About Bren

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Monmouth College, director of the grants program and coordinator of international student recruitment... love my job!

Choosing a College

I’ve just returned from a five-week trip in eight countries, meeting with students, parents and counselors, and sharing information about Monmouth College. What a great experience! I met many engaging and thoughtful young people, and had good conversations with them and their families. I hope to see some of them again soon on campus.

This will be a short note about choosing your college, with a recommendation that students consider four things as they prepare for study in the United States*.

The  first thing to consider is your level of academic preparation. How well have you done in high school? Were your classes rigorous, college-prep courses? Did you succeed in them? With which subjects did you struggle? With which subjects did you do well? How strong is your English language ability (reading, writing, speaking and comprehending)? Did you participate in student organizations? Did you volunteer your time in school or in the community? Did you take leadership roles in student or community organizations? A thoughtful, honest self-inventory of your abilities and accomplishments will help you decide to which colleges and universities you should apply for admission.

The second thing is to consider your ability to pay for your college education. Most colleges and universities will expect to see documentation of international students’ ability to contribute significantly to the cost of their education. This doesn’t mean that you should make plans to pay for the entirety of your undergraduate education – there are excellent merit scholarships available, and in some instances, at some universities, some degree of need-based aid. However, it does mean that you should assess your ability to invest in your education each year to some degree (it’s good to anticipate costs ranging all over the place, from less than $10,000 per year to over $60,000 per year). Many colleges will not admit students who cannot afford a large part (or at least some part) of the cost of their studies. When you go in for your student visa interview, you will also need to be ready to provide evidence of available funds sufficient to meet the cost of your studies for at least the first year.

The third consideration is your academic interest or interests. What do you want to study? What different disciplines draw you? What is your passion? What are your career goals? You don’t have to decide upon your major before applying for college! Many liberal arts colleges do not expect you to know your major when you enter – and it is almost always possible to change your major, to decide to double-major, and/or to add a minor to complement your major at a U.S. college. However, you may have very particular interests, and if this is the case, you need to be sure that the colleges you are looking at offer courses of study in the areas of your interest.

The fourth consideration is the quality of the overall academic experience you desire. Do you want to become involved in student organizations? Do you want small classes and thoughtful, personalized advising? Are you happier in large classes? Do you want to become involved in undergraduate research? (If this is case, liberal arts colleges are a very good choice.) Do you plan to seek out an internship? Are you hoping to join a choir or a string ensemble? Do the colleges and universities to which you want to apply offer support and mentoring, orientation programs and host families, for international students? Do you want the safety and friendliness of a small town or rural setting, or do you want the bustle and excitement of a city (or some combination of the two)?

Best wishes! Obviously, I hope you consider small liberal arts and sciences colleges. I think such colleges offer the very best undergraduate education available in the States, and that our small classes, excellent student-faculty ratio (13:1), academic focus, distinctive opportunities for research, off-campus study and internships, safety and friendliness make us a very good choice for almost all students.

Choose well and wisely, and remember that there are many excellent college options available. It’s not the case that there is a single ‘dream college’ out there, I’d argue, and that if you don’t get into that one college, your college hopes are dashed. Choose your college, and when it chooses you back – give your undergraduate experience your all! The more you embrace the experience, the more engaged you are, the more you commit yourself to your education and do the best you can in all the ways you can, the better the result and the more rewarding the experience.

 

 

With gratitute to CIS for its superb overview of information for international students!

Steps in the International Student Admissions Process

You have decided to apply for admission to Monmouth College – and what a good decision this is!  Now, what steps should you take?

The first thing to do is read the information about the admissions process at www.monmouthcollege.edu/admissions/international/. You’ll find here a checklist of the items you will need to send us, as well as our requirements for admission. And then you should fill out the online application form at https://www.monmouthcollege.edu/admissions/international/app.aspx. Fill in all of the textboxes you can with information that is as complete as possible.

You should also gather the required supplementary materials:  your personal statement / application essay, high school transcripts (and university transcripts if you are a transfer student), TOEFL or IETLS scores, and completed Certification of Finances form (http://www.monmouthcollege.edu/Media/Website%20Resources/pdf/admission/international/funding-certification.pdf).

