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Deciding to Study in the U.S.

Education in the U.S. is diverse, interesting, and inspiring. It pushes students to aim high and aspire to achieve professional advancement, and develop a greater appreciation and knowledge of the world. Education in the U.S. provides the tools and knowledge to achieve what may have seemed impossible. However, there are personal considerations you must reflect upon to determine if studying in the U.S. is right for you.

The questions you should ask yourself are:

  • What are my professional and personal goals?
  • Do I have adequate English skills to pursue an education in the U.S.?
  • Do I have the financial capabilities to pursue education in the U.S.?
  • Am I prepared to live in a foreign land and adapt to a different culture to earn a degree?

Defining your educational and professional goals is important in order to determine your path for achieving those goals. To understand your interest in pursuing higher education abroad you must ask yourself whether you are willing to invest the time, finances, and energy required of higher education. It is also important to determine if the knowledge gained through a program in the U.S. is transferrable to your home country – confirm that U.S. educational credentials are recognized by institutions of higher education, professional licensing boards, and potential employers in your home country.

Students planning to pursue higher education in the U.S. must be academically prepared. Twelve years of school and an equivalent U.S. high school diploma must have been completed to apply for undergraduate study at a two or four year U.S. college or university. For a master’s or doctorate degree, an academic equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree is required. Students must demonstrate strong English language skills, leadership skills, and a competitive grade point average from previous study. The academic scores and test scores provided to universities must be validated and students must apply according to university requirements.

Factors to consider when selecting a school

  • Field of Study: For students who know what field of study they wish to pursue, information regarding those programs are available on university websites; look for programs that have strong rankings and carefully review the curricula before making a selection. Most schools allow you to apply as an “undeclared” major and give students until their second year to declare a major.
  • Cost: The total annual costs include tuition and fees, room and board, books, travel, and other miscellaneous expenses. Financial constraints could be partly off-set through financial aid offered to students, on-campus employment, or external scholarship or fellowship awards. It is also important to keep in mind that the cost of living varies greatly from city to city in the U.S.
  • Location: Cost of living, cost of traveling, weather, environment, public transportation, or access to cultural activities are all factors that should be considered in thinking through a university’s location. Rural or urban locations can also be an important consideration.
  • Size: In the U.S., colleges and universities range from fewer than 100 students to more than 50,000 students. At smaller schools, classes are generally smaller and students may receive more attention from faculty members. Larger schools, however, tend to offer more courses of study and have greater student diversity. At larger schools, research facilities and equipment may be better, making larger schools attractive for graduate students.
  • Housing: Students should consider cost and availability of both on-campus residence halls and off-campus housing, and how the options meet the student’s preferences for independence, lifestyle, and finances. On-campus housing can be limited, so it is important to find out procedures for applying for residence halls.
  • Admissions Requirements: Students should carefully review admission requirements before selecting a school.
  • Diversity: Most international students prefer attending schools with a diverse campus. Student may want to consider the number of international student that attend the school or other schools in the area as well as the general socioeconomic diversity of the campus.
  • Career Services: Students should look for schools that provide services that prepare them for the job search and interviewing process as well as provide opportunities that will help students launch their careers. Such services may include internship programs, resume workshops, and career advisors.
  • Safety: Safety is a major concern and one that students should discuss with their families and university representatives before making a decision. Students should feel comfortable and secure on campus and in their residential facility. Students should always be responsible, aware of their surroundings, and cautious. Most campuses have their own law enforcement and emergency personnel to monitor the safety of the campus.

Types of Higher Education Institutions

With over 15 million students in approximately 6,700 higher education institutions, the United States provides innumerable opportunities for international students to focus on one or more study areas such as vocational, business, engineering, technical or liberal arts. Virtually every field of study imaginable can be found in the remarkable variety of academic programs including two-year, four-year, and graduate programs.

The quality of educational programs in the U.S. is maintained by both regional and national accreditation associations. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs (http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/). The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (www.chea.org) also provides information on accreditation in the U.S.

