Archive for the 'News' Category

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!

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Free English Language Books in Electronic Format at Project Gutenberg

For those students who wish to polish their reading comprehension skills or who just want to read excellent English literature, you can now indulge yourself free of charge.  Project Gutenberg offers over 25,000 e-books in almost every major format for use on either a computer, an e-book reader, or a smartphone.  Best of all, they make these books available free of charge!

How are they able to do this, you ask?  Project Gutenberg collects and digitizes books upon which the controlling U.S. patent has expired.  The expiration of the patent means that the rights to the work are no longer the private property of the rights-holder, but instead part of the “public domain”, a public good which the public collectively owns.  Since the public owns the rights to these books, organizations like Project Gutenberg are able to offer high quality, classic works of literature to anyone who wishes to download them.

Most of the books on the site right now are novels, biographies, and collections of smaller literary works, which is a large part of what high school and college students are assigned in English class.  So the next time you are assigned a book for class, do check Project Gutenberg for the free e-copy first and save yourself a nice chunk of change.

Exporting American Universities – Lessons From the Japanese Experience

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education gives some background on the failure of American Universities in Japan during the 1980s.  Of the forty American Universities which opened in Japan during that period, only one university, Temple University, has managed to survive to the present as a full university.  Generally, these branch universities were meant to serve as sort of a portal to the central University back in the United States in the first years, allowing Japanese students to earn university credits back home before transferring to the central University in the U.S.  However, the hope was that many of these branch universities would establish themselves as full-service universities eventually.  Those hopes were clearly overoptimistic.

The failure of American universities in Japan has not stopped American universities from attempting to export higher education, although it does seem to have taught university administrators a few lessons.  An increasingly popular model now is for American universities to partner with local universities in China, South Korea, and Vietnam, for example.  Thus, schools have found a way to reduce the risk of opening a campus abroad, but will this partnership approach diminish the quality of the university education being exported?

Choosing a Major, Preparing for a Career

One of the toughest decisions a college student will face is choosing a major and subsequently a career.  There are certainly some students who come into college knowing what subject they want to major in and what type of career they want, but most students do not know at that point.  In fact, most students go to college precisely to figure out who they are and what they like to do.

There is no need to rush the process of selecting a major.  In fact, a majority of college students change their major at least once while they are in college and some students even change their majors several times during this time.  As with the process of selecting a college, deciding on the right major will take some time and fine-tuning.

Instead of rushing the decision on a major, the goal of this process should be to identify your natural strengths and the skills you need to enhance your natural strengths.  With enough planning, you will eventually be able to decide on a course of study that allows you to build multiple competencies and explore certain areas in depth.

Additionally, please bear in mind that what you decide to study on the college level does not necessarily mean that your eventual career choice will be in the same area.   As much as your major in college is important for your first job after graduation, studies show that most people will change careers about four or five times over the course of their lives.  Most employers know that they can train a bright person to do any job, but they also know that training an employee is a very expensive and time-consuming process.   In that regard, the objective of your undergraduate major is to allow you to get your foot in the door so you can prove that you are a good worker, which will encourage an employer to take a chance and make the initial investment to train you in a new position or even a new field of work.

There is no one major you can pick which will prepare you for the career shifts you will likely encounter.  Instead, you should focus on developing a basic skill-set that will enable you to “learn on the job” in a wide range of positions.  No matter what position you go for, you will always help yourself by having writing skills, quantitative skills, and proficiency with productivity technology like MS Word/Excel/Powerpoint and web technology.  Luckily, these are all skills you can develop without having to commit to a certain major, so take classes that require you to practice these skills and develop them.

As you proceed on this journey, you should also be aware of the fact that there is the possibility of electing to double-major or, in some cases, to pursue a double degree.  Many students who are not familiar with the US education system often get mistaken between the two.  I will take this opportunity to explain the difference.

Double Major vs. Double Degree

Today, where there are many top graduates vying for top jobs, graduates can differentiate themselves by obtaining a double major or even a double degree.  Increasingly, employers are looking for individuals who are not only competent and intelligent, but who possess different skill sets and who are knowledgeable in multiple fields.

Part of the charm for employers is that your extra work demonstrates a willingness to take on difficult tasks.  The logic therefore is that if the student is willing to put in the extra work to gain added credentials while at college, he or she is likely to exhibit similar initiative and motivation in the workplace.

Double Major:

By studying for a double major, although you will be studying for only one degree, you will be focusing on two related and integrated majors that complement each other.  Classes overlap between the majors, meaning fewer classes are required than with a double degree, so it is easier to finish within four years.

Double Degree:

In contrast, with the more rigorous double degree, you will be studying for two different degrees in two completely different areas of study.  Although pursuing such a course of study allows students to complete two wholly separate degrees in less time than if they were to earn them separately, many strong students still find it incredibly difficult to complete in 4 or 5 years.