You may send us scanned copies of your transcripts and TOEFL or IETLS scores, but – PLEASE NOTE – we need the official copies from your high school or university and from the language testing center in order to make an offer of admission!

You should ask two teachers or other adult mentors who know your academic work well to write letters of recommendation for you. These letters should include specifics about how well the recommenders know you, how long they have known you, and how they would evaluable your academic ability and potential. The recommenders may also comment on your co-curricular accomplishments and leadership or service activities if they know about these things.  It is best of all if they include in their letters illustrative details or anecdotes that provide evidence for general assertions. The letters of recommendation should come directly from the authors to the admissions office at Monmouth. It is fine for the recommenders to send these letters by email, but it would be best if they also send the letters by post.

Once all of your materials have been sent in, we review your file. There are two stages to this review. The first stage is the admissions process. If you are admitted, we will send you a letter of congratulations and welcome!

The second stage is the determination of merit-based scholarship and need-based aid. We only provide scholarships and aid to admitted students. You will receive notice of your scholarship award and or financial-need-based assistance in an email after you have been admitted to Monmouth College. We may also ask for clarification or updates to your Certification of Finances form and the associated Sponsors Affivadit of Support.

Once you are admitted, you will receive a very official looking letter that outlines the total costs of attendance at Monmouth College year-by-year, noting the College’s contribution and the student’s (family and sponsors’) contribution each year.  You will need to sign this form to indicate that you accept our offer of admission. You will also need to send in a housing deposit of $150.

Now, you are almost ready to apply for your student visa! You will need to receive from Monmouth College a packet of admissions materials that must come by post (these things cannot be sent by email). This packet includes a housing and roommate preference form, a meal-plan enrollment form, and the I-20 form. You will need to take the I-20 form with you when you go in for your student visa interview at the closest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Once you have received your student visa, you are ready to pack for college. You will probably already have heard from our Office of Intercultural Life about international-student orientation, and may already be corresponding with the Director of Intercultural Life about your travel plans. You are on your way to a great adventure!

Choosing a Major at Monmouth College – the Freedom to Focus Plus the Freedom to Explore

Students interested in studying in the United States ask me, “do I need to know what my major will be before I apply to your college?”

The answer is, ‘no; you do not need to know your major.’ In fact, many students enter college without knowing exactly what they will major in, although they may certainly have a good sense of the fields they are especially eager to explore.

One of the differences between the undergraduate academic program at most U.S. colleges and universities and their counterparts around the world is that at an American college students combine the depth and focus of a major with exploration of a variety of topics. Another difference is that students may change from one major to another.

This is important to know, because it is a significant difference between most U.S. colleges/universities and other colleges around the world:  students may ‘switch majors’, usually with little difficulty in the first year or so, and with careful planning and good academic advising even in the third and fourth years of study. Students in the U.S. are not admitted into a ‘department’ but into the entire college or university, with all courses, all professors, all possible majors available to them.

The student who takes general education and elective courses seriously – as opportunities to explore many disciplines, many perspectives upon the world, and many modes of inquiry into that world – is making the best possible use of her or his experience in a U.S. college. In fact, one’s major may change as a result of a course one never expected to enjoy.

At Monmouth, students may also ’double-major,’ choosing two, complementary areas of concentration instead of one. It’s best to do this with careful thought (and, again, in conversation with an academic advisor), but it can be an outstanding opportunity for highly motivated students who seek to combine passionate interests in several fields, or who want to interweave a major from a field of interest to the student as a probable career path with a major from a field of interest that is more personal or that connects to a longer-range life plan.

So, for example, students may choose to double-major in business and music, in physics and art, in English and mathematics, in political science and economics, or in accounting and philosophy.  These are all richly rewarding combinations! And there are many more such combinations possible at a liberal arts and sciences college….

In brief:  it is perfectly fine to enter college without being certain what your major will be. Explore! Enjoy a wide range of classes; experience a variety of interesting professors (some people will say, ‘take professors, rather than classes’), keep your mind and heart open to possibilities even as you decide upon the field in which you want to engage most closely.

