Archive Page 2

The Guide to Selecting Colleges

As you begin your research into possible US colleges and universities, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer range of options.  After all, there are more than 4,000 accredited higher education institutions in the United States.  Instead of focusing on one school, the most effective way of approaching this stage of the application process is to select an initial pool of colleges for consideration.

The key is to start the process early, and focus on factors which are important to you.  You should keep an open mind and cast your net as wide as possible.  And as you start your research into each of these shortlisted schools, and gain more information about the various institutions, only then should you work towards your final list of 8 to 12 schools.

As mentioned, selecting a large pool of schools, perhaps 20 to 25, affords you the luxury of subsequently eliminating schools that you feel upon further research do not suit you.  Even after crossing a bunch of schools off the list, you will still be left with a very full range of schools to apply to.   Here, at Students International, we work with our clients to estimate their chances of admissions to each range/tier of schools and advise them accordingly on their final list.

At this stage of the application, the student needs to be objective and honest about his/her chances.  Often, we encounter clients who have absolutely unrealistic goals, a situation which slows down the school selection process and takes time away from crafting the personal statement.

To choose an initial pool of schools, you will have to decide which factors are most important to you when making such a life-changing choice.  We have compiled a list of what I think are the ten most important factors that will help you select schools that would match your needs and requirements.   Ultimately, you will be responsible for weighing the importance of each of these factors to you.  A piece of advice though; try your best not to be too rigid in your list of schools and your preferences for these schools because both of these may change as you learn more about the individual schools and about yourself.

The 10 most important factors are as follows:

1. Geographic Location

    For many domestic as well as international students, the geographic location of a college or university is one of the most important factors when approaching the school selection process.  The considerations for domestic and international students might differ slightly but for the most part, they will be similar.

    For domestic students, students might decide to go to college in a different region of the country from where they grew up.  Others might want to stay near their hometown or at least be within driving distance.  While others might be attracted to the bring lights of a big city after having grown up in a rural or suburban neighborhood.

    For international students, the considerations tend to hinge on whether they prefer to study in an urban setting, a suburban setting, or in a rural setting.  The reason for this is that many international students will be leaving their home country for the very first time and some of them might not want to be exposed to the full onslaught of American culture all at once by living in a large metropolitan area.  At the same time, in large metropolitan cities like Chicago or New York, there is usually a higher chance that international students might find more people from their home studying or working in the city, allowing for a social network that can provide valuable social and emotional support for students new to the U.S.   Hence, for all these various reasons, some international students like the idea of living near a large US city, while others may prefer to study just outside of the city proper in a suburb, or even in a small town farther away from an urban center.

    My advice here is to take into account the area of study that appeals to you, what geographic points of interest are located near to the school and whether or not the international student support system is right for you.

    Here at Students International, we work with our students to get an overview of each state in the United States, educating them on the history of the state, the major cities within the state, the climate of the area and other important demographic details that international students generally deem important.

    2. Enrollment

      US college and universities vary in size, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world.  In terms of undergraduate enrollment, many of the smaller private liberal arts colleges average in the low 1000s whereas many of the state universities have upwards of 30,000 undergraduate students.  In light of such numerical diversity, just how would a student go about choosing the right academic environment?  This decision will ultimately be yours to make and much of it will be based on things you have found out about yourself in the self-assessment process, as recommended in chapter 1.  Understanding how you learn best and how you socialize best will be determinative of what kind of school you should attend.

      In determining what size school you wish to attend, consider a range of school sizes around what you currently believe is the ideal size. For example, if you currently believe that you want to attend a small, intimate college of fewer than 2,000 students, your initial pool of colleges should focus on colleges in the range from 1,000-5,000 students with one or two colleges in the 5,000 to 15,000 student range.

      Upon visiting colleges and learning more about them, you may discover that you prefer a larger college than you previously thought. It is unlikely that you will switch your preference to colleges in the 20,000-35,000 student range; however, it is not unusual for students to slightly modify their preferences.

      3. Campus Setting and Campus Safety

        Another factor that is important for many students is the campus environment. On one side of the spectrum is a college like Cornell University in a bucolic setting in upstate New York, surrounded by forests and mountains. On the other side of the spectrum, is New York University or Fordham University in the center of New York City with a campus indistinguishable from businesses and with many busy streets going between the college buildings and dormitories. In case your preferences change as you learn more about the colleges, you may wish to select colleges a few colleges outside the setting you currently prefer.