If you are committed to a double major/degree, it is wise to start with a little bit of planning.  Some students try to find two courses of studies which are related, while others seek to round out their academic repertoire by choosing two completely unrelated fields.

For double majors, common pairings include:  (i) Economics and a Foreign Language; (ii) Political Science or Government and Journalism; (iii) Economics and Psychology.

For double degrees, common pairings include:  (i) Engineering and a business program such as Finance or Accounting (Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Business respectively) and (ii) Engineering and Economics (Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts).

Tips for choosing a Major

Although everyone might go about determining a major in different ways, here is a process :

  • Self-assessment of interests

In this first stage of the process, you should undertake an honest assessment of your interests.  What courses excite you?  What types of careers excite you? Almost all career centers at colleges and universities offer self-tests to help you illicit your true disposition.  You can also go online to take such a self-test.  The benefit of taking such a test is that very often without these tests, students find it very hard to be truly honest about their abilities.

  • Self-examination of abilities

The second step involved you undertaking an honest and objective examination of your abilities and skill sets.  You should seek to uncover what your strengths and weaknesses are.  Ask yourself what kinds of skills you have.  A good point of reference is seeing what courses you took in high school and in which courses you did best, and then determine if there is a consistent pattern.

Additionally, you should look to see what kinds of extracurricular activities or summer jobs you participated in while you were in high school.  Try to ascertain what you learnt about yourself from participating in these activities.

  • Value System

In this stage, you should seek to determine how you define success, both professionally and personally, and figure out what sort of values you would like your future job to embody.  Examples of perimeters for this assessment include: (i) Contribution to Society, (ii) Status of Profession/Career, (iii) Job Security, (iv) Working hours, (v) Working individually or in groups, etc.

  • Career Choices

Your career office would be a great resource in assisting you to understand what occupations are out there and advise on matching your course of study with particular occupations.  They should also be able to advise you on current and future job trends, educating you on what professions are in high demand and which ones are not.

Career counselors can suggest books and self-assessment tools to help you with choosing a college major.  Upon request, in most schools, college career counselors can put you in touch with a faculty member or student leader who can answer your questions about a particular department.  When it comes time for crafting a résumé, career counselors can also help you present your college major as an asset for your targeted career field.

In addition, your career center or academic department of interest should have a list of alumni who have gone through the department and what they are doing today.  However, none of these resources compare with just going out there and meeting someone in the field you are interested and talking to the person about his/her work.  This will give you a more candid, personal view of a particular industry.

  • Being honest with yourself

This stage requires that you understand the motivations for focusing on certain career options.  Always keep in mind your natural aptitude and your own interests.  It is important that you are choosing a certain career because you really want to and think you would be good at it and not because of parental and familial pressure.  So many students pursue careers based on the influences of friends and family, only to regret it down the road.

  • Narrowing down the list

The last stage on this journey will require you to narrow down your career choices and focus on choosing a major based on that.  In formulating this final list, you should base your final assessment on all the assessment carried out in the first five steps.  To know what majors are offered at your school, refer to the course catalog.

Below is an introduction to some of the more popular college majors:

Economics and Business

Many students talk about an interest in business as a career, and they assume that a business degree is a must.  One of the questions they ask is, “What is the difference between a business degree and an economics degree?” While almost any degree can help you enter a a “business” career, we wanted to explain to our readers the basic differences between these two popular choices.

  • Economics (Bachelor of Arts-BA)

Economics is the science that deals with the production, allocation, and use of goods and services.  It investigates how resources can best be distributed to meet the needs of the greatest number of people.  Students study economic theories to understand how economies operate and how economic agents, be they consumers or businesses, behave under a given set of circumstances.  Economic theory is usually separated into two major fields: macroeconomics, which studies entire economic systems; and microeconomics, which observes the interactions of an individual or group with the market.

  • Business (Bachelor of Business Administration-BBA or Bachelor of Science-BSc)

Business programs, rather than focusing on theory, focuses on practical skills.  Business majors often take a wide range of skill-based courses and major in one specific concentrations.  Concentrations include accounting, finance, operations, marketing, communications, information systems, and sports management, and so on.  Business majors study the buying, selling, and production of goods, as well as business management, organization and accounting. They learn how to use the basic principles and techniques of business in a variety of workplaces.

A business degree can be a great credential to have, especially if you target a skill set that companies are seeking. For example, accounting and finance are often appealing to employers who require workers with good quantitative skills.

  • Engineering

Many high school students confuse engineering majors with general science majors.  They are related but not the same.  General science focuses on mastering and advancing theories.  Engineering requires the application of scientific knowledge to real-world situations.

Most engineering majors concentrate on a particular field, and additionally take courses in the sciences and in mathematics.  Some universities focus on developing hands-on skills which engineers need at the workplace, while others lean more towards a science-like focus on theoretical  knowledge to prepare students for careers in academics or research.  Either way, engineering trains students to develop their ability to reason systematically and form logical conclusions.