Your major should be a matter of passionate interest to you. The skills of inquiry and expression you will develop if you are a highly motivated and intellectually curious student exploring a field you love will serve you well even if your major is not transparently linked to the careers you will eventually pursue. Few people spend their lives in a single career, in one field alone.

In this rapidly changing and globally interconnected world, educating yourself for a meaningful and fulfilling life is much more than training yourself for the first job you get immediately upon graduation. That’s also important – but a college education is most critically the foundation for a lifetime of inquiry and involvement in the ongoing conversation that constitutes human culture.

The combination of depth and breadth that a U.S. college education provides is an outstanding way to prepare yourself for a reflective, rewarding, engaged and engaging life. It is not the only way, and it is not right for everyone, but it is one of the very best.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” (attributed to William Butler Yeats but more likely Plutarch)

Sciences are Liberal Arts

International students (and international college counselors) sometimes think that the term “liberal arts college” means an undergraduate college focusing only on the humanities – and this is absolutely, profoundly incorrect.

Liberal arts colleges typically offer majors (concentrations) in four general disciplinary areas. One of these areas is the sciences.  Liberal arts colleges may divide their academic programs into specific departments somewhat differently from each other, but the general division of the curriculum into the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities and the arts is standard in the U.S.

The classical quadrivium included the study of geometry, mathematics and astronomy, after all.

Liberal arts colleges have an exceptional track record in preparing students for graduate study in the sciences. For example, selective liberal arts colleges successfully send more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics PhD programs, proportionally, than ANY other kind of undergraduate institution in the United States. (See “A Hot House for Female Scientists: Small Colleges, Big Results” at The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/5/2006; http://opas.ous.edu/Committees/Resources/Articles/Hothouse.pdf).

Monmouth College has a vibrant array of science departments and interdisciplinary programs. Our science departments include biology, chemistry and biochemistry, computer science and mathematics, physics and psychology. Environmental science, an interdisciplinary program, is an increasingly popular major and a rigorous, exciting program which opens up many doors to career tracks and research fields.

Monmouth College is so convinced of the importance and effectiveness of science as a major part of the academic program of a distinguished liberal arts college that we are now in the process of completing construction on a new academic building, the Center for Science and Business. This beautiful new building will house all of our science departments. It will contain laboratories, a high-speed computing center, seminar rooms, an instructional theatre and planetarium, an observatory, a variety of student study spaces, and a greenhouse.

A liberal arts degree is exceptional preparation for advanced study in engineering, medicine and allied health fields, and computing/technology fields. Monmouth College offers pre-engineering, pre-med and allied-health preprofessional tracks. Students engaged in the pre-engineering program, for example, receive advice and guidance from the faculty advisor to the program, explore different graduate programs, and choose their sequence of undergraduate courses carefully with eventual graduate study in mind.

The depth and breadth of the science courses students take at Monmouth strengthens their application for graduate school. The fact that students major in a rigorous discipline such as biology or biochemistry while also preparing for graduate study is a plus to review committees at the graduate level. Also, Monmouth students take courses in writing and communication, in the humanities, arts and social sciences. Monmouth students have opportunities to take leadership roles in student organizations and to study abroad - and all of these opportunities to become a better, more well-rounded, more ethical and reflective person are ADVANTAGES in applications to graduate schools.

The average size of a Monmouth College class is 18 students; many science lab classes are even smaller. The personal attention science students receive here – the care and mentoring by faculty – is invaluable. Students learn not simply ‘what chemists do,’ for example, but what it feels like to be a practicing chemist. And the fact that Monmouth classes are small means that faculty members are able to write deeply informed, detailed, personalized letters of recommendation for their students. For entrance to excellent graduate programs – this matters tremendously.

Monmouth College’s focus on excellence in undergraduate education means that science students have extraordinary academic opportunities. For example, Monmouth science students engage in research with faculty members even as first-year and second-year students. Students are not prevented from engaging in substantive, hands-on research until their junior or senior year. Exactly the opposite! Here, advanced students help to mentor newer students in research teams; all science students are encouraged to join research collaboratives as soon as possible. Many students who engage in research during the academic year continue their research work over the summer, while living on campus. Some students travel with faculty members to engage in scientific research internationally. Most recently, students traveled with Professor Godde (biology) to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore on a short-term research trip.

