use time at a community college to build up academic skills and prove that he or she is a serious student.  When the student applies for a transfer to a four-year school, the admissions offices of these schools will consider the community college grades more heavily than the student’s high school records.

      (iii)             Exploring majors

      Many students begin their tertiary education not knowing what they intend to major in.  Community colleges are the perfect place for such self-exploration because not only are they cheaper, they allow for students to take a far wider range of courses in different departments than do their four-year counterparts.  At big universities, classes in specific departments are often limited to students who have been accepted to a particular major.  This is never the case in community colleges.

        • Trying to get into a better school

          For those students who want a second try at their dream schools or for those who simply want to trade up, transferring after your freshman or sophomore year might be an option.  It is much easier to get into selective schools as a sophomore/junior than as a freshman, provided that you have the requisite college grades.  Now that you have a college record, colleges and universities will be far more interested in your college grades than your high school grades.  This is not to say that your high school grades and standardized test scores will not have to submitted, but their significance will be overshadowed by your undergraduate college performance.  Also, recommendations will be coming from professors at the college level and not from your high school teachers.  This means that you will have had to establish a good and deep relationship with two to three professors during the course of your one to two years at the first college or university.  This can sometimes be hard because many of the introductory college classes are taught in large groups and it can be difficult for students to create opportunities for one-on-one contact with the professors.  This means that the student will have to go the extra mile to engage the professor, either by speaking to the professor after class or during his or her office-hours, and seeking to work with the professor on a specific project in which there is substantial interaction between the professor and the student.

            • Finding a school that offers a major that is unavailable at your current school

              Given that US schools generally only require students to declare their majors in their sophomore year, sometimes students do not realize their preferred majors are unavailable at their schools until they have attended classes for a full year.  Students transferring for this reason are best advised to research which schools are highly respected in their preferred major before making their transfer choice.

                • The college you are attending is not a good match socially or academically

                  To avoid making this mistake again, it would be best that you follow the steps outlined in Chapter 5.  This time however, you would have had one or two years college experience under your belt and with added maturity, you will have an enhanced ability to discern what wrong premises and bases you took into account when you made your college choice a year or two ago.  Understanding those faults in your decision making process will allow you to better approach this round of decisions.

                  Transfer Essay/Personal Statement:

                  Apart from assessing your college performance so far and judging the level of extracurricular activity that you were engaged in, the other important piece of this puzzle would be the personal statement that you will have to write as part of the transfer application.  Like when you applied to college from high school, this needs to be an impactful and convincing piece of writing.    In fact, the college admissions dean will be expecting this piece of writing to be more mature and insightful as compared to a high school applicant.  In your personal statement, there are certain points that you must seek to cover and convey effectively to the admissions committee.

                  (a)    Why do you want to transfer?

                  (b)   Why do you want to transfer specifically to that school?

                  (c)    Why you have strong academic reasons to transfer?

                  (d)   What did you learn about yourself during those first few years of college?

                  (e)    How do you think you would be able to contribute to your new college?

                  Transferring Credits:

                  Keep in mind that some credits may not be transferable.  It is best for you to check with the school to assess how many of your completed “credits” can be transferred as this may influence your decision of whether or not to transfer.

                  If you are transferring from a two-year school to a four-year school, you may be required to retake courses that you have already completed at the community college. Furthermore, some schools require you to complete a minimum number of credits at your new school before you can graduate (usually 60 credits or 2 years of coursework). This may delay your graduation date.

                  The Guide to Financial Aid

                  Decades ago, several private colleges and universities adopted a policy of not requiring any of its students to take on substantial debt in order to attend school.  They recognized that educational debt from a private school could cripple students, pressuring the student to put the need to make money over the desire to pursue the his/her true calling in life.  These schools decided that they would cover the costs of attendance for any student who could not cover the cost of attendance on his/her own.

                  However, guaranteeing full financial aid was risky, as admitting a class with too many students unable to cover the costs of attendance would result in a heavy financial burden for the school.  Schools recognized this risk and took different approaches to managing this risk.

                  Because certain private schools were well-funded and/or historically enrolled mostly students whose families could easily cover the cost of attendance, these schools were confident that the cost of this policy would never exceed their ability to pay for it.  These schools practiced “need-blind” admissions policies, where the financial status of the applicant was not taken into account in the evaluation of his or her candidacy.  In effect, the school imposed an imaginary wall between the admissions department and the financial aid department.  This separation was necessary to prevent admissions officers from taking the school’s financial situation into account when admitting students, which could cause them to reject students who were qualified but would require the school to cover part or all of the cost of attendance.

                  However, some schools either lacked the available funds for financial aid and/or historically enrolled large amounts of students unable to cover the cost of attendance.  These schools could not afford to be “need-blind” because of the risk that they admit too many students unable to cover the costs of attendance, which could present a financial responsibility exceeding the school’s ability to pay. These schools had to ensure that they did not enroll more students unable to cover the cost of attendance than they could pay for.  This situation led to what we call “need-aware” admissions.

