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Tips for Applying to US Colleges, Part Two


Editor's note: For part two of our tips for applying to American colleges, we visited George Mason University. George Mason University is the largest public research university in the state of Virginia. It has about 33,000 students studying over 100 different majors and specializations. Its students come from all 50 US states and 130 different countries. About 7 percent of its students are international. We sat down with Jennifer Tkacz, Director of International Admissions. She shared her views on financial aid, rankings, and visas. Click on the video above to hear Ms. Tkacz in her own words.

Why are American universities so expensive?

First of all, I’ll say that American education is expensive for Americans. I spent the good part of my twenties working to pay off college loan debt. So, American education is very expensive, but you’re getting a high-quality education from some of the best professors in the world with some of the best resources and facilities in the world. American universities have state-of-the-art laboratories, computers, research systems, classrooms and all that is expensive. And also at many U.S. universities, you’re learning from leading researchers and people who are at the top of the line in their field so it’s also expensive for universities to have those people as professors. So, you’re paying for a quality product—that’s why it’s very expensive.

What kind of financial aid is available?

It really depends on the university what kind of financial aid is available. There are a lot of opportunities out there for international students. There are some universities that have merit-based scholarships. Many have scholarships in general for international students. There are athletic scholarships, scholarships based on a specific talent. It really depends on the individual university, but if the students give themselves sufficient time and really do their research, I think that they can find a university that fits their financial profile, that might have scholarships available, different, you know, work opportunities on campus for individual students.

Are school rankings important?

I know that rankings matter to a lot of parents and students worldwide, but here in the U.S. we pay very little attention to rankings. The rankings that are produced are actually the opinion of several different magazines. They’re not really official government rankings. The U.S. doesn’t have a universal ranking system. So the way that we see it is that rankings are, just produced by several magazines. Usually the same schools are typically listed as the top 10 or top 20 year after year. So in the U.S., they don’t really have that much credibility. With that said, we know that to many families abroad and outside the United States, rankings are very important.

So as a university, we try to make that information available so that students can see our rankings. But I think that they really should understand how little value they have in the United States in terms of determining whether or not a university is a quality institution and if it would offer a very good education. There are many US universities that don’t show up on any rankings that are fantastic and have some of the best researchers in the world and best facilities in the world offering really high-level quality education that students might never hear of if they’re just looking at magazines that tell you the top 50 U.S. universities. So I think that international students really need to keep that in mind.

How can I prepare for the visa interview?

In terms of the student visa, I know that that generates a lot of anxiety for many students around the world and my tip for that would be, as long as you are a genuine student, it’s likely that you will receive your visa. When you go for the interview they’re looking for generally three things.

One, of course, is that you’re a genuine student, that you’re coming to the United States to study your education program to get your degree. So when you go into that visa interview, you should really know things about the university that you’re going to, why you’re going there, why you want to study, what you want to study—that’s how you show that you’re a genuine student.

The second thing that they’re looking for is to be sure that you have the finances to cover your educational program. You’ll have to submit the same bank documentation you used in order to get your I-20 to the U.S. Embassy as part of your interview to prove that you are able to pay for your education in the U.S.

The next thing that they’re mainly looking for is to be sure, again, that you’re a legitimate student and that you’re not looking to move to the United States, that you have a reason to return to your home country, whether it be your family, a home; prospective employment. So if you go into the interview thinking of all those things and prepare yourself to answer those questions and that you really are legitimately coming to the United States to get an education, I think that the visa interview will be no problem.

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Words in this Story

debtn. an amount of money that you owe to a person, bank, company, etc.

state-of-the-artadj. using or having the most modern methods, knowledge, or technology

top-of-the-line – adj. of the best quality

merit-based scholarshipn. a financial award that a college bound student may receive based on high school success.

rankingsn. a list of people or things that are ordered according to their quality, ability, size, etc.

credibility n. the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real, or honest

anxietyn. fear or nervousness about what might happen

legitimate adj. allowed according to rules or laws

prospective- likely to be or become something specified in the future

Now its your turn to use these Words in this Story. In the comments section, write a sentence using one of these words and we will provide feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.

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