        Very closely linked to the issue of Campus Setting is the issue of Campus Safety.  It goes without saying that bigger cities tend to have higher crime rates than rural areas but it is important to put things into perspective.  For many prospective students and parents of prospective students, this would be the first time that he or she would be looking at crime figures, be it in his hometown/ home country or at the locality of the college or university.  Hence, to put the crime rates in perspective, you may want to obtain the crime rates for your home neighborhood/hometown/home country and/or those of your high school.

        The best way to find out about college safety and what a college does to ensure the safety and security of its students is to talk to current students or recent alumni  In addition, you may wish to call the office of the dean of students or the campus security office to ask about the presence of campus security officers, the availability of transportation around campus, escort services at night, the presence of outdoor lighting and emergency phones on campus, dorm entrance security, and campus and surrounding neighborhood crime rates.  If you are visiting the college, ask your tour guide and other students about safety concerns on and off-campus.

        4. International Student Offices and Associations

          Studying in the United States is a rewarding experience, but navigating your way through day-to-day issues can be daunting and difficult.   Most international students find that the college and university international student office is a great help in helping them adapt to a culturally and academically different environment. The mission of all international student office is to assist students like you, and there is often a wide range of student services that they provide.  For instance, most colleges and universities offer an Orientation Program upon your arrival, to not only help you navigate the campus but also impart some cultural lessons on the US.  Throughout your time in the U.S., they can help answer questions you may have regarding your visa status, financial situation, housing, employment possibilities, health concerns and more. If you choose to complete your degree in the United States, this office often provides resume and employment assistance as graduation nears. The international student office will be an invaluable source of information and help as you make the transition into academic and cultural life in the United States.

          Additionally, almost all colleges and universities have international student associations.  These associations are student-led and they are generally not limited to international students but open to domestic students as well.  In fact, they are generally open to everyone interested in different nations and cultural backgrounds.  These associations plan and coordinate a variety of programs to enrich students’ life on campus, and in the process enhancing international understanding and friendship and promoting awareness and understanding of the international student community at that particular college or university.  At larger academic institutions, apart from these international student associations, there will also be country-specific international students groups.  For many new international students, these organizations provide a very helpful social network in that for many people new to the United States, many of the students having been in the US for a couple of years and are therefore able to advice newcomers on a wide range of topics.   The foreign culture and linguistic barriers might be very disconcerting and prohibitive for international students and these social groupings help to ease the transition

          5. International Recognition

            Although many international students want to gain US work experience after they graduate, many of them ultimately want to return to their home country to continue their careers.  Hence, it is very understandable that many international students are very concerned about the reputation of the US universities of which they are considering back in the context of their home countries.  Because without reputation and recognition, international students might be worried that prospective employers might not want to hire them on the account of their having gone to a un-reputable university.  Given the subjective nature of reputation and recognition, especially when we are talking about the reputation of these US universities not in their domestic context but in foreign countries, it becomes very tricky to ascertain and determine the localized perceptions of the various US universities, and this certainly varies from country to country.  Of course, it goes with saying that the Ivy League universities and the other Top 25 universities do not suffer from anonymity and do not require any introduction, even outside the American context.   But what about the rest?

            A good way of judging the perception of a particular country in your home country is to look at the size, strength and influence of the alumni networks established in that country and the easiest way to do that is looking at the country’s alumni association for the particular university.  What is an alumni association?  An alumni association is a group of graduates from a particular university who set up an independent group for the purpose of organizing social and university-related events.  These associations often organize social events, publish newsletters, and raise funds for the university.  They also serve as a way for graduates to maintain connections to not only their university, but also with their fellow graduates.  Additionally, these groups usually seek to support and help new alumni in the local area, and provide a venue for which both personal and business relationships can be established between graduates of that particular university.

            As mentioned, the one concern for parents and students is that if the student pursues their university education in a foreign country, the student will not have the opportunity to establish social and business contacts in the home country and make not being able to secure a good job on his or her return.  This is compounded by the fact that many employers in the home country might not have a good understanding of American universities and might not even have heard of most American universities apart from the most internationally famous ones.   Although there is some truth in this, it does not take into account that certain US universities have huge numbers of international students and because these international students find themselves in a foreign country and needing the help of their peers, very often, the bonds that they establish with one another are often deeper that the ties built between students studying locally.

