Being Prepared to study overseas

A high school student wrote to me: “I applied and got accepted by three U.S. universities. As I am planning my education overseas, how do I select the best school and what do I need to succeed? Please advise.”

Answer: It seems that you have done well but getting accepted to a university is only the beginning. There are several things that you need to prepare too. Do you have a career plan? What field of study are you selecting? Why do you select this field of study? What are your educational goals? What type of university that would like to go to? What do you want to do after complete your education?

Going to college, especially in a foreign country, is a major investment that you must prepare carefully. As you are studying abroad, make sure it is what you want. When deciding on which field of study to choose, make sure it is a career that you can do for your life. When selecting which university to go to, make sure to do research about that school because it is your education investment.

Many students select a school based on the easy to get accepted or large scholarships but it may not end up well. Some for-profit schools accept students easily and give scholarship for the first years to lure them in but their education and degree may be worthless. There is nothing worse than having a degree then realizing that your school is not accredited and your degree is not valued by the industry. My advice: “It does NOT matter what the school offers you at this time, it matters what you get from their education when you FINISH, so select the school and the field of study carefully.”

The common issue among international students is after getting here, many of them have to take remedial courses in English or other subjects BEFORE they can enroll in regular courses. Because units of remedial courses do NOT count toward units for graduation. When students take a remedial course, they still pay for tuition fees and it will take longer to complete their education. Based on some studies, most international students would take at least five years or more to complete their Bachelor’s degree.

Some schools also use specific exams to determine how ready the student is for college-level work. Because students do NOT realize that they have to take additional exams, many are NOT prepared for it. If they do NOT pass this exam, they also have to take additional remedial courses in specific subjects. Remedial courses are designed to improve the foundation to help students gain proficiency so they can meet the academic requirements. Of course, it will also take more time to complete the education too.

To avoid these issues, it is important that students better prepare for college-level work to reduce the chances to take additional remedial courses. Students must understand that due to the difference in education systems, passing high school exams is NOT enough, getting accepted to a U.S. university is NOT enough, they must do more by being prepared to study in a different education system.

No matter how good they are, everyone has certain strengths and weaknesses in various subjects. Knowing this, they must strengthen their weaknesses PRIOR to leaving home by taking additional courses or getting tutored in a certain subject to improve their skills. For example, many students complete their basic math courses in high school. However, this does not mean that they are ready to take college-level math courses such as Calculus, Statistics, and Differential Equations etc. By taking additional math courses BEFORE entering U.S. School, they can avoid taking remedial math courses.

Another issue among international students is the lack of reading skills. College-level reading requires students to read a lot, so it is important to develop the reading skill as soon as possible. I know many students do not like to read much but they will have to develop this skill before it is too late. In most of my courses, students often have to read about 40 to 80 pages per week and without the reading skills, they will not be able to catch up with the class. I do encourage students to read more and work hard to develop this skills as it is one of the most important skills required to succeed in college.

Every student needs to have a career plan, a roadmap to help them to navigate their educational journey. Knowing what knowledge and skills that they need can help them to select appropriate field of study, which courses to take to make sure they will do well in their career. I know that most students get excited after they got accepted to U.S. schools and instead of preparing they spend more time partying, celebrating but the fact is they are not prepared enough to study in a foreign country, they may have to spend more time, more money for their educational journey. I have seen after getting here, many students suffer from homesickness, some do not know how to live independently away from their family, and some are not being responsible for their studying, and they are making many costly mistakes which if being prepared, they could avoid them.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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