Studying in America has its own challenges but there is much to be gained in terms of exposure, monetary awards and self-development.
GOING abroad to study, especially the United States is an exciting prospect but is also ridden with the sense of the unknown. The anxiety about all this, for students and parents, is very real.
One of the main challenges for especially foreign students is the lack of first-hand knowledge of what colleges actually seek in students.
Let me list below the top 10 requisites that colleges look for in high school or secondary school students.
Pull factor: The number of international scholarships for those keen to study in the US has been growing rapidly in recent years. — File photo
• A challenging high school curriculum: Academically successful students should take at least five core courses every semester.
• Grades that represent strong effort and an upward trend: Numbers matter. Colleges request grades, usually beginning with Class 9. The grades must show either consistency or a positive upward trend in a challenging course.
• Good scores on the SAT or ACT (both tests are to gauge student’s academic skills, used for college admissions in the United States) — consistent with high school grades: High scores do not compensate for low grades.
• Passionate involvement in a few activities, demonstrating leadership, initiative, impact, and an angle: Depth, not breadth, of experience is most important.
Create a detailed résumé to showcase your activities.
• Meaningful use of your free time: Out-of-school experiences could include summer activities, work, and hobbies that reflect responsibility, dedication, and areas of interest. Include these commitments on your résumé.
• Special talents or experiences that will contribute to an interesting student body: A student who goes the extra mile to develop a special talent in sports, research, writing, the arts, or anything else will gain an edge.
• Your essay should give an insight into your personality, values, and goals: Your application essay should be thoughtful and personal.
• Letters of recommendation from teachers and your counsellor: someone who knows you well can write to help shed a new light on your talents.
It is a tall order, so it is best to start early, preferably before you reach your last year of secondary school.
The financial aspect of admissions to US colleges is also important. The cost of sending your child to the US can be a hefty sum.According to College Board, the annual budget inclusive of transport and all living expenses for undergraduate students in 2014/15 is approximately US$46,000 (RM190,000) which is for four years at a private non-profit college.
However, this figure is not applicable to all US universities.The fees may vary depending on the academic ranking and location of the college.
Now for the good news!
• Financial aid is available and comes in two forms: Scholarships (based on merit or need) and loans.
• Many of the private colleges offer generous scholarships to all admitted freshmen making it possible to obtain quality education at more affordable prices.
• As US universities prioritise internationalisation, the number of international scholarships in the US has been growing rapidly in recent years, and this trend seems likely to continue.
• Often, the more prestigious US universities offer generous funding opportunities. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 90% of undergraduates and 86% of graduate and professional students receive financial aid. At California Institute of Technology (Caltech), almost 60% of undergraduates receive aid.
• Internships and on-campus jobs are available and allow students to earn while studying.
• Work scholarships are also available to worthy international students.
Also, since the US education system is world-renowned, money spent on earning a degree is seen as a return on investment. A degree from the US earns you:
• Recognition: American higher education is elite, well structured, typically well funded, and very professionally run. Industries the world over recognise that and place a high value on credentials earned in American universities.
• Research and Development: Research and development means money, scholarships, and student employment. Industry do utilise universities, and the best minds typically are connected to universities, making R&D a key reason to consider an American University.
• Technology: American universities are some of the primary consumers of modern technology providing ample opportunities in helping to launch the next generation of an emerging technology.
• Broad Spectrum: There are over 4,000 institutions of higher learning available. Many have created their own niches, which allows prospective students to select one that “fits” them best.
• Choice Independence: This resonates even more than anything else with the international students. You are free to choose your major and you have a second chance.
• Cultural Experience: The university campus is a rich cultural experience adding to your overall education and personality. Employers find this an appealing quality.
• Future: This nation is rich, powerful, and has unlimited opportunities. You can work and earn your way through school legally in America.
You will be allowed to work for at least one year in America after you have earned a degree as a foreign student. And most importantly, your student status is a gateway to the world. That speaks for itself.
Career choices and opportunities that a US degree opens up, is an area that requires separate treatment by itsef.
The key to making the admissions process an enjoyable experience is to try to keep things in perspective.
With good organisation and time management, and starting early, there is nothing that cannot be achieved.
It is an opportunity of a lifetime. After all a degree from a US college is certainly worth the effort.