                  In a “need-aware” admissions office, the admissions department consults with the financial aid department on the school’s financial aid capabilities for that year.  If a school has exhausted its financial aid capabilities for that year, the admissions officer might reject a qualified student who is unable to meet the costs of attendance at the school.

                  Because of shrinking endowments brought on by the recession, along with rising tuition and living costs, many colleges and universities find that their ability to cover the full cost of attendance for students has diminished.  As a result, many admissions offices that were traditionally “need-blind” have been forced to become “need-aware”.

                  What does this mean for the academically strong student who might lack the funds to pay for an expensive college education?  It means that there will be many students who will have all the makings of a top candidate; possessing strong standardized test scores, an impressive GPA, persuasive personal statements, and amazing letters of recommendations, but who will end up being denied admission because he or she did not have enough money to cover the costs of room, board, tuition, books.

                  The result of this phenomenon is that because of the significant costs involved, many students will not apply to some of the more exclusive colleges and universities in the United States despite having a good chance of gaining admission.  As mentioned, there are some schools that continue to practice “need-blind” admissions, and some of them have even extended it to international students.  These schools:

                  1. Wesleyan University
                  2. Williams College
                  3. Harvard University
                  4. Middlebury College
                  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
                  6. Princeton University
                  7. Williams College and
                  8. Yale University

                  Because these policies change from time to time, it is best that you check with the school on their current policy.

                  At the time of writing, the schools which still practice “need-blind” admissions include:

                  1. Amherst College

                  10.  Beloit College

                  11.  Boston College

                  12.  Bowdoin College

                  13.  Brandeis University

                  14.  Brown University

                  15.  California Institute of Technology

                  16.  Claremont McKenna College

                  17.  Columbia University

                  18.  Cornell University

                  19.  Cooper Union

                  20.  Dartmouth College

                  21.  Duke University

                  22.  Emory University

                  23.  Georgetown University

                  24.  Grinnell College

                  25.  Harvard University

                  26.  Haverford College

                  27.  Lawrence University

                  28.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology

                  29.  Middlebury College

                  30.  Northwestern University

                  31.  Pomona College

                  32.  Princeton University

                  33.  Rice University

                  34.  Stanford University

                  35.  Swarthmore College

                  36.  University of Chicago

                  37.  University of Pennsylvania

                  38.  University of Richmond

                  39.  University of Virginia

                  40.  Vassar College

                  41.  Vanderbilt University

                  42.  Wellesley College

                  43.  Wesleyan University

                  44.  Williams College

                  45.  Yale University

                  Given that the majority of colleges and universities are not need-blind, you will need to bear in mind that for most schools, the admissions officers will still be taking your ability to pay in deciding on whether or not to accept you.  Therefore, there are some things you need to take into consideration when applying to colleges and universities and seeking to get financial help from the academic institutions:

                  1. Total Cost

                  Given the fact that you will not know how much a college will cost you until they send you the financial aid package, it is very important that when you are selecting which schools to apply to, that you do not base your decision on the actual published cost of the college.  The reason why we make this point is that so many families get into huge arguments over which schools they should apply to, not understand that the more expensive and exclusive private schools tend to be able shell out more money in terms of scholarship than the public universities.

                  For example, for the incoming class of 2009 (graduating class of 2013), Harvard University’s average financial aid package was $40,533.  This stands in sharp contrast to a top public university such as University of Michigan, which had an average financial aid package of $8,615.  So although the private school might have a higher published cost, when you take into account the financial aid package it is willing to offer, this price differential might dissipate.

                  The school will base how much your need to contribute based on how much your family can afford, this is commonly referred to as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  To get an idea as to how much your EFC would be before you hear back from the schools, you can go to various websites to do a rough calculation.  Our favorite is College Board’s EFC Calculator which can be found on its website (http://apps.collegeboard.com/fincalc/efc_welcome.jsp)

                  1. Financial Aid Forms

                  To be competitive for scholarship money, it is imperative that you submit the forms on time.  To be able to do this, you need to check with the schools you are applying to which financial aid forms they require.  The one form that all students need to submit to be considered for scholarship money will be the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will be available in November online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.  Some schools might require other forms and it is important that you see what forms you need to prepare.

                  1. Merit-Based Scholarships

                  As mentioned, many schools have had no choice but to do away with their “need-blind” admissions policies and have had to start taking into account the student’s ability to pay.  However, that is not to say they are no longer giving out money.  The money that is being dispensed will be more focused, and the schools are moving towards merit-based scholarships, giving out money according to who they would like to attract to their school.  These is based on the institutional polices, policies which determine what kinds of students they want at the particular institution.

