Searching for the perfect university can be one of the most exciting times in a person’s life, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t stressful too. In addition to ensuring that your short list of schools possess the faculty and resources that you desire, you will likely also wish to know what the campus environment and surrounding city or town is like.
Researching potential colleges is stressful and time-consuming for American residents, but it can be exponentially harder for international students, who may not be able to afford the costs associated with traveling to a U.S. campus. Although personally visiting universities is the ideal scenario, there are other more cost-effective methods of learning about American schools, even if you’re halfway around the world.
As our world becomes increasingly digital, new aspects of our lives move to online formats. In many ways, this has made life more convenient, but this is not always the case.
For international students who are studying in the United States, participating in class can be a challenge if you are not confident in your English skills. This becomes even more true in an online course, where much of the communication is done asynchronously and in writing.
If you are thinking about taking or are about to take an online class, here are five tips that may greatly improve your chances for success:
1. Interact with honesty and openness
Communication opportunities in online courses are often more limited than in traditional classes, and you may not be able to physically see the individuals who you are communicating with. As a result, you may feel self-conscious about your ability to articulate your thoughts in English (especially written English). Rather than pretending that you are fluent or remaining silent, consider being honest about the extent of your language and communication skills at the beginning of the term.
This might seem embarrassing, particularly if you do not know any of the other students, but you may be surprised by the resulting show of support. You may also find that your honesty makes your peers more conscious of how they communicate, which can partially limit any potential confusion.
Here’s what we read this week:
Campuses and adaptation. An article published in The PIE News discusses students’ needs and how campuses may or may not be fulfilling them. As the new generation of students becomes increasingly tech-savvy, campuses must keep up by providing a range of accommodations—from fast wifi to Zipcar.
Bringing diversity to international enrollment. According to the ICEF Monitor, while the U.S.’s international student population has grown at a staggering rate, the diversity of this population is lacking. Because approximately 60% of the foreign students in the U.S. come from only four countries, the impact on the education market could be massive should the demand for international education change.
Generalists wanted! In a study reported on in the Harvard Business Review, researchers found that students who had specialized in one field were less likely to receive job offers than students who had not specialized at all. The generalists were looked at by hiring managers as having a diverse range of skills.
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No matter which field you’re majoring in or which school you’re attending, there’s a very good chance that you’ll want to or be required to complete an internship before you graduate. More often than not, your internship will be a short-term (three-to-six month) situation in which you gain direct skills and knowledge about a particular employment field.
Internships are a great way to gain new competencies and to make industry connections, but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to secure—especially if you wait until the last minute. Many students choose to complete an internship over the summer, while they’re on break, but they begin planning earlier in the year to ensure that they get the most out of their experience. If you didn’t have the time or have simply found yourself in the unfortunate position of needing an internship at the last minute, consider exploring the following options:
1. Faculty members
Although most internships with college professors are arranged several months in advance, your instructors can still be a great resource.
If you’re interested in completing an internship in an academic environment, tell your professors—they may know of previously filled positions that are available again due to unforeseen circumstances, or they may be able to refer you to colleagues at other schools. Many faculty members conduct research during the summer months, and they may be interested in taking you on.
The transition from high school to college is an exciting part of any student’s life. Still, there are several aspects of that transition that require a degree of acclimation, like the new and often confusing world of academic reading and writing. Unlike some of the reading that you have done in high school, academic writing has a specific format, tone, and body of language that can, at times, seem overly complicated and make the subject harder to understand.
For international students, developing strong academic reading and writing skills can be doubly challenging. Not only is the subject not written in their first language, it can also seem like an entirely new language unto itself. If you are planning to attend an English-speaking college or university, there are several ways that you can begin to develop your reading and writing skills before starting the fall semester:
1. Begin exploring your field via abstracts and keywords
One reason that students—both international and otherwise—struggle with scholarly writing is because of its language and style. Each academic subject has theories, technical terms, and formats that can make comprehending the material challenging. Rather than simply opening a textbook and reading, consider beginning with the abstracts and keywords that are published with scholarly articles.
This week, I’ll be discussing optional practical training (OPT), which is another exception to the F-1 no-working rule. OPT is only allowed after completing the first academic year. OPT activity must be related to your field of study. Unlike curricular practical training, however, you must apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for an employment authorization card for OPT purposes. You must physically have the card before starting work.
Optional Practical Training
OPT comes in two “flavors.” There is pre-completion OPT which can be used during your vacation and during school. However, during the school year, pre-completion OPT cannot be for more than twenty hours. The other flavor is post-completion OPT. Post-completion OPT may be obtained after you complete all of the course requirements in your course of study, with the exception of your thesis or dissertation. Regardless of whether you use pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT, you can only have a total of twelve months of OPT. While there are generally no extensions, you can apply for a new twelve months of OPT after each additional degree level. Please note, however, that you cannot have more than 90 days of unemployment during this initial OPT period.
Institutions of higher education in the United States welcome international students, but in order to pursue their academic goals there, these students must first seek permission from the U.S. government to enter the country. For most, this permission comes in the form of the nonimmigrant F-1 international student status. Nonimmigrant visa statuses are based on very specific purposes, and the main purpose of the F-1 status is to allow students to study in the U.S. If you’re primarily looking to work in the U.S., you must apply for a different nonimmigrant status that carries employment authorization. As with all rules, there are exceptions, which we’ll explore here.
F-1 Visa and Employment
When applying for an F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate abroad, showing that you’ve been accepted to an eligible school is only one step in the process. You’ll also need to prove that you plan to return home after completing your educational program and that you have enough funding to not have to work in the U.S. Remember, the purpose of the F-1 is to pursue an education, not to work. For any of the exceptions below which allow for work, you should first check in with the Designated Student Officer (DSO) at your school to ensure that no activity would violate your F-1 status.
There are a number of promising college opportunities for international students, but prospective applicants will most likely be expected to submit their scores on either the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The TOEFL can be costly, and it therefore requires careful research and preparation. Having studied the format of the TOEFL, and perfected your TOEFL-related skills, consider these day-of techniques for TOEFL success:
Remember that the TOEFL truly begins the evening before your test date
Preparing for the TOEFL is as much about your actions before the exam as it is about the test itself. Ideally, you should practice self-care in the week leading up to the exam. While we cannot plan our illnesses, we can try to avoid them—ensure you follow a healthy diet, especially in the case of dinner the evening before your test and breakfast the morning of. Focus on “brain” foods like salmon and spinach, and drink enough water. Avoid caffeine frenzies and sugar rushes, and remember, your careful preparation will not matter if you cannot remain alert during the exam. Diet, exercise, and sleep are equally as important as studying.
You’ve done it! You’ve completed yet another semester and this time your reward is a four-month break. How are you going to spend it? Maybe you want to keep the momentum going by taking classes or interning, or perhaps traveling is in your future. We talked to Laura Chaney, the Director of International Student and Scholar Services at the University of San Francisco, about some of the options international students can consider.