The undergraduate education generally lasts for four years and can be completed in two ways:
1. Beginning studies at a two-year community or junior college with an academic transfer program and then transfer most of the coursework to continue studies in a four-year bachelor's program at a university
2. Applying directly to a four-year college or university

A master’s degree generally lasts two years, although some schools offer one year intensive programs of study. For graduate study, students are required to have a U.S. bachelor’s degree or international equivalent. A doctoral program is typically two to three years in addition to the master’s degree. The most common doctoral degree is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Some Ph.D. programs require students to have a U.S. master’s degree or international equivalent; others allow you to earn a master’s during the first one to two years of the program.

College versus University: Four-year institutions can be a college or a university. A college is traditionally a subset of a university that offers degrees in a specific area. For example, a university might have a college of engineering, college of business and college of education. Some universities may require a specific application to one of their colleges.  The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Colleges and universities offer programs in a wide range of subjects including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); health; business; and social sciences. At most colleges and universities you can earn bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Master’s and Ph.D. degrees involve a combination of research and coursework and offer a great depth of specialized intensive training.

Public versus Private: Public schools are opened by state and local governments. Private schools are not affiliated with a government organization. Private schools may be non-profit or they may be for-profit businesses, such as many career, trade, or technical schools. Note: Students must pay tuition for both private and public institutions.

Types of Colleges and Universities

Community or Junior Colleges: Community College and Junior College are synonymous. These two-year colleges grant associate’s degrees in a wide range of technical disciplines. While some students seek an associate’s degree in order to obtain specific vocational training, many students complete general education at a community or junior college and then transfer for a four-year institution to complete a bachelor’s degree. Most community colleges have an academic transfer program to four-year institutions. Their costs are lower and admission is more open. Because students are often times unsure of a specific field of study when entering college, community or junior colleges offer a more cost-effective way of completing general education requirements and exploring fields of study.

Liberal Arts Colleges: These colleges offer a broad base of courses in the liberal arts — literature, philosophy, history, languages, mathematics, humanities, and social and natural sciences. Liberal Arts colleges typically offer four-year programs that lead to a bachelor’s degree; students usually take courses in a range of subjects during their first two years and then choose a major area of study for specialized courses in the second two years. Often liberal arts colleges also offer master’s degrees and many will have doctoral level degrees as well.

Vocational-Technical (Vo-Tech) and Career Colleges: These schools offers specialized training to students who are interested in a particular industry or career such as welding, cosmetology, medical imaging and electronic assembly. Their programs may be two years or less. Upon completion of the program, students receive a certificate of completion or an associate’s degree.

Arts Colleges: These colleges provide training in the arts; for example, photography, music, theater, or fashion design. Most of these colleges offer associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in fine arts or a specialized field.

Single Gender Colleges: Colleges that admit either only men or only women to their student body. Very few single gender colleges remain in the U.S.

Religiously-Affiliated Colleges: Some private colleges are affiliated with a religious faith. Students affiliated to other faiths are welcome to apply to these schools.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): These institutions are open to all U.S. students and international students but were originally established to serve the African-American population. HBCUs can be public or private and either two-year community colleges or four-year colleges and universities.

Ivy League Colleges: Eight universities make up the Ivy League. The term Ivy League described the athletic league comprised of eight schools in the northeastern U.S. These eight are among the original higher education institutions in the U.S. Today, the term Ivy League also connotes academic excellence and prestige. The eight schools in the Ivy League and date of establishment are:

  • Brown University (Rhode Island) 1764 (as Rhode Island College)
  • Columbia University (New York) 1754 (as King’s College)
  • Cornell University (New York) 1865
  • Dartmouth College (New Hampshire) 1769
  • Harvard University (Massachusetts) 1636 (as the New College)
  • University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania) 1749 (as the Academy of Pennsylvania)
  • Princeton University (New Jersey) 1746 ( as the College of New Jersey)

How to Choose an Intensive English Program

By Carl De Angelis, Director, English and Pre-academic ProgramsInstitute of International Education

In the U.S. there are over 600 full-time accredited intensive English programs (IEPs), all with a commitment to excellence in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). Over the past 20 years the development of standards and best practices in the field has brought two major consortia into existence, along with an actual accrediting body in the TESOL field. The University Consortium of Intensive English Programs (UCIEP) and the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) each developed thoughtful and thorough guidelines for IEPs. Over 400 IEPs in these consortia adhere to their guidelines. In addition, the Committee on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) has established itself as an accrediting agency for IEPs. There is a central focus on quality in the IEP community; but with so many options, choosing the right program can seem daunting.

