Rethinking College Rankings

November 19th, 2007 by IEFA

As we discussed in the last post, US News and World Report dominates rankings of colleges and universities in the US. The US News rankings are comprehensive and helpful in many ways, but there are critics of the rankings system. One small newspaper has proposed its own rankings system for the past three years.

When the Washington Monthly published its 2007 College Rankings, which can be viewed online here, it didn’t look at average SAT score, average starting salary or average alumni giving, all standard fare in the US News and most other rankings. Instead, it graded schools based on three general categories — Social Mobility, Research and Service. Why? In the words of Editor Paul Glastris, from his stint on the Colbert Report, colleges should be ranked on their contribution to the public interest, not on whether they have great rock-climbing walls.

Here’s the three things Washington Monthly uses to rank a college’s contribution to the public interest:

1. Social Mobility: “We want our colleges to be engines of social mobility so that the poor can get a better life.” Under this criteria, the magazine looks at the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, which it considers a good indicator of the school’s commitment to poorer students, as well as the percentage of those students that graduate.

2. Research: “We want colleges to create the research and PhDs that can power the economy.” Because Washington Monthly believes that research and PhDs are the key to growing the economy in a global market, they measure numbers of PhDs and amount of research spending by the university.

3. Service: “And we want colleges to inculcate an ethic of service for young people.” For this, Washington Monthly looks at the number of students entering the Peace Corps, the size of the school’s ROTC program, and the percent of work-study funds spent on community service projects.

Click here to see the whole college rankings report.

As an international student, did you use the US News and World Report rankings to help you select a US school? Would this alternative rankings system play into your decision-making process at all? We would love to hear your input.

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The Problem With College Rankings

October 29th, 2007 by IEFA

US News and World Report has dominated the college and university rankings in the US for years. Eagerly awaited each year, school administrators with improving US News rankings earn bragging rights while those schools on a downward trend must react vigorously to determine what has gone wrong. Parents and students use the rankings to determine to which schools to apply. By all measures, rankings have become critically important to how a college or university is perceived, particularly the US News rankings.

Critics of the US News ranking system are widespread and nothing new. For a summary of common critiques, read this excerpt from The Presidents Letter (dated May 10, 2007), developed by Lloyd Thacker of the Education Conservancy, and sent to college and university presidents in the United States in May 2007, concerning the U.S. News rankings:

“Among other reasons, we believe […] rankings: imply a false precision and authority that is not warranted by the data they use; obscure important differences in educational mission in aligning institutions on a single scale; say nothing or very little about whether students are actually learning at particular colleges or universities; encourage wasteful spending and gamesmanship in institutions’ pursuing improved rankings; overlook the importance of a student in making education happen and overweight the importance of a university’s prestige in that process; and degrade for students the educational value of the college search process.”

Perhaps the simplest critique is that parents and students get overly focused on rankings during their college search, and ignore the most important thing: what college or university is the best “fit” for the student? With thousands of excellent colleges and universities in the United States, offering all kinds of programs and experiences, there are so many better ways to choose a school than whether it is in the top 20 in the latest US News rankings.

For international students in the US, finding the right fit in a US school is even more important. Since you will be far from home, largely on your own, and probably on a limited budget, setting up a life you will enjoy in a comfortable environment is critical. The key is to start your research early, and be clear and realistic about your educational goals and budget. To get you started in choosing a school in the US, visit the Study USA section of This will help you think through questions like, city vs. country, large public university vs. small private college, community college or four-year college, specialized school vs. liberal arts college, etc., and will put you on the track to finding the school that is the right fit for you.

In the next post, we’ll discuss an alternative rankings system proposed by Washington Monthly, a small, progressive DC-based magazine. Maybe you caught the editor on the Colbert Report last week? Check it out here.

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2nd Annual $2500 Travel Video Contest

September 28th, 2007 by IEFA is running its travel video contest again this year, with an entry deadline of November 1 and an increased first prize of $2500. The winner will be announced in early November,and the finalists will be available for all to see on You can win $2,500 to travel anywhere in the world — not to mention worldwide fame if your video is posted on the site! Any trip you want to take, and will pay for it. There will also be runner-up prizes.

