Thursday, December 4, 2008

Being an international student just got more interesting

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I've stopped blaming myself if I'm unable to finish a book, more for dipping interest-levels rather than a lack of time. I read a poignant lesson for an undergrad class once which said that a book can only be enjoyed if the reader is in the right time in his life to fuuly appreciate it. It's so true.

For a class, I recently had to read "The Price of Admission," By Daniel Golden, who is a former chief of bureau for the Wall Street Journal. Brilliant matter which dealt with the truth behind admission prcedures of American colleges. Really fascinating stuff. But I found the tone too forceful. Like someone was breathing down my throat and insisting that I accept what they were saying. I would have probably done that anyway, but the pressure kind of put me off. Between you and me and the very public nature of this space, I will say that I did not finish the book. But what little I read of it was a serious eye-opener.

The United States has largely been a self-centered nation. Being the sole world superpower, it can afford to be predominantly interested only with itself and have other countries pursue it rather than the other way around. Many would disagree with what I've just said but a closer look will prove that I'm not engaging in idle chatter.

The American educational system for example is proabably one of its most insular components of public life. Despite attracting students from all over the world, American students who graduate from local high schools get the maximum advantage out of the system as compared to an outsider. If they attend the school in the state in which they are residents, they get a massive reduction in tuition. That's just the beginning of the incentives.

On many levels, it makes perfect sense. Why shouldn't the local system work as much to the advantage of local students as possible? It's probably harder for some of us to understand when we come from countries that try to make admission to college as difficult as possible for local students. In fact in those cases, it may actually help if you are a foreign applicant!

Golden's book explained the following, which is comforting for an international student to read while at an Amercian University:

  • Some colleges deliberately attract students that they don't really want just so they can reject them and thus boost their own exclusivity factor. The more rejections, the more selective they appear on college ratings.
  • Some colleges drop the lowest six percent of SAT scores they recieve. This hikes their average by about 40 points. A considerable increase. They have some lame euphemism for the practice behind which they hide.
  • Many universties give preference to applicants of alumni and faculty. There's a special category for "legacies, " which in simple words is when daddy big bucks makes a huge donation to the school. Admission committees will overlook slightly poorer grades/test scores and other compelling factors at the expense of "unhooked" students - those that don't have any of these factors working for them.
  • Some universities decide to be slighlty cheekier by ignoring the English scores of international students on competitive tests but consider their math scores which tend to be higher than those of American students.

Wondering which universities may be guilty of these sins? Think of every major Ivy league, prestigious, super-selective school in the United States. Practically all of them except for CalTech which is virtually blemish-free.

Just when we thought we were so far away from "donations" and the quota system. Americans have a polite term for the latter too. It's called "affirmative action," and thankfully it's controversial in this country too.

It was encouraging to come across the information and know that when international students are denied any kind of financial aid most of the time or are rejected from big schools when they have all the right tools, they shouldn't take it personally. There's a greater vendetta at play. If only they knew...

Instead of lamenting how things could have turned out, international students should revel in coming from a foreign culture and having a fresh perspective. It's a major advantage sometimes. Like one of my professors once said to the international students in my program, "You view the glass as half empty. I view it as half full." That was in the middle of a pep talk he was giving us about not wallowing in the disadvantages we have in comparison to American students. That makes sense. I'll view the glass half full.

I'm an international student and loving every minute of it!


Avi Ramu said...

lovely post..makes a lot of sense.guess in India things are done a bit more open while the same thing happens ehind closed doors elsewhere..thanx cuz i us finished applyin to a bunch f US I aint gonna give a damn if I dun get thru...

ANC said...

Haha..affirmative action makes me feel at home :) Great many things in here that I didn't know..thanks for putting this up! :)