Why Study in the USA?
Studying abroad is becoming an increasingly attractive option for many
St Mary’s girls. This is partly due to an increase in tuition fees for universities in England, but also because students are now more aware of the international options available to them. These have been well publicised in the press as well as by the school at the annual University Information Evening and other events. There are currently over 9,000 students from the UK based in the US and it is certainly an option which a number of our girls should consider carefully. It is worth noting that applications to overseas universities do not affect the five UCAS choices still available to candidates.
This web page will attempt to distil some of the information available on US universities. In addition, some Old Girls will be contacted in order to ask their views on studying in America.
However, the picture is complicated and this is not an exhaustive resource; there is no substitute for individual candidates undertaking their own careful research. There is a huge amount of work involved in the process for applicants. Girls who are interested in applying should make contact with Mr Philip Jones, the Director of Higher Education and Professional Guidance (DHEPG), and then work closely with their Director of Studies (DOS) and the DHEPG when they enter their final year.
There are many benefits to studying in the US. Here are the top reasons students tell the Fulbright Commission why they've chosen to study in the US.
1. Choose from the wide range of universities on offer
There are over 4,500 US universities offering undergraduate degrees. Some of these rank extremely highly in world league tables (eg QS world university rankings) but there is such a range that most students should be able to find one which is a good fit for them. However, do not fall into the trap of assuming that all US universities are of the same high quality, and indeed some will certainly not be suitable for our girls.
2. Experience American college life
US universities are known for their vibrant campus life. Cheer your university's football (American that is) team to victory or play intramural sports yourself. Join a club - there are hundreds to choose from. Become a leader in student government, or write for the university newspaper. Act or sing in the campus arts' programme or volunteer in the community. There are so many ways to get involved in American college life.
3. Have the flexibility to explore your academic interests before choosing your major
Undergraduate degrees in the US are quite flexible. You can apply to US universities as ‘undecided’ about your major (field of study). Under the ‘liberal arts philosophy’, you will take classes from a variety of subjects during the first one to two years before specialising in your major field. Students who already know what they want to study can complete a ‘double major’, degrees in two academic fields often completed within the normal four years of study. Students may also earn a minor qualification for completing three to five classes in one field.
4. Take advantage of funding opportunities
Many students are able to fund their studies through scholarships from US universities and external funding bodies. In fact, about 21% of international students report US universities as their primary source of funding for 2014-15 (Open Doors 2015). Scholarships are often offered to students based on merit, extracurricular achievement, financial need, talent and/or personal characteristics, such as country of origin, field, gender or ethnicity. If you look hard enough, there is a scholarship out there for you!
5. Internationalise and strengthen your CV
Studying and working abroad can make you stand out in the job market when you return to the UK. According to a Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) survey of 230 UK companies, one in three employers valued job applicants with international study experience, while 65% of employers favoured applicants with overseas work experience. International students in the US have the opportunity to gain work experience during their studies and to work in the US for up to one year after graduation on the Optional Practical Training scheme. Students studying sciences and engineering can stay on for up to two years.
6. Travel in the US and learn about another culture
The US spans six time zones and has a great diversity in geography and culture. Long university summer holidays and programmes organised by the international students’ office, such as holiday trips and host family schemes, offer students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the US and immerse themselves in another culture.
Admissions Tests - SAT or ACT?
What are they?
Most applicants for undergraduate study in the US will be required to sit a standardised admissions test. Standardised tests are one way in which US universities will assess your academic potential, in tandem with your academic results reported on your transcript. These tests serve as a common denominator to help US admissions staff compare US students (who will not follow a national curriculum) and international students from different educational systems.
Admissions tests will be considered in determining both admissions and merit-based scholarships from the university. However, good scores are not sufficient to guarantee admission and are ideally paired with good marks.
We suggest girls sit the admissions test in the autumn of Year 12 (LVI Form), if not before. Sit your first test by the October testing date, leaving you the option to re-sit the test in November or December if you are not satisfied with your results or need to sit the SAT Subject Tests in November or December. Also, keep in mind spaces fill up quickly, particularly in London, so you will want to register as soon as possible!
Which Tests are Required?
Most US universities will require students to take either the SAT Reasoning Test OR ACT. However, the most competitive US universities will require students to take the SAT Reasoning Test and two to three SAT Subject Exams or the ACT with Writing. Please note some US universities do not require any admissions tests (a list is online), and some international students may also be required to take an English Language Proficiency Exam.
In order to ensure that you are taking the appropriate test, check the admissions web page of each university to which you apply.
Is the SAT or ACT a Better Fit for Me?