                  Merit scholarships, sometimes referred to as academic scholarships, are scholarships given to students who have exceedingly good grades and, most likely, graduate in the top five to ten percent of your class. Merit scholarships are often related to academic performance, but can also be given to a candidate displaying artistic or athletic excellence or sometimes a combination of the abovementioned there factors.

                  1. Negotiation

                  If you receive a financial aid package with your admissions decision, you should seek to re-negotiate with the other schools you have been admitted to in order to encourage them to give you better financial aid packages.  You should get in contact with the director of admissions at the school in question and present your case.  Explain to them that you really want to attend their school but money is a concern and that you have received better financial aid packages from other schools.  In some instances, schools will reevaluate your case and try to match or better your other offers.  Of course, we have to be realistic here.  This will not happen for everyone and more often than not, the best package will likely come from the school you least likely want to attend.  Regardless of this, you should always try to renegotiate for a better package.  You won’t know until you have tried.

                  It is also worth noting that throughout this process that it is very helpful that you get to know the directors of financial aid at the various schools well and begin correspondence early in the game.  Arrange to meet him if you do visit the campus, get his name and email address, and drop him an email from time to time with questions regarding financial aid.  In this way, he will have you in his mind when you come to speak to him later in the application season when you are negotiating or re-negotiating for a financial aid package.

                  The Guide to the Admissions Essay/Personal Statement

                  By the time you start applying for college, it is a fact that your grades, standardized test scores and recommendations are well-established, meaning they cannot be changed or improved for the purposes of the college application.  What can be improved is your college admissions essay, otherwise known as the personal statement or the statement of purpose.  This piece of writing is your last chance to make your case to the admissions committee, and through this essay you can make a difference in your chances of admission.

                  Depending on the approach you take this aspect of your application, the essay can either help you or hurt you.  Once your academic numbers, which include your grades and standardized test scores, fall within the “acceptable” range for that particular school you are applying to, the most important piece of the admissions puzzle then becomes your college admissions essay.

                  Just because you are “acceptable” as an applicant does not mean you will be offered admission to the college.  Most colleges get more qualified, acceptable applicants than they can admit.  Admissions officers and deans across the board would be the first ones to admit that they turn away and reject as many qualified applicants as they accept.  So what makes or breaks the application is whether the student can demonstrate the he/she deserves the spot more than the next applicant.  Not only does this essay test your ability to write, it also provides the admissions personnel with the opportunity to see the person behind the numbers and application, helping them discern the applicant’s character and personality.

                  As alluded to in the previous paragraph, this piece of writing should never be regarded as a substitute for competency and consistency, traits which should have already been demonstrated through your progress in school.  No matter how excellent your essay is, you will still be required to deliver sufficiently high numbers to get you into the “acceptable” range.

                  However, not everyone in the “acceptable” range is the same type of applicant.  Students with higher numbers will have less to prove to the admissions committee than those with lower numbers.  Some of these applicants are a short hop away from application while others are a huge leap away. It is hard to tell how far you are from admission unless you have done an honest and objective assessment of yourself as an applicant.

                  After determining the goal of the essay, you have to decide whether you want to devote the essay’s limited word count to explaining weaknesses or to highlighting strengths.  That is why it is so important to figure out what you have to prove and how much you have to prove.  For example, a student with a pattern of bad grades in science courses will have a different mission than a student with a lack of extracurricular activities.

                  Writing the Essay

                  The beauty of this aspect of your application is that as far as content is concerned, this is the only part of your application where the admissions deans and officers have absolutely no particular requirements and expectations.  They are not expecting you to write about a specific topic in a specific prose or style.  This stands in sharp contrast to the academic numbers, where there is very little room for flexibility and subjectivity.  The reason why this essay is as important as it is in your arguing your candidacy and worthiness is that as the school reviews your academic accomplishments, it is this essay and the content found within that will constantly be at the back of the reviewers’ minds.  The essay gives your application context and life.  For this reason, it is imperative that you are honest and clear in this piece of writing, conveying to the readers the real “you” behind the numbers and the application.

                  Given that the admissions office at the schools you are applying to will have access to your English grades from high school, and have the additional avenue to assess your grasp of the English Language through the English Language and Written components of the SAT, this piece of writing must not only be grammatically and technically flawless, the content needs to exhibit intelligence, creativity and maturity.   The essay should never be a narration of events or worse yet, a book report.  Instead, the description of events or the description of an impactful book must be kept to a minimum.  The bulk of the piece of writing has instead to focus on what you have learnt from the experience.  This is an opportunity for you to show the reader not your ability to write well, it is an opportunity for you to show the reader that you can formulate thoughts and advance intelligent and insightful arguments on the basis of those thoughts, and also to share with the reader intimate details on your character and important and defining elements of your value system.