            Upon graduation, many of these same students return to their homes countries to start their careers. During their professional lives, they continue to help and support the friends they made in university both socially and professionally.  For this reason, it is very important that international students do not overlook the strength of the alumni network of US universities back in their home countries.  US universities with generally strong alumni networks outside of the US include:  University of Southern California, New York University, University of Michigan, Boston University, Michigan State University, University of Illinois, Purdue University, University of Texas-Austin, Indiana University, Cornell University, Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard University.

            6. Public VS Private

              The debate over whether to attend a public university over a public university centers around three primary issues:  (i) Costs; (ii) Reputation and; (iii) Quality of Teaching.

              (i) Costs:

              Academic institutions in the United States are either publicly or privately funded.  Public colleges are supported and operated by individual states and the colleges in the state are partially funded by state tax dollars. Public schools receive about the majority of their funding from the state government. Since public colleges are partially funded by tax dollars and the state’s government, they generally cost less than private colleges.  Public colleges are a good deal for state residents because tuition and fees are reduced for them. Out-of-state and international students usually pay much more and at many of the top public universities, the tuition rates for out-of-state and international students are not all that much lower when compared to their private counterparts.

              Private colleges are not funded by the state government or taxpayers but instead depend on tuition, fees, private gifts, corporate contributions and endowments. This means that private colleges are typically more expensive than public colleges. But for out-of-state and international students, the pricing gap between the two types of institutions is in reality a lot smaller.   Many people blindly assume a public college is cheaper than a private college. But the posted “sticker price” of a private college is rarely the real price. If a private college strongly appeals to you, consider waiting for its financial aid offer before making a final decision. More often than not, private colleges offer scholarships and grants that significantly cut your actual cost, even bringing it close to the cost of a public college. Private colleges comprise about half of the accredited college and universities in the U.S. They are located in all 50 states, except Wyoming.

              For International Students:

              For students who wish to study overseas, you’ll need to consider how to go about financing your education.  Tuition rates vary tremendously.  Generally, public universities are less expensive than private universities, though not always.  For public universities, tuition averages in the low $20,000s/year and for private universities, the figure averages in the low $30,000s/year.  Alternatively, students can opt to attend a community college the first two years, for which the tuition ranges between $5,000 to $10,000 a year, and then transfer to a four-year college to complete the remaining two years.  Many international students choose to attend community colleges for the cost savings.  Also, be clear on all of the institutional costs associated with your school. Books and material will factor into your school-related fees.

              Additionally, you must also factor in the cost of living.  Naturally, the cost of living in different parts of the United States varies. In general, living in urban areas is more expensive than living in smaller towns or rural areas. Renting an apartment in a city can cost twice as much as it does in a smaller town. Likewise, food, clothing, and other living expenses may be more expensive in a city.  International students generally budget between USD$6,000 to USD$15,000 a year to cover such expenses.

              Finally, students must factor in transportation costs, not just in terms of flying to the US, but costs associated with travelling to and from classes every day.  Find out if you will be using public transportation or walking. Many students save money by walking or purchasing a secondhand bicycle to get around.

              Most universities publish expected total costs in their website or prospectus.  You should also contact the school’s office of international student affairs to learn about any additional costs that may be particular to you.

              (ii) Reputation:

              Many private schools flourish because of their reputations.  In contrast, with the exception of the “Public Ivies” (public universities which from a reputation standpoint rank as highly as other 25 universities), such as (i) UC Berkeley, (ii) University of Virginia, (iii) UCLA, (iv) University of Michigan, (v) University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, (vi) College of William & Mary, (v) University of Wisconsin, public universities often do not command the same amount of respect or recognition.  Whether or not this is warranted is debatable.

              It is tempting to assume that investing in an education at a selective private college is worth it because your degree will be more valuable. But in reality many highly successful people graduated from public colleges which are often perceived as not being as academically rigorous.  For instance, a recent study showed that the University of Wisconsin tied with Harvard for educating the most CEOs of S&P 500 companies. The two schools, one of which is public and the other private, outranked Princeton, Stanford, Yale and other prestigious universities.  In this same study, which was written to debunk the notion that one needs a private university education to be successful, it also showed that Wisconsin grads were leading companies large and small. In the US alone, more than 1,050 UW-Madison alumni currently serve as a CEO of an organization. And, nearly 16,000 of the university’s alumni are serving in an executive management position. Many more are leading in other ways, through community service, education and research.