Choosing the right program for you is also very difficult, because it involves a large commitment. IEP classes and language laboratories will account for 15 to 20 hours of your time per week. You will be associating daily with the other international students in the program, making new friends and establishing contacts for your future career. You will be living in a new city or town where, for better or for worse, you will be surrounded by people who speak and interact solely in English. As a result, you will definitely have the opportunity to use your newly acquired language skills, regardless of the IEP you select.

So, with a host of excellent programs to choose from -- and considering the length of time you will reside at the IEP of your choice, not to mention the money you will spend -- how will you make the right choice?

Be Adventurous

Location, Location, Location

Begin by asking yourself where, or at least in which state or region of the U.S., you wish to study for the next three or six months. Think big and be adventurous. Perhaps even choose a place you have always wanted to explore. Consider your geographic options, the seasons, and the population. Consider what goals—in addition to learning English—you may wish to accomplish and the setting that would allow you to use your English outside the classroom to the best advantage. Consider potential opportunities for professional networking: if you are striving to be an actor or actress, L.A. is the place; for politics, Washington D.C.  If you come from a small town and want a change of scenery, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco all present a welcome change. If you want a change from the congestion of Mexico City or Tokyo, consider the Midwest states or the Pacific Northeast. No matter which IEP you choose, opportunity for language learning and self-development abound.

Of course, you must be brave to go abroad with limited language skills and undertake a course of study in a new environment. You will have to use the language that you are learning immediately. Your natural instinct will be to seek the security of a group of speakers of your primary language. However, it is better to avoid large groups of speakers of your own language, if possible. IEP staff persons will assist you in your acculturation and language learning. So whatever program you choose, try to strike out on your own: seek IEPs with small enrollments of your own language speakers. Don't choose a program your cousin or friend went to. Make a decision that will challenge your language skills.

Be Informed

Do Your Homework

That is -- do your homework before you begin your actual English studies. This is the most important part of choosing a program. Once you have decided upon a location, find the best program for you. The best source of information about IEPs that I know is Intensive English USA (IEUSA). First published in 1964 by the Institute of International Education (IIE) as a pamphlet, this publication has grown to over 600 entries, becoming a worldwide resource for those wishing to study English in the U.S. The introduction tells you how to use the book, but here are a few tips:

  • Academic preparation: Most IEPs focus on English for academic purposes to prepare students to enter U.S. institutions of higher education. If you have another purpose for studying English, turn to IEUSA’s index for a list of English for Special Purposes (ESP) programs and start there.
  • Plan ahead: If you want to attend a U.S. college or university, consider those IEPs listed that offer conditional admission to the host university with acceptance into the IEP. Also check to see if the IEP offers credit for ESL courses. This could save you some money down the road.
  • Class size: Smaller is better, but also look at the total program size. A very small program may not have all the levels of instruction that a large program does, nor all the support services.
  • Support services: See what is offered in addition to language study. Home stays and host families, academic counseling, conversation partners, field trips and socio-cultural activities, and airport pickup all will ease your transition and enhance your language learning.
  • Faculty: Look for a high percentage of instructors holding advanced degrees in TESOL or a related field. Make sure they teach no more than four hours a day.
  • Cost: Don't pay for a name. Some of the best IEPs are not the most expensive or the ones attached to Ivy League institutions.
  • Affiliation: A program is not necessarily better or worse because it is affiliated with a university or is for-profit or not-for-profit. Check the statistics such as class size and faculty credentials first.
  • Consortia membership: Both UCIEP and AAIEP membership will guarantee that programs are at least preoccupied with academic standards. Remember that there are many excellent programs that may not be members of these consortia.

With the location in mind and supported with IEUSA data, call or e-mail the program contacts as given in IEUSA and ask for information or visit the www.IEUSA.org web site. Look carefully at the program literature. Get a map. Imagine yourself living in the location day-to-day. Learn about the city, town, or university where your program is housed from another source besides the IEP brochure. Try to get hold of a newspaper from the location of the program. Again: Do your homework.

Be Careful

Let the Buyer Beware

Glossy brochures: Don’t get swayed by a brochure that exaggerates, or lies about the programs qualities. A brochure that presents a beautiful beach even though there is no ocean close by, or an urban skyline on a brochure for a program that isn’t close to a major city are both examples of false advertising.