To enter, you must submit a 4-8 minute video that describes the trip you would take if you win, and why you should win. The best entry will win the $2,500 grand prize — so be funny, or include some great footage and music, or tell a great story — something to get your
entry noticed and stand out from the crowd. Check out last year’s winning video and some other great entries.

The contest is open to anyone 18 or older and studying outside their home country, or planning a trip to study abroad.

For more information and to get an entry form, go to:

UAS7 Announces 45 Scholarships for Study in Germany

September 21st, 2007 by IEFA

If you are interested in studying and interning in Germany, you need to look at this program. UAS7, a consortium of 7 leading German Universities of Applied Sciences, announced this week that their Study & Internship in German program (SIP), launched last year, will continue and expand this year. UAS7 is cooperating with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and is granting 45 scholarships for the academic year 2008/09.

The program includes one semester of study at one of the 7 participating German universities, followed by a one semester internship in a company or research institute in Germany. Winners will receive a scholarship for the academic semester, a monthly stipend for the duration of the internship, and travel assistance, making it a very generous overall award.

To be considered for the program, students have to be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program at an accredited US or Canadian college or university (although US or Canadian citizenship is not required). Sophomores and Juniors in the fields of engineering, science, life sciences, business,management, economics, architecture, art, design, journalism, or social work are invited to apply. German language proficiency is an asset, but not mandatory.

All applications for the academic year 2008/09 must be postmarked no later than February 15, 2008. The application requirements are quite thorough and explicit, so make sure you start early and do the best job you can.

For complete details about the program, please visit the SIP website.

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Australian Technical Colleges Attract International

September 7th, 2007 by IEFA

For some international students, the ultimate goal of an overseas education is to obtain residency and the right to work in their adopted country. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, excerpted with explanation below, shows how international students have flocked to vocational training programs in Australia as an easier way to permanent residency.

In Australia, vocational training colleges are increasing their share of international students at a rate eight times faster than that of universities, after changes to the Australian Government’s skilled migration system made vocational courses a more affordable way to gain residency.

Australian TAFE (Technical and Further Education) institutes provide mainly vocational and technical courses. Hospitality, secretarial skills, visual arts, computer programming, hairdressing and cooking are some of the courses and training typically offered through TAFE institutes. By contrast, higher education in Australia is dominated by universities offering degree courses in more typically academic subjects.

Universities remain the biggest educator of international students, with just under half the market share, but enrolments grew by just over 5 per cent in the year to July, compared with growth of more than 43 per cent in the vocational sector, government figures show. “It’s clear that the main reason for that expansion is that it’s seen as a relatively cheap and accessible route to migration,” says Bob Birrell, a Monash University demographer who has mapped international students’ paths to residency.

In 2005 the Australian Federal Government made it more difficult to migrate without expertise in an area of skills shortage, leading to a flood of international students taking cooking and hairdressing courses. Both courses give students extra points towards permanent residency. Unpublished government figures show that in 2005 just 3560 international students took vocational courses in services, hospitality and transport, which includes cooking and hairdressing courses. By last year, the number had swollen to 6339. And by this year it was 9454.

Read the whole story in the Sydney Morning Herald online.

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International Student Loans for Study in the US and Canada

July 23rd, 2007 by IEFA

Its that time of year again when international students are frantically trying to put together their funding for the year, and evaluating how much of a loan to apply for. To help, we are re-posting this article that originally ran last august.

Financing an education in the United States is difficult, even for a US student. For international students, paying for college in the US is even harder. Almost two-thirds of all students enrolled at private four-year US schools receive loans of some type. US students can receive loans guaranteed by the government (Stafford loans, among others), but these valuable loans are not available to international students. Luckily, private student loans are available to international students on the same terms received by US students.

Before applying for a loan, you should exhaust the following potential funding sources:

1. Apply for international student financial aid from your school. Here’s a searchable list of schools awarding financial aid to international students:

2. Research and apply for international student scholarships on your own:

3. Carefully evaluate how much money you or your family can provide towards your education. Every dollar you can pay directly is one less dollar you have to borrow.