              Perhaps, if you are set on getting a name-brand private college degree, you may have another option. If you plan to go on to a graduate or professional school, consider getting a lower cost undergraduate degree at a public college and attending a private college for your advanced degree.

              In conclusion, often decades in the making, the very “name” of these schools still continue to evoke a distinct sense of pride. Some private schools develop superb reputations based on their holistic attitude towards academic and athletic success, schools such as the University of Notre Dame and Stanford University.   Although they are often seen as elitist, such schools command clout in the academic community. As talked about previously, reputation is an important consideration for both domestic and international students and however subjective should be given serious consideration.

              (iii) Quality of Teaching:

              Private schools generally have lower student-teacher class ratios than public schools and teachers foster strong relationships with both students and parents.  Student-faculty ratio is defined as the number of students enrolled divided by the number of teachers/counselors. In schools where the student-teacher ratio is low, teacher feedback is expected and is far more frequent than in most public schools.  Many of the top private universities and colleges have student-faculty ratio in the 6/1 to 10/1 range, while the biggest state universities generally fall in the range of 17/1 to 20/1.  To put into perspective, Yale University has a student-faculty ratio of 6/1 and Williams College has a student-faculty ratio of 7/1.  In contrast, state universities tend to have far higher ratios.  The University of Texas-Austin has a student-faculty ration of 17/1 and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a student-faculty ration of 13/1.

              It is been proven that student-faculty interaction is an important predictor of success in college. Specifically, a student’s ability to discuss class assignments and career plans with instructors, receive prompt feedback, and have an opportunity to work on a research project with faculty can directly impact the overall educational experience.  How exactly does student-faculty ration affect teaching quality though?

              Firstly, the student-faculty ratio is a rough indicator of the resources put into the university’s educational mission. Opportunities for students to work more closely with faculty and to receive mentoring by faculty are restricted by the university’s high student-faculty ratio.  To provide students an education competitive with that provided by the best public universities in the country, comparable resources must be put into their education.

              Secondly, faculty size is connected with the research productivity of the particular college or university in several ways: (i) More research is done by more faculty members; (ii) A critical mass of faculty working in related areas is needed for many research projects and increases the research productivity of faculty over what they could achieve individually; and (iii) The higher the student-faculty ratio, the more time faculty must spend in their roles as instructors as opposed to pursuing research and publication

              Thirdly, faculty size is important for the success of interdisciplinary initiatives. Interdisciplinary research can be successful only if it can draw on strong disciplinary faculties and for this to happen, you need the requisite number of qualified faculty.  To the extent that a particular school’s disciplines are weak relative to peers as a result of not having sufficient faculty, the school will be at a competitive disadvantage with respect to developing and pursuing interdisciplinary initiatives.  Especially at the undergraduate level, where the benefits of pursuing a US undergraduate college lies in its broad-based educational approach, not be able to take advantage of the interdisciplinary aspects of the US undergraduate experience would certainly be a misfortune.

              Fourthly, increasing faculty size is crucial for the school’s goal of increasing the strength of its graduate programs and the numbers of Ph.D. students that it trains. Graduate student mentoring is labor intensive, and hence, an increase in the number of graduate students trained must be accompanied by an increase in faculty to train them.

              However, it is important to note that just because a particular school has a high student-faculty ratio, it does not mean that by attending the school that you would be receiving an inferior education?  That is hardly the case.   It is certainly true that access to professors may be limited, since each of the professors has hundreds of students. Also, some professors may be more focused on conducting research and publishing than teaching. Getting in touch with them when you need assistance after class can be difficult, especially if they are unfamiliar with you.  What it means is that you will have to find ways of maximizing the perhaps more limited resources which is why as mentioned before, it is imperative for you to understand what kind of student you are, if you are a self-motivated student of if you need more hand-holding and supervision. Involve yourself in the classroom as much as possible and this should help you get the attention of the instructor when you encounter a problem.  The top public universities often have the most accomplished and qualified faculty but because they do not have the time or resources to devote much one-on-one time with students, it is up to the individual students to seek the p

              Among all U.S. universities, large state universities often include the largest percentage of international students and scholars.  State universities such as Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Texas-Austin, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Arizona State play hosts to the bulk of the international students coming to the United States.    Public universities play a critical role in regional and national economic, cultural, and civic development, and many are deeply involved in advancing knowledge and technology through research. These universities are among the major research universities in the United States and frequently have major involvement in international programs around the world.