                  Through this essay, you have the opportunity to express the “you” that you are most proud of and you want to put forth in support of your candidacy.  As much as the fact that the big life-changing moments can be great material for the essay, basing your essay on a small event can also be very impactful.  This is as long as you convey through your writing what you learnt about yourself and the world though the experience.  So in effect writing about quiet walks with your grandmother around the park can be just as impactful as scoring the winning touchdown in a football game.  The task at hand is not to write about the “what” or the “who” but rather focusing on the significance of the “what” or “who” to you and what you learn vis-à-vis the “what” or “who.”

                  It is hard to provide in this book a comprehensive list of “dos” and “don’t-s” regarding the writing of the college essay but I have chosen a short list of writing tips which I feel are crucial to writing a strong and impactful essay.

                  Writing Tips:

                  1. Do not rush through the writing process.  Split up the writing process into the following parts:
                    1. Brainstorming:  Use this stage to gather your thoughts, and defining the focus of the writing and the general content.  After doing this, choose a structure for your essay and begin outlining it.
                    1. Drafting:  Go through several drafts of the one piece of writing, each time fine-tuning the essay and improving on it.
                    1. Revision:  In this stage, take the role of a objective reader and read over the essay, make corrections where necessary.
                  1. Be concise:  You only have 600-700 words to convey your message so it is very important that you are concise in your writing, avoiding wordy quotes and overly complex phrasing and wording.
                  2. Grammar:  Ensure that the piece of writing has no grammatical or spelling errors.  Pay attention to verbs (especially tense and voice-whenever possible, use active voice), use of pronouns, punctuation and write in complete sentences.
                  3. Font Size:  Ensure that your writing is legible and that the font size is big enough for the admissions officers and deans to read easily.
                  4. Stylistic: In order to convince the reader of your prowess in the English Language, it is important that you not only choose the appropriate wording, go to some extent to varying sentence lengths and structure to keep the reader interested.

                  Content Tips:

                  1. Honesty is the best policy:  When writing the essay, it is important that you do not lie or exaggerate.  You should not be spending time and effort trying to figure out what the admissions deans want to hear and tailoring your essay to fit this mould.  In reality, they are not looking for anything in particular, merely wanting to understand the person behind the application and numbers.
                  1. Topic:   The topic itself does not have to be overly dramatic.  However, how you dealt with the event, what you learnt from the event, and how you moved on since the event needs to be impactful and meaningful.  You could write about the most ordinary or mundane daily occurrence but yet impress the reader with your perceptive insights and lessons learnt from the occurrence.
                  1. Choosing the best details and leaving out the rest:  Because of the obvious word limit, it is imperative that you minimize the description of the actual event.  So only include in the essay the part of the event that had an impact on you and not the rest of it.  If there are unique and distinctive details and those were the details that impacted you, only include those;
                  1. Avoid making excuses:  The essay should never be used by the applicant to explain why he or she received bad grades in high school or the standardized test scores.  A piece of writing which focuses on the reasons for your lack of performance purely serves to highlight the weaknesses in your candidacy.
                  1. Topics to avoid:  Granted that there are no expectation on the part of admissions deans and officers when it comes to the content of the essay, you can write about (i) personal issues; (ii) a book that has influenced you; (iii) a policy issue or current events issue, there are some essay topics which applicants falter when they try to use it as the basis of their college essays.  Below is a list of them:

                  (a)    List of accomplishments:  The application already gives you a space for you to fill up your jobs, extracurricular activities and academic awards.  There is no point repeating it here and losing the opportunity of impressing the admissions officers and deans based on another aspect of your candidacy.   Also, writing an essay solely talking about your accomplishments can make you seem arrogant and self-important.  This will annoy the reader.

                  (b)   Sex life:  The admissions officers and deans are probably not going to care about whether or not you have an active lifestyle.

                  (c)    Drug use:  It is true that every college campus has to deal with substance abuse but you should not use this essay to draw attention to your use of illegal substances, even if you talk about how you overcame an addiction.

                  (d) Time spent in jail: Like the drug use, although many successful applicants have had brushes with the law, this is not an aspect of your candidacy you want to highlight.

                  (e)    Divisive Issues:  As much as colleges like socially and politically aware students, and writing a policy-centric issue can be impactful, you should stay away from divisive and possibly offensive topics.  Given the fact that you do not personally know the reader and you do not know what he or she feels about a particular divisive issue, writing about it and lecturing the reader on it should be avoided at all costs.  Topics include abortion, capital punishment, religion, etc.

                  (f)    Anything overly depressing: Bearing in mind that the reader is probably going to have to read thousands of essays, having to read about something overly depressing or uncomfortable might not work in your favor.  So writing about your experience with rape, assault, divorce, drug abuse, assault, depression, attempting suicide might make the reader really uncomfortable.  This is not a feeling you want to create in the reader.