Some international students can fund their US education simply using the sources above. However, like US students, most international students will need to fund at least a portion of their US education, if not the entire amount, with loans.

· US Co-Signer Required. International student loans require a US citizen or permanent resident (Green card holder) as a co-signer. The loans are credit-based, meaning the co-signer must have good credit history, good employment history (or other income history if the co-signer does not work), and must have lived in the US for the past two years. Although not everyone can find a family member, friend or other US citizen or permanent resident to co-sign for them, for those that do, they can access private student loans on the same basis as US students.

· Funds Paid Directly to You. Loan funds are paid to you, not to the school. This is a great feature in that you can use the funds for living expenses – but it also means that it is up to you to use the funds responsibly. Pay your tuition, room and board, health insurance and books first – anything extra is a luxury!

· Repayment. Repayment of an international student loan can be deferred while you are in school, and for six months after you finish school. After that, you will have up to 20 years to repay the loan, with a payment due every month. You are also eligible for hardship extensions if you run into unexpected circumstances that prevent you from being able to repay the loan for a short period of time.

· Interest Rates. Interest rates are variable, based on the LIBOR plus a margin. LIBOR is always several points below prime, so the margin is from 3.5% to 7.75%, and will be set by the lender based on the credit history of your co-signer and the repayment plan you select. The better your co-signer, the better your rate! LIBOR changes monthly, up or down, so the rate will be reset monthly. Click here for repayment examples for a $10,000 undergraduate international student loan.

· Online Application. You can apply online or by phone, and receive an almost immediate response as to whether you are conditionally approved for the loan. Then, you will need to sign the promissory note, and provide proof of enrollment and immigration status to receive your funds.

· No Application Fees. There are no application fees to apply for an international student loan. There is an origination fee if you actually receive the loan, but that amount is rolled into the loan amount and does not have to be paid out of pocket.

For more information on international student loans, visit

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US Students Can Save Money With a Foreign Degree

July 19th, 2007 by IEFA

A recent article in highlighted the potential time and money savings that US students, particularly future professionals, can realize by studying at a foreign university. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

NEXT YEAR, CHRISTOPHER SCHULLER, a native of Nashville, Tenn., will complete his law degree at Oxford University, and he’ll qualify to take the New York State Bar exam. Assuming he passes, he’ll become a practicing attorney at age 22. Schuller didn’t skip grades in high school or overload on his college coursework. Instead, he chose to attend college in England where most undergraduate programs — including law school — are three years long and where students begin their major on the very first day of classes.

“I knew since high school that I wanted to be a lawyer,” says Schuller. “Once I realized that the Oxford law degree could get me straight to the Bar exam, going there seemed like the obvious choice.”

In addition to skipping four years of traditional undergrad education, Schuller saved big bucks. Tuition for U.S. students at Oxford costs about $20,000 per year — or $60,000 to get a law degree. If Schuller had attended the University of Chicago, which was his first choice in the U.S., he’d pay more than $93,000 for an undergraduate degree, and then have to pay for a three-year J.D. to boot.

To read the rest of this story, click here.

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To read about Foreign Enrolled Loans, for US students like Christopher Schuller that want to study at foreign universities, click here.

Do International Students in the UK Pay Too Much?

July 13th, 2007 by IEFA

A new study from the Higher Education Policy Institute warned that the UK is in danger of losing international students if nothing is done to contain and reduce tuition and costs. The UK is the second most popular destination for international students, behind the US, but its share of all international students worldwide has dropped from 16% in 1998 to 11% in 2004.

Unlike in many other EU countries, non-EU students are charged higher rates in the UK than students from EU countries. The HEPI report warns that as global competition for international students heats up, the UK should address this inequity if it wants to maintain its status as the second most popular destination. The report argues that UK taxpayers should subsidize the education of international students, just as it does for UK and EU students. The report also reviews all of the economic and non-economic benefits that international students bring to the UK.

Read the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education or in the Guardian Unlimited.

