Monday, December 15, 2008

Africa News Today - How to get into an American university - The Fulbright Comission's US educational advisory service also contains useful dates and advice.


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(Mike Powell)

The best American universities have a spending power their British counterparts can only dream of and dominate the international league tables.

And the introduction of top-up fees and students' increasingly relaxed attitude to debt means that applicants are eyeing up university life across the Atlantic more than ever.

Selecting a school

Once you have nailed down the degree you would like to pursue, begin researching which universities offer it as a major. Do not rule out similar degrees in inter-disciplinary programs, however. One of the main differences between the US and here is that there is no central body that handles the admissions, as Ucas does in the UK. But all major universities in the US have their own websites for researching what courses are available.

Ideally, you will be able to visit the US and tour some of your prospective schools, but there is an open day held in London. Most universities offer frequent tours of the campus throughout the year, as well as open days during the autumn.

The Fulbright Comission's US educational advisory service also contains useful dates and advice.

Applying

Most universities accept both online and hard copy applications. In most cases, a mission statement or applicant essay will be required, so be prepared to detail why you are interested in the field you have chosen.

There is no limit on the number of universities you can apply to, but between five and eight is the norm, and it may prove difficult to apply to more while keeping an eye on quality control.

Work samples may also be a requirement – generally in arts-oriented fields. The samples would represent your level of experience and/or ability.

American universities also require an official copy of your academic records, sent directly from the school(s) you attended.

Required Examinations

Universities in the US typically require SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or ACT (American College Testing) examination scores in order to apply. Therefore, it is important for you to take one (or both). There are testing dates throughout the year, with registration deadlines generally a month prior.

There are testing centres throughout the UK. Registering for the SAT through the College Board web site is swift and easy.

Keep in mind these tests examine your math skills, and therefore it may be best to take them before you get rusty if you've given up the subject.

Tutors

Studying for these examinations is important. As A-level deadlines loom, another set of tests – and unfamiliar ones at that – can seem daunting. But there are many American students in the UK throughout the year, a large number of them seeking extra money by way of tutoring local university applicants. Take advantage of this lingering resource.

Timing is also quite important during the university application process, so be sure you balance testing dates and deadlines and leave enough time for your A level examinations.

Deadlines

Most deadlines for undergraduate application are in the middle of January. January 15 is quite typical, just as it is in the UK. However, be sure to check your specific university. The dates could fall anywhere between mid-December and mid-February.

One thing to keep in mind is that US universities tend to offer early admission programs with earlier application deadlines. There are generally two examples of this.

"Early decision" is for students who wish to make a commitment at the time of application to attend if admitted. This is a binding application contract with the university.

"Early action" is a non-binding program adopted by some schools for students who wish simply to receive an early acceptance decision.

Be sure to take note of whether the university to which you are applying offers early admission. Some schools, such as Harvard University, have begun to phase out these programs.

Funding

University in the US is quite expensive compared with schools in the UK. Additionally, private school scholarships are quite competitive, while individual state schools do not often offer financial support to foreign nationals.

International students are not eligible for US federal or university need-based financial aid, or for federal work-study programs.

There are fellowships and scholarships available to international applicants from both the Soros Foundations Network and Rotary International. The International Student Loans Centre, meanwhile, is a good place to start for private loans. A co-signer who has lived in the States for at least two years is required, however.

Fulbright also offers a foreign student program, but it is limited to graduate students.

The International Education Financial Aid (IEFD) web site is a solid – and free – database that can help you search for a variety of aid sources. Cornell University also offers a fellowship search engine, but for graduates only.

There are alternatives for pulling money together beyond grants, scholarships and loans. Academic department fellowships are available in most cases, as are teaching and research assistant positions. On- and off-campus university-affiliated jobs are common as well.

It can be difficult, however, to support yourself through employment of any kind due to the full-time enrolment requirements of your student visa.

When you do secure funding, many universities will require evidence of financial support before issuing a formal letter of admission, or before the forms needed to obtain a visa can be issued. This support includes tuition fees and cost of living expenses. Generally, a bank-verified financial-guarantee letter is required, signed by an endorser with his or her accompanying address. This should be included with the general application in order to expedite the process.

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