For International Students: Dispelling U.S. University Myths
By Judith Winters, Judith Winters College Counseling, Lakeville, Connecticut
The American university admissions process is drastically different from that of the university systems in many other countries. Consequently, international students often find they need assistance with navigating the process of applying to U.S. universities. A good place to start is by dispelling some of the most common myths international students have about the American university admissions process.
Myth 1: Test scores are the most important factor in admissions decisions.
Truth: Test scores are only one of five factors the school considers, along with academic performance (grades), recommendations, extracurricular activities and personal essays. What admissions officers want to know from a student’s profile is who he/she is and how he/she will contribute to the university. Obviously, one standardized test cannot reveal all of this. Therefore, they take a range of factors into equal consideration in order to get a full picture of how the student performs on a daily basis. These factors enable admissions officers to understand what a student will bring to the campus over four years, rather than just how he/she did on one particular test on one particular day.
Myth 2: School name and ranking determine the quality of school.
Truth: In many countries, only a few universities offer great opportunities to their graduates. In the United States, however, there are hundreds of universities that enjoy distinguished reputations in their different fields. There is no one best school. There is no official ranking of schools. Published rankings done by private organizations are useful tools to synthesize many factors, but they do not necessarily indicate the true value of a university. In reality, a university’s overall strength can’t be reduced to a number, just as a person’s overall value can’t be reduced to a test score (see Myth 1 above). Colleges and universities are all different and, in many cases, a university unknown to most international students can offer world-class opportunities in a particular field or other unique qualities. Such factors as location, student body, and campus climate, rather than the notoriety of the name and ranking, are worth exploring when evaluating school options.
Myth 3: Using an agency that does all the work for the student will yield better results.
Truth: Admissions officers look at thousands of essays every year. As a result, they are experts at detecting when something sounds impersonal, canned, or incongruous with the student they are evaluating. They know how 17-year-old applicants think and write, and they can spot an essay written by someone with a Master’s in English Literature. The purpose of the personal essay is to show who the student is and whether his/her qualities fit with the overall college environment. A personal essay that is genuine, original, and self-reflective is more impressive and effective than one written professionally by an agency.
International students, therefore, need to use care when seeking guidance about applying to U.S. universities. It is best to work with an independent college admissions counselor who is very familiar with American universities, understands the way admissions committees review applications, and who is committed to ethical standards. When you work with a college admissions consultant who is a member of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), you can be assured that they have agreed to abide by HECA Standards and Ethics Policy for educational consultants in their work with students. International students and their families can find HECA members who experienced in working with international students in the HECA Member Directory.
Myth 4: Business is the only major worth studying.
Truth: Browsing profiles of numerous successful CEOs, one can tell that many come from a wide range of undergraduate majors (or in the case of techies, no degree at all!). Having a diverse education in a range of fields provides a more dynamic approach to solving problems, whether in business or any other profession. In fact, an undergraduate degree is just one step in a long career journey that may or may not focus on the field studied in university. Many students, after receiving their undergraduate degrees in one specialized field, work for a few years and then return for a graduate degree, such as an MBA, as they advance in their careers.
Myth 5: Admission rates show a university’s competitiveness.
Truth: When considering who to admit, American universities look at the bigger picture and want to ensure a mix of students from different countries and regions. Schools have regional target percentages for students, so international students indeed compete with other international students for limited seats. Thus, having a similar profile to other students in the same region will not make a student stand out or make him/her desirable. Rather, international students must demonstrate clearly to the school why they should be selected over other candidates from their region, rather than over comparable American students.
Like all prospective university students, international students face some of the most important choices for their future when they are applying to college. Having the right information and guidance can help students select the university that is right for them and prove to admissions officers that they are right for that university. By debunking these five myths, international students will better understand how to find the university experience that suits their interests.
About the Author: Judith Winters is a HECA member and educational consultant specializing in assisting international students who are interested in studying in the United States.
© Judith Winters. Used by the Higher Education Consultants Association with the permission of the author. May not be copied or distributed without the permission of the author.
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