              (iv) Miscellaneous Considerations:

              (a) Social Difficulties and Advantages in a large Public School

              Some students find it very difficult to adjust and establish a good social network in large public  schools, particularly if they are introverted or not inclined to join student organizations, students at a larger school run a higher risk of feeling lonely or isolated. There is a much greater risk of this going on for a prolonged period of time at a large school, where classes are large and students number in the tens of thousands.

              Conversely, if the student is so inclined, there are generally a lot more social opportunities at a state university.  Generally speaking, the campus on the state university is bustling at all hours, offering many social opportunities and a varied selection of extracurricular activities. Whether the university is situated in a college town or in the heart of a big city, you will have a much greater opportunity to meet and develop relationships with many different types of people, due to the dozens of extracurricular events that students can participate in at a large state school. Typically, the student body is incredibly diverse and very large so there is literally someone for everyone.

              (b) Admission Disadvantages for Out-of-State and International Students

              Public colleges give admission priority to state residents. Because there are fewer spaces for non-residents, requirements for out-of-state and international students can be more strict and admission more competitive.  This is very much the case at lower-tiered public universities.

              At highly selective state universities, such as Berkeley, Michigan and Virginia however, your state residency won’t give you as much of an edge because you are competing with many other highly qualified state residents. A private college might view an out-of-state or international applicant positively because his or her residency helps create a geographically diverse student body.

              (c) Time to Graduate

              Savings from lower tuition may evaporate if you take more time to graduate than you planned. This unfortunate scenario can happen if it is difficult to get into the classes required for your major, a common situation at many public colleges. On average, private colleges show higher four-year graduation rates.  Given that resources are generally more limited in public universities than in private universities, classes may fill quickly, so you might not be able to get the schedule you want. Most public universities have a number of offerings for each course and class sizes may be very large, meaning the environment may not be as nurturing as a smaller college. Registering for classes quickly should be a priority throughout school, it can mean the difference between graduating in four years or six, so don’t delay.

              7.  Academic Factors

              1. National Universities vs. Regional Universities vs. Liberal Arts Colleges:

                Universities are institutions of higher learning that consist of graduate schools, and professional schools (medicine, law, business, architecture), in addition to an undergraduate program.

                (a)    National universities (as opposed to regional universities) award both graduate (masters and doctorates) and undergraduate degrees (bachelors of arts and sciences) and have a tendency to be larger and more research-oriented.

                (b)   Regional universities (Universities-Master’s) are institutions that award both undergraduate and master’s degrees but they offer few if any doctorate programs.  Their appeal tends to be largely regional, meaning that they tend to draw students primarily from the surrounding states.  There are exceptions to this of course.  Some examples of academically superb institutions in this category include:

                1. Bentley University (Massachusetts)
                2. Butler University (Indiana)
                3. Creighton University (Nebraska)
                4. Drake University (Iowa)
                5. Elon University (North Carolina)
                6. Gonzaga University (Washington)
                7. James Madison University (Virginia)
                8. Loyola Marymount University (California)
                9. Providence College (Rhode Island)

                10.  Rollins College (Florida)

                11.  Santa Clara University (California)

                12.  Stetson University (Florida)

                13.  Trinity University (Texas)

                14.  Valparaiso University (Indiana)

                15.  Villanova University (Pennsylvania)

                (c)    Liberal Arts Colleges are usually smaller in enrollment than a university and the emphasis is placed on undergraduate education.  Liberal arts colleges offer a more traditional and general education in subjects such as literature, history, mathematics, natural science, social science, language, art, and music.  Perhaps the most important difference lies in the fact that these schools often require their students to take a substantial number of classes in courses which do not directly relate to their majors.  They do so in order to ensure that students receive a well-rounded education.  Such an approach towards education has proved to be popular and very effective.  In fact, other countries, such as Germany, Netherlands and Canada, have recently tried to replicate the model by establishing their own liberal arts colleges.   Top liberal arts colleges are incredibly difficult to gain admission to given the caliber of students they attract and their relatively small enrollments. Some examples of top liberal arts colleges include:

                1. Amherst College
                2. Barnard College
                3. Bowdoin College
                4. Bryn Mawr College
                5. Carleton College
                6. Claremont McKenna College
                7. Davidson College
                8. Haverford College
                9. Middlebury College

                10.  Pomona College

                11.  Smith College

                12.  Washington and Lee University

                13.  Wellesley College

                14.  Wesleyan University

                15.  Vassar College

                Are Liberal Arts Colleges suitable for International Students?