Cost:  Calculate both tuition and living expenses when exploring your options as well as any additional fees that you will have to pay. Insurance is also mandatory when you study in the U.S. The cost of living varies greatly in the U.S., especially between urban centers and rural areas – making college towns very appealing from a financial point of view. When calculating tuition costs, which fluctuate greatly for several reasons, one should calculate the weekly unit cost of the program in order to compare different programs. Lastly, shop around for the best insurance deals and carefully read the coverage each plan offers.

Personal safety:  It's probably true that New York City is more dangerous than Bloomington, Indiana. But don't make the mistake most New Yorkers make and assume the whole lovely state of New York is Manhattan or Brooklyn. Buffalo, Syracuse, Ithaca and Stony Brook are excellent New York locations that house some great IEPs.  Also keep in mind that thousands upon thousands of students have studied English in New York City without being mugged. IEPs do have security. Don't worry too much about life in the big city if that's the life you want to try out. If safety is a major issue for you, however, think smaller.

By adding the simple measures outlined above to your IEP search, you can rest assured that the program you choose will be the right one for you.

Undergraduate and Graduate Structure and Lifestyle

An undergraduate lifestyle in the U.S. is full of variety, adventure, fun and learning. U.S. students study a variety of subjects and may specialize in more than one field before opting to move on to graduate school or a career.


Undergraduate Student classification:
• Freshmen – First-year students; coursework typically includes several general education classes
• Sophomores – Second-year students; combination of general and major-related courses
• Juniors – Third-year students; higher level major-related classes
• Seniors– Fourth-year students; typically the final year to fulfill all requirements for major

Typical Undergraduate Degree Process:
Although there can be a high degree of flexibility in your academic plan and progress towards receiving your bachelor’s degree, this chart described the typical process. Students work with their faculty and advisors to determine personal plans of study and ensure progress towards completion.
Academic year:
• The academic year begins in August or September and continues through May or June
• International students usually begin their studies in the autumn (fall) term, in August or September
• The academic year can be divided either in quarters or semesters.

Academic Culture

Teaching styles:
• Typical collegiate courses combine lecturing with active student participation. Participation is often part of the final grade. For undergraduate courses, a course might be split between a large lecture session and a smaller discussion session.
• Typical assignments include weekly reading, written reports and papers, presentations and group projects. Due dates for assignments, evaluation criteria and other information related to the course is usually provided in the syllabus at the start of the term.

Evaluation and grades:
• Courses are taken for an assigned credit value. Credits reflect the number of hours students are expected to spend in class each week, usually three to five credits per course.
• A full-time program at most schools is 12-15 credit-hours (three to five courses) per term. International students are usually expected to enroll in a full-time program during each term.
• If a student decides to transfer to another university, the credits s/he earned at the first university may apply towards the degree at the transfer school.
• Evaluation criteria are in the form of a mark or grade for each course. Your grade may be based upon:
o In class participation, including discussions and informed questions
o Attendance and punctuality
o Performance in quizzes, exams, papers and group projects
• Some courses may not be open for freshmen or sophomores due to prerequisites; however, a student may be given special permission to opt into the course if certain criteria are met. These exceptions are considered on a cases-by-case basis and may include passing a university level proficiency test or completing a course waiver based on entry exams or prior education in the field.

Guidance Provided

There is often a high degree of flexibility in the U.S. higher education system. While this is meant to give each student a unique experience tailored to their own interests, it can also be daunting to navigate many opportunities. Luckily, most universities have a number of resources to help you! Students often learn of these resources during an orientation and are encouraged to take advantage of them during their time on campus. College and university websites also include a wealth of information about accessing these resources.

Faculty Advisors: Some programs will have faculty advisors for each of their students. If a program does not have a specific faculty advisor for students, usually professors in your major can be valuable resources as advisors and mentors.

Academic Advisors: Most programs have one or more academic advisors. These are staff that understand your specific degree requirements and the university system and can help navigate academic requirements and opportunities and address general concerns you may have.

International Advisors: Most colleges and universities have an international office that helps international students adjust to the new environment, culture and life style. These advisors can also help with visa concerns or other official paperwork.

