In two recent blog posts about educational fit - finding the right university for your individual needs - I have mentioned the perception students have about where they are going versus the reality of where they attend. I mentioned how often I hear that students, especially students from China, plan to attend Harvard, but that all the Chinese students I work with and know attend smaller schools like Rosemont College, Arcadia University, Drexel University, and other similar regionally recognized schools. These same students, the very students who are currently attending or have recently graduated from the schools above, tell me that Chinese students want to attend Harvard and will not settle for anything else (unless, possibly Stanford or Yale). I have spoken with several recruiters in China who help students apply for universities in the US. They have all told me their clients only want to attend Top 30 universities, like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.
It seems there is a rather large disconnect between the perception of where Chinese students want to attend university (as reported by Chinese students and recruiters) and where they will actually attend university.
As it turns out, the disconnect is real, is quite significant, and is born out in the enrollment data provided by universities like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. For example, there were a grand total of 49 students from China enrolled in Harvard College (the undergraduate degree granting school of Harvard University) in the 2014-15 school year(1). That is not 49 per graduating class. It is 49 total undergraduate students, an average of 9.5 per graduating class. The next couple of school years were about the same with enrollment of 45 in 2015-16 and 59 in 2016-17(1).
China is a country with over 1.2 billion people and in the 2014-15 school year, just over 304,000 students from China were studying at American universities(2). That number has since increased to over 350,000 in the 2016-17 school year, the most recent school year for which data was available(2).
Try to wrap your head around those numbers. Over 304,000 students from China attended universities in the US and only 49 were undergraduates at Harvard in 2014-15. To be fair, there were another 693 Chinese graduate students at Harvard University in the same year, for a grand total of 734(9). Chinese undergraduates numbered fewer than Canadians, Britons, and South Koreans, although total Chinese enrollment was the highest of all international countries represented at Harvard. In the next two school years, the total Chinese enrollment increased to 811 and 902, with undergraduate numbers of 45 in 2015-16 and 59 in 16-17(9).
After looking at the Harvard numbers, I thought maybe they would be different for Stanford or Yale, two other schools that are talked about by Chinese students and recruiters. They were not different. Stanford had 57 undergraduates from China in the 14-15 school year(3), 60 undergraduates in the 2015-16 school year(4), and 63 undergraduates in the 2016-17 school year(5). Yale had 58 undergraduates from China in the 14-15 school year(6), 56 undergraduates in the 2015-16 school year(7), and 61 undergraduates in the 2016-17 school year(8).
So, very, very few Chinese students actually attend Harvard, Stanford or Yale as undergraduates. In fact, during the 2016-17 school year, only 1 out of 5,945 Chinese students studying at a university in the US was an undergraduate at Harvard, 1 out of 5,567 was an undergraduate at Stanford, and 1 out of 5,750 was an undergraduate at Yale.
If getting in is tough and then staying in is nearly as tough. Two relatively recent articles detail the large number of Chinese students expelled from American universities and the high dropout rate of Chinese students from Ivy League universities. According to the Wall Street Journal in a 2015 article, an estimated 8,000 Chinese students were expelled with poor grades and cheating cited as the two most common reasons(10). Of the students expelled, more than half were attending top 100 universities at the time.
A Chinese study of students who went overseas to study found that “one in four Chinese students attending Ivy League universities in the US drop out(11).” While perhaps an overestimated number of dropouts, the statistic points to the overall problem of Chinese students struggling in American universities for a variety of reasons including poor educational fit (choosing the university based on reputation and name rather than how it will work for the student), poor language skills, and cultural differences.
From my humble positions as a teacher and as CEO of Scholars’ Promise International, I offer a few thoughts to students, especially those who are looking to study in the US for the first time. First, do not wait until university to study in the US. Start the process earlier by pursuing a high school diploma. I recommend that students study online with Scholars’ Promise because it allows them to maintain their support networks in their home countries while they try to adjust to the American style of teaching and learning. Next, I suggest that students consider the careers they wish to pursue and seek degree programs that will help them achieve their goals. Lots of universities will offer the same degree program so it is then incumbent upon the student to research various universities and determine which one may offer the right fit. Finally, I caution students against saying they want to attend the “best university” and instead focus on finding the “best university for me.”
Educational fit: The sequel.... or Why paying a recruiter $3,000 USD to help with your university application is crazy
In my previous post I wrote about how international students say they want to attend Harvard and other prestigious universities. Then, I included a statistic about 25% of Chinese students who attend Ivy league universities drop out of their schools before earning their degrees. I also shared stories about four university students from China and Inner Mongolia, the schools they attended, and why those schools ended up being the right fit for the students.