Students who are interested in majoring in a science could not do better than choose a liberal arts college for their undergraduate education. When you hear the phrase ‘liberal arts college,’ think ‘liberal arts and sciences college’!

Winter-Start Options for International Students

Have you considered entering college in the States in the second semester?  This may be just the right option for you.

Most (but not all) colleges and universities in the U.S. operate on a semester system. This means that the first semester (the fall semester) typically begins at the end of August or the start of September. The second semester (the spring semester) begins in mid- or late-January. Monmouth College’s academic calendar is a semester-based calendar.

Many school calendars around the world include a spring term that begins in February and runs through June, or even into July. If you are a high school student considering college study in the United States, you are likely to have a very short vacation between the end of high school and the start of college when you enter an American college or university at the start of our fall semester.

Some colleges, like Monmouth, accept entering first-year students for the second semester (the spring semester). These students are called ‘winter-start’ students because their college career begins in January.

This winter-start option gives international students more transition time after the end of high school to prepare for four years of study in the United States. With this option, a student may work to save some money for college expenses through the autumn months, read widely and deeply in preparation for university-level courses, brush up on English-language skills, and enjoy friends and family before departure.

You may apply to Monmouth College now (through September and October) to begin undergraduate study in January of this academic year. It is not too late!

If you apply and are accepted to Monmouth for the spring semester, you should know that the start date for our spring semester term is Tuesday, January 15, 2013, and you will be expected to arrive on campus during or just before the preceding weekend -  on or slightly before Saturday, Jan. 12th.

You will experience New-Student Orientation over the weekend before classes begin and you will ‘enter the stream’ of classes as a part of a small cohort of winter-start students.  Because the winter-start entering class is smaller than the fall-start class, you will have lots of personalized attention and assistance. As you pack for your first semester in the States, you should prepare for a beautifully snowy Illinois and for cold temperatures. We will be in our winter season.

Spring semester (your first semester) includes important academic, national, and religious holidays, including Spring Break (a week in which you may wish to travel to explore the country, engage in a volunteer service trip, or spend time with new friends), Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Easter, Honors Convocation/Founders’ Day and Commencement.

Best of all, your first experience of life at Monmouth College will be of an increasingly warm and beautiful season, as spring and then summer arrive, the trees leaf out (in late March and April), flowers emerge (in April), and days become longer. Monmouth is located in a beautifully lush, green, temperate part of the United States, and the spring season is a pleasure.

Monmouth College has housing available for international students during the summer. On-campus employment and/or collaborative research with faculty over the weeks of summer are also options you can explore with appropriate college officials and faculty mentors after you arrive on campus.

If you are considering study in the United States for your undergraduate (Bachelors) degree and are interested in starting in this academic year – it is not too late. You will need to be organized and efficient as you complete your application and send in the necessary materials (high school course grades/transcript, language-proficiency certification – TOEFL, IELTS or ELS, recommendations and essay) this fall, as soon as possible.

Stay in touch with us; let us know you are interested in starting your university-level studies in January, and let us help you through the application process.

Financial Aid for International Students at Monmouth College – A Quick Lesson in Understanding How it Works

Private, residential liberal arts colleges are an excellent choice for many undergraduate international students because they offer small classes, close contact with professors, many opportunities to become involved in student organizations and to cultivate leadership skills, good advice from caring career center staff about internships, connections with alumni networks around the world (which often help a lot in the job-seeking process) and a wide variety of majors.

They may also look like they are too expensive for you to be able to afford. Don’t let ‘sticker shock’ stop you from applying. Sticker shock refers to the moment someone sees the price of something they really want and reacts with discouragement because that price looks very, very high.

Many liberal arts colleges offer financial assistance to international students (and to all students, in fact). At Monmouth College, the cost of college attendance is decreased through scholarships and room & board waivers.

A ‘scholarship’ is an award that the College applies toward tuition, so that the total amount of tuition you pay is decreased. A ‘room & board waiver’ decreases the amount you pay for your accommodations and meal plan as a residential student.