                International students are often fixated with getting into an Ivy League or Top 25 university, many not realizing that they can obtain an equally good education at a top liberal arts college.  While they lack the name recognition of larger universities, the top liberal arts colleges are highly selective and compete with elite universities for students.

                The skills required for entry level positions in US and abroad are quickly evolving towards higher-lever skill sets.  Skills such as analytical thinking, problem solving and presentation are becoming more important.  Jobs today require knowledge of more than one field and to be successful in the workplace, students require more than just a narrow body of knowledge.

                Through a Liberal Arts Education, the student will gain a wide range of knowledge.  Coupled with the analytical skills that the student develops through coursework, the student who has benefited from such an educational experience will have the ability to develop his own opinions and beliefs, allowing him to succeed at work and in life.  International students are beginning to appreciate the benefits of such an education and many have chosen to attend liberal arts colleges over universities.

                1. Most colleges and universities in the U.S. have multiple areas of academic focus, but not all. A good way to assess the academic focus of a college or university is to consider the most popular majors and the percentages of students in these majors. Some colleges have only one or a few academic focus.  This can apply to large institutions and large national universities as well as specialized colleges which only offer largely undergraduate instruction in one specialized area.  For example, California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both highly-ranked full-fledged national universities, specialize in largely in engineering and science-related subjects.  This is not to say they do not have other specialties, as exhibited by the fact that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology having a very strong social sciences department.  Additionally, you have specialized colleges that only offer instruction in one area of study (largely undergraduate focused), such as Babson College and Menlo College which specialize and offer only business-related subjects, while colleges such as the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology offering only Engineering and Mathematics courses at the undergraduate level.

                Specialized colleges usually have a more in-depth selection of courses and more research opportunities than non-specialized colleges, though those opportunities are limited to a particular area. One perceived benefit of specialized colleges is that all students tend to have equally demanding and time-consuming curricula. Some students who attend specialized colleges claim that students in other majors who have less time-consuming curricula can be distracting. However, the uniformity of interest at specialized colleges can also be perceived as a disadvantage in that the student body has fewer diversified interests and the colleges generally offer fewer liberal arts courses.

                8. Religious VS Non-Denominational

                  Religion plays a variety of different roles at colleges and universities in the U.S. Most private colleges and all public colleges are secular; religion and religious organizations neither influence the operation of the college nor impact the college’s course requirements. Some colleges are operated by a religious organization and require religious activities and courses. Some colleges fall in between these two extremes and, though they may be associated with a particular religion, students of varying religions often attend these colleges and practice their own religions. These colleges often provide places of worship on campus which usually serve a number of religions. In addition, religion has varying influence on the curriculum at these colleges — courses in religion may or may not be required.

                  Religiously affiliated colleges and universities defy a monolithic description. They are as diverse as their religious traditions and the higher education scene in the United States and to understand how and why their exist, it would be helpful to break this down into smaller parts

                  (i) Religiousness

                  On the religious front, colleges that are operated by religious organizations vary in their “secularity.” Secularity can be gauged by the percentage of lay (non-clergy) faculty and the percentage of students of other faiths attending the college. For example, Georgetown University is a Catholic university but of its 971 faculty members 948 are lay faculty and 44% of the student body is non-Catholic. On the other hand, Saint Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut has no lay faculty and 100% of its students are Catholic.  On the size front, they are equally varied as well.

                  (ii) Curricular Focus

                  The curricular focus of religious-affiliated colleges and universities do not differ much from their secular counterparts.  However, they do generally have a focus on the liberal arts and a solid commitment to general education challenges students to integrate learning from a variety of disciplines. Most colleges require students to enroll in a prescribed number of hours of academic study in religion, philosophy, or ethics. For other institutions, the study of religion is optional. Co-curricular religious activities are present on all campuses and purely optional. These include worship, fellowship, study of the sacred texts of the religious tradition, service, and religious support. At one time nearly all colleges related to the Christian tradition required weekly or daily attendance at chapel; such a requirement now is the very rare exception rather than the rule.  In fact, to keep up with the ethnic and religious diversity that characterize American campuses Many colleges arrange for representatives of other faith traditions to offer programs on campus.