                  (g)   Travel Log:  Colleges like students who have been exposed and so writing about travel and explaining to the admissions committee how a particular travelling experience has had a lasting and meaningful impact on you can be a great topic.  However, very often, when students write about their travel experiences, the essays start to sound like a summary of their trip to a particular destination.  This is neither particularly interesting nor insightful.

                  Finalizing Your List of Colleges

                  As you begin the process of narrowing down your initial candidate list of 20 or so schools, you will begin to start realizing that there is no perfect college or university.  For each of the schools on your list, there will be defining characteristics and elements which you like and ones which you dislike.  There will be a large number of schools that fit your list of preferences and have both the academic and the extracurricular programs that are of interest to you.

                  With over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, it is important that you put into some time into researching the schools which you are considering applying to because academics and course offerings aside, you have to take into account the social aspects and dynamics of the various campuses.  This is where you will be spending the next four or five years of your life and you certainly do not want to be miserable and socially unfulfilled during this time.

                  At this stage of the process, it is imperative that you keep an open mind and be receptive to new schools which you have never heard of but might a be great fit.  You never know what is out there unless you keep an open mind and actively research.  Research is essential for making a good college decision and this means collecting date from a broad range of objective sources and being objective in your assessment.

                  As mentioned previously, the initial list of schools you want to research should be quite long.  Here at Students International, we recommend our clients to start with a list of about 20-25 schools, and eventually working their way down to 8-12 schools.  In the final list, we recommend that you categorize the schools into three different categories so that you can view visually the range of schools which you will be applying to.  They should be categorized into the following categories:

                  (i)                 Reach Schools

                  Reach schools are generally the most selective as well as the most unpredictable schools on your list.  The profile for a reach school will be higher than your profit and that your chances of admission are low.  We recommend at most that students apply to 3-4 reach schools from their initial list if they are applying to 8-12 schools in total.  At Students International, we often encounter very strong students who are top at the high schools and have very strong standardized test scores and on this account feel that the top schools should be Mid-Level for them.  A word of caution; all of the most-selective schools are reaches.  So even if you have best grades in the state/city/high school, a highly selective school such as Harvard or Yale is always a reach for you.  These schools reject hundreds of outstanding candidates every year, many of them who have perfect test scores.   If you are a top student, by all means keep highly selective colleges on your list.  But please put several well-researched backup schools on your list with admission rates above 20%.

                  (ii)              Target Schools

                  The profile of a mid-level school should be similar to your profile as well as your personal preferences.  When examining the profile for admitted students at schools, take into aspects of your candidacy such as

                  (a)    High school GPA

                  (b)   High school course load

                  (c)    Standardized test scores

                  (d)   Extracurricular activities

                  (e)    Leadership roles in high school years.

                  Out of the three categories of schools to which you will be applying, you should have several target schools on your list.  So if you are applying to 8-12 schools, 5-8 of those schools just be from this category.

                  It is worth nothing that given that mid-level schools represent the bulk of your applications that you take into account the fact that your chances may be lower if you apply to a special program/course of study.  So if you are applying to a business or engineering school within a particular university, the admissions standards might be higher for you than if you were applying to a general course at that same university.  What does this mean for you?  It means that there are instances that your grades and scores may be a match for the college but a reach for the program. Do your homework and find out the statistics of students admitted to that program.  You do not want to be caught flat footed.

                  (iii)             Safety Schools

                  Safety schools are ones from which you can reasonably expect admissions based on the college’s profile and your numbers.  This means that your grades and standardized test scores are significantly higher than the school’s average scores.  Provided there are no major errors on your part, e.g. bad recommendation letters, missed application deadlines, past academic misconduct, you should be admitted to schools in this category.

                  However, keep in mind that there is truly no such a thing as a sure thing, especially in college admissions.  For example, some schools actually reject overqualified applicants if they think the applicant is using the school as a “safety school” and is therefore unlikely to enroll if admitted.  If the school accepts too many students who decline to enroll, it will lower the school’s college ranking by lowering its selectivity score (accepted/applied) and yield rate (enrolled/admitted).  This is especially true of schools that are used to being the “safety school” in a particular group, e.g. Dartmouth and Cornell as safety schools for the Ivy League.  Make sure that you have two or three reliable schools on your list that you really like in the event that one or two of your safety schools rejects you for some reason.

                  Just a word of caution about this process of narrowing down your list; remember that you are not at this point choosing where you will eventually end up, all you are doing is formulating a list that allows you to have the greatest number of good college options in April.  So there is no point in choosing purely Reach schools because you do not want to risk not getting in anywhere.  Be realistic about the process but yet at the same time, it is important that you choose schools that you want to go to, and this applies to your Probable schools as well.  You need to have eight or twelve first choices, instead of having a first, third and last choice.  This way, you will not only manage your expectations but also apply the same amount of enthusiasm and effort into each of the applications.