If the US universities to which you apply accept both the SAT and ACT, it is a personal choice as to which to take. Choose the test which will get you the best marks. To choose, we recommend you complete a sample test for the SAT Reasoning Test and a sample test for the ACT. After completing the sample tests, you should compare your results using this concordance table, which links scores on both tests by percentile (scoring in say the 90th percentile means you performed better than 90% of the students sitting the test).
Other factors to consider:
• Perhaps your GCSEs or A Levels are better suited to the contents of one test. The ACT has a Science Reasoning section and its Maths section measures at a higher level (trigonometry) than the SAT Reasoning Test (geometry); girls strong in these fields may benefit by taking the ACT.
• The SAT has short, varied sections, whereas the ACT has four or five longer sections.
• Consider the availability and location of the testing centres. The SAT testing centres are located throughout the UK, whereas the ACT is offered in four locations. However, the SAT centres tend to fill up quickly, especially in the London area.
• Some girls applying to the most competitive universities will not be able to register for two testing dates or will prefer the option to complete their admissions test requirement on one testing date (ACT with Writing), rather than two (SAT Reasoning Test on one testing date, SAT Subject Tests on a second date).
The key element of your academic application will be the SAT (scholastic aptitude or assessment test). Good examination results will help, but the SAT score will be vital. Almost all universities will use the Reasoning Test to make admissions decisions, and some will ask you to take Subject Tests. The SAT Reasoning Test consists of Reading, Maths, and Writing. As with all tests, some careful preparation and practice can help.
The key website is the College Board which runs this test: www.collegeboard.org. You should register for the SAT through this website. There are multiple test centres in England, so finding one near to you should not be a problem. Register in good time because spaces fill up quickly. There is a cost for registration.
The test dates for 2016-2017 are as follows:
• 1st October 2016 (Registration Deadline 1st September 2016)
• 5th November 2016 (Registration Deadline 7th October 2016)
• 3rd December 2016 (Registration Deadline 3rd November 2016)
• 21st January 2017 (Registration Deadline 21st December 2016)
• 6th May 2017 (Registration Deadline 7th April 2017)
• 3rd June 2017 (Registration Deadline 9th May 2017).
Please note that not all the centres are available on every testing date.
Note: Dates for the 2017-18 academic year will follow a similar pattern and will become available on the College Board website in early June when registration opens.
Timing: it is sensible to do the SAT in May or June of LVI Form, and to register in the February or March before that. You can then redo it in October or November of UVI Form if you need to increase your score. You can sit the test as many times as you want, and only your best score counts. Of course you will need to check the deadlines for your particular US university and judge the timing of your SAT accordingly.
Test day and scores: you need to be very careful to turn up with the correct materials in addition to your admission ticket and ID. Details are on the College Board website. The maximum score is 2,400 and your score will give you a realistic indication of which universities will consider your application.
Preparation: the vital thing here is exam technique. Multiple-choice tests are very different from most of the tests which you do at school, so it is strongly recommended that you practise sample tests. Advice is available on the College Board website, and a SAT practice book (such as the Official SAT Study Guide or the Princeton Review Cracking the SAT) would be a very sensible purchase. In particular, be aware of negative marking and leave out what you don’t know.
Subject Tests: some universities might additionally ask for subject tests (usually two, although three can be done in one sitting). If you are taking the subject at Higher or Advanced Higher then you should be able to cope, with Maths, Languages and Sciences being the most common. There is an Official Study Guide for SAT subject tests advertised on the College Board website.
The ACT is a curriculum-based exam testing students in English, Mathematics, Reading and Science Reasoning. The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately three hours and 30 minutes to complete, including a short break (or just over four hours if you are taking the ACT with Writing). Actual testing time is two hours and 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes if you are taking the ACT with Writing).
Since the ACT has a Science Reasoning section and its Maths section measures at a higher level (trigonometry) than the SAT Reasoning Test (geometry), students strong in these fields may benefit by taking the ACT. Additionally, some students applying to the most competitive universities will prefer the option to complete their admissions test requirement in one testing date (ACT with Writing), rather than two (SAT Reasoning Test on one testing date, SAT Subject Tests on a second date).
You may register for the ACT on the ACT website.
The Fulbright Commission has created a step-by-step guide to registering for the ACT - http://fulbright.org.uk/media/Advising/ACTRegistrationHowTo.pdf . Please note, they have put this document together as a helpful guide and cannot take responsibility for inaccuracies.
$39.50 test registration fee + $40 international processing fee: Add $17 for the Writing section: Add $49 for standby testing: $12 for additional score reports (beyond the four free score reports at registration).
The test dates for 2016-2017 are as follows:
• 10th September 2016 (Registration Deadline 7th August 2016)
• 22nd October 2016 (Registration Deadline 16th September 2016)
• 10th December 2016 (Registration Deadline 4th November 2016)
• 8th April 2017 (Registration Deadline 3rd March 2017)
• 10th June 2017 (Registration Deadline 5th May 2017).