Through engineering courses, students develop more systematic approaches to processing information, and become efficient at formulating arguments and formulating conclusions based on this information.  Once such good thinking habits become part of your character, you will be able to perform better in just about any job.  For this reason, many engineering majors succeed in non-engineering professions after graduation, such as finance, business, law and even entrepreneurship.

Here is a list of the main college engineering majors with common industry applications:

(i)     Aerospace Engineering:  Learning how to design aircraft and spacecraft.  Closely related to mechanical engineering.

(ii)   Biomedical Engineering: Learning how to create and maintain medical devices.

(iii) Chemical Engineering:  Learning how to use chemical reactions to create products for consumers and industry, e.g. the oil and gas industry.

(iv) Civil Engineering:  Learning how to design buildings, roads, and larger transportation systems.

(v)   Computer Engineering:  Learning how to develop computer software/hardware and computer-controlled devices.

(vi) Electrical Engineering:  Learning how to create and maintain electrical components, e.g. wiring and switches.

(vii) Mechanical Engineering:  Learning how to design various machines and devices, e.g. cars.  This is the broadest engineering field, in which students learn how all kinds of mechanical devices work.

(viii)         Structural Engineering:  Learning to how to evaluate the safety and integrity of structures like buildings.

  • Psychology

      Increasing numbers of undergraduate students are choosing to major in Psychology at college.  Psychology is the study of how individuals think, behave, feel, and relate to others.  Just because you major in Psychology does not mean you need to be a Psychologist.  In fact, a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, like other humanities and social science majors, does not give you entry into a specific feel.   The wonderful thing about a psychology degree is that it is very flexible, you will have many career options.  An education in psychology prepares you to be a perceptive and critical thinker, and the skills and abilities that psychology majors acquire through their coursework and out-of-class experiences make them marketable for a wide variety of employment options.  No matter what career path you choose, you will need to interact with human beings.  Psychology students develop strong communications skills, compassion, research and analytical abilities, and last but not least, an understanding of what makes people tick.  Most psychology graduates do not go on to careers as psychologists.  Some of the top career choices for psychology graduates are:

      (i)     Advertising and Market Research:   Advertising companies are increasingly hiring more personnel with psychology backgrounds because they have realized how important it is to understand consumer behavior when developing advertising strategies for products.

      (ii)   Business Development:  Companies all around the world have realized that to perform the business development function, the individual needs to be perceptive and be critical in their analysis of marketing opportunities.  Additionally, when performing sales activities and pitching for new business, interpersonal skills are very important.  These are all skills psychology majors have.

      (iii) Human Resources and Personnel Management:  To recruit and retain talent, human resource personnel need to have a keen awareness of candidates’ characters and skills, to be able to better place and train them.  Without such an understanding, it is very difficult for companies to maximize their human capital.

      (iv) Public Relations:   As a public relations specialist, you have to work with the media, write press releases, do research and fundraising, organize events and more.  To do this effectively and get the right message across to the audience, you need to know how to relate to people.

      • 5.  International Relations

      International Relations is a inter-disciplinary course, which teaches students the language and concepts with which to understand and explain the modern world. Students explore issues regarding power, conflict, diplomacy, arms control, terrorism, developmental politics, civil society, foreign policy, humanitarian aid, and the international political economy.

      Given the diversity of subjects which are being dealt with, the skills that an International Relations major develops is very diverse.  He or she must not only have the ability to research and analyze information from a multitude of sources, he or she might be required to do so in different languages.  Through this undertaking, students develop skills in problem solving and conflict resolution.  Additionally, because students will have to present, discuss and defend their opinions both verbally at seminars and through written essays, students need to have stellar verbal and written skills.

      All of these are qualities which are much valued by employers; in addition, your understanding of complex political and cultural issues, often in changing environments, can also be highly relevant to the world of work.  There is a range or organizations for which a mix of the abovementioned skills will be highly relevant.  They include: (i) Government Agencies, (ii) Non Government Organizations (NGOs), (iii) Journalism, (iv) Media, (v) Finance and Banking, (vi) Marketing, etc.


      Low TOEFL exam results spur French reforms

      The TOEFL English Proficiency Exam, a challenge for many international students, has proven to be quite a challenge for many French students.  Although 60% of the entire English vocabulary is derived from the French language, French performance on the TOEFL has ranked 69th out of 109th.

      Thankfully, the problem for French students is not the writing portion, but the speaking portion of the exam.  The president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has called on TOEFL teachers to focus more on speaking skills, suggesting that written grammar and vocabulary skills are not enough.  Sarkozy considers it important for France’s national interest that French students study abroad and receive international exposure.

