Archive for the 'Visas and Immigration' Category

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.

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Our Consulting Services

Students International Consulting provides the following services to students:

Selecting Schools

We interview the student to understand the student’s educational and career goals, strengths and weaknesses, and preferences and limitations.   With this information, we compose a short list of 20 schools with a description of each school and an explanation of the school’s fit for the student.  We then conference call with the student to discuss the 20 candidate schools, and any candidate schools the student has come up with independently, and together narrow the list down to 10 schools

Writing the Personal Statement

Most students procrastinate on their admissions essays because they do not know how to begin answering such broad questions and essay prompts.   Students in Asian countries are particularly prone to fear because they are not accustomed to writing about themselves and are used to rote learning .

We break down the daunting task of composing the essay by giving the student narrow, focused writing assignments.   Through these assignments, the student is allowed to reflect on his/her life experiences, gets comfortable writing about him/herself, and builds up a body of work that can be used in the final essay.

After the student submits the writing assignments to us, we discuss the most compelling events and themes from his/her life story.  We then help the student craft these elements into a cohesive essay outline.   Finally, we proofread and the final product before the student submits the essay.

Finding Scholarships and Grants

We do a thorough search of national scholarships and grants databases for any financial aid available to the student.  We also do financial aid search of every school the student applies to in order to identify any unlisted scholarships or waivers the student might be eligible for.

Preparing for the Student Visa Process

We help the student track down all of the information and documents the student will need for the consular visa application.  After submission of the application, we then help the student prepare for the consular visa interview.

    If you are interested in our consulting services, please contact consulting@studentsinternational.net.

    English Proficiency Exams: IELTS or TOEFL?

    With many American and Canadian universities now accepting the IELTS exam as well as the TOEFL exam, students now have an option as to which test to take.  For any student having trouble with the TOEFL test preparation, it might be worthwhile to check out the IELTS, as the IELTS rewards students with good memories and a step-by-step thinking style.  Also, the IELTS is scored based on individual criteria, which means even a student with a gaping weakness in one criterion could still pass if the scores for the other criteria are high enough.   The article below will detail the characteristics of each test.

    Structure of the TOEFL

    As of last year, official TOEFL is almost universally given in the iBT (Internet Based Testing) format. It consists of four sections:

    Reading

    The TOEFL Reading section asks you to read 4-6 passages of university level and to answer multiple-choice questions about them (multiple-choice means you choose the answer from provided options). Questions test you on comprehension of the text, main ideas, important details, vocabulary, inferring, rhetorical devices and style.

    Listening

    The Listening Section presents long 2-3 conversations and 4-6 lectures. The situations are always related to university life i.e. a conversation between a student and a librarian about finding research materials or a lecture from a history class. The questions are multiple choice and ask you about important details, inferences, tone, and vocabulary. The conversations and lectures are very natural and include informal English, interruptions, filler noises like “uh” or “Uhm.”

    Speaking

    The Speaking section is recorded. You will speak into a microphone and a grader will listen to your answers at a later date and grade you. Two questions will be on familiar topics and ask you to give your opinion and/or describe something familiar to you, like your town or your favorite teacher. Two questions will ask you to summarize information from a text and a conversation–and may ask your opinion as well. Two questions will ask you to summarize information from a short conversation. Again, the topics of the conversations are always university-related.

    Writing

    Finally, there are two short essays on the TOEFL. One will ask you to write your opinion on a broad topic, such as whether it is better to live in the country or the city. One will ask you to summarize information from a text and a lecture–often the two will disagree with each other and you will need to either compare and contrast, or synthesize conflicting information.

    IELTS Structure

    The IELTS contains the same 4 sections, Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing, but the format is very different.

    Reading

    The reading section of the IELTS gives you 3 texts, which may be from academic textbooks or from a newspaper or magazine–but all at the level of a university student. One will always be an opinion piece–i.e. a text arguing for one point of view. The variety of questions on the IELTS is quite broad, and not every text will have every question type. One question type asks you to match headings to paragraphs in the text. You may be asked to complete a summary of the passage using words from the text. Or you may have to fill in a table or chart or picture with words from the text. There may be multiple-choice questions that ask you about key details. One of the hardest question types presents statements and asks you whether these statements are true, false or not included in the text. You may also be asked to match words and ideas. Finally, some questions are short-answer but the answers will be taken directly from the text itself.

    Some questions come before the text and may not require careful reading to answer. Others come after the text and may expect you to have read the text thoroughly.

