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What Should I Know Before Sending My Child To Study In the U.S.? Part 1

As a parent, you’ve taught your child everything from how to use the toilet to how to treat people with kindness. If you can accomplish all that, and with presumed resistance along the way from the kid, then there’s no doubt in our minds that you’re more than equipped to handle the college application process. However, it’s completely normal to have reservations and confusion regarding the process. What school is right for my kid? What steps should I take next to make sure they can study at an American institution? Will they call home frequently and give us updates? While we can’t answer that last question right now, this blog aims to help answer questions you may have as your child works towards applying to the colleges of their dreams.

English Proficiency Test 

While the United States does not qualify itself with an official language, its educational system is almost entirely conducted using English. Prior to making the journey to this country for school, colleges and universities want to make sure that your child is able to understand and use the English language with some form of proficiency if they are applying from a country that is not predominantly English speaking. A student wouldn’t be able to do well in a class where they can’t understand the lessons they’re being taught! Remember how calculus felt like another language in school? Now, imagine if every class was as confusing as calculus. You’d never want to go to school!

Before applying to colleges and universities, there’s three testing options that students can use to prove their English speaking, writing, reading, and/or listening abilities:

  1. TOEFL iBT. This test has four sections and is broken down into reading, writing, listening, and speaking – each of which is scored on a scale of 0 to 30 points. Out of 120 points, a score of 100 or more is generally seen as acceptable for college admissions. The actual score that is required for each college varies based on the desires of each school – so some may only require a score of 80 while others may want to see 105 as a minimum. However, 100 is a general rule of thumb to show that a student is in good standing to excel and understand an American university’s classroom. The TOEFL iBT is offered at different times throughout the year depending on where you are located. It is distributed by ETS, so dates and locations for when the test is offered can be found through the TOEFL website. It’s our recommendation that a student completes the TOEFL exam in person before the month of August during the year that they will be applying to college.
  2. IELTS. The IELTS exam is broken down into the same four categories as TOEFL: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. However, instead of out of 120, IELTS is scored on what they call a band scale ranging from scores of 0 to 9. Unlike golf, the higher score here is better, with a score of 9 indicating a student is an expert user of English while a 1 means that a student only knows a handful of phrases in the language. Valid for two years, the tests are generally offered four times a month every year depending on your location and registration can be found through the IELTS website. Again, the score required to apply to schools will vary between each one. But, we recommend a score of 7.0 (indicating a good user of the English language) as a benchmark to strive for in scoring.
  3. Duolingo. It’s not just an app controlled by an owl with a vengeance. Duolingo’s English proficiency test is growing in popularity around the academic world due to its convenience – this test can be taken on a computer at home. Once again, this test is used to determine a student’s proficiency in reading, writing, listening, and speaking in English. Scored on a 0-160 scale, we use 110 as a good rule of thumb for applying to American schools. Duolingo is the most accessible of these tests as it can be taken online and whenever the student is available. However, we recommend that students try the TOEFL or IELTS first.

Homesickness

Over the last two years, we’ve been bombarded with COVID news. From ventilators to delta variants and a new monkeypox disease, it has been easy to forget that other illnesses exist. Whether a student leaves for a college fifty miles from their childhood home or for a school that is two time zones away, we can all be susceptible to the peach pit that can grow in the stomach of a sufferer of homesickness. 

While the occasional text or FaceTime can be a reminder that loneliness is not permanent, this is more of a band-aid than a cure for some students. Luckily, your child is not the first international student to attend an American university in the states. That is to say: schools in the United States understand this plight and are well-equipped with a variety of associations and resourceful offices to replicate pieces of home while abroad. A vast majority of American colleges and universities have departments known as “international offices” that organize and entertain groups of international students to help them find peers who they share similarities with while giving them a platform to demonstrate the pride and familiarity they have with regards to their home country.

Meanwhile, if scholastic organizational traditions are not enough for a student to find their friend group, former students have left behind organizations for international students to convene together. Larger schools typically even have specified groups such as “Korean Student Organization” or “Latin American Club” and some of these larger clubs even offer chances to visit these countries to perform social work.

Home could never be replicated exactly while at school here, but that doesn’t mean campus life can’t be comfortable and enjoyable! There will be times when students feel lonely or jet-lagged, but we can all rest assured knowing that policies and people have been put in place to combat this feeling.

Written Documents

So, we’ve already talked about the English proficiency tests. While these do prove that a student is capable of performing in a traditional, American setting, the idea of demonstrating English skills extends into the submission of referential documentation.

During the college application process, the schools are going to want to see official proof of the grades that a student has accumulated throughout their years of high school. Besides seeing if they’ve improved over the years, slacked off during their senior year, or taken AP, Honors, or IB classes, colleges and universities use these grades to better understand the caliber of the student who is applying to their school. Taking a GPA at face value alone is not enough. A 3.0 GPA while only taking gym classes versus a 3.0 GPA with a transcript of forty AP classes are much different evaluations. 

While your child’s high school may be taught predominantly in Portuguese, Spanish, or Mandarin, the transcripts that they submit should be officially formatted in the English language. The classes should at least have a translation of their titles provided and any explanations of a grading scale should be conducted on the document in English. Listen, we know that everyone should do their best to be multilingual so as to better understand others around the world. Unfortunately, most of these college admissions officers have been slacking on their own Duolingo practice. This means that they typically only understand English and forcing them to translate a transcript will only make them angry and the people in charge of accepting a student into college are not ones we want to make angry – kind of like how you don’t want to make a chef angry because you don’t want their loogie mixed into your orange chicken.

This concept does not only apply to transcripts; other forms of documentation that should be submitted in English are the teacher recommendations. Universities have seen those transcripts and know that your child is an all-star in the classroom. Now, they want to see that they’re an all-star as a person as well. From a math/science teacher and an English/humanities teacher, your child is going to request that a letter of recommendation be written for them to showcase their characteristics and personalities as they interact with peers and authorities. It’s preferable that these documents be written, or translated, into English to eliminate any confusion in communicating how awesome your kid is to the admissions committees.

This is a lot of information to send your way all in a single blog post, but don’t worry: there are even more facets to the application that Zinkerz would be happy to assist with. Stay tuned for our next post which will be discussing further scenarios to keep in mind when applying to colleges and universities in the United States.

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