Usually, the College provides a scholarship amount that will be yours annually for four years of College (often you’ll need to maintain a certain grade-point average in order to retain your scholarship). The amount you will need to provide is likely to increase slightly each year, and one good way of thinking about the cost of college is to consider the total cost over four years, with the College’s total financial aid contribution, and then consider how much additional funding you’ll need year by year.

Monmouth College’s Financial Aid staff is a fantastic resource - our Financial Aid counselors can provide a snapshot overview of your costs over four years of college so that you can see what the entire package will be and what the College’s commitment is (and what yours will be).

Also, as you look at that initial figure (which can seem so high), remember that it includes room and board. You will pay ‘rent’ wherever you go in the States, and almost always it will be more than the cost of residential living on a college campus. You’ll have to pay for meals no matter where you live, and, again, a meal plan that covers three meals per day, seven days a week, at Monmouth College is similar to the cost of food you would purchase and prepare on your own (and less trouble).

Monmouth College’s basic room and board fee in 2012-013 was, for example, $7,300 for the year, or $3,650 per semester (four months).  That’s $912.50 per month – including (including!!) meals. Living on campus is a great way to be introduced to life in the United States as a student - you will have a ‘home base’ in a friendly, safe and welcoming educational setting.

Monmouth College can award financial assistance to international students once the student’s application is complete and he or she is admitted. This means that we first need to see all of the necessary pieces of your application (the on-line form, the language proficiency certification such as ELS certificate or TOEFL or IELTS score, high school class scores / transcript, and letters of recommendation).  And you won’t know how affordable Monmouth College really is until you hear from our Financial Aid Office!  So the first step in finding out the true cost of Monmouth College is completing your application for admission.

It is true that there are costs associated with study in the States. You’ll need a student visa, and you will have travel costs. And we look at your ability (or your family’s ability) to contribute to the cost of your education as we consider your application. Very few colleges or universities in the United States are entirely ‘need blind.’ We provide ‘merit-based’ scholarships, not ‘need-based’ scholarships for international students.

The bottom line is that an undergraduate education at a small, private liberal arts college like Monmouth College is for many international students an excellent choice. It is an investment in your future. The degree is valuable. An education at Monmouth College is also less expensive than it may seem at first glance. Sometimes, it is much, much less expensive. You do not know until you ask!

 

PS:  A news story appeared in US NEWS that may be of assistance to international students. It is entitled “Three Steps for International Students to Start Saving for College.” (http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2012/08/08/3-steps-for-international-students-to-start-saving-for-college).  Good advice – always start with EducationUSA (http://educationusa.state.gov/) and with IIE’s Funding for Study in the States (http://www.fundingusstudy.org/).

Exploring Options for Undergraduate Study? Some on-line resources you may not have seen before…

Interested in undergraduate study in the United States? You’ll find many different academic programs at many different kinds of colleges and universities in the States. The U.S. offers an incredible diversity of institutions of higher learning – public and private, large and small. Many offer fine opportunities for academic study.  The difference between them is a matter not of quality of but the kind of educational experience provided and the disciplinary areas of concentration available. How to find the right match?

Do you want small classes with lots of interaction with faculty instructors and your fellow students? Do you want attentive, personalized academic advising by full-time professors who know their institution well? Do you want to live on campus in a residential hall? Are you seeking financial assistance? Are you interested in summer undergraduate research opportunities? Do you hope to engage in well-structured internships connected to your area of study? Do you want to combine study within a major with an exploration of a variety of academic subject areas? Are you interested in ‘double-majoring’ (that is, in combining two major concentrations such as music and physics, or business administration and political science)? If your answer to one or more of these questions is ‘yes,’ you should consider applying to a liberal arts college such as Monmouth.

How to find out what kinds of colleges and universities are available? Here’s a list of resources that will include some valuable sources of information that are not usually highlighted for prospective international students. But let’s start with the resource that is, rightly, always at the top of the list:  EducationUSA (http://educationusa.state.gov/) is the branch of the U.S. State Department that provides information and advice to students interested in study in the States. You will find a step-by-step guide to study in the United States here, as well as information about student visas, aspects of the application process, financial assistance, and more. EducationUSA is a fabulous resource. Start here!