Knowing so many international students fall into the trap of attending a university because of its name rather than looking for the best educational fit, the big question we ought to be asking is how did Charlie, Miriam, Sam, and Jack find the right fit when so many other students do not? Or, asked another way, what should international scholars be looking for when they are considering American colleges and universities?
Certainly, this is a complicated question because the answer varies from person to person. However, the simple answer is that scholars should be looking for a university or college that meets their needs. If paying for education is a major concern, scholars should be looking for schools that have lower tuition rates or who offer significant scholarships to international scholars. Community colleges like Delaware County Community College and Bucks County Community College have very affordable tuition rates that are considerably lower than four year universities. Rosemont College, a four year college, recently reduced their tuition rate to make it more affordable for more students. (Delaware County Community College, Bucks County Community College, and Rosemont College are three of our partner colleges.
Scholars who are studying in the US for the first time might be wise to consider a smaller school where they can receive personalized attention and have direct access to their professors on a regular basis. Large universities with classes that can have 300-500 scholars per professor can be overwhelming to students who may have difficulty with understanding the academic language. But smaller schools are able to provide more personalized attention to international scholars who are new to the US.
Students, like Sam, who study in the US for high school are able to experience the academic immersion in the English language and are able to adjust to the cultural differences between the US and their home countries. They also can visit college campuses and speak with college representatives who can answer their questions and guide them to the right college or university for them.
Scholars should consider the geographic location of the university. Universities located near in or near large cities are probably also located near airports and other forms of mass transit that make travel easier. Additionally, universities in or near large cities may allow scholars to find areas of cultural familiarity nearby.
To sort through all the available universities in the US to find the right fit, many scholars enlist the assistance of a recruiter or agent in their home countries. We have observed two main problems with many agents or recruiters. First, agents and recruiters charge up to $3,000 per university application for their assistance, but they are unable to guarantee admission to the university. Scholars may pay $10,000 or more on assistance with their applications with no guarantee of admission. Second, agents and recruiters frequently do not know about smaller, regional universities that may be a great fit for students, pushing the students instead to larger, nationally known universities that may not be the right fit.
Of course, I am biased, but I think it is insane to pay a recruiter up to $3,000 for assistance on a university application, especially since we provide that service to ALL scholars enrolled with Scholars’ Promise International for free. Want to apply to 10 universities? We will help with all ten applications for free.
We also go a step further and guarantee admission for all our graduates to all our partner colleges and universities. We have only partnered with schools we know will be good fits for our international scholars.
Take a look at Scholars’ Promise International for your high school studies and for guaranteed university admissions. We are not the right fit for everyone, but I’ll bet we are the right fit for you!
“I am going to attend Harvard.” If I had a nickel for every time I have heard that from a scholar, especially from international scholars, I would be a rich man. Another line I hear a lot is “My recruiter is going to make sure I get into an Ivy League university.” My personal favorite though is “I will only attend a top 30 school.” When I ask what the top 30 universities are, which schools are on the list, very rarely can scholars name even a few – never mind the fact that they have not defined whether we are talking about the top 30 liberal arts universities, the top 30 large, public state universities, the top 30 national universities… I think you get the point.
Lest you think I am cold and heartless, I understand what they are saying. They want to attend an Ivy League university, Stanford, University of Chicago, Georgetown, Rice, or Massachusetts Institute of Technology among others with big names that are known around the world. These are great schools for numerous reasons, not the least of which is they accept great students. However, they may not be the right fit, academically or socially, for every scholar.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I generally do not hear scholars talk about educational “fit” when talking about universities prior to enrollment. What degree program will they pursue? What kind of personality do they have? What are the things they are looking for in terms of size, food quality, location, support services, activities on campus or off?
But, when I talk with international students who are currently studying in the US, educational fit is a HUGE topic. Two graduate students from China, Charlie and Miriam, studying for their doctorates are at Arcadia University were shocked in their first semester in the US because their English language skills were not nearly as good as they thought. They had taken the TOEFL and scored pretty well, but they found out the TOEFL (the Test of English as a Foreign Language) does not measure conversational English, or academic English – the content specific vocabulary and syntax that is specific to each academic discipline. They were both very good at analyzing grammar but struggled to order a hamburger at McDonald’s initially. Arcadia is a smaller school that has allowed Charlie and Miriam to receive personalized attention and opportunities to practice their English language skills with classmates, professors, and through various work-experience internships in their fields of study. Both students are doing very well now after a lot of very hard work and practice and have praised the support systems at Arcadia for their successes.