                  Multitude of resources at your fingertips

                  As you are exploring schools and doing research, you should begin to narrow your list to the schools you will visit, and then ultimately to the schools you plan to apply to in the fall.  There are a variety of resources at your disposal as you begin exploring and researching colleges.  Here are some of the resources which you should certainly employ during this crucial evaluative process:

                  1. Internet

                  The Internet has become a powerful tool in researching colleges, careers and financial aid.  Apart from the universities’ websites, there are a long list of reliable and objectives websites which you should definitely use in your research.

                  Here is a list of some of the best websites out there:

                  (i) http://www.collegeboard.org/
                  This site is sponsored by the College Board.  In addition to allowing the user to conduct a college search, users can also access other College Board services such as registering for the SAT/PSAT/AP, access SAT practice questions, and obtain scholarship information.

                  (ii) http://www.petersons.com
                  Peterson’s provides information on study abroad, careers and summer programs as well as the usual information on colleges. Along with the College Board site, this is one of the most useful resources for college researchers.

                  (iii) http://www.usnews.com/
                  This address takes the user to the site of US News and Report and their ratings/rankings of colleges as published in the magazine. The site also gives the user the opportunity to compare college statistics, search for scholarships and access many articles regarding education.

                  (iv) http://www.gocollege.com/
                  A college search, scholarship search, SAT/ACT practice tests and links to college life sites are available at this address.

                  (v) http://www.review.com/
                  This site is maintained by the Princeton Review. It not only allows you to access its test preparation services, but also provides scholarship information.  It also has a section for parents’ issues.

                  (vi) http://www.collegeparents.org/
                  The College Parents Association sponsors this site which includes a section on scholarship scams, alcohol abuse on campus and many other topics of concern to parents sending their children off to college.

                  (vii) http://camustours.com/
                  This site offers virtual campus tours for thousands of colleges and universities as well as information on financial aid, and a college admissions message board.

                  (viii) http://studyusa.com/

                  This site is a great resource for international students, providing information on a wide range of topics.  It provides information on all levels of study in the US and is available in many different languages.

                  (ix) http://collegeviewbooks.com/index.html

                  By completing this simple form you can have college applications and viewbooks mailed directly to your residence

                  (x) http://www.collegesource.org/

                  This website is a free database of over 51,000 digital course catalogs.

                  • College Guidebooks

                  College Guidebooks such as The Fiske Guide to Colleges, The College Handbook, The Insider’s Guide to Colleges, and Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges, just to name a few, provide a wealth of information. Most are updated yearly.  Consult your college advisor or counselor’s office, local bookstore, library, etc.  While guidebooks can be helpful, realize that many are written from a subjective point of view, and should not be used as your only resource.  Guidebooks should be used in conjunction with viewbooks, the Web, and campus visits.

                  • College Viewbooks/College Catalogs/College Videos-DVDs

                  These are available from most schools.  The viewbooks generally provide a wonderful pictorial view of the campus along with information about entrance requirements, student life, and financial aid.  But please bear in mind that when you read these view books that you are seeing the school through the marketing arm of the college or university.

                  Videos and DVDs, like viewbooks, are more promotional, yet they can provide you a feel for a campus greater than the pictures in the viewbook.

                  College bulletins or course catalogues will give you in-depth information about major programs and other academic opportunities such as study abroad programs and curriculum requirements.  The catalog will provide an indication of the depth and breath of courses offered. Many catalogs are available online through the College Source website (http://www.collegesource.org/)

                  • College fairs

                  College fairs provide an excellent way to gather information about a variety of schools and add your name to the schools’ mailing lists. When choosing a college, you need all the information you can get.  But visiting each campus can be expensive so before visiting all the colleges on your initial list, it is better to have narrowed down that list substantially.  This is where college fairs come in.

                  This is especially so for international students attending college fairs in their home country/home city.  These fairs are sometimes held by a single university but most times, schools participate at university fairs where many different colleges and universities are represented in one venue.

                  When you attend college fairs, be prepared with a few questions, and try to visit with as many representatives as possible.  One suggestion would be to take printed address labels with you to avoid filling out cards at every table.  These labels should include your name, address, home phone, email address, graduation year, social security number if applicable, high school name, and areas of interest.

                  At these fairs, there will be many booths to visit and people to talk to.  You have to be very focused at these fairs to get the most out of them.  Here are some tips:

                  (i)                 If you have access to the list of college participating in the fair beforehand, review the list and plan to visit the colleges that interest you most.

                  (ii)               If there is a map provide at the fair or beforehand, plan a route to avoid back-tracking and getting confused.

                  (iii)             Many fairs will have an area where experts give speeches.  Block out some time to attend the speeches which are relevant to you.

                  (iv)             After each college booth visit, spend a couple of minutes to write down what information you have learned.  You will not remember all of it when you get home if you haven’t at least written a few lines down after each booth.