                  (iii) Size of student body

                  Although most religious-affiliated schools are liberal arts colleges with enrollments between 800 and 2,000 students, church-related higher education also includes large research universities (Boston College, Notre Dame, for example), medical colleges, professional schools, two-year colleges, theological seminaries, and Bible colleges.

                  Many religiously affiliated universities and colleges regularly are highly ranked in various “best colleges” ratings in the United States.  Examples include universities such as:

                  • Georgetown University in Washington D.C,
                  • University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana,
                  • Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts,
                  • Fordham University in New York City,
                  • Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts,
                  • Pepperdine University in Malibu, California,
                  • Baylor University in Waco, Texas and
                  • Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California.

                  Top Liberal Arts Colleges which have religious affiliations include Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina and College of The Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, which rank Number 9 and Number 35 in the US News and World Report Best Liberal Arts Colleges Rankings.

                  9. Single Sex VS Co-educational

                    (i)                 All-Women Colleges

                    The vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities are coeducational. Although most women choose to attend coed colleges, women have a choice of eighty-two all-women colleges. Research shows that women who attend women’s colleges participate more in class, develop much higher self-esteem, and score higher in aptitude tests versus women in coed colleges. Some of the factors that promote these advantages include small classes taught by professors dedicated to teaching, a higher percentage of female faculty and administrators than coed colleges, and female students in all leadership roles on campus.  In addition, a higher percentage of women’s college attendees versus women in coed colleges are represented in important positions such as high-ranking/higher paying corporate positions.

                    In fact, the success of women who have attended such colleges have been consistent across the professional spectrum.  On the political front, such colleges have produced heavy-weights such as Madeline Albright, the first woman secretary of state in the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former First Lady of the United States and currently the Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, and Nancy Pelosi, the first woman Speaker of the House in the United States.  On the performing arts front, all-women’s colleges have produced people like Katherine Hepburn, the awarding winning actress, Meryl Streep, another award winning actress and the talented musician, Suzanne Vega.  On the literary front, graduates of women’s colleges include individuals such as Margaret Atwood, the important Canadian poet, feminist and social campaigner, Emily Dickinson, the prolific American poet, Sylvia Plath, the significant American novelist and Barbara Walters, the famous American journalist and media personality.

                    Even internationally, graduates of women’s colleges have made their mark.  Benazir Bhutto, the first women elected to lead a Muslim state as Pakistan’s first and to date only female prime- minister, Soong May-ling/Madame Chiang Kai-shek, a noted politician and the former first lady of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Bing Xin, one of the most prolific Chinese writers of the twentieth century, are all graduates of all-women’s colleges.

                    To put it into perspective, in a recent Business Week study, out of the 50 women who are considered to be rising stars in corporate America, 30 percent received their baccalaureate degrees from women’s colleges. 33 percent of the women board members of Fortune 1000 companies are women’s college graduates. Of all the women members of Congress, more than 20 percent attended women’s colleges. 20 percent of women identified by Black Enterprise Magazine as the 20 most powerful African-American women in corporate America graduated from women’s colleges. Nearly three-quarters of the women’s college graduates are in the work force. Almost half of the graduates in the work force hold traditionally male-dominated jobs at the higher end of the pay scale such as lawyer, physician or manager. Nearly half of the graduates have earned advanced degrees, and 81 percent have continued their education beyond college.  Pretty impressive statistics!

                    According to the Women’s College Coalition, which is an association representing women’s colleges in the United States and Canada, research shows that students attending a women’s college enjoy these five benefits:

                    1. Students participate more fully in and out of class.
                    2. Students report greater satisfaction than their coed counterparts with their college experience in almost all measures, specifically academically, developmentally and personally.
                    3. Students tend to choose traditionally male disciplines like the sciences
                    4. Students develop higher levels of self-esteem than other achieving women in coed institutions.  After two years in coed institutions, women have been shown to have lower levels of self-esteem than when they entered college.
                    5. Graduates of women’s colleges are more than twice as likely as graduates of coeducation colleges to receive doctorate degrees and to enter medical school and receive doctorates in the natural sciences.
                    6. Have a higher percentage of majors in economics, math and life science today than men at coeducational colleges.
                    7. Nearly half the graduates have earned advanced degrees and 81% have continued their education beyond college.
                    8. Women’s College students are more likely to graduate.
                    9. They are more successful in careers; that is, they tend to hold higher positions, are happier and earn more money.