Please note that not all the centres are available on every testing date.
Marlborough College has recently announced that it has become a Test Centre for the ACT. There are also centres in London and Oxford. Please see the DHEPG, Mr Philip Jones, for further information.
Students who missed the registration deadline may take the ACT via standby testing. To take the standby test, you will need to go to a testing centre with your completed form. If girls who registered for the test do not turn up, their places are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. For that reason, they recommend arriving before 7am to queue. Do not contact the testing site in advance, as they will not know how many standby places are available.
There are four sections on the ACT and scores range from 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest possible score. Girls taking the test will be scored on each question and will be given one point for each correct answer (there is no penalty for guessing). After the points are added up, they will generate a raw score. This raw score is then compared to other students taking the test on the same day and those who have previously taken the test. This comparison assigns a scale score to each test taker so they may evaluate their performance against other test takers. When the girls receive their score report, they will only see their scale score and not the raw score.
The four sections in the ACT are marked with scores from 1 to 36 and the overall composite is the average whole number score between the four sections. For example, a student could get a 28 in English, 26 in Maths, 32 in Science and 30 in Reading to have a composite score of 29 from all four sections. For further information on ACT scoring please see the ACT website.
After you take the ACT you will be able to see your score reports online after they are scored (within three to eight weeks). After the scoring, the results can be mailed by post, online or through a twice-monthly CD to the universities of your choice. Allow for extra time for the scores to be sent and processed. Your university will have a method of choice for receiving scores and in most cases you will not be able to decide how to send your scores. In some cases the university will accept scores in more than one way and you can choose whether you want it to be sent through electronic submission, by post or in CD form.
During registration you may request that your scores be sent to up to four universities for free and you will have the option to send to another two for an additional fee of $12 each. In total you may request six universities at the time of registration (four for no fee and two for an additional fee).
To order additional ACT scores you can go to the ACT website and make a request online through your online account or by post (telephone requests incur an additional fee). There is a fee of $11.25 for each additional score report made after the registration period, depending on the request type.
The Common Application
What is the Common Application?
The Common Application is used by nearly 700 American universities. It is somewhat akin to UCAS, in that you will save time by being able to complete information and essays that you can submit to multiple universities. However, bear in mind that approximately two thirds of universities ask for supplemental information and/or essays.
You can access the Common Application online (https://www.commonapp.org/), as well as a list of universities (https://apply.commonapp.org/ApplicationRequirements/PublicFile?fn=ReqGrid.pdf) requiring the Common Application and their deadlines.
To help students and schools complete these forms, the Fulbright Commission have provided general tips and hints (http://www.fulbright.org.uk/study-in-the-usa/undergraduate-study/applying/common-application/tips-and-hints) for completing the student forms and school forms. You can also download their step-by-step student guide: http://fulbright.org.uk/media/Advising/Common_App_Guidance_-_Students.pdf to completing the Common Application, as well as their step-by-step school's guide to completing the Common Application School Forms: http://fulbright.org.uk/media/Advising/Common_Application_School_Forms.pdf
You can apply to as many institutions as you want but each application takes a huge amount of time and effort, as well as having a cost implication. One essential element is the essay which is designed to help you show your personality, interests and vision (eg ‘Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family’). You may well also have to write additional essays for individual universities. This shows that they take a more holistic view of their applicants than most UK universities. Resources such as Harry Bauld’s On Writing the College Application Essay and sample essays on http://collegeapps.about.com/ are helpful.
Fees and Scholarships
The fees are considerably greater than those charged in the UK and can go up to about $60,000 per year! This means that many girls applying will be looking for scholarships. Steve Fenoglio’s book on US University Scholarships for International Students is good; or you can search on https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org
Sports scholarships can range from 0-100%, although very few end up with a full scholarship. Even with an award, the average student contribution is about $7,500. Remember to factor in other costs, including flights. Many potential students use an agent or company to help secure places. Obviously there is a cost of about £2,500 involved in this with no guarantee of a satisfactory outcome, and families must decide how they want to proceed.
The best starting point for any research on the US is the Fulbright Commission (www.fulbright.org.uk) which is a free resource and is extremely useful, both in terms of the website material but also their College Day, which is held in London in September.
The DHEPG, Mr Philip Jones, also has a growing library of resources and a fortnightly training programme will run in the Lent Term focusing on all aspects of the application process. We also invite Dr Jon Tabbert to speak to girls in January and a number of the girls have used his tutoring services in the past (http://dukesconsultancy.com/us-universities). We are also beginning to work in tandem with ArborBridge (https://www.arborbridge.com/) to help prepare girls for the application and testing process.
Mr Philip Jones, Director of Higher Education and Professional Guidance