                  Here are some sample questions which you could pose to the college representatives:

                  (i)                 What kind of students is your college looking for?

                  (ii)               What is your college known for?

                  (iii)             What is the size of your college?

                  (iv)             What is the men-women ratio?

                  (v)               What is the area surrounding the campus like?

                  (vi)             What qualities do admitted students possess?

                  (vii)           Do you offer Early Decision or Early Action?

                  (viii)         What are the most popular majors?

                  (ix)             What is the academic environment like?

                  (x)               Are there opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research?

                  (xi)             What is the cost of attendance?

                  (xii)           What percentage of students receive financial aid?

                  (xiii)         Does the application for financial aid affect admissions chances?

                  (xiv)         Is housing guaranteed for students?  If so, for how many years?

                  (xv)           What support groups are provided for students?

                  (xvi)         What kind of sports facilities does the school possess?

                  (xvii)       How accessible are professors both inside and outside the classroom?  Do they have office hours?

                  (xviii)     Do professors or teacher assistants teach the entry-level courses?

                  (xix)         What sort of career support does the career services office provide?

                  (xx)           Does the school organize career fairs?

                  (xxi)         Does the career office help find the students summer internships?

                  (xxii)       Is there the chance to study abroad?

                  • College Visits

                  Choosing a college that is right for you is best done in person, rather than relying upon literature and word-of-mouth. Being able to see firsthand where you will be spending your next 4 to 6 years gives advantages that just cannot be achieved by going over the brochures that you have been presented with.  Time and time again, new students arrive on the doorstep of their college without learning just what their new school has to offer, or where anything will be located.  This can lead to numerous problems that can include disappointment, realizations that you did not expect, and unforeseen expenses that you may not have expected before arriving on campus.  There are however, some simple tasks that you can undertake, and a few preparations that you can make to save yourself the stress of jumping into this whole new world of college.

                  In our experience here at Students International, we have realized that the campus visit has a great impact on students and their decision on where to attend college.  So if you can afford the expense of making the trip, you should definitely do so because it will lend valuable context and depth to an otherwise abstract decision making process.

                  Generally speaking, if you are visiting the campus as a freshman or sophomore in high school, you might not be able to set up an official college visit which can include an interview.  You will however be able to join the regular campus tours which will be more than enough to get a feel for life on that particular campus.  If you are a junior in high school or are an international students, you should email the college rep to set up an official college visit an interview.

                  Many schools, in their bid to attract the best and the brightest, go to great lengths to make an impact on their visitors.   If the school allows for it, let the college rep know about your personal interests and educational needs so that they can customize your visit. In addition to scheduling group information sessions and allow you to participate in a student-led campus tour, some schools will even arrange for you to speak with a professor in the field you would like to pursue at college, maybe even the dean of that college or department. They will even arrange for you to sit in on classes and have an interview with the dean of admissions.

                  In any case, if you have the opportunity to make one of these visits, you should definitely put in the extra little effort to get the most out of your visit.  Go to the school’s admissions office websites to obtain the phone number to make the necessary arrangements.

                  Tip: If you cannot afford to make the trip, almost all colleges and universities provide video programs about their schools on their admissions websites.  But another, less biased choice for armchair screening tours found online at the  Collegiate Choice Walking Tours The website can be found at http://www.collegiatechoice.com/ and the clips are videotaped at both U.S. and international universities.  Although the videos are not as professionally put together as the promotional DVDs that colleges and universities give out, they are obviously for this same reason less biased.  The camera basically records a student-led tour of the campus, including questions from members of the tour group.  This is no substitution for a first-hand visit, but if you simply cannot afford to go in person, it’s the next-best thing!

                  The Game Plan for the Campus Visit:

                  Remember that once you have arranged to make the trip to visit the campus, you need to make the trip a worthwhile one, so that the investment in time and money does not go to waste.  The reason why you are physically there on campus is to ascertain and evaluate certain characteristics that cannot be gleaned from the internet, college fairs, or college guidebooks, etc.

                  To get the most out of the college visit, you must not only come to the school with an open mind devoid of prejudices and expectations, but also come with clear parameters for your inquiry.  This means being clear from the outset of the visit what characteristics of the school you seek to uncover during the several hours you are physically on campus.  This will help you to remember what you have observed during the tour and it will better aid you in your subsequent decision of which school to apply to and which school you would like to ultimately attend.

                  The best way to do this is to write down a list of questions for yourself before the visit and to answer these questions as you go along the tour. During this visit, apart from speaking to representatives of the school, you should try to speak with some members of the student body to get a real student feel of the place.  In fact, if you know any friends from high school who attend the particular college or university, get in touch with them and get them to show you around and take you to some of their classes.  If you do not know who from you high school attends the particular college or university, you can always contact your high school guidance counselor to find out who is there from your high school.  Ultimately, students are the best sources of information when it comes to college/campus culture.