      The emphasis on speaking skills over mere reading and writing skills is well-founded, as speaking is the TOEFL-tested skill that is hardest to acquire through a short test prep or cram course.  With the proliferation of video chat programs and international discussion forums, it is also a skill that is increasingly easy to acquire, free of charge.  Also, as a practical matter, an international student will get much more out of his/her schooling abroad if he/she can speak English proficiently.

      Pac-10 Conference to Expand

      The Pac-10 Conference, one of the nation’s elite athletic conferences, might become the undisputed king of athletic conferences very soon.

      According to the LA Times, the Comissioner of the Pac-10, Larry Scott, has been given permission to expand the conference by the representatives of each Pac-10 School: Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Southern California, University of Washington, Washington State University, Oregon State University, Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and University of Oregon.

      The university which the Pac-10 is most interested in adding is the University of Texas, which would be the crown jewel of the expansion.  The University of Texas, being the flagship public university for the state of Texas, commands viewership from the entire state of Texas for its football games and, as such, is one of the most valuable brands in all of college sports.  A colleges’ brand recognition and TV Ratings are important because it allows the athletic conference to negotiate more lucrative TV deals with TV Networks, which the athletic conference then splits with each university.

      Though money is the driving force of this expansion, it will not be the only consideration in the commissioner’s decision.  The Pac-10 maintains a very prestigious academic profile, with eight schools demonstrating “very high research activity” according to the Carnegie foundation.  Although the University of Texas, the University of Colorado, and Texas A&M fit the academic profile of a Pac-10 university, the other three schools in the expansion are not a natural fit for the Pac-10.  Although the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and Texas Tech University are excellent schools, they are not the academic and research powerhouses that the Pac-10 Conference is known and respected for.

      Some would suggest that academics do not matter in this merger of athletic conferences.  However, the relationship created by close competition in an athletic conference shape the identity of both the conference as well as the respective schools.  After all, the Ivy League is an athletic conference and few would doubt the fidelity and of that label.  For example, the University of Chicago and Duke University has more in common with Harvard and Yale than Cornell does, yet Cornell is distinguished from the former two by its membership in the Ivy League.  And although the University of Chicago and Duke are extremely prestigious and respected universities, they are not Ivy League.

      College Recruiters: Good or Bad?

      Amid increased competition for international students, colleges in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada are stepping up their efforts to attract students.  Colleges in each country are exploring a number of methods to increase enrollment, some of which have come into question.  In particular, colleges who use recruiters have come into scrutiny.  A recent USA Today article touches on the ethical dilemma colleges face when using recruiters.

      College recruiters are often referred to as “headhunters” because they receive a fee for every “head”, or student, they send to a particular college.  Colleges partner with recruiters who are familiar with countries such as China, India, South Korea, or Vietnam.  The recruiter convinces students in the country to attend the recruiter’s partner college.  Most recruiters will even help the student complete the application and secure a student visa, but only if the student is attending the recruiter’s partner college.

      The deal works out quite well for recruiter and the college.  The college gets an international student paying international tuition, averaging over $25,000/year.   The recruiter gets a percentage of that tuition, between 5%-15% of first-year tuition.  The recruiter gets one of these payments for every student the recruiter places at the university.

      Ironically, the one person neglected in this deal is the person most in need of help.  International students seek help from recruiters precisely because they are unfamiliar with the American university system. However, the recruiter is not paid to help the student understand the American university system, the recruiter is paid to convince the student to attend a particular college.  Because the recruiter has the partner college before meeting the students, the recruiter is essentially saying that she knows the right college for the student before even meeting the student.

      For the international students, using recruiters can be a very costly decision.  Colleges are able to pay recruiters because of the increased tuition they receive from international students.  Because these colleges are pursuing international students for the increased tuition, they are the least likely to give institutional aid to international students.

      However, not all colleges in the U.S. value international students solely for tuition.  Many colleges value international students for reasons of diversity and international exposure.  Many are willing to give the students financial aid to attract the students to their school.  Thus, there are tons of financial aid opportunities for international students among the 4000+ universities in the U.S. Working with a recruiter will almost certainly preclude any possibility of receiving financial aid for the student.

      Even more valuable than lost money, four years of lost time can be a life-altering consequence of choosing the wrong school.  The student is committing four years of her life to college.  Furthermore, the student only gets one shot at this decision.  Choosing the wrong college can make those four years an uncomfortable experience.  Choosing a disreputable college can have long-term effects on the student’s career prospects and even social life.

      Many universities recognize the conflict of interest presented by the recruiting industry.  For now, most colleges refuse to work with recruiters.  Until now, only community colleges and lesser-known universities have been willing to use recruiters.  However, reduced public budgets have pressured many cash-strapped schools to seek international student tuition.  Recruiters provide a fast and easy fix to these financial problems, but at a great cost to the reputation of the school and an even greater cost to the school’s students.