Click here to see the full HEPI report.

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Funding Study Abroad

May 23rd, 2007 by IEFA

Participation in study abroad programs by US students is exploding, as more and more students, schools and employers recognize the vital importance of a global education. Even Congress is getting in on the excitement, introducing the Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act in March, which is designed to dramatically expand and democratize study abroad by funding thousands of study abroad scholarships. The goal of the Simon Act is to increase the number of US students abroad from the current 200,000 annually to 1 million within 10 years, focusing particularly on under-represented groups including lower-income students, and under-represented destinations like the Middle East and the developing world. Though aggressive, that goal is not unrealistic, as growth rates on US students going abroad are already quite healthy. Historic growth rates of 9.7% would get the number of US students abroad to about 640,000 by 2017; the Simon Act hopes to push that rate to 15% to achieve its goal.

The Simon Act recognizes what most students already know – the biggest hurdle to increasing study abroad participation is funding. Travel, exchange rates, international communication and simply living far from home all increase the normal burdens of tuition, fees and living expenses.

But there are strategies to help fund your study abroad – here’s the first few steps.

1. Visit your Study Abroad and Financial Aid offices. Your study abroad office or your program coordinator can provide guidance on a reasonable budget for your time abroad. Give your budget a careful reality check so that you can take advantage of travel and cultural opportunities. Choose a program carefully – London and Tokyo are much more expensive than the developing world. Then either your financial aid or study abroad office can help you sort out how much of your existing financial aid will transfer. Work study, institutional aid and some other types of financial aid often do not transfer fully to study abroad programs. Getting a handle on how much of your existing package will apply to your chosen program should be step one.

2. Research and apply for scholarships. There are many scholarships and funding opportunities available for study abroad. Fulbright scholarships are well-known, but there are a host of similar, lesser-known awards. Start with online resources. offers a large searchable database of scholarships for international study. Also, find out if your school offers any study abroad scholarships.

When it comes to researching and applying for scholarships, there is no substitute for hard work and preparation. Many are very competitive, so you’ve got to put your best effort into the application. Matt Brattin, winner of the 2006 Travel Video Contest, chronicles the massive effort required to apply for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship in his recent post on the Study Abroad Blog.

3. Apply for loans. Prestigious awards are tough to get, and many awards don’t cover the full cost of studying abroad. After you’ve researched and applied for as many potential scholarships as you can, study abroad loans are available to cover any remaining amount of unmet financial need. At, students can apply for up to $50,000 per year, plenty of funding for just about any destination, and receive all the same terms as a standard student loan. Interest rates are competitive, repayment can be deferred until after graduation, you can apply online in minutes, and funding is fast and direct to the student. For more information or to apply online visit

Study abroad is no longer just for well-to-do students at elite private schools. More and more, it is becoming the norm, an expected part of a complete education in an interconnected world. With effort and determination, almost any student can find a way to fund their study abroad.

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New Student Visa Rules for the UK

May 9th, 2007 by IEFA

Effective September 1, new student visa rules will be in effect in the UK. Under the old rules, most students did not need a visa and if you were studying for more than 6 months, you needed to get entry clearance. Under the new rules, there are two categories of student visa. Although students can enter the UK prior to September 1 under the old rules, if they leave and re-enter the UK after September 1, then the new rules will apply.

Here’s a brief overview of the new rules for the Student Visitor Visa (less than 6 months) and the Student Visa/Prior Entry Clearance (greater than 6 months).

The Student Visitor Visa is for those that plan a stay of less than 6 months. Under the Student Visitor Visa, a student cannot have paid employment or an internship greater than 2 credit hours, and cannot extend their stay once they have arrived. For everyone else — if you plan to stay more than 6 months, if you may extend beyond 6 months, or if you want to work or have an internship greater than 2 credit hours — then you need to apply for a Student Visa/Prior Entry Clearance.

Although official UK sites have not been updated yet to reflect the new rules and processes, a summary of the new rules can be found on the NAFSA site. We will watch for further information and post an update when a good official resource on the new rules is posted.

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