                  Below, I have provided some important questions you should be asking yourself as you embark on this campus visit.  Do not feel you need to have all the questions answered.  Pick the most important questions from each of the categories and address those questions to the relevant individuals.  I have split up the questions into different categories so that you know who to address what questions to during this visit.  You should do this same for each of the schools you visit.

                  Questions for the Admissions Office

                  1. Are the dorms spread throughout the campus or clustered in one area? Is there any kind of shuttle service between classroom areas, the library, the student union, and dorms? How late does it run?
                  2. Is there any security system to bar outsiders from entering dorms?
                  3. How large is the campus security police force? Does it patrol the campus regularly?
                  4. What services are offered by the campus health center? How large is it?
                  5. Does the student health center refer students to the local hospital? Is there a nearby hospital? How large is it?

                  Questions for Students

                  1. How many of your courses are taught by a big-name professor and how many by a teaching assistant? Who teaches the lab sessions?
                  2. How large are the classes?
                  3. Is the teaching innovative and project-oriented, or is it mostly lecture-oriented?
                  4. Do most freshmen class lectures take place in an amphitheater?
                  5. Have you ever been in a faculty member’s home?  How often?
                  6. What are the strong majors? The weak majors?
                  7. How hard do you have to work for your grades?
                  8. Where do the students study?  In the libraries or in the dormitories?
                  9. What’s the reputation of the _____________ department?
                  10. How adequate for your needs is the campus computer network?
                  11. Do fraternities and sororities dominate the social life of the college?
                  12. What do students do on weekends? Do most go home?
                  13. Where do most of the students hang out?
                  14. What would you change about this college?
                  15. What is the biggest student issue around here?
                  16. How is the advisement system? Do you feel that your professors really care?
                  17. There are a lot of organizations on campus. Are they dominated by a few groups or is anyone welcome?
                  18. How active is the _________ [fill in the activity in which you’re interested]? Has _________ won any national awards?

                  Questions to Ask Yourself About the Campus Atmosphere

                  1. While you were waiting for your interview in the admissions office, how did the staff members interact with students? Were they friendly, or did the staff approach students—both potential freshmen like you and enrolled students—as if they were interfering with the staff members’ jobs?
                  2. Was the Admissions Office a friendly and inviting place with a great deal of information about the school, or was it cold and sterile with little information to pick up?
                  3. What did your parents find out about the career planning services offered to graduating seniors and to graduates? What do the services include?

                  About the Student Body

                  1. Do most of the students seem to be like you, or are they completely different?
                  2. Either way, how would you feel being in a classroom full of these students? Sharing a dorm with them?
                  3. Do the students try to make you feel at home? Are they happy to answer your questions, or do they make you feel like you’re intruding? How do they interact with one another?
                  4. Do the students talk a lot about grades?
                  5. Do students talk about politics and current events/issues?
                  6. How do students spend their time outside the classroom?  How do students spend their weekends?

                  About the Campus

                  1. Does the campus seem too big? Or too small?
                  2. Do freshmen live in their own dorms? How do I feel about living in a single-sex or coed dorm?
                  3. Are the dorms quiet or noisy? Do they seem crowded?
                  4. How large are the rooms? Is there adequate space and light to study?
                  5. Does each room have access to the Internet and the campus LAN?
                  6. What’s advertised on dorm and classroom bulletin boards? What does this tell me about campus life?
                  7. How good is the lighting around each dorm and around classroom and lab buildings?
                  8. Do the buildings and grounds look well cared for? Or do they need painting and general repair work?
                  9. Is the grass cut, and are the grounds landscaped?
                  10. What’s the condition of the playing fields and the sports equipment?
                  11. How is the quality of the food in the cafeteria or dining hall? How are the sizes of the portions? Is it healthy or fast food? Are there meal plans?

                  About the Nearby Area

                  1. Does it look like there is much to do outside of campus?
                  2. How easy is to get to places off campus? Are there places within walking distance?
                  3. Do you feel comfortable and safe?
                  4. Are there places to get extra furniture, like bookcases, for your dorm room?
                  5. Is there a supermarket nearby to stock up on snacks and soda?
                  6. If you move out of a dorm after freshman year, what are the options in apartment complexes or buildings?

                  In closing, we want to caution you against making the mistake of visiting too many schools on one trip, although if you are travelling great distances this might be the only choice.  The reason why we advise against this is that students who do so tend to get the schools mixed up.  One way of alleviating the confusion is to prepare the questions as mentioned above and answer them during the campus visit so you have some notes to refer to when you finally get home.  Also, students should not be spending too much time away from school because at this juncture, the most important thing for the student to do is to obtain the best possible grades in high school and best possible scores in the various standardized tests.  Without these academic achievements, these campus visits would be pointless and meaningless.