                    There are many educators who argue that the advantages of women’s colleges are hard to match in the coed world. Why? Historically, role models in coed colleges are male – a tradition that hasn’t much changed over the years. Most of the authority in coed colleges is retained by men, classrooms are dominated by men, and so are student leadership positions. It is therefore argued that these coed classrooms are still guilty of fostering an environment geared toward gendered expectation and the longer they remain in an atmosphere where such sex bias is rife, the lower women’s self-esteem seems to fall – until eventually, career aspirations also plummet.  But as mentioned time and again, it is important for the applicant to understand the sort of person she is and what her priorities are.

                    Advocates of coed colleges argue that women who attend all women’s colleges isolate themselves from the “real world” and miss out on the intellectual and social diversity that men provide.  Their argument against women’s colleges is usually rooted in the following few premises:

                    1. In all-women colleges, there is a distinct lack of interaction with men in the classroom, which is a skill women need in the real world and in the workplace which they will enter upon graduation.
                    2. Closely linked to the first point, is the fact that all-women’s colleges can be an inadequate avenue for true-to-life leadership training.
                    • Because of the absence of male students in all-women’s colleges, female students learn how to lead only co-females. There is also minimal interaction with males, making female students less knowledgeable on the behavior and thinking processes of men which will be a huge issue as they climb the corporate and social ladder.
                    1. Some all-women’s colleges provide limited social or cultural diversity.
                    • While this does not apply to all, some all-women’s colleges are specific to a social class or a race. This exclusivity provides female students with minimal experience in dealing with other people from different social ranks and cultures.
                    1. Lack of networking opportunities with men, who rightly or wrongly, are often the more powerful networking partners.
                    2. Constant interaction with women which is not to every women’s taste.
                    3. Lack of opportunities to meet male dating partners.

                    Should you decide that an all-women’s college is right for you, and after analyzing why you should or shouldn’t attend an all-women’s college, you should remember to do very well in accomplishing the college admission requirements for the schools of your choice. The college admission essays are particularly challenging because these colleges have a very clear mission and are very clear on the kind of student they are looking for.

                    (ii)               All-Men Colleges and the lack of them

                    During the 1960s and 1970s, the majority of single sex colleges went coed. This happened for several reasons. First, the Victorian sensibility that women needed to be protected from men was fading. Second, as many women joined the workforce and the Women’s Liberation Movement, people began to question whether “separate but equal” schools brought an equally high caliber education to every student.

                    Today, aside from seminaries and rabbinical colleges, the only remaining four-year colleges for men are Wabash College in Indiana, Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, St. John’s University in Minnesota, Morehouse College in Georgia and Deep Springs College in Big Pine, California.

                    So why have so many all women’s colleges survived? Many students, teachers, parents, and administrators still feel there is a need for these schools. In coed institutions, women need to compete with men for attention and resources, and in an unequal world, women don’t always win this competition. In addition, many young women enjoy the camaraderie and security these campuses bring.

                    10. Academic Environment – Structured VS Free

                    Colleges differ from each other with respect to their curricula and course requirements for each major. Some colleges and universities institute strict core curriculums, a core curriculum being a course of study which is deemed central and usually made mandatory for all students within the particular school.

                    For example, on the engineering front, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has strict requirements for courses that engineering majors must take and allows relatively few electives.  On the humanities and liberal arts front,  perhaps the best known and most expansive core curricula amongst the leading American colleges are that of Columbia College at Columbia University, as well as the University of Chicago‘s.  Both can take up to two years to complete and are designed with the aim of fostering critical skills in a broad range of academic disciplines, spanning the whole spectrum of subjects: the social sciences, humanities, physical and biological sciences, mathematics, writing and foreign languages.

                    On the other end of the academic spectrum, you have universities such as Brown University which have few course requirements and allow for students to take courses that are of interest to them to work towards a “focus” of their degree rather than a recognized “major.”

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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.

                      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.

                          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.