Another student, Sam, from Inner Mongolia, recently graduated from Drexel University with a triple major – three degrees – and a high GPA. He had spent two years in the US studying at an American high school, immersed in the academic and cultural language. Sam had the benefit of two years of studying exclusively in English before attending a university. He also had the benefit of visiting numerous universities to find the perfect one for him. Sam enrolled at Drexel because it has the degree program he desired, is located in Philadelphia with easy transportation, and had a class structure that allowed him frequent and personalized contact with his professors.
A fourth student, Jack, who came from China, recently graduated from Rosemont College – his third college in the United States because the first two universities were not the right fit. Jack had been very excited to attend Temple University when it was described by his Chinese recruiter. Temple is a great university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. However, when Jack arrived at Temple he found that he had been placed in a dormitory with hundreds of other Chinese students. He spent the first month of the semester barely speaking English because the students he lived with all spoke Mandarin as it was more comfortable for them. But, he was not getting to practice his English and it was hurting his academic studies which was why he came to the US in the first place. He transferred to another Philadelphia area university to improve his English language skills and then ultimately transferred to Rosemont College because of its high quality academic reputation and its small size. Jack told me that he was successful at Rosemont because he had direct contact with all of his professors and he received personalized attention and help when he needed it.
All four students, Charlie, Miriam, Sam, and Jack have been successful because they have all found the right universities for their needs, the right fit for them academically. Each of these scholars is attending a high quality university, but they did not fall into the trap of believing they needed to attend a top 30 school, or an Ivy League university, or really any school just because of the name.
A 2013 study from Hong Kong, citing data compiled from the 2013 Overseas Returned Graduate Recruitment Report and university statistics found that 25% of Chinese students who attended Ivy League Universities ended up dropping out of their schools before earning their degrees. The study said that while students exhibited high academic achievement in their home country, many found it difficult to adjust and adapt to the new environment, citing problems like language barriers and differences in the education system. A separate study commissioned by the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors in 2014 found that international students may be underestimating the academic preparation expected to be on a campus and they are overestimating the availability of jobs, availability of scholarships, availability of financial aid and so forth. In short, international scholars are not finding the right fit when they are considering studying in the United States.
We are not finished with "educational fit".... Look for Part 2 of this blog post next week!
Congratulations! You have earned your high school diploma and are ready to pursue a bachelor's degree. Studying in the US is your goal, but where to earn your degree is the big question. You have heard of colleges and universities, but do not know the difference between them. While the two terms can mean different things in different countries, in the United States, universities and colleges are very similar. They are both post-secondary schools, meaning both follow after high school, or secondary school. A college in the U.S. is not a high school or secondary school. Rather, college and university programs begin after the completion of high school. Scholars are generally 17 or 18 years old when they begin college or university, however, there is no age restriction to enroll at a college or university. Scholars may be 17 or 18, 35, 50, or 75. Colleges are generally either two year or four year schools A two-year college offers an associate's degree, as well as certificates. A four-year college or university offers a bachelor's degree. Any school that offers Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degrees are called "undergraduate" schools.
A "university" is a group of schools for studies after high school or secondary school. Examples of universities that you may have heard of include Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and my alma mater, Penn State University. At least one of the schools in a university is a college where students receive a bachelor's degree. The other schools in a university are "graduate" (also known as "postgraduate") schools where students receive advanced degrees such as Master’s and Doctoral Degrees. Therefore, a university offers both the bachelor's degree and graduate degrees such as the master's (M.A.) and doctorate (Ph.D.). While I earned my bachelor’s degree at Penn State University from the College of Arts and Architecture, I also earned a Master’s degree from Towson University, and my Doctoral degree from Widener University.
Now that we have common definitions for college and university, we can talk about our post-secondary partners. Currently, Scholars' Promise has five college and university partners including Delaware County Community College, Bucks County Community College, Rosemont College, Cairn University, and Valley Forge Military College. Each of these partners offers guaranteed admission to ALL scholars who earn a diploma through Scholars' Promise.
DCCC and BCCC are both 2 year colleges. They both offer a large range of Associate’s degree and Certificate options. Each college also has articulation agreements with hundreds of four year colleges and universities so scholars can transfer the credits they have earned to complete a Bachelor’s degree. Community colleges tend to have the lowest per credit tuition rates of all colleges and universities, meaning they are often the most affordable option for scholars.