IIE (the Institute of International Education) provides an excellent overview of financial assistance opportunities for international students at its website Funding for U.S. Study (http://www.fundingusstudy.org/). 

As you explore the many options available, these webpages may also be of help. First, you are likely to come upon terms that categorize colleges and universities:  liberal arts, private, public, regional, research 1, four-year, baccalaureate, comprehensive, and so on. Most of these terms come from the on-going classifying work of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which has been sorting and organizing the wide (and wild) diversity of U.S. colleges and universities into logical categories for many years. The Carngie classification system was launched in 1970; the classification system has been amended and updated several times, notably in 2005 and 2010.  Older terms that the Foundation dropped are still in common use. You will find an excellent database with nuanced search capacity and highly informative definitions of the many different kinds of institutions of higher education in the United States at http://classifications.carnegiefoundation.org/.  Note that the Carnegie classifications are exactly that – an organizing of colleges and universities by various criteria (public, private, four-year, graduate, liberal arts, professional, etc.) – and not a ‘ranking system.’ 

The United States does not have a non-profit, federally approved or administered ‘ranking’ system for colleges and universities. All such ranking systems are done by for-profit businesses (usually journals or newspapers) and vary widely in their usefulness and degree of relative accuracy, which depends, of course, on what they measure and what data or opinions they gather to determine those measures.

The major federal source of information about accredited colleges and universities is called College Navigator (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/) and is the searchable portal of the National Center for Education Statistics. This is an excellent resource as you seek information about particular colleges and universities. It has a comparative function that enables you to select several colleges and universities and compare them using the variables of most interest to you. 

U-CAN (University and College Accountability Network) is a searchable database with user-friendly graphical representation of basic information about academic programs, student demographics and financial assistance, sponsored by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU): http://www.ucan-network.org/.  U-CAN is intended to help you glean basic information about colleges and universities ‘at a glance.’

College Board provides a College Search database at https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search.

You will find useful (and, I’d argue, interesting!) information about colleges and universities in the United States at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) – http://www.aacu.org/; The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) – http://www.cic.edu/Pages/default.aspx (and see ‘Making the Case for Independent Education’ at http://www.cic.edu/Research-and-Data/Making-the-Case/Pages/Main-Search-and-Information.aspx); and CollegeNews.org (http://collegenews.org/), the website of the Annapolis Group, a consortium of outstanding private colleges. These organizations are very helpful, especially if you are interested in an excellent undergraduate educational experience at a college or university providing a liberal arts education in which intensive study in a major is complemented with a variety of courses across a range of disciplines.

International Undergrads – Getting Involved in Campus Life

As you consider the rich array of options for undergraduate study in the United States, keep in mind the value of the residential experience available at small liberal arts colleges. If you are looking for rewarding opportunities to become involved in campus life, to develop leadership skills, and to practice and hone your English language ability, there is no better choice than a small college such as Monmouth.

Naturally, your first consideration as you choose a college in the States is the match between its academic programs and your own interests and goals. However, you should also pay attention to the opportunities colleges offer for involvement in student organizations and in campus life. Becoming engaged in campus life can make a decisive difference in the quality of your undergraduate experience.

The first weeks of life on campus can be lonely and confusing for any student – and this is definitely true for international students, for whom everything about the college experience and the larger setting in which it is unfolding is new. One good way to combat homesickness and begin to become acclimated is to get involved with other students on campus who share your interests. Often, new-student orientation will include an introduction to the student organizations on your campus. Pay attention to what is available! You’ll find that most liberal arts colleges have a wide variety of organizations and clubs.

Student organizations emerge in response to shared student interests in a huge number of things, including arts (music, theatre, creative writing, and more), sports, spiritual life, community service and volunteerism, hobbies, academic interests, cultural and ethnic affiliations, sexual orientations, political commitments, and career interests (many colleges have pre-law and pre-med societies, for example). Find out what is available and of interest – and go to a meeting! Student organizations of this general sort (i.e., interest-based) are open to all students.

