Get your study-abroad queries answered by Academic Director (SEP) Iowa Schools Board
It is not just admission that we must prioritize, but what comes before and after. Here’s a look at what counselling is and what it ought to be. N N Syam Chandra, Academic Director (SEP) Iowa Schools Board writes on the issues related to study abroad.
Figures are both impressive and a robust confirmation of the dream and ambition of Indian students to study in top-flight universities of the world, especially in USA. Close to around 150,000 students from India are now studying in America — many more in the UK, Europe and other locations. This shows a significant increase over the years. A record high of more than one million foreign students came to America for higher education last school year. And China was the top origin country for international students in the US, representing 31 percent, followed by India (14 percent), South Korea (7 percent), Saudi Arabia (6 percent), and Canada (3 percent).
Questions that crop up
Thanks to the support infrastructure (families supporting and encouraging foreign education), availability of funds/loans, the significant role of guidance and counselling by professionals — our students are getting accepted in more and more top universities.
But are these students thriving in global campuses and achieving their academic objectives? Are they really able to successfully transition to global job markets?
These are also the questions we need to ask ourselves. In the tougher times as we are in right now, with the trend against globalization getting reflected in Brexit to Trump, these questions are becoming more relevant and resonating across the continents.
According to the National Centre for Education Statistics, only 59 percent of all first year full-time international students who had enrolled at a 4-year degree granting institution in 2007 would complete their degree by 2013. Further, of those who had enrolled in 2012, only 80 percent returned the following academic year. Due to these shocking numbers, we, as accredited counsellors attached with NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counselling) and American School Counsellors Association (ASCA), were confronted with some baffling questions. Why is completion rate among international students low? How can it be improved? Is it a trend also seen among international students in other parts of the world besides the US? We had to address those issues.
Reasons for student attrition
The research journal, Transitions in Global Education, received some interesting articles and commentaries which mainly responded to the cause of and solution to the problem of attrition among international students. They ranged from cultural adjustment factors, to a shift in the attitudes of the current youth generation.
There is more to international student attrition that meets the eye. For instance, can similar rates be found in other countries other than the United States? Are there other factors and solutions yet to be determined? From a longitudinal perspective, how do these current statistics compare with the past? The answers were not unanimous and some of the issues, in fact, remained unanswered.
Is there a solution?
The ‘study abroad’ approach focuses solely on securing admissions. Counselling, in this model, is more of matchmaking – with scores, grades, GPAs, college lists, and salary numbers in job market. Here we are focusing on application whereas we should be building competency and developing skill to be in a global university and thrive.
Counselling must move beyond a simple “study abroad” approach and instead focus on developing a comprehensive, holistic model that involves a continuous process of engagement, experience and learning. It is not just admission that we must prioritize, but what comes before and after: the wealth of knowledge and perspective that students can garner through the process and the socio-cultural competence required succeeding in a competitive global environment.
This is precisely what our practice should aim to do. We should encourage our students to think beyond SoPs (statements of purpose), and indulge in an exploration of intellectual and cultural activity through a variety of opportunities that we synthesize for them.
We should not focus just on acceptance into universities, but also mentor and guide students, though their university experience, to ensure that they thrive and achieve in a multicultural context. We must understand that the requirements, interests and capabilities of each individual student are unique; therefore, we must strive to develop individualized, evidence-based, and constantly evolving blueprints for every student, accommodating a variety of academic and extracurricular activities with their corresponding daily, monthly or yearly timeliness.
We must prepare these roadmaps with meticulous planning and psychometric testing as well as by holding conversations with our students and those intimately involved in their personal and educational trajectory.
In conjunction with preparing students for standardized tests that are an essential component of admissions, we must place an equally strong emphasis on stoking and nurturing the intellectual curiosity of young minds. We must encourage them to think, reflect, absorb, understand, and act – our approach must, therefore, be to inspire our students to actively seek knowledge and learning not simply as a means to an end, but as an end in itself.
To further this vision, we must help students engage in research and volunteering, publish articles and papers, attend conferences and seminars, and interact and collaborate with professionals amongst other things. We must encourage creative, emotional and artistic expression through music, dance and film, and such experiences also make for compelling stories for admission essays.
Exploring the self
Our emphasis should be on enrichment – and to this end, we must offer them Enrichment Programme where international students experience life in a top American school. If there is too much stress only on studying, then it would be a lop-sided approach. Rather we should facilitate a process of introspection, self-discovery, and socio-cultural insight and learning. Engage them in reading programmes to plug an educational gap in reading and writing in Indian secondary schools; help students critically engage with some of the finest works in literature; and at the same time equip them with the knowledge of the historical and emotional contexts of global struggles with race, class and gender.
Through programmes such as these, along with dedicated teams of counsellors, we must aim to equip our students with the requisite qualities to deal with the challenges and engage with the learning experiences that university life has to offer, and to eventually thrive and succeed as international students and global citizens.
Basically, we need to build university preparatory programmes to enhance the capabilities of our aspirational young generation so that they can graduate with a global world-view and quality education, which will smoothen the process of their transition to the future job markets.
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