    Listening

    The IELTS has four listening sections. The first is a “transactional conversation” in which someone may be applying for something (a driver’s license, a library card) or asking for information (say calling for more details about an advertisement or a hotel). The second section is an informational lecture of some kind, possibly a dean explaining the rules of the university. Third is a conversation in an academic context and the final section will be an academic lecture. For all sections you may be asked to fill out a summary, fill in a table, answer multiple-choice questions, label a diagram or picture, or classify information into different categories. You will be expected to fill out answers as you listen.

    Writing

    There are two writing tasks on the academic IELTS. The first asks you to summarize a table or chart in about 300 words. You will have to identify important information, compare and contrast different figures or maybe describe a process. The second task asks you to present your opinion on a statement about a fairly open topic such as: “Women should look after children and not work” or “Too many people are moving to cities and rural areas are suffering.”

    Speaking

    Finally, the speaking section will be held on a different day from the rest of the test and in the presence of a trained interviewer. The questions are the same for all examinees but some parts may be more in the form of a conversation than a monologue. The first part of the test will be a brief introductory conversation followed by some short questions about familiar topics. The interviewer may ask your name, your job, what kinds of sports you like, what your daily routine is, and so on. In the second part, you will be given a card with a topic and a few specific questions to address. You will have to speak for two minutes on this topic, which may be about your daily routine, the last time you went to the movies, your favorite part of the world or a similar familiar topic. In the last section, the interviewer will ask you to discuss a more abstract side of the topic in part 2–why do people prefer daily routines? Why do people like the movies? How does travel affect local life?

    Which is Better for Me?

    So now you have some understanding of what each test involves, but you might be wondering which is better for you. Maybe in reading about the structure, you thought, “Wow TOEFL sounds so easy,” or, “Oh the IELTS sounds like it’s kind of fun!”  That might be a good sign that one test will be easier for you than the other. More concretely, there are a couple of key differences between the tests.

    Multiple choice versus Copying Down

    For the reading and listening sections, TOEFL gives you multiple-choice questions, whereas IELTS generally expects you to copy down words from the text or the conversation word-for-word. Multiple-choice questions will tend to be require slightly better abstract thinking, but the IELTS favors people who have good memories and think more concretely. The good thing about multiple-choice is that it is easy to pick out wrong answers, whereas the good thing about copying down is that the answer is sitting there in the text. You just have to find it and repeat it. So, concrete thinkers will tend to do better on the IELTS and abstract thinkers will tend to excel on the TOEFL.

    Predictable or Different Every Time

    Of course, the TOEFL is also more predictable than the IELTS. The IELTS throws lots of different question types at you, and the instructions are often slightly different every time. That makes it harder to prepare for. The TOEFL, on the other hand, is pretty much the same test every time–pick A, B, C, D, or E. On the other hand, the IELTS certainly keeps you on your toes and that can keep you more alert.

    Speaking to a Person or a Computer?

    Another large difference is in how the speaking section is carried out. For some people, it’s very relaxing to just record your answers into a computer because it feels like no one is listening. You just try your best and forget about it until you get your grades. Because the IELTS test is done in an interview format with a native speaker present, you might get nervous or feel you are being judged. And they take notes: Oh God, did he write down something good or something bad? On the other hand, you might feel more relaxed in a conversation, with a person there to explain if you don’t understand a question, or simply having a face to look at, instead of a computer screen. Getting feedback from a native speaker can be helpful too, in order to correct mistakes and improve during the test. So it depends on what you are more comfortable with. If you like talking to people, the IELTS is a better bet. If you just want to be alone and not feel judged, the TOEFL will be more comfortable for you.

    Holistic versus Criteria-based scoring

    Finally, the speaking and writing sections of the TOEFL are graded holistically. The grader gives you a score based on the overall quality of the essay, including vocabulary, logic, style, and grammar. The IELTS by contrast is marked by individual criteria and you are scored individually for grammar, word choice, fluency, logic, cohesion, and a dozen other criteria. In other words, if you write well but have a lot of small grammar mistakes, your TOEFL score might be quite good because graders will ignore small mistakes if the overall essay is logical and detailed. The IELTS will not overlook bad grammar. On the other hand, if your grammar and vocabulary are strong but you have trouble expressing your opinion or organizing an essay, you could end up with a low TOEFL score but the IELTS will give you good marks for language use. So while it may sound like the IELTS is much tougher since it grades you on everything, in fact you can get quite a good score if you are strong in a number of areas. The TOEFL emphasizes the ability to put together a logical and detailed argument (or summary) and looks at clarity, word choice, and style above all. If you don’t feel comfortable writing essays but you think you have excellent grammar and vocabulary and overall are a decent writer, the IELTS will probably be easier for you.