At first, simply take your involvement in student organizations as an opportunity to meet new people and learn more about your new academic home. Find out how things work and how you can contribute. Be sure to think carefully about time commitments, and don’t overextend yourself. Academics always come first! However, making connections through participation in a few well-chosen clubs and organizations is a fantastic way to begin to ‘learn the ropes’ (i.e., better understand how student life ‘works’ on your campus and how decisions about student programs and activities occur).

Eventually, if you are truly interested and involved, you are likely to have opportunities to take on leadership roles in your chosen student club or organization. There is no better way to develop skills that will be valuable to you for a lifetime. If you become a leader, you’ll have opportunities to learn how to motivate your fellow students, create an agenda for a meeting, organize people for particular projects, plan and manage an event (such as a fund-raiser or community-service project), represent your group well, and help your group reflect upon its identity, core purpose and future directions. 

Some student organizations involve a selection process. Don’t let this discourage you. If your college offers a Greek life program (i.e., sororities and fraternities), find out what is available, and talk with members of different Greek organizations. Each fraternity/sorority will have a distinctive mission and history, and a particular way of recruiting members. Many are truly dedicated to service on- and off-campus, academic success and campus leadership. Participation in athletics is much the same – you’ll need to tryout for varsity teams (‘varsity’ means that this sport on your campus competes with other teams from other colleges, usually within a conference, a consortium of similar colleges in a region). At the NCAA Division III level, students with athletic ability are likely to be welcomed into most teams. 

Intramural and club sports are open to all interested participants. ‘Intramural’ includes all the athletic activities open to all students on a particular campus, usually sponsored by Student Life. ‘Club’ indicates an athletic sport that competes off-campus and is student-funded and student-run. Monmouth College’s water polo club has recently competed (and very successfully, I might add) against Tufts University, Grinnell, Knox, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Iowa – but it isn’t a NCAA Division III program. At the club level, depending on your ability, you may not play in all the major off-campus competitions, but you’ll be welcome to practice and participate in the on-campus club activity.

Service organizations are an especially good way to learn more about the community in which you find yourself. Most liberal arts colleges have a community service or volunteerism office on campus that helps to coordinate partnerships with service organizations in the region and beyond. Helping other people is a good in itself – and a fantastic way to make an impact on society. Students at Monmouth College participate in community garden and food-bank projects, after-school tutoring programs, the construction of affordable housing, restoration of damaged ecosystems, eldercare and food drives and Relay for Life, a fundraiser for cancer research (and much more). International students at Monmouth already take leadership roles in service initiatives. Come join us!

As you become familiar with the campus, settling into your classes and developing good study habits and routines, you may also want to become involved in student government. Usually, this means standing for election and serving as a representative of some particular student constituency – a class (that is, the group of students who entered college in the same year) or another segment of the student population (humanities majors, for example). You may have opportunities to participate in the work of faculty committees as the student representative, which means that you’ll have first-hand experience of how the college makes decisions about the curriculum, new academic programs, faculty hires, and more.

So – get involved!  You’ll find that engagement in student life is a distinctive strength of the undergraduate student experience at most small, private liberal arts colleges. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste. Involvement in student organizations and clubs offers an unparalleled opportunity to better understand a significant slice of American culture, to hone your leadership skills and to practice interacting with other people (students, faculty and administrators). Through participation in student organizations, you will have opportunities to help shape the quality of the undergraduate experience during your time on campus, and, ultimately, in some cases, the future of your college. And you’ll make friends who will last your lifetime.

Hoping to be involved in sports while studying in the States? Here’s how.

Many international students would like to continue their involvement in athletics and sports throughout their undergraduate college years, but don’t know how college sports are organized in the United States. A common question: “how can I combine my interests in academics and in sports while studying in the United States?”

These paragraphs are meant to be a starting point for you in making informed choices about applying to American colleges and universities.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (the NCAA – http://www.ncaa.org/) is the primary athletics association for colleges and universities, the one to which most colleges and universities in the States belong. Monmouth College is a member of the NCAA.