Teacher Assistants: Typically graduate students or teacher assistants (TAs) work with a professor on his/her course and support students outside the classroom to help them better understand difficult material. Often, TAs facilitate the discussion section of a course.

Resident Assistants: Resident assistants (RAs) are usually advanced level students who oversee on-campus residence facilities and are an academic and social resource for students. RAs organize social and culture events and help with any housing related issues.

Career Councilors: Most colleges and universities have an office for career guidance. This office organizes career fairs, workshops and lectures pertaining to your career goals and finding a job. Career Centers usually also offer one on one advising for job-seekers.
Academic Tutors Often universities and/or departments within universities offer academic tutoring for students. Some examples include: a writing center where tutors help you to proofread papers, librarians to help guide you in research, and tutors in departments like math or engineering to help with homework.


Graduate Level Academics

Evaluation of grades and teaching styles, discussed above, can be similar at the graduate level as at the undergraduate level. Professors often expect greater input and participation in a graduate level course, and study is often more self-directed. Graduate level courses may also be smaller and the content more focused. School activities, resources and guidance that are available to undergraduates are also available to graduate students. Often graduate programs will also have their own programming and academic and career advisers to meet the specific needs of graduate students.

Graduate level degrees, including programs like law or medicine, usually include some combination of research and coursework. Whereas bachelor’s degrees can be more flexible and provide a broader base of skills and knowledge, graduate level programs focus on in-depth training and specialization in your chosen field. In the U.S., it is not always necessary to pursue a graduate level degree in the same subject of your bachelor’s degree.

Master’s Degree:

  • For international students, a master’s degree from the U.S. is often an important step on their chosen career path. Master’s degree programs are available in nearly all academic areas of study, including sciences, engineering and social sciences.
  • A master’s program is one route to achieve a doctorate.
  • Master’s degrees may offer a thesis option and/or a non-thesis option. In lieu of a thesis, some programs offer an applied project requirement rather than theory-based research.

Doctorate (Ph.D. or Ed.D.):

  • A qualifying examination is often required for a student who is applying for a doctorate program.  Doctoral degrees usually require an additional three to five years of study. During the first two years of the program, students enroll in classes and seminars, followed by a couple years of conducting research and writing their findings in the form of a thesis or dissertation.
  • An oral defense on the dissertation is treated as final examination in most programs.
  • Some Ph.D. programs require students to have a U.S. master’s degree or international equivalent; others allow you to earn a master’s during the first one to two years of the program.

Professional Degrees, Medical Doctor (MD) or Juris Doctor (JD): While you do not necessarily need a bachelor’s degree in a field related to the graduate degree you want to pursue, most medical school programs in the U.S. and some other professional degrees like law, for example, require certain pre-requisite coursework. If you plan to apply to medical school, you should research pre-med requirements while an undergraduate student to make sure you receive the appropriate coursework. For other professional degrees, you should research if any pre-requisites will be required for admissions.


On-campus vs. off-campus living:  Most four-year colleges and universities and many two-year colleges offer residential facilities on-campus. Living in on-campus residences means you are closer to class and campus events and you are in an environment that encourages making friends and a sense of community. If you live on-campus, you will likely have a roommate in a shared dormitory. There is limited housing available to have your own room, an apartment or family housing, though these options may be available on some campuses. Student housing is usually made available for the academic year; limited housing options may be available on-campus during the summer. Living on-campus also gives you the option of having a meal plan and access to on-campus cafeterias. On-campus housing often includes amenities such as 24-hour staffing and emergency maintenance response, housekeeping and 24-hour patrolling by the Office of Public Safety. Some residential facilities even provide exercise facilities, recreation and entertainment centers, and tutoring centers. Student residents are expected to follow regulations stipulated by the college. Students cite convenience, security, and ability to make friends and take advantage of campus activities as top reasons for living on campus.

The off-campus residential option gives students more freedom to choose where to live and when to move in and out of the housing. Student may choose to have roommates or to live independently. There is typically more privacy as compared to the on-campus residence facility. Living off-campus also entails accepting more responsibility; students are responsible for various expenses that include rent, utilities, cable, internet and phone bills. Depending on the location and the fiscal responsibility of the student, off-campus living can be less expensive than on-campus living. Most colleges and universities have off-campus housing offices or advisors that can help navigate finding off-campus housing. Students cite cost, independence, and desire to experience more than just campus life as top reasons for choosing to live off campus. Also, some campuses do not have residences or have limited availability.