Valley Forge Military College is a two year college at which students may earn an associate’s degree and also a commission as an officer in the US military. In fact, VFMC is one of only a few colleges in the US that allow a scholar to become a commissioned officer in two years, most require four years to become a commissioned officer. Students from around the world study at VFMC and either continue to a four year college to earn a bachelor’s degree or return to their home countries to serve in the military, utilizing their extensive training to great effect.
Rosemont College is a four year college that grants Bachelor’s degrees to scholars in a broad range of academic disciplines. Rosemont College is a highly desirable college in the Philadelphia area because of its low, fixed tuition rate, beautiful campus, small class sizes, and proximity to other universities at which students may also take courses. International students who have initially come to the US to attend a large university transfer to Rosemont College in many instances because they receive personal attention from professors and enjoy greater success in a more intimate learning environment.
Cairn University grants both undergraduate and graduate degrees, meaning scholars can earn a Bachelor’s degree and continue to earn a Master’s degree at Cairn. With a beautiful campus just north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Cairn provides tremendous academic flexibility to cost conscious scholars.
The great benefit of studying with Scholars' Promise partner schools is the comprehensive learning pathways that exist. For example, through its partnership with International Christian High School, which is also our high school partner, Cairn University offers dual enrollment courses. Dual enrollment courses allow high school students to take courses for both high school AND college credit. Through Cairn University and ICHS, scholars can graduate from high school with 10, 20, or up to 60 college credits.
Scholars who are interested attending medical school may be interested in the “three +four” fast track medical program with the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Through this program, scholars who graduate in the top 25% of their high school class, complete four years of Math, English, and Science courses, have an SAT score of at least 1150, and a 3.4 GPA can begin medical school in what would normally be their fourth year of college. After completing the first year of medical school, students earn their undergraduate degree and continue through three more years of medical school to become a doctor. Students who study with Scholars’ Promise online for four years will take the required Math, English, and Science courses and then receive guaranteed admission to Rosemont College. Graduating at the top of their class gives students the opportunity to take advantage of this incredible learning pathway.
It may seem overwhelming to consider all the available options for university studies. Scholars' Promise will help you. We try to keep the process very simple - you earn the high school diploma and we guarantee your university admission.
We consistently hear two things from international students - "I want to study in the US" and "Education in America is so much better than in my country." While we cannot, and will not, say that it is "better," we can say that American education is different than what most international students are used to because there is a different focus and approach to teaching and learning.
In fact, there are three major differences between education in the US and in other countries - how how students learn information, how information is viewed, and how information is used. Many countries view their education systems as important for foundational concepts, information that is easily measured on standardized tests, while Americans generally view education as integral to the cultivation of students’ creativity and innovation. This is why Americans tend to rank lower than other countries on standardized test performance, but lead the world in development of life altering technologies that are utilized around the globe. Americans tend to take the approach that knowing facts is useful, but being able to use the facts for a greater good is the true purpose of an education.
Second, many countries’ education systems focus on the accumulation of knowledge and facts, management and use of the accumulated facts, and understanding knowledge systems. American education, though, is based on how students use their knowledge in society. This means American students are trained to challenge prevailing notions and ideas, to both create and challenge concepts. The American system of government was created with an informed population in mind, a population that questions leadership and does not simply accept the status quo. This type of population requires a robust education system that teaches scholars how to evaluate information and question its efficacy.
Finally, many education systems focus on strictness and precision. American education focuses on student self-determination and independence, development of comprehensive thinking. This is evident in the types of teaching and assessment that are often found in American schools compared to schools around the world. While teachers in other countries emphasize students taking notes and memorizing facts, American teachers emphasize students’ creativity, leadership, and cooperation skills. American students are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities to further develop these skills, recognizing that education is part of life, not just part of school.
What this means for international scholars interested in earning an American education, in studying with Scholars’ Promise online, is scholars will be expected to be actively involved in the classroom learning environment. Scholars are expected to ask questions and engage in discussion with both their classmates and their teachers. Teachers will pose thought provoking questions that require scholars to debate with one another as they look at topics from multiple angles. American teachers are not offended when scholars ask questions or challenge ideas they have presented. This may be different for many scholars who have had experiences in schools where teachers are not to be questioned and certainly it can take time to get used to.
It also means scholars will be engaged in project based learning, where they will solve real world problems with their teachers and classmates. Rather than simply regurgitating facts, scholars will synthesize their accumulated knowledge into new solutions to make life in their communities and countries better. Their learning will be assessed, in part, by how well they are able to manipulate what they have learned, how creative they can be in the application of their knowledge.
An American education prepares scholars to be creative and independent thinkers, the next generation of world leaders. It may not look like what they are used to, but an American education will prepare scholars to solve problems both locally and globally.