The NCAA is made up of three membership classifications, Divisions I, II and III. All of the NCAA divisions exist to protect student athletes and promote ethical practices in collegiate athletics on and off the field. Each division has its own rules about coaching staff, recruitment of student athletes, financial aid, and playing and practice seasons.

Conferences and leagues are different from the NCAA. They are associations of colleges or universities (usually in a particular region of the country) that establish annual schedules of competitions with one another in particular sports, usually with a playoff or championship series at the end of the season, leading to larger competitions between conferences or leagues and concluding in national championship games. Monmouth College belongs to the Midwest Conference (http://www.midwestconference.org/). We have been in the playoffs for the national championship in (American) football, Division III, in three of the past four years.

The differences between the divisions are primarily about differences in the size of the athletic programs:  so, the large public universities and some large and wealthy private universities are, in general, Division I schools, with huge coaching staffs and highly competitive recruitment programs. Very few students at any given university, on a percentage basis, participate in Division I sports.  The students recruited into Division I programs are exceptionally gifted and ambitious young athletes, a few of whom will go  on to play professionally.  Division II universities also have fairly large sports programs (regional universities, both public and private, make up the majority of the Division II membership).

Most private, residential liberal arts colleges belong to NCAA Division III, which promotes the “scholar-athlete” model of sports involvement. Monmouth is a Division III school.  Outstanding young athletes who don’t want to sit on the bench until their senior year, waiting for their turn to compete, watch closely for opportunities to become involved in the prestigious, academically nationally-ranked, selective Division III schools. At colleges like Monmouth, student-athletes don’t have to put academic engagement aside in order to pursue the sports they love. Division III colleges enable students to find a good balance between their athletic interests and their academic commitments.

Very few international students participate in Division I athletics. Scouting begins at the junior-high and high-school level, with university representatives following the early school careers of promising young athletes in order to make offers tempting them to sign on to a particular sports program. Division II recruitment is almost as intense.

If you have a love for a particular sport, or if you are athletically gifted and interested in participating in an American sport, your very best chance for genuine involvement is to apply to a Division III college. Often, you’ll be practicing and playing even as a first-year student. The opportunities for competition and for leadership are outstanding.

How can you indicate your interest in participation in sports at your chosen American college? Contact the head coach or the Athletic Director about your desire to become involved. Be sure to make your interest known to the admissions staff with whom you are corresponding as you complete your international-student application.

Liberal Arts colleges usually want you to submit a personal essay as part of your application portfolio.  This essay offers an excellent opportunity for you to share a bit about who you are with the admissions staff who review your application. If you are interested in participating in sports in college – say so! Weave your passion into your essay. Write about your involvement in sports and about how much athletics means to you (and in what ways it has enabled you to grow, or has helped you to clarify your values). You might even ask your secondary-school coach to write one of your letters of recommendation, if she or he can comment on your academic potential and character as well as your athletic abilities. Let us know what you are interested in!

At Monmouth College, we will help you make connections that expand your undergraduate academic experience and open new doors.

One of the ways you can connect with U.S. coaches is to make use FirstPoint USA, which connects interested student-athletes with college coaches (see http://www.firstpointusa.com/).

And don’t listen just to me!  Here is a powerful, short statement about athletics at Monmouth College from our Women’s *Soccer Coach, Barry McNamara (mcnamara@monmouthcollege.edu):

At Monmouth College, we believe we provide our women’s soccer recruits a unique opportunity — a chance to play college soccer at a very competitive level at a first-class facility, combined with an environment that encourages our student-athletes to get involved in activities outside the team. Do you want to play right away as a freshman and compete with and against talented players? The women’s soccer team offers that. But we also allow our players enough time away from the sport to work hard on their studies and also enjoy many of the college’s extensive extracurricular opportunities, including sororities, the fine and performing arts, student government and service organizations.

One of our recent players might have said it best when summarizing her experience of playing soccer at Monmouth: “I always looked forward to soccer season for many different reasons; I love the sport, the girls are great, good coaches, great memories, hotel away trips, and last but not least, the best soccer field in the conference! Years from now when I look back at my college experience, the one thing that will always stick out in my mind will be my memories of soccer. I couldn’t have asked for a better four years.”

*i.e., Football, to the rest of the world :)