Graduate Students: Many university campuses have some housing for graduate students, but often this is more limited than for undergraduates. If you do live on-campus you will likely be living with other graduate students, rather than undergraduates. However, off-campus housing is more common among graduate students at most schools. Graduate students can reach out to the university’s off-campus housing office for guidance on accessing apartment listings. 

On Campus Jobs: Typically an international student with an F-1 visa can work for 20 hours per week. Working beyond that is illegal and against the F-1 visa conditions. During the summer students are allowed to work for 40 hours. Working in libraries, at a computer lab, as a receptionist, for administration and serving as a research assistant or a teaching assistant are a few of the job options that are available on-campus. If you will be trying to find a job because of low income, it is important to note that some schools offer tuition waivers as well. Students with visas other than the F-1 may not be eligible to work and should carefully review their visa conditions. A campus’s international office can give students further information about working on campus.

Graduate Students: F-1 visa restrictions on employment apply, regardless of your degree level. It will be important to ask your professors and advisors about on-campus employment opportunities. Research Assistantships and Teaching Assistantships are often more available to graduate students than other types of on-campus employment.

Extracurricular Activities: An important part of studying in the U.S. is the experience you will have outside the classroom. You will no doubt receive a high quality education, but a true college experience is much more than just the degree. It is a chance to share your perspective, learn from others, stretch your comfort zone and have new experiences. The freedom, innovation and creativity of campus life will open the doors to endless activities – from attending a multicultural concert to kayaking with the university’s outdoors club to making cupcakes with children while volunteering in a hospital children’s ward. No matter what campus you go to, there is something for everyone and you will be encouraged to take advantage of all the opportunities offered through the campus.
International students have said that getting involved with on-campus activities helps them integrate into the culture and lifestyle of the U.S. and make American friends. A recent study  shows that international students in the U.S. do not tend to make friends with American students as much as they do with other international students. But, international students develop stronger English language skills and have better academic performance when they get to know their peers and absorb the U.S. culture. Joining clubs and participating in activities with other students that have similar interests is an easy way to break down language barriers and let go of being shy or timid. Most strong friendships are built outside the classroom.

Graduate Students: Extracurricular activities are an important part of the university experience at any level. Many extracurricular activities are open to graduates and undergraduates alike. Often, though, graduate programs offer their own activities and events just for graduate students. Often a program coordinator will be responsible for disseminating opportunities specific to a particular graduate program.

Clubs & Organizations: Some campuses host literally hundreds of clubs and organizations. These can be social, religious, cultural, community service oriented, professional, political, academic, recreational or arts related. Joining a club or an organization requires a time commitment, but it is a great way to enhance classroom education and have fun. For international students who miss home, there are many organizations representing their h ome countries. For example, the Latin American Student Union, Chinese Student Association, or the Arab Student Group are ways to stay connected to home, share cultural experiences and engage with students from diverse backgrounds. Students who like to plan events can join student council or other leadership-centered organizations. There are a multitude of opportunities –student newspapers or radio, intramural sports and more.

Graduate Students: While most clubs and organizations on college campuses are largely made up of undergraduate participants, there are also usually a number of organizations dedicated to graduate students. While campus clubs and organizations are open to all students, graduate students may find that participating in an organization specifically for graduate students enables them to connect more closely with their peers.

Service-based Activities: Many universities and colleges in the U.S. offer activities dedicated to service and helping the less privileged, whether this is through their campus-based club or through partnerships with local or global organizations. There are many different ways to be involved in community service, ranging from local levels (volunteering at a nearby hospital) or global (fundraising to help flood victims in Bangladesh). One of the most popular service activities in college is Alternative Spring Break (ASB). This is a wonderful opportunity for students to travel and contribute to a community outside their own. ASB participants may construct a house for someone who lost all their belongings after a hurricane or paint a public school so that children can have a better education.

Graduate Students: Again, graduate students can participate in service-based activities offered through the school, but will also have graduate level specific opportunities for their field of interest or for the graduate student population as a whole. Some campuses are now offering Alternative Spring Break trips just for graduate level students.

Fraternities and Sororities: Joining a fraternity or sorority is referred to as Greek Life. Sororities are for women and fraternities are for men. There are also co-ed fraternities which are generally focused on a professional discipline such as business or engineering or honors fraternities based on superior academic performance and other criteria. Greek life is typically focused on building character, developing leadership skills, contributing to the community and networking. Additionally, sororities and fraternities become a home away from home, especially in big colleges with 25,000 students or more. Your sorority or fraternity becomes like family and offers a chance to build many strong relationships.

Graduate Students: Fraternities and Sororities are largely targeted towards undergraduate populations. Graduate students are typically more focused on their field of study and find close connections through other activities.

Learning to balance work, education, community service, social events and personal life is a challenging but wonderful part of the university experience. The variety of organizations and activities available through campus life are an opportunity to grow as a well-rounded individual.

What is Expected of You?

By Shelton L. Williams, Ph.D.,
President of Osgood Center, Washington D.C.

Going abroad to study is obviously exciting, challenging, and perplexing. What is expected of you? Surprisingly enough, the answer is shockingly simple. Just be yourself. By the time you get to a U.S. college or university, the school already knows a lot about you. They know your grades, your test scores, your hobbies, and your parents’ occupations (and bank account). They know your religious background and they know your food preferences. All of this information is collected and processed long before you step foot on campus. You will already have an assigned dorm, adviser, and roommate. You know that university’s ranking, reputation, and maybe their strongest programs, but you don’t know what it will be like for you.

International student advisers (and I was one for many years) will know enough to guide you on classes, dorm life, and some career ideas, but they cannot anticipate everything you will need to know. I will tell you a secret. American colleges and universities want you to succeed. They want you to make good grades, add to the life of the college, and make many friends. They want you to get the most out of classes and extracurricular activities. They want you to travel in and around your college town. To do these, you have to have decent English skills (which will improve dramatically), to have good study habits, and have an adventurous spirit. But like I told my American students going abroad, you are always and forever an ambassador of your country, your parents, and your college. It can be a heavy weight, so expect it. Give yourself time to adjust and focus on your immediate concerns at the beginning—your classes, your roommate, your new friends. No one expects you to be the center of attention, even if you sometimes feel that way.

I have always found that many international students bring more expectations from home than we have of them. These expectations concern majors, grades, behavior, friendships, and especially religious practices. Guess what? Those were my parents’ expectations as well. Honor your parents, but know that American universities expect you to be mature enough to chart your own course. My experiences are with small liberal arts colleges, in which half or more of the entering freshmen are “undecided” in their majors. At the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, D.C., where I am now president, we offer Model UN, International Business and Foreign Policy seminars. We find that many engineering students from India, Chinese Hotel Management majors, or Moroccan Language majors late in their academic careers develop a great fascination with Diplomacy or International Studies as a major. Most American small colleges are “OK” with that and we expect you to explore options, investigate majors and follow your dream. We also provide advisers, career centers and visiting alumni to answer your questions regarding requirements, graduate schools, and experiences you need to get where you want to go.

Think for yourself. That is what colleges and universities expect. American colleges and universities reflect American society, so our education is based on personal choice and personal development. You bring your talent and interests and we provide the training and opportunities. Work hard. Even for American students, college is an adjustment. Avoid the GPA monster. Having a good grade point average (GPA) is the beginning of academic success and starting off with poor grades can mean taking time to recover or hurting your chances for grad school. But there is another side of the monster. Concentrating only on the GPA may mean that you miss out on Model UN, playing in the orchestra, a Biology field trip, or a school play. These are all “educational” experiences and American university life is rich with them. Have a balanced life between academics and extracurricular activities. Make friends. They will last a lifetime.

Get to know America. What are Americans like? Are we all the same? Are small towns like Alma, Michigan like big cities like Washington, D.C.?  No, and neither is like New York City or Los Angeles, California. What may surprise you is that whether you go to a place like Alma College or Yale University, you may find opportunities to go places and see things that you never imagined.

That is what we expect.

Shelton L. Williams is President of the Osgood Center in Washington D.C., a non-profit educational organization that offers short-term foreign policy programs and experiential learning to graduate, college, and high school students from around the globe. Shelly has taught at The John Hopkins University – Paul H.Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and University of Texas.

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